Morgan Super 3 2023 review – Morgan's 3 Wheeler white knuckle ride updated
A more sophisticated take on Morgan's 3 Wheeler recipe that's more fun than ever
It’s a three-wheeled Morgan, but not a Morgan 3 Wheeler, the open sports car with front tyres that wouldn’t look too out of place on a mountain bike. We’ve jumped forward decades from the era so cleverly and enjoyably evoked by this car’s predecessor. The Roaring Twenties have become… well, we might have just about reached 1950. This is the brave new frontier of the Morgan Super 3.
As I wait to turn into Pickersleigh Road and head out into the morning Malvern traffic, the Super 3’s indicator ticks loudly, like an antique carriage clock on the drawing room mantelpiece of an English stately home. How appropriate for what is probably the most eccentrically British new car on sale, latest in a vehicle lineage that shouldn’t really make sense in many ways, but has a fanatical following amongst owners and enthusiasts all the same.
The Super 3 is a very different machine to its predecessor; a little less Biggles, a little more Dan Dare. Two key factors are at play here: it’s the first monocoque structure for Morgan and it’s powered by a proper car engine, not a repurposed motorbike motor. Out goes the S&S V-twin, exposed at the front of the triangle footprint, and in comes the non-turbocharged version of Ford’s 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine, producing 118bhp and 110lb ft of torque. It’s hooked up to a Mazda five-speed gearbox, with drive then taken as before via a bevel gearbox and belt drive to a single rear wheel. This is why the Super 3 has an actual bonnet, and also why its ‘face’ is made up of the cast front engine mount and widely spaced headlights.
There’s pull-rod suspension at the front, the broad track defined by two giant 20-inch bespoke Avon tyres that keep the traditional look mixed with a more modern compound. At the rear is a single, fat, all-season tyre, prioritising grip in cold and wet conditions. As for the body, it uses the superforming technique to create an aluminium structure with strength and lightness: despite being marginally larger than its predecessor and possessing a heftier powertrain, the Super 3 is only slightly heavier at 635kg dry (versus 525-585kg for the 3 Wheeler).
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For a vehicle where personalisation is a major part of the appeal – there are over 200 options including all sorts of clip-on luggage solutions – the Super 3 we’re driving is about as simple as it gets. We won’t need the optional heater and heated seats today, but the single-shade silver paintwork and black interior of this late pre-production prototype don’t really do justice to the possibilities on offer.
Never mind; jump over the side, feet on the seat base (that might be a pain on a rainy day) and slide down behind the wheel. You don’t so much sit in a ‘seat’ as recline against the padded side of what reminds me of an old-fashioned cinema pew, the curved upholstered back joining a raised centre tunnel to hold the driver in place. It’s attractively done, but after an hour or so in the hot seat I feel like the top half of my body is being twisted away from the lower half, which on longer drives might get rather painful.
Once inside, you can move both the steering wheel and pedal box back and forth, but the seating position is fixed. It works well, and immediately you feel more cocooned than with the previous car. Reach for the key – a cheap plastic item – at the base of the steering column and turn it to wake the Super 3, then flick up the ‘safety’ catch in the centre of the dash to reveal a small starter button. Prod that and the triple thumps into life, its bassy note exiting the car down low and on the driver’s side behind you.
To my ears it isn’t immediately obvious that it’s a three-cylinder engine – it just sounds gurgly and surprisingly but pleasantly raucous. Ping the fly-off handbrake and select first and the Super 3 is off, gaining speed effortlessly, vortices gently sweeping off the half screens in front, puttering through the side streets and gaining plenty of admiring glances even in the home town where they must be well accustomed to the sight.
It’s with revs and load that the three-cylinder timbre cuts through, the usual characteristics of the Ford lump now present: a lazy falling away of the revs when you lift, as though the flywheel is leaden, but a blip of the revs coming down the ’box revealing it has more than enough response to rev-match nicely, so soon heel-and-toe work becomes second nature. The shift quality itself is as good as you’d hope from the trusty Mazda ’box and you soon feel able to get the maximum out of the powertrain.
That max could best be described as appropriate. Thanks to its low weight the Super 3 springs forward with the sort of plucky spirit that would please the Royal Flying Corps of 1918, but you soon realise that in outright terms it’s hardly a dragster. Holding on to a ratio reveals an engine that dries up a little at the top end, but it’s far from asthmatic and the delivery means you need to work it to extract the best that it can give – surely Morgan’s intention.
