Morgan Trike Sharpens Driving Experience with Water-Cooled Engine

2022-06-16 09:32:35 By : Ms. Eva Shao

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With unibody construction instead of a timber framework, the Super 3 is much more dynamically sophisticated than its crude predecessor.

It’s raining. Of course it is. This is the English summer, where the weather punishes both wary and unwary alike. Choosing to drive a car with no roof or any other form of weather protection has goaded fate into delivering a soaking. Yet even this doesn’t do much to dampen my enthusiasm for what must be high in the running to be the most charismatic new vehicle on the planet.

Note “vehicle,” not “car,” because the Morgan Super 3 isn’t a conventional automobile. The odd number of wheels makes it a motorized tricycle, and puts it into a legal hinterland between motorcycle and car. Up front there is a steering wheel, control pedals, and a gear shifter, but in back is a single driven wheel. The world’s legislators are divided. In Europe the Super 3 will be treated as a car, wearing its headlamps outboard as you see in these images of the factory demonstrator. In the US it will need to wear the lights in the center, as if it is an oversized motorcycle.

No extant automaker has a longer tradition of three-wheelers than Morgan. The British company built its first, the Runabout, as long ago as 1910. It featured an 8-hp V-twin engine and tiller steering which look like a motorized bathchair. Steering wheels arrived soon after and, in the period before World War II, Morgan’s tricycles became very popular in the UK, some owners racing them or even setting speed records.

In 2013 Morgan was revived with a new 3 Wheeler, combining a Harley-style air-cooled V-Twin engine built by S&S in the US with a chassis using Morgan’s traditional techniques: a steel frame with aluminum panels over a wooden forming structure. It was huge fun, but little more advanced than the original cars had been, and the V-Twin engine was soon struggling to meet even lenient motorcycle emissions standards. By the time it retired in 2020, the 3-Wheeler had been strangled like a Malaise-era V8, output falling from 116 hp to just 82 hp.

That’s why the new car has made the switch to water-cooled power, with a new 1.5-liter Ford three-cylinder engine which Morgan reckons will meet legal requirements right up to Europe’s eventual ban on combustion powerplants. This makes 118 hp and 110 lb-ft of torque, propelling just 1400 pounds of mass. Radiators are positioned on each side.

The rest of the Super 3’s structure is even more radical, with Morgan having joined the herd and made the switch to unibody construction. Seriously, this is the first car in the company’s history not to have timber framework, its structure made from superformed aluminum panels.

The new engine has removed the compelling sight of the last 3-Wheeler’s chrome-plated cylinder heads, which Morgan’s designers have replaced with an alloy casting for mounting the front suspension arms. Rather than trying to disguise the need for extra space, Morgan has celebrated it with flat panels incorporating mounting eyes for a variety of panniers and luggage carriers.

Getting in is simple. Without any doors, you climb into the Super 3, something those with shorter legs may find a challenge. Morgan has helpfully provided a metal bracing step just ahead of the seats, and by resting an ankle on one of these it becomes easier to swing yourself inboard braced against the roll hoop.

Once inside the cabin is as Spartan as a city state in ancient Greece, with a metal dash panel, twin circular digital instruments and a row of four rocker switches. In the center of these is a start button under an inhibitor cover. The seats don’t move—altering the front-rear mass distribution could have some stability issues—but the pedal box position can be adjusted.

Except for the need to hang your outside arm over the edge of the cockpit, the Super 3 is actually spacious given its modest dimensions. Everything is waterproof. It can even survive being jet washed.

The new engine suits the three-wheeler quite well. In the European market Fords it normally powers this is a utilitarian powerplant. But in the lightweight Morgan, and exhaling through a rorty exhaust, it both sounds and feels keen. Control weighting is good—the five-speed manual gearbox shifts as smoothly and accurately as it would in the Mazda Miata it was designed for. The unassisted steering is low-geared but rich in off-center feedback and both brake and gas pedals have been carefully positioned to allow heel-and-toe rev-matching on downshifts.

Morgan’s claim of a 6.9-second 0-60-mph time might not sound particularly impressive by the standards of modern sportscars, let alone sportsbikes. But hard acceleration is given extra excitement by both the battering slipstream that gets past the limited protection of the aero screen and also the rear tire’s struggle to find traction. The little motor revs out at 6900 rpm and, as it gets close to that figure, the rev counter display changes color and then starts to display a shaking digit to show how hard the engine is working—a detail that made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it.

The combination of wet, slippery conditions and the Super 3’s complete lack of driver aids—there is no traction control or even ABS—had me initially concerned given the strange handling physics of three-wheeled vehicles. Yet while the Super 3’s grip levels were very modest in the rain—and likely not much higher on dry asphalt—it is easy to drive up to its well-flagged limits.

The narrow front tires look like vintage motorcycle rims but are actually custom designed 130-profile Avons with flatter faces designed to work better when sliding. At the rear is a 195-profile 15-inch all-season tire, this chosen to ensure the levels of adhesion are similarly slight at both ends. On sodden roads, I can attest to this, but also that the Super 3 is willing to alter its cornering line in response to small throttle inputs. On low-grip surfaces it can easily be powered into oversteer. Donuts are easier with only one wheel.

Hooliganism aside, the Super 3 felt much more dynamically sophisticated than its crude predecessor, although I have no desire to find out how it handles its claimed 130-mph top speed. Braking also took a little getting used to; it was possible to have the Super 3 on the edge of locking up its front tires while losing speed at a slower rate than four-wheeled traffic. It’s another area where it feels closer to a motorcycle than a car.

We don’t have U.S. pricing for the Super 3 yet, but expect it to start around $70,000 when it arrives here later this year. That would make it a very expensive, impractical automotive toy, yet also a compelling one when you consider how few alternatives could offer a similar driving experience, regardless of price.

Transmission:Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive