How on earth do you operate a 1910 Morgan cyclecar?
Allow Top Gear to talk you through the discombobulating experience of early 1900s transport
Well aren’t they an adorable trio.
They certainly are. It’s the genesis of the Morgan 3 Wheeler, from the Runabout of 1910 (centre) to the 3 Wheeler P101 special of today (right) via a 1928 Super Aero (left) that’s far closer to the current car in style and driving experience than its place on Morgan’s timeline suggests. It’s the adorable object in the middle that we’re focusing on here, though. Namely, just what differentiates an 111-year-old cyclecar from a brand new, um, car?
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It looks complicated to start...
It may have keyless entry and go, like a well-specced medium hatchback, but that’s because there’s not really a key. Nor any doors to put one in. Rather you (deep breath…) turn the fuel on with fuel tap, pump a shot of oil into the engine, put the starting handle in its slot, turn the magneto ignition on, tickle the carburettor, set the throttle to partly open, operate the valve lifter and THEN actually crank the handle to splutter and shake it into life. Phew.
I see just two pedals.
Correct, though it’s not an automatic and neither pedal is an accelerator. Clutch is left, brake right with the throttle a small, hand-operated lever to the driver’s left. You’ll need to be positive with it and use more revs than you might imagine to make a clean getaway without stalling (and thus rewinding a troubling amount of steps in the arduous starting procedure), the end result feeling like the boisterous launch control of a performance EV. The Runabout may not have much torque, but neither does it have much, y’know, ‘car’. So you’ll thrust forward and have to be ready with the steering tiller to avoid punching a curiously shaped hole in the nearest object.Advertisement - Page continues below
The steering what-now?
See that big handle curving in from the right of the car? Manhandling that is how you get the Runabout around corners. You’ll need to stab the brake or pull back the hand throttle a little beforehand, scrubbing off speed so that a concerted yank of the tiller doesn’t lift a front wheel clean off the ground. But once you’ve tucked into a turn, the fun arrives: shove the throttle all the way forward and you can propel out of the corner with improbable haste, especially if you’re in the higher of the Runabout’s two gears.
How much power's in there?
A princely eight horsepower, but those don’t equate to the modern brake horsepower system. So the Runabout has more clout than you might hope from a peak output a mere fraction of a base Ford Fiesta’s on paper. The engine's a JAP V-twin, made in Britain – unlike the US-sourced V-twins on the latest 3 Wheeler. Keep your foot in (well, your hand in) and the Runabout will soar to 50mph, as its brave owner Martyn Webb has on the terrifying banked circuit at Montlhéry.
The lights look pretty spangly.
And they’re a real window into the age of the Runabout’s soul, too, not to mention the rigmarole of merely operating a car in the early 1900s. The rear item, looking like a miner’s lamp gone AWOL, uses paraffin. But the pair up front – resembling the eyes of a melancholy Cars character – use acetylene pumped from a generator sat behind the driver’s shins; you fill it with water and carbide crystals which concoct the acetylene gas that’s sent to the front lamps awaiting a struck match.
Is the horn special too?
Oh yes. Martyn has spent close to a decade piecing together this Runabout. It’s technically a recreation but made with period parts that he’s sourced at quite eye-watering expense from countless auto jumbles. The lights were restored in Birmingham Jewellery Quarter while errant pedestrians are scared out of the way by a Boa Constrictor horn. Some of the company’s wares even emitted their noise from an ornate snake head, but not here. Far too fierce for the Runabout’s chummy vibe.Advertisement - Page continues below