Here in Vermont most of us are familiar with the Morgan horse, Vermont being the state where the horse was originally bred. "Figure," the stud from whence all Morgans were bred, is buried in Tunbridge. Morgan horses are arguably one of the friendliest, most versatile horses ever bred, and is a highly prolific breed known worldwide. This one horse power conveyance has been with us for more than 200 years, yet there is another form of transport called a Morgan, introduced exactly one hundred and three years ago this month at the Olympia Motorcycle Show in London.
The Morgan Cycle Car was engineered by Englishman Harry Morgan. This simple, economic vehicle had two steer able front wheels and a single drive wheel in the rear, and was generally a two place car. The three wheeler used a motorcycle engine that was highly popular for many years in Great Britain, the famed J.A.P. V-twin, named for its builder John A. Prestwich. J.A.P. engines were used in many English motorcycles, most notably the famed Brough Superior, the Rolls Royce of motorcycles, and the make of motorcycle that Lawrence of Arabia was killed on. The combination of a readily available universal engine and the excellent engineering of the Morgan Cycle Car was a huge hit, making motorized transport possible for Britons of more modest means. Amazingly, Morgan is still manufacturing automobiles to this very day. A Morgan four wheeled sports car was featured in the Chevy Chase movie "Funny Farm," filmed in these very environs.
The Morgan Cycle Car was fast, and it had excellent traction making it a hit on muddy tracks and British Hill Climbs. In 1930, Ms. Gwenda Stewart broke the one hour speed record on the banked race track at Monthlery, south of Paris. World War II halted production of the Morgan Cycle Car, and was resumed in nineteen forty six. With metal being scarce in post war Britain, the simple Morgan Cycle Car got into production faster than the products of other transportation manufacturers. Once metal supply began meeting demand, the day of the three wheeler was nearly over, and in nineteen fifty three production of Morgan Cycle Cars ceased, while the four wheeled sports Morgan continued on.
I’ve always loved the three wheeled concept, and while it never caught on in the United States, it seems that the value of a three wheeled vehicle is once again right for the times. In 2011 Morgan re-introduced the three wheeled Cycle Car for around 30,000 English Pounds (which is about $47,000 U.S.). Yes, the Morgan is supremely fuel efficient, uses fewer materials to build, is more environmentally friendly than most cars, and in all but the really cold environments (like Vermont) the concept can easily work in the U.S. However, $47,000? Let me explain the pricing; Morgan, located in Malvern Link Great Britain, is really a specialty manufacturer, hand building each work of art with nothing but the finest materials. Morgan’s are collector cars, pure and simple. Even if you had the $47,000 to plunk down on one of these beauties, I’m not sure how the U.S. safety regs would define it. Probably as a motorcycle, like the popular Bombardier built Can-Am Spyder three wheeled motorcycle, a somewhat similar design that has seating like a snowmobile instead of auto like bodywork sported by the Morgan.
A Morgan Cycle Car replica is built under license by a company in Seattle known as Liberty Motors, and the cycle car is called the Ace. Prices start at $48,000 for this hand built Morgan replica. The Ace appears to be a beautifully built vehicle, but again, it is a specialty piece that is out of reach for most Americans. Why can’t we build a mass manufactured three wheeler for the masses? To an investor it would be a huge gamble, yet if it worked it would be highly beneficial to the environment and our quest for energy independence. Will it ever happen? You never know, but I’d say it is rather unlikely. Things this good rarely happen unless all the stars and planets are perfectly aligned. I’d say you are more likely to ride a Morgan horse to work every day than to drive a three wheeled Cycle Car in the future.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.