Morgan has never followed the herd, and as bigger and more sensible automakers continue to downsize their powerplants (or go all-electric), the British sports car maker has gone the other way. The last Morgan 3 Wheeler used an air-cooled twin-cylinder engine, but the new one has been upgraded with a more advanced water-cooled triple. Don’t worry, that rules out Morgan’s sanity.
Simply categorizing the new Super 3 is a challenge. It is not a car, as it still lacks the fourth wheel, which is generally considered a sine qua non of an automobile. But it’s also not a motorcycle with a steering wheel, shifter and pedals – plus that extra point of contact with the ground. As a motorized tricycle, it has divided lawmakers around the world. In Europe, like a car, the headlights have to be mounted on the outside, as you can see in the pictures from our drive in England. But in the United States, the lights will sit in the central opening like it’s a three-wheeled motorcycle.
While the Super 3 model is an entirely new vehicle, its basics remain very simple. It’s missing doors, a roof, and a windshield beyond small bolt-on Plexiglas deflectors. But by Morgan standards, the Super 3 is a feat of engineering, the first unibody vehicle the British company has produced in its 113-year history. Unlike every previous Morgan, including the company’s current four-wheeler models, there is no longer a frame under the bodywork that contains old English wood. With the Super 3, aluminum profiles are welded into an integrated structure.
Harley-Davidson-esque to the old three-wheeler, the V-twin was an extremely charismatic powerplant, but also an outdated one. This air-cooled engine struggled to meet even relatively benign motorcycle emissions standards, which was reflected in its progressive power loss. When it was released in 2011 it made 116 horsepower, but when it retired it was down to just 82 horses after being choked like a Malaise-era V-8. The new 1.5-litre threesome comes from Ford (Morgan has always been agnostic when it comes to powerplant choices), and it puts out a peak power of 118 ponies and 110 pound-feet of torque. The Super 3 only weighs about 1400 pounds, giving it a lively power-to-weight ratio for something with a powered wheel. Power reaches the rear tires via a five-speed manual gearbox, borrowed from an older-generation Mazda Miata, and a bevel-gear drive belt.
The Super 3 looks ridiculous and awesome at the same time. Morgan has given the new car – which loses the polished adornment of the old’s twin cylinder heads – a more modern front end with a curved bonnet over the aluminum cross member that positions the suspension arms. Behind that, the basic shape of the car is very hull-like, but with flat side panels that hide the radiators and provide attachment points for a range of panniers and accessories, Morgan promises. There is also some space under the rear trunk.
Boarding was easy, although it’s probably more of a challenge for those with shorter legs. In front of the seats is a carefully angled footplate that you swing onto with an ankle and then brace yourself on the roll bar before sliding down. The seat cannot be moved; Like a small airplane, the Super 3 is very sensitive to mass changes. But the pedal box can be adjusted, as can the tilt of the steering wheel. We found it easy to get comfortable, even though our elbows hung in the slipstream outside of the cockpit. The windshields deflect quite a bit of wind (and rain), but Super 3 drivers are wise to wear some form of eye protection.
Instrumentation is via two circular digital dials – one for speed, one for engine revs and fuel level – with switchgear limited to a turn signal stalk and switches for the lights, horn and, under a flap, the engine start button. The good news is that the interior is fully waterproof. Especially since, in the best British summer tradition, continuous rain set in when we started our test drive from the Malvern factory.
It’s immediately apparent that this three-wheeled Morgan was built and engineered to much higher standards than the old one. The last 3 wheeler had a lot of charm but little sophistication. It was gross, uncomfortable and inconsistent, with the combination of less than solid structure and primitive suspension making it difficult to predict what it would do next. The new one is significantly better. The car we drove was a late-cycle prototype, with Morgan’s chief designer Jonathan Wells being particularly keen to point out that the bootlid gap will be narrower on production cars. But the driving experience was representative of what customers will experience.
Morgan’s switch from air- to water-cooled engines rivals the importance of Porsche’s similar transition between the 993 and 996 generations of the 911. The new engine is a good match for the Super 3. Morgan has long been adept at bringing a special feel to everyday powerplants, and the combination of intelligent throttle calibration and a roaring exhaust convey an air of enthusiasm – one that is backed up by lively performance. The company’s claimed 6.9-second 60mph time might seem leisurely by the out of joint standards of modern sports cars, but the hard acceleration in the Super 3 feels far more exhilarating given the lack of weather protection and the rear tire’s frequent struggles for traction on. Because the tachometer displays digits rather than a rendered needle, the numbers change color and jitter as the three-banger nears its 6900-rpm redline.
The narrow 20-inch front tires are specially developed Avons in size 130/90R-20. Their swollen sidewalls make them look like classic motorcycle tires, but their flat profile effectively makes them car tires better suited to dealing with slip angles than the rounder profiles of bicycle rubber. Slip angles are something the Super 3 is good at generating, especially on wet surfaces. Front-end grip is modest but gives up gradually and the transition is clearly communicated through the unassisted steering. A deliberately non-stick 195/65R-15 all-season tire is fitted at the rear to balance front-to-rear grip. This balance is enough to be able to change the curve line of the Super 3 simply with the accelerator pedal. At higher speeds, harder pushes tip the car into gentle understeer, while releasing noses in. At lower speeds, the rear can be made to skid, and on gravel or wet grass the Super 3 can shred sick donuts.
Indeed, the Super 3’s low handling limits don’t limit the fun. It feels exciting even below 60mph, and the idea of trying to verify its claimed 130mph top speed is frankly terrifying. The lack of any form of traction or stability control, or even ABS, means the Super 3 must be driven with a higher level of respect than most new high-performance cars. Even when the front tires are close to locking up under braking, it doesn’t seem to slow down particularly quickly. Yet the well-weighted, precise controls and crisp feedback give plenty of confidence for what’s about to happen next. Considerable effort has gone into details such as the weight and positioning of the pedals to encourage heel-and-toe shifting and ensure the five-speed’s shifting action is as smooth as the Miata for which it was originally developed.
For a vehicle that has almost nothing out of the ordinary, the Super 3 will be enormously configurable. Buyers can choose both exterior graphics and base colors, as well as numerous accessories that attach to the body’s clever attachment system. The company reckons that every build will likely be different, which is pretty eccentric when you think about it. While that’s standard with any Morgan, the new Super 3 promises to take it to a new level when it hits the US later this summer.
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