Once you’ve driven every supercar, classic and enthusiast-spec vehicle under the sun, you might find yourself a little sad. What’s left, just a viking funeral in your Ferrari? Oh no, there’s a better blaze of glory to go out in. It’s called the Campagna T-Rex 16SP and it’s unlike anything else you’ve driven.
(Full disclosure: Campagna Motors wanted me to drive the T-Rex 16SP so badly, they lent me a very yellow one with a free helmet and full tank of gas for four days. We drove a T-Rex in 2014, but now the “car” has new suspension. So here we go again.)
What Is It?
First introduced in 1995, the T-Rex is the brainchild of former F1 mechanic Daniel Campagna and automotive designer Paul Deutschman. Their goal: bring the driving experience of an F1 car to the streets.
What they ended up with is this go-kart with a motorcycle engine and its entire swing-arm shoved up its rear-end. The tricycle configuration was chosen to keep curb weight at a bare minimum and the 1.6-liter, 160 horsepower engine from a BMW K1600 was picked for its insane volumetric efficiency and tweaked by Campagana.
That drivetrain, paired with a six-speed sequential manual, supposedly lets this T-Rex race from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds.
Why Does It Matter?
The T-Rex is as raw as modern high-performance driving gets. There’s no power steering, no traction control and no assisting radar. If you’re chasing that kind of “visceral connection” to vehicle enthusiasts are always prattling on about, this is as close as you’re going to get without throwing your leg over an old motorcycle or a horse.
And you don’t even need a motorcycle licence to drive one. Just a helmet, a strong constitution and a willingness to have your ass a few inches off of the asphalt when you’re out canyon carving.
The Learning Curve
Getting inside a T-Rex requires a “special” procedure.
You first need to remove the steering wheel, or it’ll crush your legs into a meat purée when you attempt to get inside. With both hands firmly gripped onto the roll cage, butt hanging on the side of the vehicle, feet hugging each other, you twist your torso to the right, drop your legs into the foot well, slide your sweaty carcass inside the thin leatherette seats – ouch, what the fuck was that?! - and you’re in.
If you’ve forgotten to adjust the pedals or seat back to your liking prior to strapping yourself inside the trike, you’re screwed. Such creature comforts we take for granted in a normal car must be adjusted before climbing inside a T-Rex.
As I sat there firmly in place inside the autocycle, I found myself leaning back as if I were lying on a dentist’s chair.
With my helmet millimeters away from the flimsy plastic roof-like cover, I attempted to get familiar with the super-sensitive clutch whose bite point is shorter than a flea’s torso.
“I think I got this!” - I muffled through my helmet as the Campagna rep stood tall at my side, grinning.
Stalling happens often when you’re learning to drive a T-Rex and every smooth take-off starts to feel like an accomplishment pretty quick.
And since the low-slung tripod is basically a magnet for eyeballs and iPhone cameras, you’ll be working overtime to not look like an idiot at a street corner, where you’ll most likely stall under pressure anyway.
After a brief practice run in the Campagna Motors parking lot, I had finally mastered the hard clutch, and I was ready to tackle on the open road. Off I went, slowly creeping out onto traffic in this quirky three-wheeled death machine, eager to ring out its high-revving motorbike engine in the wild.
I was expecting the T-Rex to be hard to get in and out of and not particularly comfortable. But Campagna could have put a bit more effort in making it a tad more livable.
I’m sure adding a tiny little electric motor for those pedals and seats wouldn’t hinder the vehicle’s already low weight. A flimsy metal pin to hold my seat in place? Come on. And why not add a backup camera while you’re at it, because you can’t see shit when backing up in this thing.
Speaking of weight, I totally get that Campagna is a small company with limited resources and all, but considering this thing sells for 60 grand, I don’t understand why the company still doesn’t use carbon fiber to build the body. I mean, this is 2017. They make badminton rackets out of the stuff now.
I had a little trouble with the transmission, too. At some points I couldn’t get the 1-N-2-3-4-5-6 gearbox into neutral; it would skip from one to two. And the only way to back up the damn thing is by shifting it into neutral first.
So I looked like a total doofus in public parking lots, cursing at the transmission through my sweaty helmet as I tried to back up. When it finally got into gear... it stalled.
I mean, sure, there are no windows, or doors, or an actual windshield in a T-Rex, which means if you get caught driving it in the rain you’ll regret even being born.
It’s also so low to the ground that, when you’re stuck in traffic, you’ll have the bumpers and exhausts of the cars in front of you at the height of your nose. And that’s scary.
But this isn’t a daily driver, it’s a fast summer toy.
What I didn’t expect was how the T-Rex didn’t beat me up when driving it casually around town.
My tester was a P model, which means it had that new, upgraded suspension with external reservoir shocks that can be manually adjusted depending on load and driving style. So the T-Rex glides over the rough stuff as if it were a sled. And the engine provides plenty of low-end torque, so you can upshift a gear or two and just let it trot around at 2,500 rpm. No sweat.
