Brace Yourself, Elon Musk, For the Story You Fear Most: Is Tesla the New Morgan?

I drove a Tesla Model 3 and Morgan 3-Wheeler back-to-back! You won’t believe what happened next!

Alex Roy

Now that Elon Musk has finally exposed the media's unfair coverage of Tesla as being paid for by big oil and legacy automakers, it’s time to talk about his little car company for real. Yup, the cat’s out of the bag. Let the balancing act of positive-Tesla-reviews-with-nuanced-criticism come to an end. I’ve got only traffic and ad revenue to gain, so it’s time to publish the Model 3 review Tesla did everything to stop, the article everyone’s been waiting for, the zero BS comparo Elon has feared since I threatened it five months ago, all because it asks a question no one else has the courage to ask or answer:

Is Tesla the new Morgan?

(Disclaimer: I don't own a Tesla, nor do I derive any income from Tesla's success or failure. I do own a Morgan, however, but Morgan is too cash poor to hook me up for a good review, or hire a lawyer to come after me for a bad one. Also, I wrote this off the top of my head to meet a publication deadline, so the facts are only as good as my memory, and some first page Google results.)

If it seems insane to compare the world’s most “innovative” car maker’s entry-level model to the world’s most primitive production vehicle, trust me, you haven’t driven them back-to-back. I have, many times, and now that Elon has apparently lumped me in with all those other clickbait whores, well, there’s no point pretending we’ll ever be friends, or that Morgan’s present isn’t Tesla’s future.

Let’s find out.

BACKGROUND

Tesla and Morgan have more in common than any other two car makers in the world:

  1. Three models in the lineup
  2. Unique Design
  3. Questionable reliability
  4. Lack of financial stability
  5. Entertaining narrative
  6. Irrational customer loyalty

For comparison, we shall examine their entry level models: a 2018 Tesla Model 3—allegedly the first civilian customer car to roll out of the Fremont plant under its own power—and the same car that owner Dan Zorilla and I used to set the EV Cannonball Run record, which still stands at 50 hours and 16 minutes. We made it without any major technical issues, which was a surprise to many people. I gave it a pretty good review this past January (except for the Autopilot interface, which I wanted to say was utter trash, but I needed those clicks, so I said it needed improvement).

The other is a 2014 Morgan 3-wheeler I own, updated to 2016 spec because the 2011-2015’s are literally garbage, ‘16 was when the riotous level of factory recommended out-of-warranty fixes seemed to stabilize, and I didn’t want to put any more money into what is literally a casket with a key. It’s a wretched vehicle by any objective measure, and yet has captured the imagination of masochistic subjectivists everywhere. It was also used to set a Cannonball Run record in 41 hours and 49 minutes, which was miraculous given that Morgan has a 100 year legacy of sub-Fiat reliability compared to Tesla’s ten.

The two vehicles would seem to have little in common. I disagree. Other than a roof, a fourth wheel and a claim to advanced technology, I would argue that the Model 3 is indistinguishable from the 3-wheeler. As we shall see, the similarities don’t end with sharing a model number, that’s where they start.

Price

The Tesla Model 3 was supposed to start at $35,000. More than 400,000 optimists placed $1000 deposits, hoping to drive the “future” at a reasonable price. They were idiots. Anyone with eyes and fingers and of sound mind could have Googled the history of car releases. The budget version of anything cool never comes out first, which is why most of the Model 3s delivered so far have run close to $60,000. Musk just announced the Performance version, which is to cost in the high $70’s.

A U.S.-spec Morgan Model 3 starts at about 35,000 British pounds, or just under $47,000, but it’s almost impossible to find a new one in stock at a dealer for less than $60,000. I’ve seen seriously optioned examples for $80,000. Want the base model? Place an order and pay in pounds. In full. In advance. At least, that’s how I remember it. Wait for Brexit-related currency fluctuations and you might get it down close to $40,000.

Verdict: Tie

DELIVERY SCHEDULE/DELAYS

Ordering a base model Morgan 3 means waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Somewhere between 3 to 6 months. This is a vast improvement over Morgan’s old wait times, which were once as long as ten years. But don’t get too smug, Musk fanboys, because Morgan’s got Tesla totally beat. Want a decently optioned Morgan 3 today? If you’re willing to pay up, there are couple at US dealers right now. No one knows if/when Tesla will ever deliver a $35,000 Model 3, and Musk himself said the company literally can’t afford to, at least not in the foreseeable future. You can’t walk into a Tesla store and buy one for any amount of money, which means you’re also waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks. Or months. #NobodyKnows

Verdict: Tie

BUYING EXPERIENCE

Tesla stores are gorgeous, sterile places, like Apple stores with cars. Morgan dealers are charming dumps. Tesla stores keep regular hours, Morgan dealers don’t. Tesla has clear pricing. Morgan? Please.

Verdict: The Morgan is junk. Tesla wins.

