I should be clear that I’m not using “spider face” in that headline as a pejorative; the last thing I want to do is upset our loyal and important arachnid readers. What I am saying is that for Morgan’s re-born, all-new three-wheeler, the Super 3, we’ve now seen the US-spec version, and I think it’s an interesting study in how important a number of things are in automotive design: spacing, anthropomorphism (or maybe zoomorphism or arachnomorphism?), regulations, lighting design, and probably more. This is one of those times where we’re reminded how important single factors – in this case the distance between headlights – really are.
First, a little reminder on the novel machine that is the Morgan Super 3: the Super 3 is the latest incarnation of what maybe we can say is the id of Morgan, as a company, a three-wheeled minimalistic sports car. Morgan has been building three-wheelers since, what, 1909, with the vehicles really taking off in the 1930s and continuing into the 1950s and later being re-born in 2012.
In the almost 100 years Morgan built three-wheelers, they’ve set the big, round headlights pretty wide, mostly to clear the exposed longitudinal V-twin engines that the cars used, mounted front and center:
It’s always been a peculiar face, with the prominent V of the exposed engine, and it’s one that has changed significantly with the new Morgan Super 3, which trades the V-twin in for an inline three-cylinder that’s pretty well concealed under the bodywork – unibody-type bodywork, too, a first for Morgan. Here’s the face of the Euro-market Super 3:
As you can see, the headlights remain in essentially the same locations as before, wide-set, about halfway between the body centerline and the wheel. The American-spec version of the Super 3 was just recently announced, and that’s what I want to discuss now because there’s been one significant change to the face.
In the US, the Morgan Super 3 is considered a motorcycle, and as such abides by motorcycle lighting requirements. Most states allow for two headlights on a motorcycle, and up to two additional “auxiliary lamps.” Because of the inherent narrowness of motorcycles, the center of the lights is expected to be pretty close to the vertical centerline of the motorcycle, in the case of these Virginia regulations, about four inches to the left or right:
7. The center of the hot spot is set more than four inches up or down from the horizontal centerline or more than four inches to the left or right from the vertical centerline. Inspectors shall rely on their education, training, and experience to determine if the headlamp is properly aimed. If improper alignment is observed, the headlamp shall be checked for proper aim by using an optical headlamp aimer.
Indicators have to be at least nine inches apart, but generally, it seems that US specs prefer motorcycles to not seem like cars regarding the distance between their lights, even though in the case of the Super 3, the front end really is pretty much car width. For whatever combination of arcane reasons, the US version has lights spaced like this:
At first glance, I can’t not see a spider’s face in this configuration. I can’t help it, it just pops into my head almost immediately:
It’s kind of uncanny, really. At an angle, I can kind of see another familiar face, especially when seeing that large air intake below the lights:
There’s a little bit of Cookie Monster in there, or perhaps an excited robot frog. Again, let me be clear, I’m not saying any of these are negative. Spiders have cool faces, and I think the close-set eyes work on the Super 3, and add to its sort of unhinged and fun character.
What I find remarkable is just how wildly different the front end seems when the lights move inboard. They’re the same size and shape lights, they’re just closer together by, what, a foot and a half? And the whole character of the car’s visage changes.
You can actually spec the Super 3 with both lighting setups, with the inner set acting as auxiliary lights in the UK, and the reverse in America. But you can see both sets here:
Which sets of lights read as the “eyes” in this context? I can force my brain into reading either set as “eyes,” if I’m honest. What fascinates me so much is that I think this simple metric of headlamp position might be one of the most dramatic things that can be done to change how a car’s front end not just looks, but feels. Take this example, from when Volkswagen was developing the Golf/Rabbit:
So, the car on the left there is a 1970 Golf prototype, then known as the Blizzard, that was being developed. Giugiaro was, of course, the designer of the now-famous first-generation Volkswagen Golf, but in 1970 not all of the design details had been settled yet, including the horizontal spacing of the headlamps.
