Pardon me old chap, but what’s all this about a pre-war car on TopGear.com?
Fear not dear reader. We’re not about to get all beardy about vintage sports cars from the 1920s and 30s on these pages, because what you see above is actually a brand-new car.
Good grief, is it? What is it then?
It’s the Pembleton T24 – a motorbike-engined featherweight cyclecar that’s hand built in the exceptionally sleepy village of Bayton in Worcestershire. That means it’s just under an hour’s drive down the road from Morgan, and yes, the T24 does look a little like the old 3-Wheeler if it were to sprout a fourth wheel.
Although saying that, Pembleton does actually make its own three-wheeled cyclecar. In fact, the company was formed by Phil Gregory, who in 1999 built the very first Pembleton three-wheeler using the aluminium body panels from an old caravan. He did so by drawing up plans and building the thing in just five weeks, as trikes went free on the ferry to Ireland and a wedding anniversary road trip was fast approaching.
Up until the 2020s, Pembleton – which is now run by Phil’s son Guy Gregory – only built three-wheeled creations that followed on from Phil’s original, and the range does still include the V-Sport tripod.
The T24 is its latest creation though, with Pembleton describing it as “vintage motoring reimagined for the present.”
What engine is that?
Great question. As you can clearly see it’s an air-cooled v-twin bike engine. Supplied by Moto Guzzi, you can have it in 744cc or 853cc flavours. We’ve tried the latter, which means just under 80bhp and 59lb ft of torque.
Pfft. That doesn’t sound like much.
It isn’t. But when we described this thing as a featherweight we really weren’t lying. All-in the T24 weighs just 361kg thanks to its aluminium panels draped over a tubular steel frame. That makes it over 20kg lighter than the Harley Davidson Road Glide ST we reviewed recently, and in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past century and aren’t aware, that’s an actual motorbike.
Wow. That must make it fun to drive?
Well, get this; the bike engine in (or should we say ‘hanging out of’) the T24 actually drives the front wheels through a four-speed, dog-leg transaxle gearbox sourced from a Citroen 2CV, with the lever protruding from the T24’s dash. Said gearbox takes some getting used to, but once you’re properly acquainted it’s a joy to use and changing gear feels like a proper event.
There’s Pembleton’s own fully independent pullrod suspension setup too, plus adjustable dampers and not even a hint of ABS, traction control or power steering. It simply doesn’t need any of them.
The steering and brake feel is excellently judged, and the example we drove was set up to be slightly softer to introduce a little bit of body roll. No two corners are the same in a T24. You might get understeer, you might get oversteer: it really is anyone’s guess thanks to the 4.5x18 Longstone tyres, but it’ll put a smile on your face and you’ll never be going fast enough to make a mess of things.
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So it’s not quick?
That depends what you’re measuring it up against. Don’t expect the T24 to be able to keep up with a Caterham – even a boggo 170S with an extra 100kg on board and just 84bhp would spank it through a series of bends – but the Pembleton is a completely different experience as it bobs and weaves across the road. Heck, anything above 30mph feels pretty rapid anyway, and it’ll sit at a 65mph cruise quite happily.
The noise also provides a strong sense of speed. The v-twin rumbles along at idle and vibrates the whole bathtub, and Pembleton’s current exhaust setup means the T24 sounds aggressive under acceleration before popping and crackling on the overrun.
It can’t be very practical though, can it?
That’s where you’re wrong. Okay there’s no roof at all, but somehow Pembleton has managed to make this thing genuinely useable when the sun is shining. It may look old-school, but you can rely on it to start every time.
It’s also comfortable. The gearbox is mounted up front and of course the driven wheels are up there too, so there’s no transmission tunnel scything through the centre of the cockpit. That means plenty of space for two adults on the comfortable leather bench, and if you fold those seats forward there’s access to a watertight 200-litre boot. That’s more luggage space than you’d find in a Honda e.
Fine. But it’s hand-built so it must be expensive?
It can be. The options list rivals Porsche for its length and ability to make you spend a whole lot more money than you’d originally expected, with things like the black ceramic coated exhausts costing £986, a sports suspension setup £180, painted wire wheels £625 and the polished brass gear knob £39.
Guy tells us that most customers still go for the bare polished aluminium look though, which not only saves money on paint but also shows off the excellent craftsmanship that goes into each Pembleton build.
So, prices start from £32,995 for the smaller 50bhp-ish 744cc engine, but if you want the stronger 853cc unit it’ll be just under £40,000 before you start ticking option boxes. Still, the lack of weight means you’ll save money on fuel – we’re told that owners have been averaging around 60mpg and that it’s possible to get 350 miles on a single tank.
The T24 might be an extreme example with a bonkers driving experience, but everything about it shows why we should be pushing for lighter and lighter cars.
Images: Huckleberry Mountain