DAILY USE

The Tesla has a roof, which is better in the winter. The Morgan does not, which is better in the summer. Actually, the Morgan is also better in the winter, because of Maslow’s Pyramid of Automotive Actualization. Convertibles are for winners. Proof: they’re always more expensive. See: the history of Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc.. Alas, winners in Morgans have to wear extra layers at all times, which can be inconvenient.

Verdict: Tie

Alex Roy

The Cannonball Model 3 post-record in NYC

EXTERIOR

Unless you are blind, the Morgan is a better looking vehicle. The Tesla looks like an Amphibicar wearing a bicycle helmet. At least one Tesla executive owns a Morgan. If any Morgan executives own Teslas, they’re hiding it.

Verdict: The Tesla is junk. Morgan wins.

Alex Roy

Love that Ikea interior. I mean Tesla. 

INTERIOR DESIGN

The Tesla’s interior is spartan and gorgeous, with a touchscreen at the center. The Morgan’s interior is spartan and gorgeous, with analog gauges and switches at the center. Pick your poison.

Verdict: Tie

Morgan Motors

Love those British interiors.

RIDE QUALITY

The Tesla is stiff. The Morgan is stiffer. If you cared about ride quality, you wouldn’t buy either of these pieces of junk.

Verdict: Tie

COMFORT

The Tesla is fairly comfortable, with decent front seats that can move back to accommodate people well over six feet tall. The Morgan 3 seats do not move. The steering wheel/pedal/seatback ratio means anyone over 6’ is going to suffer. On the other hand, the Morgan passenger’s footwell is deeeeeeeeep, meaning you can transport a friend up to 7’ tall. The Tesla can fit three in the back. The Morgan has no back seat, but you can strap a baby seat to the luggage rack, which is sub-optimal but perfectly legal.

Five vs three?

Verdict: The Morgan is junk. Tesla wins.

Alex Roy

STORAGE

The Tesla has 15 cubic feet of storage space in the trunk, which is decent. It also has a frunk, but I kept forgetting it was there so it doesn’t count. The Morgan has theoretically infinite storage space, if you get the optional luggage rack and some tie downs. I was able to transport an enormous McIntosh MC1.2Kw amplifier in its shipping crate on the Morgan. Could it have fit in the Tesla’s trunk? Who cares? That would have required pushing and shoving, which is unnecessary given the Morgan’s convenient design. On the other hand, the Morgan’s storage is exposed to the elements, so...

Verdict: Tie

SOUND SYSTEM

The Tesla’s sound system is terrific, largely because the Model 3 is electric, which means the noise floor is lower, which means everything sounds clearer at any volume. Alas, the control interface is terrible, requiring use of the touchscreen. It if breaks, you’re driving without music, which sucks.

The Morgan sound system is also terrific, because the BLAT-BLAT-BLAT-BLAT of a 2-liter, 2-cylinder S&S motorcycle engine is one of the best sensory experiences on earth. There is no control interface, because the system is always on after you turn the key. The only problem? It’s only got that one amazing station, which can get tedious.

Verdict: Tie

NAVIGATION/GPS

The Tesla has a pretty good navigation/GPS system built into its wretched touchscreen, but it’s mediocre in the sun. The Morgan has the perfect shaded spot for an Ipad Mini running Google Maps, right in front of the gear shifter, but you have to take off a driving glove to use it.

Verdict: Tie

HVAC

The Tesla has a brilliant venting system concealed in the dash, with a tedious control system built into the touchscreen. The Morgan has a brilliant venting system designed by Mother Nature, controllable within a narrow range only by scarf placement.

Verdict: The Morgan is junk. Tesla wins.

PERFORMANCE

The only Model 3 you can currently buy does 0-60 in 4.6 seconds and tops out at 141 mph. The Morgan 3 does 0-60 in 6 seconds and tops out at 115mph. But these numbers lie. A Model 3 doesn’t feel fast. Quick, but not fast. A Morgan 3? You haven’t known fear, terror and excitement until you’ve accelerated from 0-30 mph.

Verdict: Tie

BRAKING

The Tesla’s braking is inconsistent. The Morgan’s is always terrible. Consistency breeds confidence.

Verdict: The Tesla is junk. Morgan wins.

HANDLING

The Tesla handles extraordinarily well, so well that it is no fun to drive at any speed. The Morgan handles poorly, so poorly that it is extraordinarily fun to drive even at low speeds.

Verdict: Tie

FLEET LEARNING

Every Tesla has “Fleet Learning” comprised of various sensors which gather data, store it, and share it with the Tesla cloud. This enables Tesla to improve Autopilot and other functionality wirelessly. It is unclear how much data Tesla gathers. Updates are frequent, which is good.

Morgan has also fleet learning, in the form of angry owners who gather data, store it, and share it with dealers and other owners in the form of angry emails, texts and phone calls, which enable Morgan to issue recalls and updates with great frequency. There is no software to update, which is one less thing to fix.