The closer-set version on the left, I think, looks significantly and dramatically different. In this case, worse, too. By moving the lights outboard by, what, three or four inches, the whole face of the car changed, and the car went from looking kind of surprised and confused to eager and confident.
I know I tend to anthropomorphize car faces a lot. Maybe more than most. But I find it fascinating how much power and influence this one seemingly simple design choice can have, so when we get a dramatic example like this one with the new Morgan Super 3, I’m delighted.
And, again, I like the spider face. You’re very handsome, spider readers. Especially our paying subscriber-spiders.
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I kind of see Sid from Ice Age in the picture with both versions,the middle ones being the nose..
Speaking of Golf “Blizzard” prototype with closer-set headlamps, Mercedes-Benz placed the headlamps closer to the grille and integrated fog lamps closer to the turn signal indicators on W116 S-Class. This position gave the car a crossed-eye, puzzled look. I have asked around for a long time what led Mercedes-Benz to choose the odd positions and why: I never got any answer, though. During one of the boring days, I did some Photoshop work on W116’s front end, swapping the headlamps around to see how the revised look appeared. Much better and more imposing!
Thankfully, Mercedes-Benz addressed its idiosyncrasy with its W123 in 1975 and W126 saloon in 1979, placing the headlamps and fog lamps in the proper place.
On the car with both sets of lights, I see the centre set as the eyes and the outer set as hands that are being held up in a comical sneaking pose
Tucking the front lights inward is in all likelihood significantly better for drag, too. I’d prefer it.
What may happen with these closely spaced headlamps: Imagine youre enjoying a drive in your new narrow-set headlight Morgan night on nice but a narrow road, possibly a twisty road too. The driver of the car coming the opposite direction partially blinded by your lights does not realize this is NOT a 2 feet wide motorcycle but a 6 feet wide three-wheeler and plow into you. Head on.
Not so much head on as just taking out the driver-side wheel. It is classified as a motorcycle, so it can keep driving with two wheels, right?
I’ve considered that as a possibility.
This arachnid loving/owning reader approves of both the face of the car and your “Spiderface” graphic at the top of the article.
Closely-spaced double headlights are not always a great idea.
Drive-on-the-left-country story: We used to live at the bottom of a shallow hill, which distorted the perspective of approaching vehicles. Pulling out from our entrance one night, I glanced right, saw a car in the distance, glanced left to check for pedestrians/bicycles on the pavement, glanced right again and nearly pulled out into a scooter with double headlights that I had mistaken for the car in the distance.
I think it was the combination of the slope and the height of the scooter lights, so maybe not a problem on the Morgan, but it frightened the life out of me.
Surely having the lights so far inboard isn’t a great idea safety-wise? If you were on a narrow country road with a US version of this coming towards you at night, you’d think “oh, a motorcycle” – then realise at the last minute it was actually a lot wider than you thought!
I know very narrow country roads aren’t as common in the US (here in the UK they are very common), but still, I think the UK lighting set-up is safer for other road users as the lights indicate the width of the vehicle at night.
Yep, agreed. Whilst I’m entertained by the ‘which looks better’ discussion you have to wonder what difference it makes for safety both for seeing and being seen. I would definitely be ticking the option box for all four.
We prefer to be identified as being on the arachnid spectrum. Here, I have some literature. Hello?
Torch, let’s be honest.
When it comes to US lighting regulations, you literally could just pipe /dev/random into the article prefaced with ’49 CFR’ and it’d make more sense than the actual regulations.
I mean seriously! 393.11 says there are no requirements for a license plate lamp, but then says in a footnote “to be illuminated when headlamps are illuminated.”
You see Cookie Monster, I see Pepe the Prawn, j’okay?
The Iron Giant pulling an ahegao is all I see.
I’ll show myself out.
