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Morgan's mighty 3-Wheeler

By Paul Cockburn, 27 May 2016 Features

Morgan's mighty 3-Wheeler

Man in utility vest let loose in three-wheeled car. What could possibly go wrong?

This story has got my name written all over it.

The subject is Morgan’s 3 Wheeler, and no man on this magazine is more suited to savouring it… because the very first car I ever owned was a three-wheeler of the same pattern.

It was in 60s London, where some legal aberration allowed this configuration to be driven on a simply-obtained scooter licence and, with its 204cc of raging rear-mounted thrust, a Heinkel Trojan was my first, fabulous taste of automotive freedom.

Paul cockburn and the morgan 3 wheelIt was an intoxication beyond all caution that allowed blissful innocence of such trivia that – with track, wheelbase and centre of gravity all of similar dimension – the device could roll over in the driveway of a nunnery… and, as confessed in this very journal many years ago, did so, leaving my plans to impress the lovely young Sister Bernadette shattered and the quest to roger a Carmelite reduced to mad ambition.

But the nostalgia remains, and no company in automotive history is as devoted to that emotion as Morgan, the very epitome of autocentricity. So, for reasons that have quite easily evaded every other marque, Morgan has revived the three-wheeler, simultaneously confronting convention and confounding authority.

The latter explains why obtaining formal compliance for the Morgan 3 Wheeler (or M3W) in this country was such a protracted and costly process, culminating in a conveyance lacking a roof, windscreen, doors or any form of heating or cooling other than whatever amuses God. Despite these omissions, the Morgan is officially classified under ADRs as a luxury car.

Morgan 3-wheel car rear drivingTrust me, only the price, more than $100,000 before options, lives up to that description. But, as any motoring purist will confirm, minimalism can have its benefits.

A vehicle mass of 550kg promises an immediacy of response that even a (rare these days) one-tonner can never match. And allows both the economy of a twin-cylinder motor and 6.0-second 0-100km/h sprints – a profound improvement on my own three-wheeler’s times which, as I recall, involved a calendar.

However, preparing to drive the Morgan reveals some of the frugalities are indeed extreme. Short of setting about the thing with spanners, there is no available adjustment of seat position, steering wheel or pedals, which limits sharing the pleasure and, more importantly, the option of a nominated driver.

Morgan 3-wheeler interiorAnd one’s well-being is compromised by the absence of airbags of any form. Lesser omissions also seem hardly worth the weight-saving; there’s neither a glovebox nor a central rear vision mirror. As for a drink holder, get a grip.

As mentioned, however, there are options… and even if the trifles mentioned aren’t among them, the list still glitters. Plunder it and your M3W can be outfitted with RAF roundels and a lovely array of simulated bullet holes, neither of which, as I recall, are available from competitor Mercedes. And not even Bentley offers a range of coachwork graphics that include semi-naked ladies riding bombs.

The more technically inclined will be drawn to the mechanicals and, for their pleasure, the engine is proudly displayed out front. The still-curious will discover that only the less lovely appendages (battery, oil tank, etc) occupy the under-bonnet space, but do it so thoroughly that no further stowage is available there.

Morgan engine and frontThat facility falls to the boot which, indeed, has accommodation for two small packets of tissues in a space otherwise occupied by a spare inner tube – not tyre – and a tool kit primarily consisting of a very sturdy hammer.

Trust me, it is uncommonly brave for a British car to offer a hammer but, as their product design indicates, Morgan is surely bold. And, anyway, they have an ace to play. Ignore the ADR’s designation and see the M3W as its maker does – a sportster – and you’re dealing with a sub-species that traditionally can get away with anything.

So let’s forget the shortcomings and be grateful that Staff Journalist Cordony has joined us in something sensible to serve as a platform for photographer Dewar and, more to the point, provide stowage for anything requiring more space than a sneeze.

Cockburn with a hammerI am also grateful that he’s brought a leather helmet and goggles that will ensure anonymity, if not dignity, in traffic. Because, trust me, the Morgan 3 Wheeler does not pass unnoticed and, inviting a very broad spectrum of opinion indeed, neither will its occupant. If the Kardashians made a Kar!

Okay, there can be no denying the thing’s look-at-me power, and at a movie premiere it’d pull more paps than whatever Miley wasn’t wearing… but you’ve gotta get there first, and as driving involves much more than just arriving we shall focus on that.

