Morgan 3-Wheeler | PH Used Buying Guide

Probably the most eccentric new car launched in the last decade, the 3-Wheeler is a very British delight

By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, July 4, 2021 / Loading comments

Key considerations

  • Available for £32,000
  • 2.0-litre 4v twin, rear-wheel drive
  • Huge ‘surprise and delight’ factor
  • Handles better than you might think
  • Early adopters faced a few issues
  • Rock-solid values

Search for a Morgan 3-Wheeler here

OVERVIEW

If there had been no historical precedent for the Morgan 3 Wheeler it’s impossible to imagine it ever coming out as a new vehicle in the second decade of the 21st century. Objectively it had almost none of the features modern motorists had come to expect, not even the most basic safety related stuff that most of us have come to see as essential rather than desirable. There was no traction control. There was no servo or anti-lock assistance for the brakes. It was missing a wheel.

And yet, like many things we shouldn’t like, the 3 Wheeler was magnetically appealing. Morgan called it a ‘rebellion against sanitised, modern motoring, representing ‘no frills all thrills’ motoring with attitude and character’. Although it obviously took its design cue from the three-wheelers that had been a Morgan staple before the second world war, the commercial decision to revisit the format was inspired not by Morgan but by Pete Larson’s Seattle-based outfit Liberty Motors. Their Harley-Davidson engined ACE cyclecar of the early 2000s was greatly admired by Charles Morgan and became the catalyst for the revitalisation of this highly individual design.

Early reports suggested that, like the ACE, the Morgan 3 Wheeler would also be powered by a Harley-Davidson V-twin engine. In the end, for various reasons, the Harley connection didn’t come to fruition. The 3 Wheeler that made its debut at the 2011 Geneva show in a frenzy of huzzahing and moustache-twirling wore a 2.0 litre Harley-style ‘X Wedge’ overhead valve V-twin built by S&S, the well respected American engine builder whose products were popularly chosen as aftermarket replacements for tired Harley engines.

The fuel-injected S&S unit was a dry-sumped 56 degree V-twin, whereas the Harley was a 45 degree V, but the S&S still relied on the Harley’s performance-limiting pushrod valve operation design. From a cooling perspective, attaching a twin square-on to the front of the vehicle was superior to the usual inline motorcycle application, where the rear cylinder inevitably ran hotter than the front one. As a bonus the S&S motor was both air and oil cooled and was initially hyped up as powerful enough to deliver a four-second 0-60mph time and a 115mph top end. Once the overblown trumpeting stopped the real numbers were 82hp, six seconds and 115mph in your dreams, but with just 525kg to shift the Morgan still had a good power to weight ratio. Morgan hooked the motor up to a 5-speed manual from the gen-three Mazda MX-5, with the power finally delivered to the rear wheel by belt. Once you’d enjoyed romping up through the snickety box you could settle down to 80mph in top with no worries other than the natural damage to your face if you’d forgotten to bring any PPE.

A starting price of £30,000 was mentioned in the pre-launch period. Buoyed by public enthusiasm, Morgan ratcheted that up to £32,500 for the first entry-level Sport model. Variations on the theme soon began to pop up. A tie-in with the clothing manufacturer Superdry resulted in a £35,360 special edition bearing that name. It featured matte silver paint, orange striped tyres, a new leather interior and a few other bits and bobs. The owner got a bespoke leather jacket too. At the end of 2012 a 100-off Gulf edition celebrating Morgan’s oblique relationship (via the Morgan-Nissan LMP2 hookup) with the historic fuel and oil manufacturer came out at a fiver under £35k. In 2014 a Brooklands Special Edition in green with black leather and fishtail exhausts was launched. Fifty examples were to be built.

By 2014 Morgan had sold around a thousand 3 Wheelers, many of them to American owners. Some of those early adopters had been feeding back to the factory about undesirable amounts of bump-steer at higher speeds. To address that the factory brought in a batch of mainly chassis-related improvements on 2014 cars that were aimed at reducing adverse steering reaction and increasing torsional stiffness. The centre drive unit, bevel box and cooling systems were enhanced at the same time. More paint and wrap options were introduced as well, along with a new 30,000 mile/30 months warranty.

