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Regrets

by

David Gardiner

I built one of the earlier Pembletons. If you dig around in the early PAG newsletters you will find tales of trips in 'The Hornet' as it was then known. It didn't come with a chassis number and so as it wasn't officially a Pembleton I chose my own 'make' for it. The only actual number it has is the vin number. issued by Big Brother. By working on it very obsessively I got it through the registration hoops before all this stupid stuff about temporarily wrapping engines in chicken wire and whatever came into force. My wife went off to NZ for a wedding and I stayed at home and surepticiously did, basically, no real work at all for those 3 weeks...

I'd had a home made Citroen based 3 wheeler already so I had, perhaps, a better idea of what I didn't like about the basic idea than some. It ended up with a tapered tail (no spare wheel), a floor mounted gearchange, no oilcooler, alternator mounted where the fuel pump went, etc etc. (the old articles were still there to be read on the internet when I looked recently if you want more)

So I drove it and drove it. It was built to live outside and did. It was my daily car. The alloy went all dull, the varnish peeled off the dashboard. I used to take the seats inside when not in use so they didn't get wet and there was no other trim to get soggy. My dog trashed the first set of seats so I got some rather nice cream leather from a scrapped Mercedes and paid to have some decent ones made. I changed the oil sometimes. Otherwise I did very little to it and it just kept going. Times may have changed now, but in those days finding 2CV enthusiasts with a spare good engine under the bench they'd flog you for 30 quid was no problem. Accordingly I was vicious with the poor thing; over-revving it regularly, flat out nudging 90 down the long Roman roads of the Mendips. I drove back from just North of Marseilles to Le Havre in one hit and barely got stiff it was so comfortable. We were featured in a local TV news item. I took it to Yorkshire to see my old potholing club; there were so many people wanting joy-rides I got bored and handed the keys over to a friend to keep her in motion. And so on. Great times.

It was a smashing little car and enormously practical. You should all be out caning yours too. Then we decided to emigrate to NZ and everything changed. The grand clearout began. (Crackleport bought a Guzzi engine off me I recall) The Hornet got sold to a chap at the other end of town to drive while he built his JZR. He finished the JZR and sold The Hornet to Ray in Northern Ireland who renamed it, after that I don't know. Anyway that was me done with Pembletons; but I thought you might like to hear what happened next.

Well, I still think of myself as a motorcyclist but I was and am really wedded to 3 wheelers. I love the 'best of both worlds' aspect of being more than a bike but not quite a car. By the time The Hornet went down the road I had been collecting bits to build a 'real' Morgan. I had a good collection of bits but decided that arriving in a foreign country with a project was not a clever idea. Who knew if I would have a workshop? So I sold it all and used the money on a JZR on Ebay bought unseen; I certainly didn't drive one beforehand. Mistake. I cannot overstate what a step down this was after a Pembleton. (did you expect that?)

The JZR had a Guzzi engine. Nice. Splendidly lazy. Powerful! But it was like Ziemba had made himself a toy for the weekend, started knocking them out for his friends and never refined it further. There was no storage space. Have you ever tried stuffing luggage into a Pembleton? It will take an enormous amount. The bodywork was really low. I'm 6'1" and sitting on the floor with as much stuffing as possible taken out of the seat the scuttle was low on my chest; you get damn all weather protection except from the windscreen. It could have been built up 3" easily, or there was the same amount to be gained by arranging the floorpan so that the squab dropped between bracing instead of sitting on it You felt like a ninepin sticking up in the middle. That offset propshaft in the cockpit is really cramping if you are any size. Then the unsprung weight is high. Cast iron transit van uprights and fancy wire wheels with all that implies meant that it pattered on rough surfaces, To cap that the handling never had that sure feel at speed the Pembleton used to give. I was so unimpressed I took it to a professional to get the front suspension set up properly and even after that the best I ever saw was 90 on the clock and by then I wouldn't have guaranteed to track better than to within 3 feet of a line; it was getting really frightening at that speed. The rear wheel drive and torquey motor did make sharp corners, roundabouts and the like very driftable though. That was fun, and something The Hornet couldn't do.

Do you get the idea? It was an enormous dissappointment. Interestingly, Mark, the chap who was building one sold it fairly quickly and told me that with hindsight he thought he'd have done better to have kept The Hornet, so it's not just me.

Anyway we arrived in NZ with the damn car but I really did NOT like it. There was then a pause while we sorted out other things to do with living in a new country, and, remember, the JZR was no longer the great toy, more of a white elephant that owed us money so I wasn't exactly all fired up to fight beaurocrats over it. Eventually I started the process of registering it, which was interesting; they don't do proper 3 wheelers much over here; the only ones you see normally are those 'motorbike with training wheels' ones. While this was going on I was introduced to the local version of Ebay; Trade Me.

Amazingly, Trade Me had a Morgan for sale, and cheap too. $20,000 which then was about 7 grand. I looked at the advert, rang the seller and discussed it, then put the proposition to my long suffering wife who said "Well OK but only if you sell the JZR." "Oh! Let me think a bit..."

In fairly short order the JZR was road legal and sold to a bloke who had been thinking of importing one anyway and I owned a 1934 Morgan family with a 1000cc Matchless sidevalve motor in it.