Morgan 3 wheel and aeroplaneBeginning with settling into seating approximately as hard as Syrian foreign policy. Followed by firing it up, hopefully before the neighbour’s baby has gone to bed because the exhaust is a raging torrent of sound. Add to that every pulse shaking everything in the car, including the mirrors and the driver, and there’s no doubting that something’s imminent!

Traffic reveals day-to-day realities, such as a driveline with more snatch than a Swedish movie and the nuisance of having no left footrest other than the clutch pedal.

The unassisted steering is also surprisingly heavy and parking is further hampered by a turning circle occupying approximately one page of the road directory. Why this arc is so much greater than that of a conventional four-wheeler escapes me, but, at urban speeds, the Morgan feels commendably stable.

Driving the Morgan on the highwayAs we move onto more open roads the sense of security remains, but any specific benefit that the three-wheeler configuration may offer eludes detection. Its downside, though, soon becomes painfully obvious.

The ride, already firm to minimise roll and heighten response, is rendered brutal when the pothole you’ve carefully straddled with the front wheels swallows the rear one and delivers your arse, parked right in front of it, a swift discourse on the limitation of the layout. And don’t worry that you’ll forget it, as every cobble-centred driveway and old timber bridge will restore the memory.

But these cavils fade as the well-surfaced country roads that serve this land so well open before us and, in a cascade of crackle and pace, the Morgan reveals its road-self. And most of it is truly rewarding.

Driving the Morgan fastThe pace may not be in supercar territory but, trust me, it’s got all that you can use on the road, an ability made all the more dramatic by the rising roar and the raging wind that mandates either goggles or a visor.

Then there’s the tactility that the unassisted and manual everything brings to the experience, promoting an intimacy long-lost to modern motoring. Above all is the reward of response to every input made possible by the minimal mass. But that response, sadly, diminishes during hard cornering when prodigious understeer significantly reduces both pace and poise.

Morgan 3wheeler in hangarUndersteer? Surprised me, too. I’m presuming it to be a deliberate setting to minimise tail-happiness… but any suggestion of loose surface brings oversteer back into the picture very swiftly indeed and the turning circle back to approximately wheelbase length.

And, happily exploring that capability – purely for the camera, of course – brings a flood of memories sweeping back. Not of the Heinkel. Oh no. Of a later, and far greater, tasting. This Morgan brings back the bestial, brute-powered, wheelie-prone thumpers of my youth: bikes that thrilled – and threatened – with an intensity beyond any car I’ve ever experienced.

Morgan 3-wheel car more a bikeAnd, in those memories, lies the Morgan 3 Wheeler’s redemption: it may be a fairly horrible car, but, hell, it’s a fabulous bike!


Body: 2-seat roadster
Drive: rear-wheel
Engine: 1983cc V2, OHV, 8v
Bore/stroke: 79.0 x 76.0mm
Compression: 9.0:1
Power: 60kW @ 5250rpm
Torque: 140Nm @ 3250rpm
Power/weight: 109kW/tonne
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Weight: 550kg
Suspension(F): A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar, hydraulic shocks
Suspension(R): trailing arm, coil springs, hydraulic shocks
L/W/H: 3260/1738/1012mm
Wheelbase: 2388mm
Tracks: 1533mm (f)
Steering: unassisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes(F): 278mm ventilated discs; twin-piston calipers
Brakes(R): 244mm drum brake
Wheels: 19.0 x 2.5-inch (f); 15 x 6.0-inch (r)
Tyre sizes: 4.00 x 19 H15 (f); 175/65 R15 (r)
Tyres: Avon Safety Mileage
Pros: Exclusivity; celebrity status; utterly unique driving experience
Cons: Very expensive; not at all practical; turning circle
Price: $97,500

Sticking it to ’em

Sticker Art morgan styleArt – Morgan style
IT’S NOT exactly standard fare for a car maker to offer artwork like a girl riding a bomb as an optional extra, but Morgan is similarly not known for following convention. We counted 21 optional stickers you can have on your M3W, including this bomber girl ($460), bullet holes ($330), a Spitfire-inspired shark mouth ($775), an RAF-inspired MOG logo ($775) and plenty more. With 10 available colours including yellow and even teal, the possible combinations are countless.