Petrolhead and WWI Fighter Ace: Albert Ball
Normally we chaps at MotorPunk Magazine don't need much of an excuse to do a road trip, but with Armistice Day on the calendar, we thought we ought to do something over and above the usual hoon.
Captain Albert Ball was one of Morgan Cars' earliest customers for its iconic Three Wheeler. He ordered a special Grand Prix model in 1917, shortly before he met his end in a dogfight with Lothar von Richthofen, the brother of the Infamous Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, over the fields of northern France. He was one of Britain's leading fighter aces.
Of his Three Wheeler, he said "to drive this car was the nearest thing to flying without leaving the ground." We decided to show our respects by driving the new Morgan Three Wheeler, with the XCAR camera crew in tow, from Ball's hometown of Nottingham to his place of rest in France.
We started in the grounds of Nottingham Castle where a statue to Captain Ball stands today. Fighting rain and roadwork, we slogged down the M1, avoiding narcoleptic truckers to catch the Eurotunnel to France. Then, fighting each other for the keys, we were let loose on fabulous French b-roads. Nothing beats a Morgan Three Wheeler for an exciting cross country run.
The scenery at your elbows, skinny motorbike tyres scrabble for grip at the front and the fat rear tyre isn't fat enough for the oomph the two-cylinder S&S engine delivers. It is demanding, exhilarating, and huge fun. Morgan often referred to aircraft in their marketing, and it isn't just brochure bluster. Let's compare this three wheeler with Albert Ball's SE5 fighter: both weigh c.560Kg, and both have c.120bhp, and therefore they have almost the same power to weight ratio. They even have roughly the same top speed, although it would take a brave driver to V-Max this V-twin.
We stopped at a nondescript potato field beneath skies where, nearly a century ago, Captain Ball in his SE5 fighter was locked in a dogfight with German Albatrosses. Von Richthofen's fuel tank was punctured and he made a forced landing. As Albert Ball swooped through cloud to follow, he became disorientated and crashed, dying in the arms of a farmer's daughter who pulled him from the wreckage. He was just 20 years old.
Ball's father placed a commemorative stone here, in this bleak field, and we parked our Moggy on a muddy track and walked across the field to place a poppy. From here we went to the military cemetery where he was finally laid to rest, and among German and Russian crosses stands one British headstone: Captain Albert Ball.
Millions of people of many nationalities gave their lives in the Great War. Today we remember them all.