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Morgan Three Wheelers

Published: 4th Mar 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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THREE SPIRIT

If you thought three-wheelers were just Reliants and Del Boy, then think again! Morgan has recently relaunched its classic tri-car but with a modern twist. Richard Dredge compares it to the original

We can’t think of many scenarios like this one. You’ve got £30,000 to spend and you could buy either a brand new car or one of its 80-year old ancestors which – at least on paper – offers much the same driving and ownership experience. Indeed, the situation must be unique, because if you’ve got 30 grand in your pocket you could put yourself on the waiting list for Morgan’s brilliant new Three- Wheeler, or you could track down one of its rarer forebears. In both cases you’ll have to be prepared to wait a fair while, but as you’ll find out, sometimes the best things come to those who do.

As soon as Morgan revealed the Three- Wheeler at the 2012 Geneva motor show, it was obvious the decision was long overdue; nearly 500 buyers couldn’t hand over their deposits quick enough, and since then orders have continued to accumulate.

Considering that Morgan’s lifeblood in its early days was a succession of models without a full complement of wheels, revisiting the formula was an obvious idea – but not until it actually happened. The company’s decision has been vindicated too; dissenting voices are few and far between and the production line can’t churn out the cars fast enough. It’s not hard to see why; the Three-Wheeler should be available on prescription, because there can be no more effective cure for depression than this.

But if it wasn’t for US outfit Liberty Motors, Morgan may never have revived the Three-Wheeler. Liberty created its own version of Morgan’s classic three-wheeler, called the Ace Cycle Car, which was deemed good enough to provide the basis for a new model from Malvern. Morgan took over the project and after a redesign and some re-engineering the car was ready for its Spring 2011 debut.

While the Ace Cycle Car featured a Harley Davidson V-twin, Morgan opted for an overhead-valve ‘X-Wedge’ twin-pot unit from American company S&S Cycle Inc instead. Morgan chose this as its creator was happy to re-engineer to a specific brief, and after a month of the two companies collaborating, a 1976cc unit was created, capable of generating an unstressed 82bhp along with 103lb ft of torque. Which in a car as light as this, is a recipe for guaranteed exhilaration. But how does it compare with the original three-wheeler?

WHICH MODEL TO BUY?

It would be easy to think of there being just two choices; pre-war or post-war. But it’s not that straightforward, because firstly the ‘pre-war’ model was actually built until the early 50s, while availability of the earlier three-wheelers is very hit and miss. Just because you set your heart on a particular model, it doesn’t mean you’ll find one.

Which brings us to the third point; it’s not as though there was just one model where the ‘classic’ three-wheeler is concerned – there was a whole succession of them from the model’s introduction in 1909 until the demise of the formula in 1952, a full 16 years after the arrival of Morgan’s first four-wheeler.

Things kicked off with the Runabout in 1912, with production continuing throughout the Fist World War. But the chances of you finding a three-wheeler built before the mid-1920s are slim – indeed, unless you’re prepared to search hard and to wait for something suitable to become available, you’re most likely to find something from the early 1930s or later.

Whether you want a V-twin or four-pot three-wheeler is a matter of personal preference, but there’s something about the former that just oozes charm from every pore, while the four-cylinder cars look less endearing with their more conventional front-end styling.

BEHIND THE WHEEL?

It’ll come as no surprise to learn that these two cars are very different to drive in most ways, but not all. You wear either of them like you’d wear a favourite jacket; the cabins are so narrow that you can’t help but hang your arm over the side, and there’s not enough adjustment of anything to get a properly comfortable driving position.

One of the key areas in which the threewheeler has developed is in cabin width; the new car is wider than before, but it’s still tight. Jump in (the steering wheel is removable to make entry and exit easier) and you have to sit on the transmission tunnel to latch the safety belt before you settle down into the seat. Once in place it’s comfy, but with a fixed chair, set low, the high cowl makes it hard to place the nearside wheel if you’re not very tall. There are adjustable pedals though.

BEHIND THE WHEEL?

Turn the ignition key, press the starter button and the engine settles to a lumpy idle. With each of the two cylinders displacing almost a litre, there’s ample torque for a smooth getaway, but once you’re moving it’s best to have a couple of thousand revs on the dial if the engine isn’t to feel as though it’s going to shake itself apart; it’s the meagre cylinder count that does it. Keep the revs above 2000rpm and the car just flies; the sprint from a standing start to 60mph is pegged at under six seconds.

The Three-Wheeler is geared for vigorous acceleration rather than a generous top speed; it tops out at a claimed 115mph. That’s more than enough, because up to 60mph things remain reasonably calm, but by the time you’ve hit 80mph all hell has broken lose. Better instead to just savour the acceleration at every opportunity; even around town it’s hard not to make the most of it.

