British 3-wheeler, first built in 1909, makes a comeback
By Jim Newton firstname.lastname@example.org | @JimNewton5 December 19, 2013 8:14PM
Norbert Bries, president of Northshore Sportscars in Lake Bluff, gets in a Morgan Spitfire 3-wheeler. | Jim Newton/Sun-Times Media
1225 Rockland Road (Route 176)
Updated: February 18, 2014 4:18AM
Decide for yourself if it’s a car or a motorcycle — but whatever you call the new Morgan 3-Wheeler, it’s guaranteed to turn heads.
The British-based Morgan Motor Company first developed its three-wheeler in 1909, and two years ago, decided to build a modern version featuring the same three wheels and unique look, according to Norb Bries, president of Northshore Sportscars dealership in Lake Bluff. Northshore Sportscars is licensed to order and sell the three-wheelers, which are then shipped to their new owners in the United States from Britain.
“I started taking orders for them two years ago,” Bries said. “People who order them just enjoy the heck out of them.”
Bries has a Spitfire edition three-wheeler demo car that attracts a lot of attention, and it caught the eye of Lake Bluff resident Bill Smithson, who is eagerly awaiting the Superdry edition three-wheeler he ordered from Bries that is expected to arrive by the end of the year.
“The first time I ever saw one was in an old Peter Sellers movie and he was riding in this strange little car and I thought, ‘what was that?,” Smithson said. “I live right by the (Northshore) dealership and I saw one parked out front. He let me take the demo out for a drive around and I got hooked on it pretty quickly.”
Smithson said he “totally” noticed people gaping at the car as he drove it through the streets.
“It’s primarily for fun,” Smithson said of the open-air vehicle, which is classified as a motorcycle and requires a Class M motorcycle license, but handles like a sports car.
It is a fair-weather vehicle and Smithson said his plans to move to North Carolina in the near future played into his decision to purchase one. “There’s better weather and open roads. For city driving and things like that, I probably wouldn’t do it,” he said
While Smithson chose the Superdry edition, named for and commissioned by the high-end Japanese retail chain making inroads on the East Coast, he ordered some custom aesthetics of his own.
The Superdry is silver, with orange-wall tires, Japanese artwork and a racing number.
Smithson said some of the features of the car, including the start-up button, remind him of World War II bomber planes, and he ordered the Army Air Corps logo for his car as a tribute to his father, who served in the Air Corps during World War II.
He also traded in the two-digit racing number for 1919, the year his father was born.
Performance-wise, Smithson said the three-wheeler, which boasts 0 to 60 in four and a half seconds, “is faster than I need.” But he says he loves the crossover feel of the vehicle, which has a motorcycle engine, no power steering or power brakes, but still offers the balance, stability and handling of a four-wheeler.
Bries said the origins of the three-wheeler were based more on practicality than fashion.
“They built the three-wheeler because in the day, the road tax on a three-wheel vehicle would be so much less than for a car,” he said. Bries added that the motorcycle engine used then and today is also significantly more fuel efficient than a car engine.
So what will it take to put you into a Superdry, a Spitfire or another edition of the Morgan 3-Wheeler? The standard model goes for about $50,000, once you add in costs such as export/import taxes and shipping from Europe.
Bries said most of the customers who have bought the three-wheelers from him have previous motorcycle experience, and some are “of a certain age” in which three wheels seems a bit safer and more practical than two.
But for the novice, a three-wheeler is much easier to start driving than a regular motorcycle, and Bries said owners are allowed to take the Class M license test using the three-wheeler as opposed to a standard motorcycle.
“When you start it, you get that motorcycle sound,” Bries said. “You get to feel the wind and the air around you like you’re on a bike, but it has the handling of a sports car. You wouldn’t know you are on three wheels.”