One of Britain’s most eccentric, endearing and just plain enjoyable vehicles has evolved into a new generation. Goodbye Morgan 3 Wheeler: long live the Morgan Super 3. It’s fitting that the new car gets a new name, because while the concept is very much the same, the execution is quite a bit different this time around.
That’s because the Super 3 is powered not by a V twin motorbike engine, but a proper car engine, albeit a tiny one – a 1.5-litre Ford three-cylinder, used in non-turbo trim with 118bhp and 110lb ft of torque, and hooked up to a five speed Mazda MX-5 ‘box, and it’s an inspired choice – more on that in a minute. This means that for the first time the car has an actual bonnet, the cast front engine mount and headlights now forming the car’s ‘face’, and unusual flat barge boards denoting the sides.
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Firstly though, a rundown on the new car. You can read more on the tech at our launch story here, but essentially this is a slightly bigger, more sophisticated car, the Super name referencing both the 1950s Americana influences in its styling and the use of aluminum superform construction, making this – remarkably – the first ever monocoque-based Morgan. It’s a construction method that has allowed the firm to make the Super 3 stronger yet still light (635kg dry), and they’ve cleverly made a feature of it by exposing the ribbed inner surfaces of the panels in the cockpit. Talking of the interior, this is also unrecognisable to the old car in that it’s vastly more ergonomic, and there’s a lot more room. The seat is fixed, but both the pedal box and steering wheel adjust. You don’t so much sit in a seat, but rather prop yourself up in a trimmed booth with a central tunnel holding you in place, while the dashboard is simplicity itself, but fantastically realised, the twin dials looking like something out of a submarine’s radar station. Like the rest of the car they’re disarmingly simple, and apart from a few toggle switches for lights and necessities that’s about it. This car also has the optional footwell heater and heated seats, but in glorious summer sunshine we won’t be using those today.
To fire up the Super 3 you turn the cheap plastic key in the ignition at the base of the steering column and then flip up the military-style safety catch for the starter button that’s located in the center of the dash. Press it and the triple bursts into life, settling to a deep, resonant growl, the fat pipe exiting the body low and aft on the driver’s side. It doesn’t shout ‘three-cylinder engine’ at you immediately, and it’s only with revs that the familiar note is audible. The Mazda box has a wonderfully light and accurate throw, and the Ford engine picks up cleanly and strongly even from low revs, making progress at lower speeds pleasingly effortless. The pedals are well spaced too, and it’s soon natural to heel and toe shifts everywhere, while the brakes have a rewarding analogue response. The exhaust note has some competition in the form of the drivetrain whine and whoosh from the bevel gearbox right behind you, which sometimes sounds like a tube train pulling up at a station. Morgan says it’s still working on reducing the volume for production cars, but it’s not unbearable as it is.
Long term tests
The Super 3 is a deeply visceral experience. As the speeds rise you realise that its performance is entirely appropriate but no more. It’ll do 0-62mph in about seven seconds, and feels quickest when you really wring out every gear, but the claimed top speed of 130mph does sound pretty frightening to be frank, and I never found myself yearning for any more performance. You feel cocooned in the cockpit to a certain extent, particularly with the half-height aero screen option fitted, but a glance to the side reminds just how exposed you really are to the elements. Of course, that’s also part of the car’s appeal. Talking of the screens, they do their job well but the actual vision available through them is warped and these ones are already somewhat crazed and scratched, meaning that seeing the apex during committed cornering is surprisingly difficult if you’re looking through them.
You might see photos of a Super 3 tackling a corner with the driver’s elbows pointing almost skywards, like Tazio Nuvolari hustling some pre-war Alfa, and there’s a very good reason for this. The Super 3’s 14-inch wheel (13-inch is an option but I’m not sure I’d fancy having less purchase to work with) needs to be close to the chest because when tackling a B-road you’re going to be using it a lot. The steering is relatively slow, weights up with lock, and when turning immediately away from the straight ahead there’s a sense that the giant but skinny bespoke 20-inch Avons are first taking up the slack in their sidewalls before delivering much in the way of a change of direction. So you need to work the wheel, move your hands, and apply force from the elbow, not the wrists as you might in a modern car. There’s always a bit more front end grip than you expect, even when pushing on, and with the rear being an all-season tire to prioritise grip from the only driven wheel in inclement conditions, it’s that tire that feels like it will give up first . Body roll is limited, and the structure feels a lot more solid than it ever did before, but the Super 3’s body control does get very excited – and the suspension noisy – if you hit a bump mid corner under load. With the steering as it is, the thought of losing grip at the rear in a high speed corner is quite a sobering one – or one you might want to practise off the public road first, but in truth the Super 3 is more about low speed hooliganism than any great dynamic feats. The mild rear tire easily loses grip when gunned off the line, and drifts out of junctions are a naughty but hard to resist pleasure.
It might be vastly more sophisticated than the original but the Super 3’s driving experience is still strongly towards the vintage end of the scale – progress can be measured in the decades, but we’re still not long past the second world war. For most people though I suspect that won’t matter one little bit – in fact it will be a positive. If you approach it expecting a three-wheeled Caterham rival you’re going to be severely disappointed, but if you’re looking for a unique, invigorating way to travel that puts fun at the forefront of the experience, the Super 3 really delivers. It costs from £43,165, there are over 200 different options and the most extensive selection of luggage and storage possibilities imaginable for all those epic long distance adventures some buyers seem to like to do (I wish there was a cubby hole for your mobile phone, though). It’s a proper experience, and a positive one, and as with the firm’s other products in recent years, Morgan has finely judged the car’s evolution without damaging it’s core appeal.