PHC Magazine’s two-wheeled columnist, Ian kerr, reviews author Peter Dron’s book – Morgan 3 Wheeler
ATTEND ANY vintage motorcycle gathering and the chances are that there will be at least one Morgan 3 wheeler present, normally powered by a JAP or a similar V-twin motor in full view at the front end. The simple design came from one H.F.S Morgan, after whom the car was named, and the Morgan three-wheeler became one of the most successful lightweight ‘cars’ in the pioneering years of motoring.
It was in 1909 that Morgan constructed his simple three-wheeler with a tubular steel chassis fitted with a 7hp Peugeot V-twin engine, giving a power to weight ratio of 90 brake horsepower per ton, and was first shown to the public in 1910. As well as being extremely fast it also created a new type of vehicle which generically became known as the ‘Cyclecar’. The early cars were either two or four-seat and fitted with three wheels so they avoided the British tax on cars by being classified as motorcycles.
Despite Morgan becoming a dominant force in motorsport they had serious competition from emerging small cars like the Austin Seven, which gave more weather protection and comfort to its occupants. So in 1936 the first production four-wheeled Morgan was released to the public. However, it was not the end of the three wheeler, which continued in production until 1952.
As most know, the Malvern based company has continued to build hand-crafted sports cars which, thanks to a waiting list, have become somewhat exclusive high end vehicles bought by collectors, investors and enthusiasts. So the question has to be asked as to why – in the early years of the 21st century – did the Morgan Motor Company decide to return to its ‘motorcycle’ origins, with a new three-wheeler?
One of the main reasons, according to well-known car journalist and competitor Peter Dron (the author of this latest work from Veloce Publishing), is that it could no longer sell its four-wheelers in the USA. This was due to the costs of meeting increasingly restrictive legislation on emissions and accident safety, meaning it was no longer financially viable for small manufacturers.
Bizarrely, the three-wheeler is still classed as a motorcycle stateside and, as a result, bypasses the complex legal requirements. So Morgan designed and engineered the new three-wheeler model to keep the name alive. And, of course, make a profit!
The management thought it might sell a few hundred three wheelers. However, orders flooded in after its launch at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, leading to considerable complications.
The book, Morgan 3 Wheeler, recounts this in a modern day story of a quintessentially eccentric English sports car with an American engine and a Japanese gearbox, which is still in demand today. It is somewhat appropriate that it is told by somebody with a long impressive background on four wheels, as most motorcyclists still regard the three-wheeler as closer to the car world rather than the motorcycle, despite the legal link.
It is worth noting that although the lavishly illustrated tome starts with a brief history of the three-wheeler and the American connection with the Liberty ACE, it is not a historical work on Morgan or their vehicle. It is just about the latest 21st century offering and the first chapter is the only real reference to the past, despite the book’s title!
As Dron takes you step-by-step through the manufacturing process he tells what it’s like to drive, covers the strengths and weaknesses, and lists the factory improvements made since the 2011 launch. This includes modifications, possible developments, and even why it is – or isn’t – your kind of vehicle. It is told with the honesty of an actual owner, making it a personal story as well as a factual one!
Morgan 3 Wheeler is superbly illustrated with stunning colour plates of every detail of the car – construction, modifications from the factory and from outside suppliers, original concept sketches and CAD illustrations. As a result it is a must-have book for existing, and especially prospective, Morgan three-wheeled owners, considering the cost of the new machines which makes them almost on a par with their four-wheeled siblings!
Considering the quality of the production it may be a coffee table work, but it is an essential read that will be enjoyed by two, three and four-wheeled aficionados alike, and it will have you constantly turning its pages for years to come. It may persuade you to invest in either a modern one or spark an interest that may see you stepping back in time with one of the first all British versions!
Highly recommended, beautifully produced and well worth adding to your book collection – even at the £40 cover price. ISBN 978-1-845847-63-0 Available from bookshops or www.veloce.co.uk