REINVENTING THE PAST
Classics Monthly|February 2020
This may well be the newest car you ever see featured in Classics magazine, but we hope you'll agree that Morgan's 21st Century return to three-wheeled motoring is pretty close to being an instant classic.
SIMON GOLDSWORTHY

H.F.S. Morgan built his first three-wheeler in 1909. The final Morgan three-wheeler with the now-iconic V-twin engine up front was made in 1946, and the last of the 20th century production three-wheelers to roll out of the Malvern factory was a four-cylinder F4 in 1953. However, Morgan aficionados tend not to refer to the cars by their engine types, but rather to the number of forward gears they possess, so the twins are two-speeders and the F2/F4 are three-speeders. Well, why buy a Morgan and then do things the same way as everybody else...?

However, that was not the end of the Morgan three-wheeler story, as the car in these pictures clearly shows. But while the Malvern company stunned the automotive world when it exhibited the brand new M3W (Morgan Three-Wheeler) at the Geneva Motor Show in 2011, this story really starts with a guy called Pete Larsen in Seattle at the turn of the century. Larsen made a living from building retro sidecars for Harley-Davidsons and was keen to buy a Moto Guzzi-powered Triking. When his search proved fruitless, he decided to build a Harley powered trike for himself, called it the Liberty Ace and put it into limited production.

That is rather glossing over the years of hard work that went into developing the Ace, but we need to move the story swiftly on to 2009, when Larsen's project had caught the interest of various people at Morgan. They were no longer able to make Morgan cars drive through all the legislative hoops required to sell them in the USA, and that had got some of the management team thinking seriously about reentering the market the company had left back in 1953 – a three-wheeler would be classed as a motorcycle rather than a car, and so subject to different (and much less onerous) rules.

Within two years the Morgan Motor Company had bought the rights to the Liberty Ace, redeveloped it and exhibited their new M3W. And when I say redeveloped, I mean 'extensively' redeveloped. In fact virtually nothing of the Ace was carried over directly into the M3W, but that level of re-engineering is typical when moving from a prototype to a production model and it is important not to under-estimate the contribution made to the whole project by Larsen's creation. After all, the Ace was still a vital part of the development process and it probably saved Morgan two years of development time – without the Ace there might never have been an M3W at all.

Some of the changes made by Morgan were unavoidable (such as the transmission changes outlined below), some were forced on the company (for example, Harley-Davidson declined to sell Morgan engines), and others were done for stylistic reasons (the growth of the front wheels from 16in to 19in could be classed in that category). Not all of the changes Morgan made worked out, and certainly they messed up on the steering geometry, but as Peter Dron says (perhaps with tongue slightly in cheek) in his excellent book The Morgan 3 Wheeler – Back to the Future, they did all this on a development budget 'estimated to be around £200,000, which is about the cost of a redesigned rear-view mirror at Ford or General Motors.'

First though, let's look at the engine. Larsen had used a Harley-Davidson unit in his Ace, but the Wisconsin company were unwilling to supply Morgan for a larger production run. Moto Guzzi were also approached, but at the time Morgan were predicting a total production run of between 200 and 400 examples, and that was too small for the Italian firm to offer acceptable terms. However, Harley-Davidson did suggest that Morgan might try a company called S&S Cycle, who were also from Wisconsin. They made an air-cooled V-twin in three large capacities mainly for the custom bike market, all of them pre-certified with the USA's Environmental Protection Agency to be emissions-compliant. Morgan duly followed this advice, and an agreement was made to buy the X121 engine at a shade under two-litres (or 121cu.in. – hence the name).

That might have solved one problem, but it created another. The Ace had used a simple transmission system based on a Honda GL1800 Gold Wing motorcycle's shaft drive, but this was so offset to one side that it severely limited seat space on the right of the car, making it unfeasible to build the car as a righthand drive. Morgan's solution was far more complex but allowed for RHD as well as LHD options. They fed power to a Mazda MX5 gearbox (hence the new cars are referred to in Morgan Three Wheeler Club circles as five-speeders), from which a short prop shaft led back to a Quaife 90° bevel gearbox. An output sprocket on this pulled a big 1.5in toothed Kevlar belt, which in turn drove the single rear wheel.

So far so good, but while to the uninitiated the S&S engine may look similar to a Harley unit, it is not identical. For one thing the Harley engine has its cylinders set at 45° whereas in the S&S the angle is 56°. A more crucial difference is that the S&S unit lacks the Harley's harmonic balancer shafts, and its uneven firing pulses can create vicious torque spikes. What this means in practice is that it can destroy any drivetrain to which it is attached, even potentially a box as tough as the Mazda unit.

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