We take an Ariel Nomad, Caterham Seven and Morgan 3 Wheeler on a winter road trip

British thrills: The Morgan 3 Wheeler (front), Caterham 310R (middle) and Ariel Nomad (back) can all be bought for around the £30,000 mark

Zenos is no more but there are still some brilliantly British performance cars for around £30k: We take an Ariel Nomad, Caterham Seven and Morgan 3 Wheeler on a winter road trip

Norfolk-based performance car builder Zenos announced on Wednesday that it had gone into administration.

Hitting financial troubles following a spate of cancelled export orders at the end of last year, the manufacturer behind the ballistic open-top E10 sports car range has ceased operating, meaning one of the most extreme - yet affordable - British-built models has disappeared.

But fear not, as there are still plenty of great British barnstormers in this department. Like these three: the Ariel Nomad, Caterham Seven 310R and Morgan 3 Wheeler.

British thrills: The Morgan 3 Wheeler (front), Caterham 310R (middle) and Ariel Nomad (back) can all be bought for around the £30,000 mark.

Conventional these cars are not. The tripod Morgan looks like a combination of a Spitfire and a bathtub while the Ariel is an oversized radio control car. The Caterham design is all about performance

Taking these open-top motoring oddballs on a road trip in winter might not sound like the best idea, but fortunately the gods smiled on us for the the better part of our blast from Cheddar Gorge to the Welsh coast, despite temperatures teetering towards minus.

In a twist of good luck, Morgan’s 3 Wheeler has heated seats. Great. However, there's no heater in the cabin. This means stops for coffee and snacks, and subtle readjustment of the thermals were a necessity.

An official statement from the carmaker released on Wednesday 18th January said: 'Zenos Cars Limited has appointed Irvin Cohen and Gary Shankland of Begbies Traynor (London) LLP as Joint Administrators of the Company, following a recent downturn in trade.

'The appointment was made by the Board of Directors of the Company on 16 January 2017 after cancelled export orders in late 2016 resulted in a shortfall in funding, forcing the business to cease trading.'

But while we’re just rattling through Cheddar Gorge in convoy, the sound is lovely, the 2.0-litre V-twin rumbling away. At idle it shakes the whole car, but on the move it settles down to a gentle thrum.

The engine has a beautifully linear drive, the steering is light and responsive and you sit really comfortably, if a touch cold.

The Morgan had heated seats but no cabin heater, so it wasn't the warmest place to be. But as far as characterful interiors go, this one is a winner

You can warm up a bit by chucking the car around, at which point you’re rewarded with surprisingly decent handling. The single rear wheel can actually be made to spin out of line which is fun, but the downside is that when you see a raised manhole cover there’s no way all the wheels are going to miss it.

This is all fun, but it’s fun at a lower speed than we’re normally used to.

In these conditions, 60mph is about the giddy limit, and if it rained, as it did, you end up looking round the side of the aeroscreen just to see where you’re going. But going slower has its advantages.

Conventional these cars are not. The tripod Morgan looks like a combination of a Spitfire and a bathtub while the Ariel is an oversized radio control car. The Caterham design is all about performance
Conventional these cars are not. The tripod Morgan looks like a combination of a Spitfire and a bathtub while the Ariel is an oversized radio control car. The Caterham design is all about performance

The Morgan had heated seats but no cabin heater, so it wasn't the warmest place to be. But as far as characterful interiors go, this one is a winner
Our winter road test tooks us from Cheddar Gorge to the Welsh coast in the middle of winter - and it barely rained

Our winter road test tooks us from Cheddar Gorge to the Welsh coast in the middle of winter - and it barely rained

With the open top, you hear sounds more, smell what’s around you, feel more immersed and involved. It’s hopelessly romantic and addictive. You don’t want to scream along in a sealed box with the music and heating up high, you want to be part of the countryside you’re passing through.

Perhaps this sounds more like a classic motorbike, with its big V-twin and openness to the environment. The man at the booth on the Severn Bridge thought so – the Morgan 3 Wheeler is classed as a motorbike, so I sailed through free of charge.

The Ariel Nomad restores circulation though.

Above you is a roof. Ahead of you is a full windscreen which even has demister and wipers. And we’ve been feeble enough to give and take the Ariel optional heated clothing, a gilet and gloves that keep you toasty as the weather closes in.

Compared to the Morgan it feels like you’ve shifted into a Merc S-Class. But it’s a bit smaller than the luxury Mercedes, just a bit.