I think you need to take advantage of DT’s Hollywwood status and have him get together a Vanderhall Venice, one of these Morgan’s and maybe throw in a Midwest Slingshot and do a track day to see which is best for his future stardom filled romps down the PCH
I feel like it is missing a nice V twin engine out front…..but if they are going to hide the Ecosport 3 cylinder under the cowl, maybe a Plus 8 Grill to cover the ugly bits would be more proper.
Honestly I don’t see it and I hate spiders.
That being said the only way I’ll buy a Morgan 3 Wheeler is if they make a BEV variant.
But is it a Strong and Bitey face? Or is that only the Aussie models?
Can’t read my, can’t read my
No, you can’t read my spider face
3’s got arachnid body
I like the eyes on this one way better than the surprised/terrified look of that AC Shelby Cobra reboot thing from a couple weeks ago.
You see cookie monster, I see the Martians.
I don’t know why, but American legislators have defined everything with 3 wheels as a “motorcycle”, and that’s sort of dumb. It’s a loophole that allows manufacturers like Morgan – and wannabes like Elio – to build things that are clearly automobiles, but don’t have to meet the safety or emissions regulations of a passenger car.
There’s a much better way to delineate a car from a motorcycle, but nobody seems to use it. To wit, if you sit *in* it, like this Morgan, it’s a car. If you sit *on* it, Like a Can Am Bombardier, it’s a motorcycle.
Yes, it’s fantastic that there’s still at least one work-around in FMVSS that allows for the sale of something that isnt a Brinks van encased in air bags
“In vs. on” isn’t a clear distinction, though. For example, this is not a motorcycle:
It occurs to me that, given your automotive bent, you must have some great pictures from some of the get togethers you attend. That vehicle looks to me like someone gave up hookers & blow and needed an outlet for all that energy
It’s a replica of a Moxie Horsemobile. Moxie made several based on various chassis.
I’d probably have more photos had I ever managed to train myself into the habit of bringing a camera with me. I went to a Swedish car show over this last weekend and remembered after I got there, which is regrettably typical.
So I don’t know about federal regulations, but that’s exactly how Idaho distinguishes cars and autocycles from motorcycles. Saddle and handlebars? Motorcycle. Seat and steering wheel? Not a motorcycle.
Washington does something along those lines. Any street-legal three-wheeled vehicle is a motorcycle for plating and insurance purposes but if it is (1) partially or fully enclosed, (2) has a seat instead of a saddle, (3) has a steering wheel instead of handlebars, and (4) has a seat belt or belts (if new enough that belts are required), then it may be operated without a motorcycle endorsement on one’s license and without wearing a helmet. It must satisfy all four of those points, though. It’s not clear exactly what’s meant by “partially enclosed” so I suspect that has to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
There are some motorcycles that you sit on, with a seat belt, roof, windscreen and wipers, just like a car.
Have a Google for BMW C1…
Wow, the standard British spec without auxiliary lights is so much less attractive than the US version, or either version with the auxiliary lights.
You see spider or Cookie Monster, I see Roberto from Futurama, so I’m afraid the Super 3 might just decide to stab me.
Huh. My first thought was “gasping Bender” but I see where it could be Roberto, the ol’ stab-bot.
I’ll grant similarities between an ogre-faced spider, or Cookie Monster, but to me it looks like a different Muppet: Pepe the King Prawn.
Pepe is my favorite of the “newer” Muppets. I founds pics of it in red (UK version though) so maybe dreams really can come true.
Traditionally it always seemed like US lighting laws just made things worse but I think it’s an improvement here. The headlights were fine on the old one because they didn’t really have much room to put them anywhere else but on the new one, they look so awkward out there just for the sake of being out there.
The one with the standard wide-mounted headlights looks like Conky, the robot from PeeWee’s Playhouse who delivered each Word of the Day.
My favorite is the Morgan Electric concept from a few years back:
I LOVE the asymmetrical design of the Electric concept and kinda wish the above new 3 had this look with a bronze radiator visible.