The most important way in which the Three-Wheeler has moved on from the original is in the ease of driving; the current machine is as simple to drive as any of its contemporaries. The Mazda MX-5-sourced five-speed gearbox is slick and all of the controls are conventional, unlike in its pre-war counterpart. The pedals are quite close together, but they’re well weighted and linear, making them very easy to use.

Once you’re on the move it just pulls; with just half a tonne to propel, that two-pot engine doesn’t have to work very hard, but what’s surprising is how effortless it all is. Squeeze the throttle and the Three-Wheeler just gathers speed – and keeps on gathering it in some style.

The limiting factor is invariably the road surface; not how much grip there is, but how many bumps it contains, as the suspension is firm. This, combined with the low kerb weight, ensures that if you hit a bump at speed the car is deflected; Morgan has switched from sliding pillar suspension to wishbones with coil-over-dampers at each wheel, for improved reliability and safety, but things can still get unruly.

What’s surprising is how little buffeting there is at speed, plus how stable the car is – to the point where it’s not immediately obvious at sane speeds that there’s a wheel missing. Such is the width of the front track and rear tyre (there’s 205/55 rubber at the back) that you’ve got to be going some to unsettle the Three-Wheeler.

If the 2012 Three-Wheeler driving experience feels old-fashioned, it’s nothing compared with its ancestor. With its hand throttle, joined by levers for advance/retard and mixture on the steering wheel, the 1933 Supersport requires some strong mental adjustment, not least of all because it’s easy to press the throttle after an upchange, only to be reminded that the right-hand pedal is actually the brake!

With no synchromesh on any of the gears, double-declutching is the order of the day and the steering is unfeasibly heavy. With just half a turn between locks, as soon as you deviate from the straight-ahead you need both hands to get round even remotely tight bends.

What’s also quickly apparent as soon as you get to a sharp corner is how much narrower the 1933 Mog is; it’s immediately obvious that there’s just the one wheel behind you, as you can feel the weight shifting. But despite the seemingly crude suspension of this 80 year old, the Supersport actually rides appreciably more comfortably than the 2012 edition which will come as a shock for many we reckon.

THE DAILY OPTION?

If you could use either of these cars on a daily basis you’re either seriously hardy or you don’t do many miles. In theory the 1930s three-wheeler is a little more usable than the 21st century model in that it features weather protection – after a fashion. While there’s just a tonneau available for the new car, the original came with a folding roof, although it’s quite possibly the most ungainly hood ever fitted to a production car. Better to reserve the both for when the sun is shining.

OWNING AND RUNNING

Nobody is going to buy a three-wheeler of any vintage, for racking up thousands of miles each year. The newer car is engineered to be used much more, so in terms of usability – and possibly even reliability – the latest machine is likely to prove a safer bet.

However, if you’re coming into threewheeler ownership from a collector’s perspective or you’re after something to show, there can be only one choice, and that’s the original model.

Whether or not you enjoy driving it is another matter; the controls aren’t intuitive anf the steering is very heavy, plus performance is ‘relaxed’ – and if you buy a lower-powered model you may find it so relaxed that you end up having to trailer your Mog to events that are further afield.

The issue that puts many new car buyers off is that of depreciation, but Morgan has a pretty good record in this department. Marque specialist Henry Williams comments: “Although Morgan is ramping up Three-Wheeler production, most cars are being exported, so demand will outstrip supply in the UK for the foreseeable future. Order a car now and you’ll have to wait at least six months for it to be built. Also, with Morgan’s annual price increases, anyone buying a new Three-Wheeler now will save money in the longer term as they’ll be getting the car at a lower price”.

If you’d prefer a classic three-wheeler, it’ll be a question of buying whatever you can find. Says Williams: “Few cars come onto the market as owners like to hold onto them. The archetypal three-wheeler is a V-twin model, but the four-wheelers are worth a look too. These later cars tend to have lower asking prices attached, so they’re more affordable but they’re also likely to prove to be a sound investment just like the two-cylinder models”.

Restoration projects rarely come onto the market; if you can find one, you might get away with paying under £10,000 for it. However, tatty runners are available for just £12,000-14,000 while good cars are more like £20,000-25,000. Top three-wheelers can easily change hands for £30,000- £40,000 and something really special can command an asking price of as much as £50,000 – although it won’t find a buyer too easily at that level.

Two-cylinder cars generally attract higher prices for a given condition, so if you’re on a budget, go for a four-cylinder car. What’s a wheel between friends?



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