I thought I knew what it was when I spotted this Morgan at the Danville Hot Summer Nights car show. It had to be either an extremely well-done restoration, or a kit car.
But I was wrong. It is actually a new 2013 Morgan 3 Wheeler.
Henry Morgan, a British engineer, built his first lightweight three-wheeler in 1909. It was a single-seat vehicle with motorcycle-type handle bars to steer. It did not sell well. However, a year later, Morgan produced a two-seat version, and sales took off. The philosophy behind this simple vehicle, later called a cyclecar, was to give people of modest means the thrill and excitement of the open road.
Morgan 3 Wheelers always use a motorcycle engine, and the early models had a two-speed, forward-only transmission. To reverse, one had to coast or push it backward. Naturally, there were competitive events to prove the durability and worth of the Morgan 3 Wheeler, and it excelled.
The vehicle evolved slowly and continued to improve. It is hard to believe, but in 1931 Gwenda Stewart set a new speed record for a Morgan 3 Wheeler, achieving the speed of 117 mph. The last 3 Wheeler was built in 1953, until its rebirth in 2011.
In 1954, somewhere in England, a young couple exchanged wedding vows and took their honeymoon in a 1937 Morgan 3 Wheeler. That vehicle was owned by the parents of San Ramon Valley resident Graham Stone. It was their first car.
"The reason my father bought the Morgan was he couldn't legally drive a car," Stone stated. "His motorbike license allowed him to drive a Morgan, but not a normal car.
"The definition in England of whether a vehicle is a motorbike or a car is whether it has a reverse gear. So what they did was disconnect the reverse gear so it could only go forward; therefore. it was defined as a motorcycle."
Strong sentimental motivation resulted in the purchase of this 2013 Morgan. "I have been interested in Morgan because my parents had one," said Stone.
When Morgan restarted production of the three-wheeler, they made it almost identical in appearance to the 1937 Morgan owned by Stone's parents.
The cyclecar has some modern refinements. It is built on a lightweight tubular steel chassis but still uses a handcrafted wooden frame under the handcrafted aluminum body. The vehicle uses a belt to drive the rear wheel, similar to a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and is registered by the California DMV as a motorcycle.
"The engine is made by S&S Cycle and built in Wisconsin," said Stone, a London native. "It is a 120 C.I., V2, 82 HP motorcycle engine. It has a Mazda five-speed manual transmission, plus reverse.
"It's mounted in front, exposed to the elements and has no bumper to protect it.
"Because the car is so light, about 1,100 pounds, you don't need power-assisted brakes or steering."
There also are no power windows or door locks, as there are no windows or doors. One steps over the side to gain access to the fine leather interior.
Stone bought his Morgan from a dealer in Santa Monica and took a day and a half to drive it home via Highway 1. While the Morgan can reach speeds up to 112 mph, Stone much prefers the curvy back roads, traveling at 50 to 60 mph, avoiding the freeways.
It's quick. "It will go from 0 to 60 in less than six seconds," he said.
Morgan Motor is the oldest automobile manufacturer in the world owned by a single family. It's also the most unusual. The engines are purchased from other manufacturers, but the company actually hand builds eight different models, seven of which are four-wheel vehicles. The company, located in Malvern, England, has fewer than 200 employees and produces under 1,000 cars a year. There are no Morgan training manuals; everything is taught by word-of-mouth from experienced employees. A few years back, an article in Esquire magazine stated that from a Harvard Business School point of view, Morgan Motor has done everything wrong -- except succeed.
My ride in the Morgan 3 Wheeler was exhilarating. Stone demonstrated its road-hugging qualities. It was very stable with no unusual lean as he accelerated through tight curves. With very small windscreens, it certainly is not a car for someone with a toupee. The V2 engine has great power, and its twin exhaust system produces a great sound.
While Henry Morgan's ideology of the thrill and excitement of the open road lives on, there is one significant change in the modest means part of his philosophy. The manufacturer's suggested retail price on the 2013 Morgan 3 Wheeler is $45,000.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com.