2019 was Morgan’s 110th anniversary but the special edition 3 Wheeler marking that date was actually announced in October 2018. All the cars in Morgan’s range were given the 110 treatment. On the 3 the interior mods amounted to quilted leather centre-split seating and storage pockets, and a mohair tonneau. Outside there were new paint colour choices with a body-coloured engine cowl plus black roll hoops and exhaust heat shields. With interest still strong the price rose to £40,886.

Eventually the S&S motor couldn’t scrape through the type approval regs, so the P101 Edition that was launched at the end of 2020 became the last of the gen-one 3 Wheelers. Thirty-three were slated for production, with only 14 reserved for the UK market. The basic paint canvas was black or white-silver, built up with one of four graphics packs designed to evoke a range of memories: Aviator (WW2 RAF plane), Belly Tank (dry lakebed racer), Dazzleship (military, sort of) or the self-explanatory Race Car. Low drag disc wheels and Hella spotlights completed the look. The price was now up to £54,000.

This spring, pics of the Mk 2 3-Wheeler undergoing testing showed that the front-mounted engine had gone. The body’s higher scuttle line suggested that the new car’s power source will be a more conventional (and presumably rather more powerful) watercooled car engine, perhaps from Morgan’s long-time supply partner BMW.

SPECIFICATION | MORGAN 3 WHEELER (2011-on)

Engine: 1,983cc V-twin 4v petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],250rpm (*[email protected],200)
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],250rpm (*[email protected],500rpm)
0-62mph (secs): 6.0
Top speed (mph): 115
Weight (kg): 525 (*585kg)
MPG (official combined): 30.4 (*34.9)
CO2 (g/km): 215
Wheels (in): 19 (f), 16 (r)
Tyres: 4×19(f), 175/55 (r)
On sale: 2011 – 2020
Price new: £32,500
Price now: from £32,000

Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.


ENGINE & GEARBOX

The Morgan powertrain was proof of the old adage that you didn’t need to go fast to have fun. Unless you’re prepared to spend an awful lot of money on specialised tuning, big aircooled motorcycle V-twins don’t really rev or produce much in the way of power. Accepting these engineering limitations freed up your mind and allowed you to let the injected X-Wedge’s wave of easy one-litre-per-cylinder torque get you bowling along in the approved pre-war manner. A bagful of burbles and whoofles kept you entertained at unthreatening (from a licence point of view) speeds and the response off idle was gratifyingly immediate. Considering the engine’s displacement, its meagre 82hp output and official combined fuel consumption figure of around 30mpg might seem poor, but that was the price you paid for old-tech motorcycle engineering.

The engine is robust and any problems will usually be easy to fix. Poor running could be nothing more than loose or detached spark plug terminals. Timing is by belt. Early female Torx-bolted pinion pulleys acquired a reputation for flying through the front engine cover, so look for documentation showing that this has been changed to a male bolt. Some oil might leak from the rocker cover gaskets on early cars, or from between the heads and the block, or from the welded ends of the oil tank. Crank and bevel box oil seals can blow.

From January 2017 Euro4 emissions and safety regs came into force for any car sold in Europe. Morgan hadn’t sorted out the design changes required, making Euro3 spec cars technically unsellable in that market. By the spring of that year the sales logjam was uncorked in the UK at least by individual inspection and approval of Euro3 cars at a test centre under the Single Vehicle Approval scheme.

By mid-2017 the necessary Euro4 changes had been made, re-opening the European sales market by autumn. New camshafts, a quieter air intake, a new ECU with on-board diagnostics functionality and extra catalytic converters made the Euro4 compliant versions quite a bit heavier (reputedly by 60kg). Both power and torque were reduced on the Euro4s, but maximum torque arrived at 2,500rpm instead of 3,250rpm and emissions and fuel consumption were cut by around 15 per cent, adding an extra 5mpg to the Morgan’s 30mpg official combined average, albeit at the cost of an extra second on the 0-62 time. Other Euro4 downsides were more reluctant starting and running from cold, allegedly attributed to less than exhaustive testing of the new mechanical and electronic mix, plus wonky lambda and throttle position sensors.