Taken to the coast: Our test concluded on the beach in Wales, quite literally

As the roads get smaller and smaller, it comes into its own. The handling and ride are simply uncanny. Admittedly, this is made even better by the optional Ohlin dampers, which cost a monster £5,000.

British scenery, British weather and British cars - this might be the most patriotic road test yet
The Ariel Nomad is a no excuses all-terrain weapon. Off the tarmac, it was the standout of the three models features

The Ariel interior is about as minimalist as it gets. A windscreen and wiper were a delight on this particular test

The Zenos E10 R is a £40k British mini-supercar

Together, this makes this Nomad the best-handling version we’ve tested, and that’s saying something. It just seems to hover down the road, coping easily with everything these rough Welsh roads can throw at us.

The steering is heavy and communicative, the brakes sharp and effective, and you feel like you’re at the helm of a car that can cope with anything. So we push that theory.

Finding some mud and gravel, the Nomad is off, with the supercharger on the 2.5-litre engine whistling happily away.

The Caterham keeps up for a bit, but when it comes to gravel the Nomad is just gone, solid gone. Somehow the dirt and debris got into the cabin – we didn’t have the side doors fitted – but that didn’t matter. The Nomad made a wet winter’s afternoon pure fun, a ray of sun whatever the weather. We love it for that.

Where you have to climb into the Ariel round the orange ribcage, you snuggle and wriggle yourself down into the Caterham until you have your four-point harness adding the final point of connection. You’re in, plugged in.

We’re tough road testers so we laugh at brutal winter weather conditions. We laugh even longer after we’ve fitted the – optional - £1,250 Weather Protection set. The hood isn’t a great thing, and the vinyl doors aren’t deeply stylistic, but that full windscreen is real blessing. Now we’re ready to roll.

Once we’ve put on half a dozen more layers, which makes the driving position even more of a friction fit.

Cold pursuit: All three cars can hit 62mph from a standstill in six seconds or less, but the Ariel Nomad's supercharged motor means its the fastest of the bunch
The Caterham is all about being lightweight and no fuss. The cabin is testament to this

Taken to the coast: Our test concluded on the beach in Wales, quite literally

The 1.6-litre Ford engine spits out its 152bhp in a way that really is quite manageable given the circumstances. Even so, when the roads get muddy, so too does the 310R, with wheelspin and general hooligan behaviour sending the car sideways, up down and remorselessly forward.

The steering is simply an implant in your brain, much like every other element of the Caterham. But you could argue just that point with the other two cars too.

In theory this should have been a bit of a trudge. Unable to use the full performance, compromised by chilly hands and feet – except for the toasty mitts in the Nomad – and struggling on roads that were often little more than streaming farm tracks.

Yet we all had a ball. We were all far more involved in our surroundings, using more of our senses than we would normally do on a driving journey.

Cars & motoring verdict
We were cold, wet and mostly muddy by the end of our trek, but we wouldn’t have swapped our cars for even the most well-equipped hot hatch or executive saloon.

So which one is the best, we hear you holler. We'd argue all of them.

If personality, charisma and smiles were what sold cars, all three would be sell outs.

If you have the time, budget, space and desire for a car like this, you couldn't be disappointed by any of them.

Let's just hope Zenos can return to the market to add to the wealth of brilliantly British oddball sports cars.

ODDBALL BRITISH SPORTS CARS COMPARED

Ariel Nomad Supercharged
Test car price: £44,168

Engine: 4 cyls, 2345cc, supercharged, petrol

Power: 300bhp at 7000rpm

Torque: 251lb ft at 5500rpm

Gearbox: 6-spd manual

Kerb weight: 675kg

0-60mph: 3.2sec

Top speed: 136mph

Caterham Seven 310R
Test car price: £28,990

Engine: 4 cyls, 1595cc, petrol

Power: 152bhp at 7000rpm

Torque: 124lb ft at 5600rpm

Gearbox: 6-spd manual

Kerb weight: 540kg

0-60mph: 4.9secs

Top speed: 126mph

Morgan 3 Wheeler
Test car price: £31,800

Engine: V-twin, 1983cc, petrol

Power: 82bhp at 5250rpm

Torque: 103lb ft at 3250rpm

Gearbox: 5-spd manual

Kerb weight: 525kg (dry)

0-62mph: 6.0sec

Top speed: 115mph

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By Graham Scott and Rob Hull For Thisismoney.co.uk
PUBLISHED: 08:58 EST, 21 January 2017 | UPDATED: 08:58 EST, 21 January 2017

Views: 215

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