A 2012 Morgan 3-Wheeler Delivers Visceral Vintage Delights
Several notable automakers have gotten into making brand-new continuations of their famous classic models. But that’s not quite what British company Morgan does. Although it’s modernized a bit over the years, Morgan’s production process wouldn’t look unfamiliar to someone from pre-war times. As a result, its vehicles are largely still built like and feel like classic cars. And the Morgan 3-Wheeler, like the 2012 model I recently rode in, is arguably the best example of this.
The 2012 Morgan 3-Wheeler resurrected the British automaker’s first ‘car’
Technically, the Morgan 3-Wheeler isn’t a car. Depending on where you live, it’s classified either as a motorcycle or an autocycle, similar to the Polaris Slingshot. But while it looks novel compared to a conventional car, the 3-Wheeler’s design dates back to over a century ago. Company founder HFS Morgan needed something affordable to drive that wasn’t as dangerous as a motorcycle. So, he mounted a bike engine to a three-wheeled chassis to make a ‘runabout.’ And when enough people asked for a copy, the Morgan Motor Company was born in 1911.
Then, in 2009, Morgan got wind of an American industrial designer, Pete Larsen, making his own interpretation of a 3-Wheeler. But rather than issuing a cease-and-desist, the company bought the rights to the design, Road & Track explains. And after refining Larsen’s concept, Morgan re-introduced the 3-Wheeler to its lineup in 2012.
Since 2012, the Morgan 3-Wheeler has been updated. In 2014 Morgan strengthened the chassis, tweaked the suspension and steering, and improved the center drive unit. And later examples offered optional extras like power outlets and heated seats. But mechanically, a 2012 3-Wheeler is essentially the same as a 2021 model.
|Spec||2012 Morgan 3-Wheeler|
|Engine||2.0-liter S&S V-twin|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive with belt drive|
|Curb weight||1268 lb (Car and Driver)|
|0-60 mph time||6.9 seconds (Car and Driver)|
While later Morgan 3-Wheelers have a few more features, they’re all fairly spartan. The cockpit has some gauges, milled aluminum switches, and a push-button start. Your only safety features are the seatbelts and there’s little usable storage space. And not only does the 2012 3-Wheeler lack ABS, but the rear wheel has a drum brake.
It’s old-school in the most delightful way
There’s something else the 2012 Morgan 3-Wheeler lacks—adjustable seats. Getting comfortable behind the wheel means adjusting the pedal box instead. And as Chicagoland Morgan dealer Northshore Sportscars explained to me, that can take up to 1.5 hours. So, one of the dealer’s mechanics drove while I sat in the passenger seat.
Getting into a Morgan 3-Wheeler is a simple but involved process. You hold the metal roll hoop and step into the footwell, avoiding the potentially hot exhaust pipe. Then, you slide down into the seat while extending your legs.
Once you’re sitting down, rubbing shoulders with the driver is inevitable, as is leaning your arm on the sill. That’s why those leather pads are there. And the dashboard is surprisingly high. But it, as well as the twin windscreens, flipping push-button-start lid, and switch and gauge designs explain the aircraft allusions people make about the 3-Wheeler. And the riding experience solidifies them.
R&T says that driving a Morgan 3-Wheeler is “like flying on the ground.” A minute into my ride, I was in complete agreement. Those windscreens may as well not be there for how much wind makes it into your hair and eyes. But it’s not annoying—it’s thrilling. Even more than in the Slingshot, you feel exposed and open to every part of nature. It makes 30 mph feel like 60 mph.
And not having doors, windows, or a roof means that V-twin sound echoes into your ears unfiltered. While S&S has made Harley-Davidson engines, the 2012 3-Wheeler doesn’t sound like a Harley. Instead, those twin pipes blare a rich and mellow roar with a ripping undercurrent. It doesn’t sound like a modern car; it sounds like a vintage film brought to life.
Despite its minimalist design, the 2012 Morgan 3-Wheeler rides surprisingly well. And it has little-to-no body roll, R&T notes. Plus, coaxing it into a controlled slide is perfectly possible at road-legal speeds.
There are undoubtedly sharper, more practical sports cars than the 2012 Morgan 3-Wheeler. But few can turn “an ordinary road drive—at sane road speeds—into something involving, memorable, and exhilarating” like it, MotorTrend says. It’s anachronistic in the best way possible.
Can you still buy a Morgan 3-Wheeler?
That anachronism, though, also explains why the current Morgan 3-Wheeler is leaving production. After this year, the V-twin’s emissions certification expires, so the 3-Wheeler has to go. And while Morgan has started testing a next-gen model, it won’t have that exposed V-twin, Autocar reports.
If you do find a new 3-Wheeler squirreled away at a dealer, prices start at roughly $59K. As for the 2012 model I rode in, Northshore Sportscars currently has it listed at $44,995. That’s a fairly average price for a used 3-Wheeler. And the dealer notes that the 2014-model-year upgrades can be retro-fitted to earlier models.
$45K is rather expensive for what amounts to a toy, to be fair. But there’s another way to think about it. A restomodded classic car can easily cost $100,000 or more. A used 3-Wheeler offers the same vintage behavior at a fraction of the price. And there’s nothing else quite like it on the road today.
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