There are three driving modes: Rain, Road, and Dynamic. Rain mode restricts power to 100 HP, so the throttle isn’t too sensitive, making it ideal to drive casually around town. There’s even a radio with smartphone connectivity!
Everyone finds the T-Rex cool and intriguing. People wave at you, throw you giant thumbs up, stare, point, and if they have any idea what they’re looking at they probably think it’s a Polaris Slingshot.
The T-Rex’s fuel tank can be filled up for only 22 Canadian bucks. As for cargo space, Campagna will sell you an optional removable luggage set which will hold up to 3.2 cubic feet of cargo combined. That’s about one cube less than the trunk in a Mazda MX-5, but it’s still viable if you desire heading out on a road trip with your significant other.
This is where you’ll understand why you spent so much money on a vehicle in which you can hardly fit.
The T-Rex is completely nuts when driven hard. In Dynamic mode, the moment you give it full throttle, even in second gear, that rear wheel lights up instantaneously. At first, that’s scary as shit, but you quickly realize it’s actually all controllable. And because the engine’s air intake is directly above your head, a low, bellowing induction noise overwhelms the tiny passenger area. The entire experience feels as if an alien spaceship just landed over your head, and is slowly sucking your brain through your ears.
The revs climb. There’s a visceral audible shriek of speed bike wail heard behind you - vraaaaaaaamm - and in an instant blur, that frantic, high strung engine bounces off its 8,500 rpm rev limiter in a butter-smooth, BMW-style fashion.
Time to grab another gear. I clutched in, and suddenly that tiny friction point made a whole lot of sense. It allows you to powershift while you beat on it hard. And pulling back on the skinny gear lever that was sitting next to my right knee felt like operating a dogbox transmission that was lifted straight out of a touring car - click - tack. So addictive.
I dropped the clutch, and within milliseconds I was standing on the throttle again, engine yelping behind my head, sounding like a race bike going all out on the Isle of Mann, pushing the entire pod-shaped machine forward like a bull that just had a cattle prod shoved up its ass, transmission whining as if it came straight out of a group B rally machine, the wind violently hitting my helmet’s visor, blurring up any information of speed presented on the tiny speedometer that was crammed up inside the simplistic dashboard.
My god, this was exhilarating.
As I approached a bend, sitting inches to the tarmac, my confidence had risen to level 11. The road suddenly felt wider,and I quickly realized I could hit the bank faster than any car I’d have ever driven. The T-Rex has a wider front track than most supercars, and will generate 1.3 g of lateral acceleration. That’s more than a Porsche 911 Turbo S.
So it’s not afraid of hitting corners. It devours them, burps and begs for another.
When it’s time to slow down, the brakes on a T-Rex aren’t equipped with a booster. So the pedal is directly connected to the Wilwood four-piston calipers up front. That means the first time you’ll hit those brakes, you’ll be thinking to yourself: “That’s it. This is how I go.”
Don’t worry. The T-Rex has brakes. And they brake hard.
Hold down that rock-solid center slab of brushed aluminum with your right foot, and the T-Rex hunkers down in utmost stability, brakes furiously bringing the entire machine to a halt.
Meanwhile, all the blood in your body is encapsulated in your face. And you’re about to throw up.
This, my friends, is the best way I can sum up the experience of driving a T-Rex. It’s absolutely over the top. It’s visceral. Alive, loud, and stupid fast. The levels of adhesion are high, but if you dare flirt with those limits, that rear wheel will try to kill you in the form of a excessive spin-out oversteer.
The Campagna T-Rex is very expensive. As a matter of fact, out of all the available three-wheelers out there, it’s by far the priciest.
There are essentially only two models to choose from: a 16S, which sells for $57,999, and a 16SP, like the one you see here, which gets an upgraded suspension, improved engine cooling, a Sparco alcantara-wrapped racing steering wheel, and ventilated front discs. That one sells for $63,999. That’s a lot of money for a rollcage and bike engine.
By comparison, a Morgan Three-Wheeler sells for roughly 40 grand.
But the T-Rex is the craziest autocycle out there. If you have a lot of money to spare on a adrenaline toy, and seek a unique thrill each time you’ll go out for a drive, then yes, the T-Rex is worth a shot.
The Campagna T-Rex is the weirdest vehicle I have ever driven in my entire life, and it got me more bleeding shins from getting in and out of it than a full game of rugby.
But it’s also the vehicle that gave me the largest adrenaline rush behind the wheel. Even driving a Hellcat on a damp track or an Aston Martin DB11 across the countryside didn’t come close to the sensations my body and brain felt when driving the T-Rex all out.
Sure, it’s expensive, hard to live with, and nearly impossible to get out of it without a few bruises. But can we really blame a niche carmaker for manufacturing a no-compromise machine that solely focuses on the joys of driving in a world that’s on the brink of autonomous cars? I think not.
The T-Rex deserves to run free into the wild.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com.