Only one car company in the entire automotive firmament would be crazy enough to put back into production a car with the same name, concept, mechanical layout and target customer as a model it first made in 1911 – and killed off more than six decades ago.
The company is, of course, the Morgan Motor Company of Pickersleigh Road, Malvern Link, and the car is the 3 Wheeler, a reincarnation of Morgan’s first-ever motor vehicle, one that was famed for its simplicity, agility, low price and the surprising power-to-weight ratio provided by its motorcycle-derived V-twin engine. Oddball it may have been, but effective it most certainly was, helping to build a rich motor sporting history that acquired for Morgan an early financial viability that it has never lost.
Morgan made no more air-cooled twin-cylinder 3 Wheelers after World War Two and pretty soon dropped the 3 Wheeler altogether. But the model’s reputation only seemed to grow, with the rise of vintage racing providing ever more opportunities for it consistently to beat far classier machinery and burnish the legend. Meanwhile, factions of the specialist car industry – Triking and others – began to demonstrate that there was still interest in cars of this layout, especially as agility, compactness and simplicity became rarities. When Morgan decided to put a new iteration of its classic back into production, complete with a modern steel tube chassis, a meaty 2.0-litre V-twin engine driving through a Mazda MX-5 gearbox, decent brakes and wishbone suspension to make a very traditional-looking package weighing just 500kg, our excitement was as great as anyone’s.
The styling was a particular achievement: big enough and convenient enough for modern occupants yet so close in character to the famous originals that some old-time owners made the decision to buy a new one, too.
At Autocar, we persuaded Morgan boss Steve Morris to let us specify our own 3 Wheeler, including modern convenience features such as heated seats, but avoiding expensive leather and paint options and finishes we thought might deteriorate with hard use. One good example was our choice of blackspoked wheels over the chromed versions we could have had. As you’ll read below, the 3 Wheeler divided opinions among our staff members, but nobody was ambivalent, which is just what Morgan had hoped for.
It’s our ‘Three Unwise Men’ Christmas feature. It’s late November. Cackett has a heated, fast Caterham. Saunders has a heated suit and a fast Ariel Nomad. I have neither in the unfast Morgan 3 Wheeler, and we have to get from Cheddar to the Welsh coast. So I let ’em go on ahead, wrap up warm and peer around the filthy aeroscreen. I doubt I ever get to the legal limit and every mile is dirty, wet and cold. It’s perfect.
The 3 Wheeler isn’t a subtle car, but unlike a goldplated Rolls or a straight-piped supercar, the reactions to it are overwhelmingly positive. In either of the aforementioned attention-magnets, my ill-advised trip into a gridlocked central Southampton during a rainy boat show weekend would have been met with hand gestures and looks of disapproval. Instead, strangers admired, took photos and asked questions about the Morgan. I defy you to find another car more approachably fascinating to all who witness it.