The simple dash, a bit like a warship’s radar console, features speed on the left and revs on the right, the latter portrayed to one decimal point, so 1500rpm is ‘1.5’. That takes a bit of getting used to, and for me it’s not helped by the rim of the steering wheel obscuring it at the typical angle I hold my head at. The exhaust fights a constant battle with the whir of the bevel box behind you: it’s loud, and Morgan says it’s still working on reducing the decibels a little, but it’s not intrusive. Sometimes when you pull up to a halt it’s like a London tube train pulling into a station. It is, undeniably, a visceral experience.
Life feels good, heading out through the dappled lanes, a warm breeze fluttering through, the perfect picture-postcard English countryside framing the view over the two aero screens. At higher speeds I automatically duck down to benefit from their protection, but you can comfortably sit up straight at lower velocities.
I’ve pulled the large, 14-inch steering wheel close (a 13-inch wheel is an option but here’s a tip: the bigger wheel is a good idea) but in normal driving can’t decide whether to tuck my right elbow inside the bodywork or let it hang over the side, but as the road begins to turn twisty it’s clear that over the side is the only option.
It’s time to get the elbows out – elbows like Tazio Nuvolari manhandling an Auto Union on the Nordschleife in the pouring rain. Sort of. There’s only one way to drive a Super 3 with commitment, and it’s the Tazio way. The reason is simply that the response to the steering wheel starts with a certain laziness around the straight-ahead, followed by a sense that the sidewalls are taking up the slack and the car is beginning to turn. It may well be an in-built mechanism to stop you provoking the car too much on the way into a turn, for it slows the experience down, filtering out any nervy inputs. From there the weight builds, but it still feels like a slow rack, and the only way to really put in larger angles is to work the wheel, shifting your hands for purchase, hence the elbows flying.
Driven at pace, the Super 3 is a truly physical experience. Not so much in terms of raw muscle power, but the demands on your concentration together with the required amount of body movement becomes a very real form of driver involvement. I tend to lean into the corner, ducking down behind the screens and squinting for the apex, feeding the wheel in and involuntarily clenching my teeth. Those little screens offer a warped view of the world, and are heavily scratched on this example, so actually seeing anything is quite tricky, and my trepidation is also fed by a glance sideways and the realisation that there’s just fresh air, the Super 3’s body-sides cut away dramatically like those of an early Formula 1 car. There’s also the worry of just what happens in a three-wheeler when you exceed the limits of grip…
With some experimentation I discover that the rear’s meagre grip levels are easily overcome, and that junctions can be left in a hooligan fashion, a single thick black line a rubbery betrayal of power over grip. But during hard cornering at speed it’s a more sober experience and high-speed curves really focus the mind. I suppose it’s the fear of the unknown and the exposure to the elements, plus the slow steering and body control that’s easily upset if you hit a bump mid-corner, even though the ride quality is reasonable when just cruising along. ‘I’m sure it’s fine, old chap,’ I try to muster in character, but I can’t help feeling it would be wise to practise off the public road before taking things to any greater extreme.
As is, I can feel the rear tyre starting to come around, and I’m clinging onto that big wheel, stabbing away at inputs. It’s utterly engrossing and I haven’t even looked at the speedometer once. I haven’t the faintest clue how fast we’re going, but I’m certain that it’s not a big number, and therein lies one of the Super 3’s major points of appeal: it is the antithesis of lap times and power figures. As far as I’m aware we’ve driven this entire stretch of road at no more than 45mph, but at times I felt like I was fighting for my life, not just to nail an apex, and the sweat on my brow and slightly frenzied expression betrays an all-consuming experience.
That experience is resolutely a vintage one. The Super 3 has jumped forwards a decade or three, but if you’re coming to it expecting some kind of three-wheeled Caterham rival you’re going to be massively disappointed. It’s still easy to pick holes in it dynamically, and, in raw practical terms, it remains a car that no one, anywhere, actually needs. However, its trump card is fun, pure and simple, and for many people it will deliver that in giant gobfuls. It starts from £43,165, a figure you’ll no doubt inflate substantially once you’ve applied extras, graphics and all the rest of it, but for such an appealing, frivolous toy that feels well judged to me. Most of all, the Super 3 is another example of this small British sports car firm expertly walking the fine line between modernisation and tradition.
Morgan Super 3 specifications
|Engine||In-line 3-cyl, 1432cc|
|Power||118bhp @ 6500rpm|
|Torque||110lb ft @ 4500rpm|