Pembleton V-Sport 2019 review: a beautifully made, quite gorgeous, perfect hoot

Pembleton V-Sport 2019 review: a beautifully made, quite gorgeous, perfect hoot
The Pembleton V-Sport is one of the finest machines we have tested all year  Credit: Andrew Crowley

It's darn cold in Bayton in April, especially if you are travelling through the Malvern Hills parish in one of these. Your ears glow glacial and are assaulted by the heavy machine-gun exhaust rattle, the cold seeps like fog through your clothes and road-repair debris flies up to cut your cheek.

Try not to smile, though. Try not to gun the tiny engine for the sheer hell of it. Try not to imagine how much more fun you could have in a car costing ten times more, with ten times the engine power and six times the weight...

For the truth is, you can't have any more fun, even if your bonnet badge is bovine, equine, feline, or winged. As Colin Chapman once said, "just add lightweight and simplify", and there's not much lighter and more simple than this three wheeler - a cockpit and simple drivetrain, there's basic comfort, no heater or cup holders, and certainly no traction control, ABS, autonomous brakes, or lane-keeping assist; you're on your own out there.

And when we tested every three wheeler on sale a few years ago at Byton Park, this was one of the most charming. It's the Pembleton, created 20 years ago by Phil Gregory to circumvent the price structure of the Dún Laoghaire ferry.

"My wife noticed that motor cycles and trikes went free, so she said I should build one – it was after a few ciders," he admits. "I ordered the steel and we called it Pembleton after the name of the caravan which we stripped for the aluminium."

Pembleton V-Sport 2019 review: a beautifully made, quite gorgeous, perfect hoot
Andrew English adores the Pembleton Credit: Andrew Crowley

Gregory had previous in the business of cottage car building having built a mid-engined Ford coupé with his brother Richard. And he made a pretty good job of that first three wheeler named Grasshopper Super Sport. It was based on Citroën's 2CV chassis and that car's flat-twin, air-cooled engine first designed in the 1940s by Walter Becchia and Lucien Gerard, together with its four-speed gearbox driving the front wheels.

Gregory was far from the first to discover a use for rusted-out 2CVs in kit cars, Chris Rees's Three Wheelers A-Z is full of them, but very few sold 450 examples in 20 years.

"It was only supposed to be for fun in the first place," says Gregory senior. "I wanted to make something a good hands-on guy could make a lovely car out of."

Good hands-on gals, too. Years ago, one of The Telegraph's layout subs had similarly-based Lomax, which she maintained and drove with some verve.

Pembleton V-Sport 2019 review: a beautifully made, quite gorgeous, perfect hoot
The cockpit of the Pembleton is a joyous place to be Credit: Andrew Crowley

And that's where the Grasshopper would have remained, a charming kit-build three/four wheeler, but for Guy, Phil's son, who in between college and university decided to build his own version of his father's car, which got him thinking.

"I always wanted to be making things, I was very hands on," says Guy, who decided that the Pembleton could have a second life, still hand assembled, but as a fully-finished car, built on a jig for accuracy, with laser-cut panels and a different engine.

"I only started to worry about this when he said we needed a complete redesign," says Phil. "It's been a massive amount of work."

While Guy and Phil cannot mention the name of the engine supplier for contractual reasons, it is Moto Guzzi, which is ironic. This fiery, air-cooled vee-twin, first designed in the Sixties by Giulio Cesare Carcano, initially saw service in a weird army trike, the Autoveicolo da Montagna. The longitudinal crank, transverse engine was then heavily revised by Lino Tonti for use in the first V7 Sport motorcycle and in various forms it's been in production ever since. Tough, reliable, free revving and powerful, it makes a great legislation-compatible engine for kit-car builders.

It's a curious machine to behold, especially on our four-wheeled world Credit: Andrew Crowley

The Gregorys selected the fuel-injected, 744cc, 51bhp/44lb ft unit from the V7 III Stone model. It bolts to a reconditioned four-speed Citroën 2CV transaxle driving the front wheels. The suspension is all new but follows the 2CV pattern with horizontal springs and dampers actuated via bell cranks and pull rods. It means the suspension is mounted low and loads are taken by the lower, stronger chassis members. Brakes are all-round discs, inboard at the front.

The cockpit is spacious but sparse; even the door cards are a £245 extra. There's a great driving position and after some design experimentation the pedal layout now suits most sizes of feet. There's a decent-sized boot behind the rear seat and most of the engine is accessible under the bonnet, even the front disc pads (a nightmare on a 2CV) look reasonably changeable.

Press the starter and the Guzzi lump biffs and bats as it warms and you slide across from the passenger side and under the big wooden steering wheel. The gear lever sprouts from the dash and is surprisingly accurate having been redesigned with rose joints. The clutch is sharp but light and the wheels spin readily if you pull away too sharply as the Pirelli Scorpion tyres, although grippy, don't have huge contact patches. Where some rival designs use wider rear wheels to accommodate car tyres which are safer in the event of a blow out, Guy and Phil keep the large diameter bike tyre at the back, which makes the Pembleton a purer feeling thing, though you need to have a care.

The exhaust note is completely addictive and the little engine lights up in the mid range with a satisfying clatter. Weighing just 298kg dry it's good for 100mph and feels as though 0-60mph somewhere in the mid sixes would be possible. The gear change is quite lovely; inverted with first towards you opposite reverse, it's fast and with the lever just a finger's stretch from the steering wheel who needs a semi automatic? The brakes are strong and progressive, though they will lock one of those skinny wheels quite quickly and that Citroën-based drivetrain means the turning circle is slightly wider than that of an orbiting moon.

The ride is sensational, gently floating over bumps and undulations, the rear will occasionally bunny hop over sharper bumps, which is a feature of all three wheelers; as they say, if you don't hit the pothole with a front wheel, you will with the rear.

And so to the handling, about which the late Tony Divey, Triking designer, once observed: "all three wheelers are unstable; it's how you use that instability that's the important thing."

Pembleton V-Sport 2019 review: a beautifully made, quite gorgeous, perfect hoot
Philip Gregory, Johnny Mockett, Sam Stretton and Guy Gregory with a production Pembleton  Credit: Andrew Crowley

While rear-drive three wheelers such as the Triking and Morgan can be steered on the throttle by spinning up the rear tyre, the Pembleton front-drive layout rules out that possibility, but makes it more predictable for drivers raised on front-drive hatchbacks. Body roll is the main issue with three wheelers as the vehicle rolls onto a wheel and tyre that simply isn't there. In the softly-sprung Pembleton that tendency seems more pronounced if you go looking for it by waggling the steering wheel about, but if you don't and simply get on with the business of driving, it's not an issue. This isn't an unsafe vehicle, you just have to concentrate.

For my money, I'd go for the sports suspension of this show car and I'd also like a hood and one is on its way. The vulnerable bare aluminium floor can only be covered with optional (£284) carpet and it would be nice to have a third option of rubber matting and Guy and Phil should have decent quality and branded jackets, helmets and goggles on the options list.

Oh and they need to supply some ointment for the aching cheek muscles you get from grinning so much. The new Pembleton is beautifully made, quite gorgeous and a perfect hoot.

Pembleton V-Sport – facts and specifications

TESTED two-seat, three-wheeled barchetta with aluminium beetle-back coachwork. Tubular steel chassis with horizontal springs and dampers operated by pull rods. Moto Guzzi 744cc, air-cooled, 90-degree, v-twin petrol engine, with four-speed manual transaxle with reverse, front-wheel drive.

PRICE/ON SALE from £21,995. On sale now.

POWER/TORQUE 51bhp @ 6,200rpm, 44lb ft @ 2,000rpm

TOP SPEED estimated 110mph

ACCELERATION estimated 0-62mph in less than 7sec

FUEL ECONOMY estimated 45mpg

CO2 EMISSIONS n/a

VED BAND Tricycles (not over 450kg unladen) (TC50) £91 per annum

VERDICT What a completely lovable thing: fast, noisy, with a great ride, more space than you're ever likely to need. Drive one of these and every day becomes a high day and holiday.

TELEGRAPH RATING five stars five out of five

Pembleton V-Sport – the main rivals

Triking, from about £20,000

Tony Divey's masterpiece came about because he couldn't afford a Morgan, but this former Lotus draughtsman created something of a legend himself, which is currently built and curated by Alan Layzell in Norfolk. In conception and execution this is the driver's three wheeler, but it won't suit everyone and ends up pricey if you get carried away with extras. Go to trikingsportscars.co.uk.

Morgan 3 Wheeler, from £31,140

Based on Pete Larsen's Liberty Motor's Ace, the 3 Wheeler was just the most perfect return to three wheels that Morgan could have imagined - just happy to have helped there chaps... Powered by an S&S vee-twin, it's a terrific, raucous, rear-drive beasty. Reliability issues seem to have been dealt with if slowly and boy is this thing fast. Pull on your Stadium Mark 9s and hit the road.

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