Luddites rejoice! While some might call it the worst of both worlds, British carmaker, Morgan, is building a three-wheeler powered by a Harley.
That’s right; the iconic manufacturer recently announced that it will build new three-wheeled vehicles, and the powerplant of choice will be an 1800 cc Harley-Davidson V-twin. The time is right to re-launch this exceptional design, says Morgan on its website, adding that the company will be expanding its range for 2011 and going back to its roots.
Morgan originally got its start by producing three-wheelers, of course, back in 1909, and manufactured them until 1953, selling some 30,000 over the years. In that time, they were propelled by everything from air-cooled motorcycle engines, to small displacement Ford four cylinders. In the 1930s, Morgan actually offered buyers a 990 cc water-cooled Matchless V-twin engine, so the choice of a Harley unit for the new trike isn’t that out of line.
A few specs about the new Morgan trike. The engine, tweaked by Harley’s Screaming Eagle performance division, will develop a purported 100 horsepower, giving the 500 kg three-wheeler an estimated top speed of some 185 km/h and a zero to 100 km/h time of around 4.5 seconds. It will be mated to a five-speed manual transmission taken from a Mazda5, and will have disc brakes all round. There will be seating for two and the body configuration will be the classic beetle-back design the company used on its Super Sports Aero model, manufactured in the 1920s and vigorously campaigned in motorsports events by intrepid privateers even now.
Let’s hope the new version is more user friendly than the old. Driving the original three-wheelers required a manual dexterity and attention to detail that few of us can imagine today. In his book Morgan (Osprey Press, 1994) author Rowan Isaac describes the start-up procedure for one of the early models:
1) Turn petrol tap on
2) Flood carburetor by depressing device on float chamber
3) Close air lever
4) Open throttle lever slightly
5) Half advance ignition lever
6) Turn on oil drip feed
7) Insert starting handle in bevel box just forward of the rear wheel
8) Check gear is in neutral
9) Hold valve lifter lever open
10) Wind starting handle and hope for the best
Once underway, the driver had to contend with a rat’s nest of motorcycle-style throttle cables, manual oil feed valves, cable-operated brakes, and, sometimes, an engine with a total loss lubrication system that spewed oil right back into his face. Thus the goggles drivers often wear. As time went on, things became more civilized, of course, with new-fangled features such as electric start, reverse gear, front brakes, and three forward gears becoming standard, but even at its most refined, the Morgan three-wheeler was prone to rollovers and abrupt changes in direction. During city driving, the rear wheel could sometimes get stuck in trolley tracks, which took away the drivers ability to make a turn. The remedy: stop the vehicle, get out, lift the back end out of the rut and carry on. In the wet, it was treacherous and windblown, and creature comforts were minimal. That said, in the hands of the right driver/mechanic, a modified Morgan three-wheeler could be made to go like the clappers, with spectacular handling and braking.
Getting back to the present, the new three-wheeler will have leather seats, Brooklands-style flyscreens, an all-aluminum body wrapped around a tubular frame, twin roll-bars, and wire wheels. More importantly, it will be homologated – or classified – as a motorcycle, thus avoiding the mandatary crash tests that conventional four-wheelers must undergo. Interestingly, one of the reasons Morgans aren’t currently sold in this country is because Transport Canada requires any prospective dealer to crash test at least three cars, which, if your yearly inventory is half a dozen units at best, is costly and prohibitive. For reasons that aren’t easily understood, the government agency is more than willing to adopt crash test results from the U.S.-based National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration for major carmakers, but insists on putting boutique manufacturers through the hoops.
Anyway, despite its apparent eccentricity, re-introducing a three-wheeled vehicle in the 21st century actually makes sense. It’s not as though no one else is doing it; Bombardier, for example, with its CanAm Spyder, is enjoying some success these days, and Italian manufacturer, Piaggio, has had a three-wheeled scooter on the market for several years. As well, Harley-Davidson has been selling trikes for ages, and now that its traditional market is getting older, is enjoying improved sales with its Tri-Glide models. As Morgan explains: The future of road transport in the 21st Century has two big issues: the conservation of precious resources and the protection of our beautiful natural environment. Downsizing and a philosophy of simplicity are ways of dealing with these problems. The Morgan Threewheeler is a proven answer to these problems.
And what better partnership than two long-established manufacturers, whose combined experience in the art of building cars and bikes exceeds 200 years?