posted on May 11, 2019

Reinventing a relic for the modern age

Goggles, check. Earplugs, check. Bonnet, check. An adventurous spirit, check, check.

Flying down California’s Great Highway in a three-wheeler looks a lot more like pre-World War II than 2019. Thanks to Morgan Motor Company’s relaunch of the 3 Wheeler, this throwback adventure can be yours this weekend.

A blast from the past 

In 1909, a young man named Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan (better known as HFS) needed a way to get around. Horses struggled to climb hills, motorcycles were too dangerous, and cars were too expensive. 

So HFS set out to turn a car into a motorcycle and thus the Morgan 3 Wheeler Runabout was born. The first 3 Wheeler Runabout had an engine mounted to the nose, flanked by two wheels to steer and a single, central, wheel at the back for the drive. Finally, HFS no longer needed to depend on a horse to get over the Malvern Hills.

And in 1911, a year after he first introduced his single-seater runabout at the Olympia Motor Show, HFS returned. This time he drove in with a three-wheeled car with two seats and a steering wheel. Demand for his practical, affordable three-wheel car soared after that. And soon, car ownership was possible for all.

The next 30 years were a period of drastic change in the world. The Titanic, the largest passenger ship at the time, attempted and failed to cross the Atlantic. Two world wars reshaped continents and rewrote history. And transportation no longer depended on horses for power.

Image: Morgan Motor Company

It was during this time four wheels and a roof became the more practical choice. By then, Ford was mass-producing the Model T to take over the roads in the US, while the Fiat 500 was all the rage in Europe. Even Morgan joined in on the action, releasing its first four-wheeler, the 4-4, a car equipped with a four-cylinder engine and four wheels.

And so by the end of World War II, the Morgan 3 Wheeler was close to obsolete, a relic of a time when horses and automobiles shared the road.

Back to the future

Building the 3 Wheeler today happens much as it did more than a century ago — by hand. Every Morgan 3 Wheeler takes about 100 hours to finish in a tiny factory in the English city of Malvern Link.

The 3 Wheeler features careful stitching adorning the leather seats, a dashboard styled after an old fighter pilot cockpit, complete with a flip switch horn, and a V-twin engine body reminiscent of the Super Aero, the 1927 version of the car. Today’s Morgan 3 Wheeler makes you feel like you’re driving a piece of history — bonnet and goggles included.

Looks like a 3 Wheeler but drives like a sports car

Aside from the Morgan 3 Wheeler’s retro styling, everything else is built to face the 21st century. The S&S engine powering the Morgan 3 Wheeler has plenty of torque, providing maximum power at minimum revs. S&S, of course, is the American motorcycle engine and parts manufacturer responsible for replacing twin engines for specific Harley-Davidson models. 

And at 2.0 liters, it has enough power to take the Morgan 3 Wheeler from zero to 60 mph in under five seconds.

Driving around without air conditioning, no power steering, and no roof? No problem. The real magic of the Morgan 3 Wheeler isn’t what’s on paper or even what comforts it gives drivers. No, the real magic is in that feeling you get when driving it on the road — memorable, exhilarating, and oh so magical! With the wind blowing through your hair and the loud engine drowning out the noisy world, you’ll want to take the 3 Wheeler for a spin every chance you get.

Autocycle, motorcycle, or car — which is it?

Image: Morgan Motor Company

Can you drive a three-wheeler in the US? In most cases, the answer is yes. Take the island of Maui as an example. You can take the road to Hana around the entire island with this three-wheeled beauty with just a regular driver’s license. Hawaii is one of the states that classify three-wheelers as autocycles.

Currently, at least 43 states have adopted the autocycle designation for three-wheelers, which does not require drivers to have a motorcycle license. Be sure to check your local laws before operating any three-wheeled vehicle.

From a federal standpoint, autocycles fall under the definition of a motorcycle — a definition mostly aimed at manufacturing standards and regulatory treatment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) classifies motorcycles as “a motor vehicle with motive power having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground,” and does not have a specific classification for three-wheeled vehicles.

With the growing popularity of these vehicles, there are likely to be more changes to come. So it’s always smart to look into your local driving laws before buying one, or trying one on Turo.

Building a long history of innovation and style

Even when the Morgan Motor Company phased out the production of the Morgan 3 Wheeler in 1952, the car company was already making other cars, including the 4-4 and 4+. And even as the car industry evolved, upgraded its technology, and welcomed more companies into the field, Morgan Motor remained steady, building 850 hand-crafted vehicles a year. 

Today, Morgan Motor Company currently produces four models in addition to the Morgan 3 Wheeler, the 4/4, Plus 4, the Morgan Roadster and the Plus 6. Each model reflects the style and designs that defined the Morgan Motor Company.

In 2016, the company announced the EV3, the Morgan 3 Wheeler’s electric cousin. And while the project is currently on hold, and deposits returned, the company remains committed to the idea of bringing the classic Morgan 3 Wheeler into the next century.

Unconventional, but wicked cool

The Morgan 3 Wheeler is a showstopper for drivers and bystanders alike. If you’ve ever seen a Morgan 3 Wheeler making its way down Main Street or getting its 10-gallon tank filled at a gas station, you probably stopped and stared, wondering what exactly you were looking at. 

But why just look, when you could experience it for yourself. Whether you want to tour the island of Maui retro-style, or re-live a piece of automotive history on vacation, one thing is sure to be true, you’ll have a wicked good time.

Read our features on other popular three-wheel vehicles: Vanderhall Venice, Polaris Slingshot, & Can-Am Spyder.