So how does it compare to that Prince of the Tricycles, the Pembleton? Firstly I should explain this is not the glamorous super sport you are perhaps visualising, but a 'family' model. The Family was originally the bread and butter of the Morgan factory. In the late 20's they made the factory's fortune on Family models. They have doors, a very tiny back seat to take the kids, an upright windscreen and an all over 'coal scuttle' bonnet that covers the works at the front. All these features have meant that Sally, my wife, likes riding in it. She hated the primitiveness of The Hornet. And yes, this is good! But you have no exposed engines, no bright nickel rad on display. However under that the works are almost identical and it drives just the same. In fact families are rare these days because they get made into the fancy sports models instead. I've had it 9 years now and have had to do a lot to keep it going. It is my car, as The Hornet was, I drive it everywhere, but unlike The Hornet it needs cossetting a lot.

We're talking an 80 year old car here. I know it was used daily to go to college in Ascot in the 60's and I think that was the last time anyone took it seriously. 40 years of bodging it up just enough to get it to drive onto the trailor to go to the next show followed; then, suddenly it's under load again. You can hardly blame it for buckling under the strain a bit. Well, I try not to blame it.

As I have gone on I have tweaked the sidevalve motor and it will now probably pull 70 mph given a run up; but the joy of the thing is it's torque. (Unlike The Hornet my enthusiasm for higher speeds is tempered by knowing both body and chassis are also 80 years old...) Running what is basically a motorcycle V twin with watercooling it has the big motorcycle flywheels inside as you'd expect but then Mr Morgan added another bacon slicer type on the back. This huge mass of rotating metal means it climbs the majority of the local hills in top, and this is with a larger gearbox sprocket and taller tyre than standard. 2nd howls like a choir of banshees (as they did from new, apparently) so you don't tend to want to drop a gear anyway. I usually pull away from a stop in 2nd; first is only used on hillstarts. So instead of all that high revving and snap gearchanging that brings a Pembleton to life you stick in top and play with the advance retard lever. It can still be hustled around briskly, but it's all much more serious feeling somehow. It's probably the thunderous bass backing score.

Fast gearchange in a Morgan? Hmmm; it is an all crash box; double declutching is de rigeur on downward changes at least, but there is a trap for the unwary built into the gearchange mechanism. Between top and 2nd is Ok but try going across the gate to first on the run and it allows you to select 2 gears at once if you are not very precise with your movements. I don't expect it did this when new but they all do it now. It locks the box up solid; the remedy is to use a hammer (or your starting handle) to tap one of the selector rods back. Think about it and you'll understand that the time when you are most likely to do this is when you are flustered or pressured. Exactly the wrong time! Just on the hairpin on the way up a 1 in 4 hill perhaps?

Its suspension is short travel and hard. But it sits flat. The Hornet was SO comfortable for what it was, but even with Phil's modded geometry that corner roll was a pain. I don't miss that. Both cars felt really safe at serious travelling speeds though.

Control wise The Hornet was a 'normal car' to drive but the Mog has been a serious learning experience. The throttle is a hand lever on the steering wheel, as is the ignition advance lever (which you do have to use when labouring the motor). To stop you stand on the foot brake and that applies the back brake for a nice graded stop. If you are seriously shedding mph you grab the handbrake. That works (well) on the front wheels. This is motorcycle thinking; left hand works front brake, but even with my background it seemed odd at first. There is a tendency for car drivers who own one of the fancy Morgan 4 wheelers to buy 'one of the old ones' as a sort of proof of enthusiasm. They get into them, frighten themselves and never drive them again because the car is clearly dangerous and unfit for modern traffic. It never seems to occur to these Charleys that the deficiency might be in them and what they need to do is practice a bit. I have spent time learning the art and, like lots of arts, it gives me a lot of pleasure using my new skills. And the car is NOT dangerous. But your hands are quite busy.

So there we are. Quite different beasts. Both have the lightness and simplicity we presumably all look for, but if a Pembleton is a snapping darting Jack Russell, a Morgan is a ponderous aging bloodhound, and it really does seem to be slobbering its way up long hills like some sort of big animal when it's working hard in top. I love it then.

But the maintenance has been the thing that has driven me to the edge. It struck me that a heroin habit would be as expensive and perhaps less distressing. When the beast is in bits I wonder what I could replace it with, and really nothing would be like it. (I don't want a new one.) I do wonder about going back to Pembletons sometimes, but , I don't know, I've done that, and I don't want to go back to buzzing engines I think. At the moment it's going well and I'm back in love with it again. There's always oil under it. If you have a pristine driveway don't even think of buying a Mog.

I thought I'd forsaken bikes for trikes 30 years ago, but the weather and the roads here in Hawkes Bay are so good that I keep a bike these days (an old AJS). That gives me a reserve vehicle which takes the pressure off. The other thing about Morgans is they reproduce. Gradually bits turn up and suddenly you realise that you have another project. So I have the bits to build an earlier super aero. That one will be a top spec version of the classic racing Morgan of the 20s and 30s. JAP ohv motor and all. All I need is for the family to go for long enough for me to have time to build it!

Enjoy your Pembletons. I shall remember mine with great affection until my dying day!


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