From Seattle with Love.
“What swung me was driving the Liberty ACE: that sold me the whole project. A three wheeler really does work if its engineered correctly and it provides a genuinely unusual driving experience, which is rare these days.”
– Charles Morgan
The history of HFS Morgan and his phenomenal three wheeler is widely documented: a motoring enthusiast could ﬁll a library shelf with books detailing the founding of the MMC in 1909 and the success and evolution of the three wheeler spanning four decades eventually being supplanted by the iconic four-wheeled sports cars which continue to this day. The latest chapter in this history is being written today and centers on the current reinvention and reintroduction of the Morgan 3 Wheeler: an exciting new chapter in which Liberty Motors is proud to play a role.
By 1999, my wife Patty & I had been manufacturing a retro style sidecar to ﬁt Harley-Davidsons for a number of years & I was casting about for new products and challenges related to our 3 wheeled specialty. I remembered the three wheeler which had fascinated me in the 1980s: Tony Divey’s TriKing. An ongoing dialogue with Tony about the possibility of importing his piece to the U.S. was to no avail. By 2000 I began mocking-up my own version of a classic British trike. My car would, of course, be Harley-Davidson powered and hark to the 1930s Morgans, particularly those modiﬁed for racing with their extra wide front track, low stance and fragile looking clockwork assembly up front. During my mockup/prototype phase, I was fortunate enough to borrow and test drive a TriKing for the ﬁrst time and the handling and performance potential of the thing was a revelation.
My conﬁdence in the project was such that I moved forward with body plug and mold work parallel to chassis/suspension design.
I well remember the winter of 2002 when all my weekends and holidays were spent in my pattern shop, deep in ﬁberboard & bondo dust! My Cycle-car ﬁrst turned a wheel under its own power in 2004 and while it was an exciting milestone in it’s own way the ﬁrst test drive was a huge disappointment: the steering was strange and there was unpleasant shaking and vibration. Drive train & steering revisions continued for more than a year – I disassembled the car too many times to count really. It required four drive adapter versions and a change of engine type & mounts to solve the difﬁculties.
Suddenly, almost six years since the project was begun, I found that I had a highly functional vehicle. I vividly remember awakening from a tiresome dream of endless work to ﬁnd myself in the Cycle-car, miles from my shop, joyfully motoring down a country road without a care or problem: truly one of the best days of my life! I began to refer tentatively to the car as the “ACE” for the way it made you feel while driving.
It was late in 2006 when I began posting the ACE newsletter online as documentation of progress. Knowing now what was to follow, I ﬁnd my newsletters entertaining and I offer them here as a supplement to this chronicle:
Sometime in early 2008, Andrew English of the Daily Telegraph, UK reached me by email and expressed his long-standing fascination with 3 wheelers and suggested a visit here to test drive the ACE.
I was delighted at the prospect of being published by the British press, but had no drivable ACE’s at hand so could offer only a “rain check.” By late in 2008 and after a fair bit of correspondence with Andrew, we were ﬁnally able to conﬁrm a test drive for him in November. We met for the ﬁrst time at the Seattle International Auto Show where I had ACE 1 and ACE 3 on display. The next morning we drove the two ACE’s and two TriKings out to the countryside for a romp. Despite a wet road, all went quite well. The drive was punctuated by a visit to Brian Pollock’s home where his stable of Morgan Trikes resides. I snapped this photo of Brian & Andy having a moment of fun in Brian’s 1934 JAP Supersports. In view of future events, it is for me an ironic record of a pivotal moment: soon after everything changed for me and the ACE.
Andrew English’s ACE review ﬁnally was published in February 2009 Click to read. I read and reread the piece…oh man, the Telegraph…I was riding the wave! However, what came next was beyond my imagination: literally hours after Andy’s review was published, I received a call from a gentleman who introduced himself as Lance Tunick of V.C.S., a consultant to MMC. Lance indicated a keen interest in the ACE by MMC. I had been eating a sandwich when I took the call and nearly choked!
Some weeks later, acting as an agent for Morgan, Lance visited our shop where he inspected some ACE’s under construction and took a turn driving an ACE through the Northwest drizzle. Despite the rain and being attired only in a light Italian business suit and dress shoes, Lance popped out of the ACE beaming and declared it “very user friendly.” Presumably the word got back to Malvern.
Because of the circus that was Morgan’s 100th anniversary, factory reps were delayed for months but eventually Steve Morris, Director of Operations and Tim Whitworth, Chief Financial Ofﬁcer ﬂew to Seattle and I was able to demonstrate an ACE.
Actually a very good one in BRG and powered by a 2 liter race motor. Steve brieﬂy took the wheel for a few miles. The fun was brought to an end by a ﬂat and I wondered if my hopes were going to go that way as well: the guys were tight lipped. But no, we began negotiations that led to the complete buy-out by MMC of all ACE related designs. In January of 2010, I ﬂew to the factory, delivered ACE 7 for evaluation and signed an agreement with Charles. The Liberty ACE would morph into the new Morgan 3 Wheeler!!
Almost 60 years after the Morgan trike was put to rest, it would be resurrected with great enthusiasm and invested with modern technology, performance and reliability while retaining much of its original charm and fascination.
While at the factory, I was introduced to Matthew Welsh, the young engineer who would be given the assignment of revamping the ACE to Morgan’s liking including ease of manufacturing and service, maximum use of British suppliers and many other requirements. The redesign, of course would be done in CAD, not on a drafting board, as I had learned. The cosmetic aspects would be given the attention of Matthew Humphries and I must say the results as I saw them only fourteen months later at the Geneva Auto Show are stellar: the new Morgan 3 Wheeler is not a rehash of a 1930s trike nor a quick makeover of my ACE, rather a well-reasoned and well-crafted retro-mobile: it has all the qualities I set out to deliver. Vintage appearance belies modern performance, just what I hoped to accomplish with the ACE but here is the real deal and developed by Morgan themselves. As Andrew English wrote; “Only Morgan could have done it!”, I’ll second that!