I recently got to spend a good portion of the day with car culture legend and all-around spectacular guy Alex Roy, which ended with a terrifyingly amazing drive through downtown New York City in his absolutely epic Morgan 3-wheeler. In the rain. Here's what that's like.
As a general rule, I try to live my life by the saying "Never be the smartest person in the room". This means that you'll always have something to learn from others around you, it also allows you to retain a modest amount of humility, coupled with the indispensable ability to analyze any potential weaknesses or flaws. This is the reason why I started writing, and a large part in why I try to take any and all opportunities presented to me - the one in question being a meeting with one of my personal heroes, transcontinental record holder Alex Roy.
On a particularly gloomy Saturday afternoon, after a quick lunch at a great downtown bistro, Alex said the words that I've always hoped to hear: "Man, you have to drive the Morgan." After uttering a response that resembled an affirmative, I prepared myself, both mentally and physically. A slight drizzle emerged from the darkening clouds, and I was asked if I needed any eye or head protection from the elements. "I'm fine, I won't melt", I said. Without a second thought, Alex got some extra trinkets from the Morgan's trunk and said "Put these on - you'll need them."
While this was a novel experience for me, Alex was a seasoned vet of having others pilot his 3-wheeled masterpiece. He gave me some long leather driving gloves, a stylish and remarkably well-fitting golf hat, and goggles so steampunk that they could've been stolen directly from Guillermo Del Toro's dresser drawer, a fact I posted on Twitter:
I climbed into the silver capsule and buckled my seat belt, wondering how in the hell a seatbelt would be of any use in a real collision. In a crash, the only crumple zones would be attached to my body and the roll bar in the back would only start to gain utility after both drivers were summarily decapitated. I completely understood why open-topped Grand Prix drivers of the 1920s thought it safer to be "thrown clear" in an accident. In this case, I couldn't disagree.
After Alex got in, I turned the key, waiting until the carburated S&S V-twin motorcycle engine sputtered into life, and I carefully tiptoed down the street, getting my bearings as quickly as I could with such an unusual learning curve. The clutch was hinged at the floor, forcing me to flat-foot the slender slab of metal to get the car rolling from a dead stop - a feat that required a bit more throttle input than you would usually need in a car of the more conventional variety. The steering wheel swayed to and fro with every minor bump, coupled with an audible and palpable crash of the exposed and antiquated suspension.
The gearbox, allegedly derived from a Mazda MX-5 Miata, was the best decision any boutique car manufacturer had made since the day Enzo Ferrari stopped using tractor parts in his sports cars. The placement of the shifter isn't just right, your hand is drawn to it. It's a magnetic extension of your body - your hand snaps onto the shifter and knows what to do without any second-guesses from your overwhelmed brain - a good thing, because it sure as shit has a lot of other things to think about while driving a Morgan.
I grabbed second gear on a long stretch of pockmarked and semi-slick New York City roadway. I planted my barely fitting size 11s on the right pedal and pressed down to give myself something to remember, a challenge the 3-wheeler accepted free of charge. The revs climbed to a pitch that was just above comfortable, but below valve float. I changed into third, surrounded by an empty New York street with nothing but green lights ahead of me. The man next to me, made famous for his numerous runs across the country and his dynamic personality, yelled "Go! Go! Go!" and as soon as I laid into the throttle, laughed as if we'd just successfully pulled off a multi-million dollar bank heist. It was unreal, and I couldn't have been more in the moment than I was at that exact point in time, which is exactly the point of driving this car - you're never bored. No 3-wheeler owner has ever fallen asleep behind the wheel, because it's physically impossible to fall asleep when your body thinks you're at war.
I shifted into 4th and sailed across the Brooklyn Bridge, the road soaked from the moderate downpour that was obscuring my discount goggles that I was now thankful for wearing. Each near-freezing water droplet hit the uncovered parts of my body with purpose, as if the Almighty himself was doing his best to reign in the sheer lunacy that this mere mortal was experiencing in a small, three-wheeled metal box. The thin motorcycle tire mounted on the rear wheel employed every little-known law of physics to keep the car straight on the road at the breakneck pace of 45 miles per hour. As the car danced its way back onto terra firma, I could finally taper the endorphin rush by limiting myself to the crawling average speed of populated New York streets.
Some may argue that the pinnacle of the analog driving experience lies with the Ferrari F40 or the BMW E30 M3. I say this without any condescension or sarcasm in my tone: those people are weak. The Morgan 3-wheeler forces you to deal with its issues and adjust your driving style as a matter of sheer survival. Its lack of torque and unusual power delivery pushes you to trash your preconceived notions and laser-focus on driving. It's an open topped car that can and will literally crush you if things get hairy and doesn't give a shit what the weather's like or who sees you driving it - and they will see you - which brings me to a most surprising by-product of the Morgan 3-wheeler experience: the overwhelming attention.
This car is a primer on being a major celebrity. I'm not saying that it makes you large-scale famous, but if Kanye West had driven a 3-wheeler in his early career and gained the perspective that one does when literally in the eye of the public, perhaps he wouldn't have interrupted Taylor Swift and acted like such a diaper stain to others later on in life. In the 15 or so minutes that I piloted this car through downtown New York, I wasn't able to escape the looks from anyone with a pulse and at least one moderately working eye. At least 50 people took pictures - one of which blocked traffic in the oncoming lane and hastily took out a phone for a head-on shot. Two women asked for rides, one questioning if she could "get between us". Countless others gave thumbs up, or stared blankly at the Morgan's matte silver frame and its overflowing bright red interior panels.
By the end of the drive, I was becoming used to the Morgan experience, and it had had a significant affect on me. I was no longer concerned by the minutia of everyday life because I was, for all useful purposes, an important and well-liked person to the dozens of strangers that saw me driving that day, if only for a brief moment. This is the reason why you'll never see a Morgan 3-wheeler owner in a bad mood while driving - the car is a freaking perpetual smile factory. It's an unrelenting force for good and it taps into every casual onlooker's deeply-rooted appreciation of the unconventionally beautiful. There aren't enough words to describe the heartfelt gratitude I have for my friend Alex Roy for allowing me this insane, novel, and very much life-changing experience.
Thanks a lot, man. It was awesome. Let's do it again soon.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.