Review: Campagna T-Rex 16S

Part glorified go-kart, part mutant tricycle, the $62,000 Campagna T-Rex 16S is a freakish cross-breed of seemingly incongruous bits born on Doctor Moreau’s Island of Lost Mechanical Misfits. In its early days, the Canadian three-wheeler was a plaything for ’90s rap stars and fodder for rich-dude rags like The duPont Registry and Robb Report. While earlier models packed stout four-cylinders plucked from Kawasaki ZX-14s, Campagna switched to BMW’s bigger engine because the Bavarian bike builder agreed to sell their mills a la carte and share CAD files. That helped get the 1,649cc inline-6 power plant shoehorned within the 16S’s 1.5-inch tubular steel frame.

With apologies to Jurassic Park Sound Designer Gary Rydstrom, Tyrannosaurus Rex didn’t leave behind much evidence about the sonic quality of their dino screams. But if there’s truth in advertising behind Campagna’s naming convention, the fearsome bipeds actually sounded more like a blood-curdling mélange of intake gasps, valve train clatter, and exhaust thrash.

Aboard the BMW K1600 touring motorcycle from which the mill was plucked, the liquid-cooled six-cylinder nestled between your thighs feels like pure BMW, a silky smooth sewing machine designed to make the rider feel like he’s piloting a miniaturized Morbidelli V8. But housed under the T-Rex’s fiberglass body panels and mated to the six-speed transmission with a clutch pedal and a tacked-on reverse gear, the engine takes on the personality of a ferociously throttle sensitive, rev-happy torque monster. Peak twist is 35 lb-ft greater than its Kawasaki-powered predecessor, and horsepower now totals a screaming 160—output figures which may not sound impressive in the context of most road-going production sports cars, until you consider the 16S’s dry weight slides in at a scant 1,040 pounds — just a tisk more than half of a fully gassed Lotus Elise.

It takes an awkward hip-swinging, torso-twisting wiggle dance to climb into the 16S’s al fresco cabin (ingress becomes slightly easier when the quick-release steering wheel is unlatched). Once you’ve settled into the thin, vinyl seat and extended your legs straight to meet the three aluminum pedals, this sled’s cabin still has all the aesthetic charm of a jet ski turned inside out. But the open-wheel formula racer ergonomics are also gloriously out of place on public roads, and weirdly attractive in an inappropriate — and somehow badass — kind of way. As such, the T-Rex consistently draws the attention of passersby with its alien eye candy shape and implicit promise of vehicular shenanigans.

Clearcoated fiberglass surfaces abound inside, and digital instrumentation and switchgear borrowed from the BMW bike are the only hints of sophistication in the otherwise Pleistocene-era furnishings. Ornamental carbon fiber appliqué doesn’t quite help the pleas for credibility, but that lapse is quickly forgotten when the silver start button is pressed.

Sobering reality arrives when the engine shakes to life mere inches away from your spine, and you realize your feet are positioned at the front axle, just aft of the non-existent crumple zone. Those soapbox racer ergonomics offer quite the cautionary consideration, especially given the T-Rex’s twitchy, wild child persona. Pedals are within whispering distance of each other, the steering wheel feels like something plucked from a Pole Position arcade console, and the clutch engagement point feels approximately three millimeters deep — which makes for inevitably embarrassing stoplight stall anticlimaxes. Hook up the launch, and the single rear tire struggles to grasp the road, especially if you goose the engine, which only gets revvier, punchier, and angrier sounding as it spins towards its 9,000 rpm redline.

When your bum is barely skimming over tarmac, the sensation of speed is amplified by orders of magnitude. And when you’re seated in an open-air cockpit with the road careening towards you while engine and gearbox fill the atmosphere with unfiltered, brain-banging mechanical noise, the proceedings are perceived with even more invasive immediacy. And that’s just in first gear.

Jam the clutch with your left foot and yank the shifter towards you (it’s configured like a motorcycle gearbox with a 1-N-2-3-4-5-6 sequence, only with a hand lever), and the engine resumes its ear-splitting bomb to redline posthaste, interrupted only by the clunking transmission as it swaps cogs.

It takes some mental gymnastics to process how viciously this tiny three-wheeler punches through city space, especially with bumpers and bus wheels at eye level. There’s also a hypnotic view of the coilover suspension as it dances over bumps, but many of those forces still manage to jostle the passenger compartment. Unlike a motorcycle, there’s no slipping between cars if you get caught in an 18-wheeler’s blind spot as it changes lanes. Also unlike a bike, airflow doesn’t hit you from a single direction, but rather in a strange intersection of frontal, side, and rear swirls — especially when cruising at a constant speed. Adding to the drama are the occasional pebble thwaks to the forehead, which make you consider donning a helmet, even though a skid lid isn’t legally required in this car/motorcycle/go-kart thingy.

Climbing beyond second gear requires some attention as there’s a natural inclination to push up as you would in an H-pattern gearbox. This can result in an engine-over-revving shove back into first gear — believe me, I tried.

Acceleration invariably makes you feel like you’re going faster than you are (Campagna estimates a 0-60 mph time of 4 seconds flat), probably a good thing considering the aforementioned lack of crash protection. Throw the T-Rex into a curve, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the amounts of mechanical grip from the 205/16 front and 295/18 rear tires. There’s a good amount of understeer dialed in, which I appreciate because, well, there isn’t much glamour in dying because you overcooked a corner in a Canadian trike. Quite frankly, my affairs aren’t remotely in order, anyway.

When the front tires start to slip, the information is conveyed with clarity. But the 16S still inspires enough fear factor to dissuade you from doing something too stupid behind that silly video game steering wheel. Though the Wilwood brakes could offer more initial bite, once summoned they’re powerful enough to produce F1-style puffs of smoke upon lockup. There’s also a weird pad-on-rotor sound that offers even more sensorial insight into the proximity of all those open air mechanical bits, throwing yet another range of sonic frequencies into the aural blender that is the T-Rex.

After shaking, rattling, and whirring through the streets of Los Angeles, what is the net sum of a quixotic vehicle like the Campagna T-Rex 16S? Is it the (nearly nonexistent) rearward visibility? The (laughable) cargo space of the inboard hard cases? The (hair raising) ability to become more invisible than a sportbike on public roads, necessitating a paranoid scramble to swerve out of blind spots before a pavement gobbling SUV squishes you like a potato bug? The simmering fear that your $62K could instead be spent on a safer and more civilized sports car? If you’ve asked any of those remotely and potentially lifesaving questions, the 16S is most certainly not for you.

But if you’re ready to burn all reason at the altar of visceral motoring, damning your senses with a cacophonous assault of sights, sounds, and smells, boy have I got a three-wheeled deathtrap for you.

All photos: Basem Wasef/get-gadget

Spread the love