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H.F.S. MORGAN, founder of the Morgan Motor Company in 1910, understood his fellow Britons’ aspirations for mobility—and also their Inland Revenue’s tax regulations. Motorcyclists wished to move up to proper automotive travel, but this came at considerable expense including a hefty increase in road tax. “Motors,” as automobiles were called in those days, were status symbols as well as conveyances.
Morgan, however, wisely aimed for the middle: His were proper motors, sort of, but they had three wheels. To the Inland Revenue, they were motorcycles—and road-taxed as such. To prospective purchasers, they were a step up from the family’s previous motorcycle/sidecar combination. Morgan trikes had windshields (most of them), doors (some of them) and even tops.
Single- and two-seat Morgan 3-wheelers were shown at the 1911 Olympia Motor Exhibition. Before long, the company produced four-seaters as well for the family trade. Parallel to this, H.F.S. himself proved his trike’s sporting capability in 1912 by lapping the Brooklands circuit for just a tad less than 60 miles in one hour, a record for its 1100-cc class at the time.
A Morgan won the 1913 Cyclecar Grand Prix in Amiens, France. Evolving from this was a “Grand Prix” model, followed by others termed “Aero,” Sports” and “Super Sports.”
In its entire history—of course, Morgan still produces sports cars today—the company never made its own engines. Early trikes had motorcycle power from an alphabetical array of sources, Anzani (of Blériot and Luton Buzzard aircraft fame, see www.wp.me/p2ETap-Mi), Blackburne, Blumfield, Green Precision, J.A.P. (J.A. Prestwich), M.A.G. (Motosacoche, Acacias, Geneva) and Matchless.
Morgan added an F-Type to the trike lineup in 1933. This was “F as in Ford,” an 1172-cc inline-4 residing under a normal-looking bonnet.
Morgan built its first non-trike, the 4/4, in 1936. Back to the windshield, an early 4/4 looks rather like an F-Type. Covering trike bets, the last of the latter left the works in 1952.
To complete Morgan’s trike history, a kid’s pedal car celebrated the company’s 100th anniversary in 2010 with a limited run of 500.
And introduced in 2012 was the Morgan 3 Wheeler, a modern trike evolving from recreations built under license in Seattle.
Back to the early days: V-twin displacements varied between 994 and 1098 cc. Some were air-cooled, others at a slight price premium were water-cooled, with the radiator aft of the engine under the faux bonnet (which was actually the footwell).
Even in highly tuned trim and burning sweet-smelling varieties of hydrocarbon combustibles, engines rarely produced more than 50 hp. However, a typical trike weighed perhaps 700 lb. (it couldn’t exceed 8cwt/896 lb. without screwing up the tax break), and hence it was quick indeed. Today, trikes are raced enthusiastically in vintage events.
The classic Morgan trike doesn’t have an accelerator; rather, there’s a thumb-actuated hand throttle that resembles the gear-change lever of a classic Raleigh 3-speed bicycle. You’d think steering and throttling would interfere with each other. However—given the quickness of trike steering—there’s no problem at all: Never does your right hand get beyond noon or six.
Once underway, acceleration is accompanied by separately felt thrumps of motorcycle exhaust. You begin to wonder who’s really being scammed, the Inland Revenue or the trike owner. But it’s all great fun And it’s easy to imagine that Spence, rest his soul, always had a giant grin beneath that helmet visor. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013