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Morgan Motor Co. ThreeWheeler is a retro hotrod in Great Gatsby drag

November 11, 2011|By Susan Carpenter
(Morgan Motor Co. )

One of the more unique offerings expected at this year’s L.A. Auto Show isn’t even a car. It’s a three-wheeled hot rod in "Great Gatsby" drag.

The back-to-the-future Morgan Motor Co. ThreeWheeler is a modern take on the 1909 Cyclecar that put the British manufacturer in business during an era when bicycles outnumbered automobiles and roads were predominantly dirt. Fast forward 102 years, and the new three-wheeled Morgan leaves vintage performance in the dust.

Propelled with a 1,900 cc S&S V-twin capable of pushing its 1,100 pounds from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, its motorcycle powerplant can reach a 115 mph top speed without forcing its driver to saddle up. Like the original Cyclecar, the single wheel in the back forty waives the ThreeWheeler’s rights to automotive nomenclature and necessitates its registration as a motorcycle. But its side-by-side seating and steering wheel are 100% car, as is its five-speed, closed-ratio gearbox, which comes courtesy of Mazda. Unlike the original Cyclecars, which were as unreliable and leaky as they were prized by the sporting, the ThreeWheeler is fuel-injected and updated with modern electronics and disc brakes.

The low-slung body is made from superformed, lightweight aluminum -- for faster launches. Its over-sized and wide-set front wheels, on the other hand, are likely to inspire doughnuts -- as drivers intentionally pivot them full throttle around a smaller, super-sticky back tire.

Interest in the ThreeWheeler will likely be split between Morgan fans and aficionados of Vincent motorcycles – anyone who prizes the oxymoronic pairing of old British iron and modern performance along with an affection for whimsical novelties and throwback luxury. Morgan designer Matt Humphries was the mastermind behind the trike’s aircraft-style cockpit, complete with toggle switches, as well as its Dr. Strangelove start button, which covers the ignition switch with a red, B52-bomber-style cover. Diamond-quilted leather seats and dash pads are standard. The mohair tonneau is optional.

With its new ThreeWheeler, Morgan adds to a growing modern market for three-wheeled vehicles that was spearheaded with the Can-Am Spyder in 2007and has since been embraced by established manufacturers like Piaggio and niche players such as Aptera and TriRod. As much as Morgan’s ThreeWheeler marks its return to a pioneering vehicle that was last sold in 1952, it also demonstrates the company’s recent embrace of niche markets.

In 2005, Morgan went in an entirely different direction from its traditional-bodied Roadster with its high-performance Aero 8, a direction it’s since emboldened with its Aeromax and Aero SuperSport. In 2009, Morgan unveiled its hydrogen-electric LifeCar at Pebble Beach.

“They’re trying little end runs to see what works in the market,” said Dennis Glavis, owner of the Morgan West dealership in Santa Monica that is showing the Morgan ThreeWheeler at this week’s Auto Show. “Charles [Morgan] was very, very surprised at how instantaneous demand was for the new ThreeWheeler after it was announced to the public.”

The ThreeWheeler made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March as an undriveable prototype and has since racked up more than 600 orders. Annual production is likely to top out at 500, since each vehicle is hand-crafted at the Morgan factory in Malvern, England. The L.A. Auto Show marks the $42,400 trike’s first in-person appearance this side of the pond, presuming it clears customs. The 2012 Morgan ThreeWheeler is currently in production and will be available in the U.S. next spring.

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