McLaren MP4-12C? No. Bugatti Veyron Super Sport? Nope. The car I've been most excited about driving this year is the $50,000 Morgan 3 Wheeler. It's the successor to a tricycle Morgan made between 1909 and 1953 that lapped Brooklands at 100mph and won the French Grand Prix in 1913.
The original Morgan 3 Wheeler used a number of air-cooled V-twins. This time around it gets a 2.0-liter motor, driving through a 5-speed gearbox sourced from a Mazda MX-5, then through a Harley-style belt to a single rear wheel. There's a nice, grippy Toyo Proxes tire at the back, with skinny Avon classics up front.
The powerplant is built by American motorcycle engine builder S&S, which started out tuning Harley-Davidson engines until it decided it could do better itself designing motors for custom bike builders. S&S says its X-Wedge range is lighter and better, and Morgan thinks it's just the ticket for this project. The unit is still quite traditional and simple. It's air-cooled, with three belt-driven cams that drive pushrods. At the top ends of the 56-degree vee, there are cross-flow cylinder heads, with a single throttle body and fuel injection.
Looks sweet, doesn't it? It's small. It feels more compact than a Caterham. There's a removable steering wheel, then you slide down into the seat – a bit wider than a Caterham's, but still very snug – and push your feet down into the tight foot well. The seat doesn't adjust, but the pedals can.
The pedal layout puts the brake (for the unassisted drum at the rear, small discs at the front) a touch low for heel-and-toeing, but the weights are all consistent. There's no assistance for the steering, either, but that doesn't matter; empty of fuel but otherwise complete, the 3 Wheeler weighs just 1080lbs.
The V-twin takes a short while to fire. The temptation is to give it some throttle to help it along, but I'm told to just thumb the bomb-release-style starter until it settles to an endearingly lumpy burble. Ease out the clutch and there's a bundle of torque with which to pull away smoothly and cleanly. Throttle response is very clean, linear and, because the cylinders are each nearly a liter in size, not hyperactive. Just nice.
So you're off. And it's evocative, with the skinny wheels bouncing up and down at the front and steering that's highly responsive; the merest movement of the steering wheel changes the Morgan's line, although less accurately than you might think on a bumpy road. This is a light car and the rear wheel is right behind your back, so when the 3 Wheeler takes a bump, you feel it.
It makes the driving experience – how shall we call it? – honest. Whatever there is on the road, you feel. You see it through the wheels; you feel it through the steering and your seat. It's intimate. You can feel the engineering in the 3 Wheeler. Its delicate response is all there. Mechanical feel – throttle, gear lever, the grip levels at the front, any slip at the back – is telegraphed to you. It's hugely engaging at any speed. For all that, the 3 Wheeler feels a touch rough at the edges; it skips around a fair bit.
You might think that, because the air-cooled engine hangs out the front, it might make the 3 Wheeler rather understeery, but 110hp through the back wheel promises to provide some balance. I'd want more time to really exploit the handling, but I can say grip levels are higher than I'd expected, and the initial limit is felt by the front first. At low speeds, it's very easy to bring the rear into play; from rest, if you're enthusiastic, it's hard not to. But that's cool; a slightly sideways take-off seems de rigueur in this kind of car.
Even if a tastier drive throws up some handling anomalies, the 3 Wheeler is massively appealing; the noise the V-twin makes through its mid-range (it only revs to 6000rpm) would be worth it alone. Throw in the view, strong acceleration, the close interaction and, well, just the whole damned loveliness of owning a machine like this and it's hard not to fall totally in love with it.