Now Reading
Evaluation: These Norton, Morgan, and Caterham Fashions Are a Refreshingly Brash and Primary Return to Yesteryear

Evaluation: These Norton, Morgan, and Caterham Fashions Are a Refreshingly Brash and Primary Return to Yesteryear

It doesn’t take long to find driving heaven in Wales. Relatively sparse in population, the country is full of sweeping valleys, smooth tarmac, and undulating bends. The north alone is a particular highlight, with the areas surrounding Snowdonia saturated with cinematic backdrops and video-game roads. This is where I find myself on one sunny winter’s morning, with the choice of three of Britain’s most unusual automotive exports, in two-, three-, and four-wheel form.

Although each of these vehicles are relatively new, they don’t really look it. There’s the Norton Commando 961, a throwback parallel-twin motorcycle; the Caterham Super Seven 600, which looks virtually unchanged since the 1950s; and the Morgan Super 3, a retro-futuristic three-wheeler. A far cry from the state-of-the-art machines developed by such fellow Brits as McLaren and Aston Martin, these three modern “classics” are about as eccentric as they come. And that’s a great thing. Norton, Caterham, and Morgan are among Britain’s most iconic marques, and each of them does things its own way, with little compromise. But what are they like on the demanding, technical Welsh back roads, and perhaps more importantly, how do they make you feel?

Journalist Charlie Thomas readies himself for the Norton Commando 961.

Norton Motorcycle Company

These days, Norton deals in the world of craft. Each of its frames are hand-finished in its English factory, while certain parts are chiseled from solid blocks of billet aluminum. Bikes don’t leave the factory until their exhausts and engine covers have been meticulously polished by hand. Its most striking model is the V4, which is half art piece, half rocket. The bike has a 1,200 cc V4 engine, made in-house, which delivers 185 hp at 12,500 rpm. On the less intense, more classic side, though, is the Commando 961. The bike most associated with the British brand, the Commando—priced in the neighborhood of $22,000—comes with a slightly less intimidating 961 cc, oil-and-air-cooled parallel-twin motor, which puts out 76 hp. But this bike isn’t about output. You can buy something far quicker and more capable for far less money, yet it wouldn’t look, sound, or feel as good as the Norton.

The Commando seems right at home on the slalom roads of north Wales. At slow speed, you’re reminded of the bike’s 507-pound weight, but when given ample throttle, the Commando is easy to throw into corners, with its impressive torque propelling you just as effortlessly out of them. It also stops as quickly as it goes, thanks to a full Brembo system, but the best bit is the noise. It’s a proper, unhinged British twin, with a bassy rumble at low revs that develops into a thunderous growl under hard acceleration. It’s a noise you think about long after you’ve dismounted.

Riding the Norton Commando motorcycle.

The bike most associated with the British brand Norton, the Commando is powered by a 961 cc, oil-and-air-cooled parallel-twin motor with a thunderous growl.

Norton Motorcycle Company

As for aesthetics, the Commando looks every bit a vintage bike. In the Cafe Racer configuration, the handlebars are low clip-ons, while the foot pegs are aggressively set back. The ergonomic result is that you lean forward in the same manner the renowned Ton-Up Boys would have in a drag race to the Ace Café, all icons in Britain’s motorcycle culture at the middle of last century. Go for the Sport variant of the model, though, and it’s a more relaxed affair, with handlebars closer to being upright so that you’re sitting in a classic commuter stance. Either way, the bike is finished beautifully, with lashings of chrome, billet aluminum, and handmade parts. 

If there is a vehicle that might tempt you from two wheels, it’s a Caterham. Driving one is, in some ways, closer to riding a motorcycle than driving a car. While they come with a clip-on roof, they are designed to be driven without it, and there are no real doors to speak of, so you’re very open to the elements. They are all incredibly impractical, and while there is a small space in the back for luggage, it will force you to pack light for a weekend away. Get caught in a downpour and it’ll take a few minutes to attach the roof, and the car’s small size means that other drivers tower over you at all times. But what it lacks in creature comforts, it more than makes up for in fun.

The Caterham Super Seven 600 automobile on a beach in Wales.

The Super Seven 600 is the smallest and lightest car in Caterham’s lineup.

Courtesy of Charlie Thomas

The entry level Super Seven 600—starting at roughly $39,000—is all about having a good time. Less than five feet in width and weighing just 970 pounds, it’s the smallest and lightest car in Caterham’s lineup. It’s also the least powerful. Its 660 cc turbocharged Suzuki three-cylinder engine produces only 84 hp, but thanks to the Super Seven 600’s light weight, it hits 60 mph from a standstill in 6.9 seconds. It won’t be taking down any supercars in a drag race, but it doesn’t need to. It’s all about purity and simplicity, with its short-throw manual gearbox making every shift exciting. Then there’s the lack of power steering, which contributes to an old-school, go-kart feel to the handling dynamics.

Driving the Caterham Super Seven 600 in Wales.

The Caterham’s 660 cc turbocharged Suzuki three-cylinder engine produces only 84 hp, but the car’s short-throw manual gearbox makes every shift exciting.

Courtesy of Charlie Thomas

When it comes to cornering, it’s hard to find something better. You can throw it into sharp bends and flowing corners at the very last minute and it sticks to the tarmac like it’s on rails. Which makes sense, given that Caterhams are often found on the race track. It also has bags of style. The Super Seven 600 is the more vintage-inspired car of the fleet, and comes in a range of heritage colors, plenty of chrome, and a tiny Mono-Lita steering wheel. You can also option two huge front-flared wings to give it an even greater bygone-era look. 

The Morgan Super 3, a modern three-wheeler with a retro-futuristic vibe.

Courtesy of Charlie Thomas

If you want a taste of the 1920s, though, you need to check out the nearly $54,000 Morgan Super 3. The plucky three-wheeler was reintroduced in 2011, about a century after Morgan first began making them. Now, it’s Morgan’s most popular model and continues to charm with its unique styling and characterful engine. The outgoing model came with a thumping V-twin bolted to the front bumper, but this new version is updated with an engine more modern, yet no less interesting. It’s got an Ecoboost 1.5-liter three-cylinder setup from a Ford Fiesta ST, and while that doesn’t sound particularly exciting, it’s one of the best-sounding motors on sale today in my opinion, at least when on the Morgan.

Similar to the Norton Commando, Morgan’s Super 3 has a slightly raw feel to it. It’s raspy roar revs freely as it delivers 118 hp, which it wants you to extract at all times. Acceleration feels much quicker than it actually is, given that it covers zero to 60 mph in 7 seconds, but it’s all about the theater. The huge steering wheel and short-throw MX5 gearbox only add to the adventure, while the fighter-jet-style start button and the cockpit’s digital dials make the experience even more rarified. And since there’s no roof, no windscreen, and no doors, that intoxicating sound of the exhaust exiting behind you fills your head the entire time.

Driving the Morgan Super 3 three-wheeler in Wales.

Sure, the Morgan Super 3 takes 7 seconds to cover zero to 60 mph, but it’s all about the theater.

Courtesy of Charlie Thomas

Yet that’s what these three vehicles are all about. The antithesis to the complicated and the high-tech, such simple machines represent the best of what driving can be. It’s just you, the road, a manual gearbox and a smile on your face. In an age when motoring is becoming increasingly quiet and insulated, each of these distinctive outliers provides a delightfully visceral escape down what soon may become memory lane.

Source: Robb Report

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Copyright © MetaMedia™ Capital Inc, All right reserved

Scroll To Top