The snickety Mazda gearbox (with the gearlever moved forward on later models) encouraged changes even when they weren’t strictly necessary and has a fine reliability record. The transmission of drive from the gearbox to the back wheel wasn’t quite so blameless. It went via a bevel drive which turned the propshaft’s motion through 90 degrees to the wheel via a toothed belt. Anyone who has ridden a BMW or Moto Guzzi twin will know about the characteristics of this type of drive. The main ones are ‘climb’ up the crown wheel and highish levels of mechanical noise. Morgan’s ‘NVH (Noise Vibration and Harshness) Kit’ was a retro-fittable upgrade designed to reduce the noise levels by isolating the bevel box from the chassis, but it wasn’t a brilliant solution. Any car you may buy that has the bevel box bolted directly to the chassis is best left as it is. Bevel scream can be wearisome or evocative depending on your approach to these things.

Early (pre-2014) M3Ws suffered from failure of the torque-smoothing cush drive assembly which sat between the engine and the gearbox. Most if not all of these early units will have been replaced by now by the ‘Centa’ type cush drive but even these will give up at some point because it relies on four rubber rollers. Even if three of these have crumbled away the car will still drive, but you will hopefully have noticed increasing slack and judder in the driveline before that point and done something about it. A chap called Phil Bleazey has come up with some very nice workarounds for these bevel and cush drive issues. His kit allows the Centa drive to be replaced without removing the engine.

Some pre-2015 cars had aluminium rear sprockets which wore out quickly. Steel is what you want to see there. A machine-gun like banging under acceleration is not the Red Baron on your tail but is more likely to be the drive belt jumping teeth on the sprockets. Strong tension on the belt is the solution but, as with a motorcycle chain, this is not an ‘adjust it once and forget’ it job.

The 2014 Brooklands edition had a lot of trouble with its fishtail exhaust system, which developed cracks after only a short period of use. Morgan offered a replacement system using three mounting points on each side but it wasn’t cheap. An aftermarket stage 1 exhaust and filter setup could be bought.

Original regulators blew and were often replaced with Harley items. Make sure the winkers and the brake lights are working as duff modules and splintering wiring can kill these. The fuel pump is a Land Rover Discovery item and does not last forever.

The idea of buying a three-wheeler back in the post-war days of rationing was to avoid car tax, but you enjoyed no such concession with the Morgan. Indeed, it could be as much as £490 a year to put a 3 Wheeler onto British roads. That was the annual rate for the first five years on a 110th Anniversary which fell into the £40k+ value trap set for post-April 2017 cars. Most Threes [should this be 3s?] sold after this date qualify for the £155 rate but some models can be £340 a year.

Morgan dealer servicing for the 3 Wheeler is openly advertised at £377 plus VAT for an interval service and £545 plus VAT for the full service. The company was a lot less transparent about service intervals, with nothing much to be found in the owner’s manual. However, S&S’s own recommendations for the engine are oil and filter changes at 50 (!), 500 and 2,500 miles, and every 2,500 miles thereafter, or every 1,000 miles if you’re not using motorcycle-specific oil. Realistically it’s probably not a good idea to leave oil in both the engine and the bevel drive for more than 3,000 miles. On the timing belt they say inspect at 10,000 miles and replace at 30,000, with new spark plugs every 10,000 miles. They also recommend checking the engine mounts at 500 miles and then every 5,000 miles. So it’s not a Hyundai.

CHASSIS

The Morgan chassis was a combination of tubular steel and some bits of ash, with wishbone suspension at the front, a simple trailing arm setup at the back and non-adjustable black or blue Spax dampers with coil springs all round. If a car you’re looking at has red Spax dampers they will be adjustable. Even better to find on a used M3W will be yellow springs indicating the fitment of Ohlins units. 2017-on Euro4 cars had revised suspension mountings front and rear which raised the ride height by a noticeable 50mm.

Despite or perhaps because of the vintage-section front tyres and the not-much-meatier 175/55 rear tyre, M3W handling was highly entertaining. Steering lock was pretty terrible but the feel at the wheel was as tactile as you might expect. We mentioned the bump-steer earlier on. Morgan’s Steering Comfort Kit repositioned the track rod ends to take away the worst effects of this on early cars and was a mod very much worth having. Although the suspension settings were well judged for the M3W, quirks were inevitable with this type of superlight, thin-tyre format, as was a lack of outright grip, but it was all part of the 3 Wheeler’s appeal. If you didn’t like the idea of the Morgan’s very particular handling traits, or of having three ways to hit a bump in the road rather than the usual two, you would never buy one of these.