Verdict: Tie

IN BETA FACTOR

All Teslas are in beta, in that they they are always evolving. Some would believe this is limited to software updates, which is a good thing, but would appear to include hardware, which isn’t. I say “appear” because Teslas are not DIY friendly, and anecdotal evidence suggests the Model 3 has had more hardware revisions in six months than any Morgan in fifty years.

All Morgans are also in beta, in that they are always evolving, every owner having to jury rig fixes and improvements in order to keep the vehicle running. A Cambrian explosion of crowdsourced solutions for design flaws enables a healthy ecosystem of innovation, far surpassing Tesla’s factory-limited options.

Verdict: The Tesla is junk. Morgan wins.

Alex Roy

WARRANTY

Both offer warranties. The Tesla’s is great, because it tells you exactly how long you should lease it for, after which keeping it is madness. The Morgan’s is also great, because it provides entertaining reading after you’ve learned the parts will arrive after it expires.

Verdict: Tie

SERVICE & SUPPORT

Anyone who claims Teslas are unreliable hasn’t owned a Morgan. A Morgan odometer — even if it works — is extraneous. You can measure mileage by the number of missing parts upon getting home. The good news? Washers and screws can be replaced at Home Depot, and almost any Harley mechanic can help with big issues.

The worst Tesla ever made — and that’s saying a lot — is still superior to the best Morgan, but since you can’t service your Model 3 yourself, you’re screwed if anything major happens. Or minor, really.

Verdict: Tie

Alex Roy

I don't care about panel gaps. Do you?

FIT & FINISH

Both look great on delivery, and fall apart with increasing use. In a Tesla, this is embarrassing, and suggests you don’t own another, better car you can drive while your Model 3 is in service. In a Morgan, this is a sign of character, will and Nietszchian overcoming, because everyone knows no one buys a Morgan unless they have at least four other cars.

Verdict: The Tesla is junk. Morgan wins.

AUTOPILOT/ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems)

The Model 3 offers convenience & assistance features like radar cruise control and lane keeping, which function fairly well if the driver is ready to take over anytime.

The Morgan 3 offers safety features such as fear-for-one’s-life and anytime-loss-of-grip, which guarantees the driver is always in control of the vehicle.

Verdict: Tie

GREEN FACTOR

The Tesla is electric. I don’t really care. But some do. The Morgan has a wood frame. I like hearing it creak over bumps.

Verdict: Tie

RANGE & INFRASTRUCTURE

The Tesla has a “range” of 310 miles. The Morgan also has a “range” of 310 miles. A Model 3 driven normally may see 275 miles. A 3-wheeler that doesn’t break down may get 100 miles, after which the defective-from-the-factory fuel gauge will fall to zero, and it’s time to stop. The Tesla needs to be plugged in. The Morgan can be refueled anywhere.

Verdict: Tie

Alex Roy

Spare tire on the Morgan

THE FOURTH WHEEL

The Tesla rides on four wheels, but carries no spare. The Morgan rides on three wheels, but a front spare fits on the luggage rack perfectly.

Verdict: Tie

VALUE

As a technological achievements, Tesla owner Christian von Koenigsegg has repeatedly stated that Musk’s creations are incredible values. As basic transportation? The Tesla and Morgan are both terrible. What about as status symbols? A Model 3 in the wild is very cool, but two Model 3’s side-by-side is cock-wiltingly lame. How about that 3-Wheeler? You will never see two 3-wheelers side-by-side outside of a mechanic’s shed.

Verdict: Tie

SUMMARY

Amazingly, it's a tie, but the scoring doesn't tell the full story.

I love both these cars, but let’s be serious: the Tesla Model 3 and Morgan 3-wheeler are both exotic junk, identical in almost every way, with one fundamental difference. The Tesla is a brilliant idea, terribly executed. The Morgan is a terrible idea, brilliantly executed. Software-based cars are the future, but bring with them software problems no owner can solve. Hardware-based cars are both the past and the future, guaranteeing someone can keep them running.

Is Tesla the new Morgan? No, whether Tesla survives or not. If they do, they lose what makes them special. If they don’t, they won’t be running anyway. That’s too bad, because in our increasing automated and digitized future, nothing new will ever stand the test of time outside of a museum...except a Morgan. It would be great if a Model 3 — or really any new car that's not a Morgan — was still on the road in 50 or 100 years. Sadly, once human driving is banned from our roads, racetracks will likely be the only place one can still take the wheel. When that happens, only one of these pieces of junk will still be running, let alone fixable.

Which is why, although they're both junk, the Morgan wins.

Alex Roy — Investor, Founder of the Human Driving Association, Editor-at-Large at The Drive, Host of The Autonocast, co-host of /DRIVE on NBC Sports and author of The Driver — has set numerous endurance driving records, including the infamous Cannonball Run record. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.