Those spindly wheels and tyres look great but punctures on a 3 Wheeler can pose a bit of a challenge. For a start those spoked wheels don’t accept tubeless tyres. The standard hoop on the rear was a Yokohama car tyre, but any other make in the right size could be used as long as it had a good water-clearing sipe pattern, given that there’s only one tyre to handle that. The original fronts were Avon sidecar tyres but Blockleys were an option. As knowledge of the cars has grown, owners have increasingly begun to use motorcycle tyres at the front.

Take out the boot liner to get access to the two petrol tanks. If they move by more than half an inch or so when you press them down, the retaining straps will have loosened, and over time that looseness may have caused damage to the tank mounting brackets. The fuel filter canister ahead of the rear wheel could corrode.

BODYWORK

The quality and application of the M3W paint on the aluminium body was very nice but bubbling could occur around the base of the side panels or on the top panel near the steel roll hoops. The powder-coated front mudguards weren’t immune to rust, and more importantly neither was the tubular chassis to which the body was attached at twelve points.

You will never have any trouble with doors or windows on a 3 Wheeler because there are none. Aero screens were on point for this type of vehicle but next to useless in the real world. More protective full-width windscreens weren’t offered by Morgan until 2016, by which point aftermarket suppliers Fairbourne had already sold more than a few to fly-spattered owners. The absence of wipers meant that the aero screens were better than full screens in the rain as they were easier to see over.

On Euro4 cars the headlights were mounted ahead of the engine (which by that point was only available as a polished item) and the rear lights were attached to longer stalks. Flimsy front indicator brackets on the first Euro4 cars could be hit and broken by the exhaust headers.

The factory luggage rack was an expensive option but it was generally considered to be essential piece of equipment for anyone intending to do overnight trips. Buying inner mudguards to keep the boot and more significantly the back wheel area clean was a good idea because apart from protecting the OH’s [?] valuables the lack of ground clearance at this end of the car (especially on non-Euro4 cars) could result in underbody damage, and you needed to be able to see that.

INTERIOR

The sight greeting the 3 Wheeler driver on entry to the cabin would have seemed familiar to a pilot of a piston-engined plane or maybe a mini-submarine. Analogue VDO instruments set in a dash that could be engine-turned, maybe with the option of a wood-rimmed flat-spoke steel steering wheel, created a brilliantly retro ambience.

Toggle switches operated with commando decisiveness. A starter button behind a ‘bomb release’ cover added drama to the start of every journey. A fuel gauge that was laughably pessimistic added drama once you were on the move. The speedo had quite a reputation for inaccuracy too.

Space wise the cabin had a Caterham Seven feel about it. For extra comfort Morgan did a heated seat option, though it was for the bases only, not the backs. The boot was shaped like no other.

PH VERDICT

You’d never take a Morgan 3 Wheeler to a drag race or even to a fast, wide-open track because environments like that would ruthlessly expose its shortcomings. But if you have a different track car and a trusted buddy to take it to and from the circuit for you, there are few vehicles we can think of that would be better than the Morgan to take you home after a sweaty day spent behind a more conventional wheel.

You may get the impression from this guide that Morgan 3 Wheeler customers doubled up as development engineers on early cars. It’s true that post-2014 ‘revision’ cars are probably the best used bet, with the higher-riding 2017-on Euro4 cars looking a bit more awkward on the road (although in the UK you could still buy Euro3 cars to get round that). But pre-’14 M3Ws shouldn’t be shunned if they’ve been looked after and – crucially – if they’ve had all the available upgrades applied. Don’t automatically think that a low-miler is going to be better than a car that’s been used, either.

Prices rarely drop below £32,000 so an M3W is about as solid a used purchase as you can find. There’s a Morgan Three Wheeler Club that’s well worth joining, not just to locate likely purchases – there are none for sale on PH Classifieds at the time of writing – but also to tap into the enthusiasm and knowledge of the members. The Talk Morgan forum is equally invaluable.


Search for a Morgan 3-Wheeler here

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