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Morgan Plus 8

Morgan Plus 8 Published: 11th Feb 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Morgan Plus 8
Morgan Plus 8
Morgan Plus 8
Morgan Plus 8
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Few cars are born classics meaning they suffer the slings and arrows of the motoring press through their life. But the Morgan Plus 8 has to be one of those rare exceptions

The Morgan Plus 8 was born out of necessity. The demise of the old Triumph TR4 in the late 1960s also signalled the end of its famous four-cylinder engine which had served the company’s TR sports cars and Ferguson tractors for so long so well, meaning that the Malvern sports car company had to find a new power unit for its Plus 4.

How the Rover unit found its way into the Morgan depends which story you want to believe. One is that, tipped off about the TR5 PI, Morgan started to look at some options which included Ford’s new V4 and V6 engines along with a V8 of some sort. The other tale is that Triumph’s rival, Rover, approached the specialist company to help make a Rover sports car in a bid to change its staid image using its newly acquired ex-Buick 3.5-litre V8 which was soon to find a welcome home in the elderly P5 (also featured in this issue-ed).

Peter Morgan turned down Rover’s offer but said he would like the engines instead! Not surprisingly, Rover was, initially, cagy over the idea so Morgan had to find his own Buick units. By mid 1967, Morgan still weren’t being delivered the promised engines from abroad so Peter Morgan arranged for a meeting with British Leyland’s head Sir Donald Stokes. Instead, he got a visit by Triumph’s head Harry Webster and George Turnbull, managing director of Austin Morris. Talk about good fortune…

With the new 155bhp engine came the new name, the Plus 8 – and the most unlikely of super cars. Autocar was the first to get its hands on the car and said of this new antique, “If you think more than 4.5inches of front suspension movement is cissy, that a quickly erected top and winding windows is effete and that beat-proof synchromesh is a sign of decay, then here is a car for you.” Amused by the dent made in the top of the air filter’s casing to allow the engine to clear the bonnet, nevertheless the magazine mightily approved of the Morgan’s new prestige and pace, although test drivers criticised other aspects on a design, already some 30 years old by now. “There’s a lot which could be better, but there’s an awful lot right”, such as the old fashioned all elbows steering it judged. Yet, in contrast, the esteemed ex-ERA racer, moustached, deerstalker-wearing John Bolster (writing for Autosport) considered the antiquated tiller set up “light and positive” and drawbacks of the ancient chassis was, in his view, “glued to the road… delightfully quiet” (oh really?-ed) and any quirks or traits were just “all part of the traditional sports car image” before adding, “I always enjoy driving Morgans because they are built for the owner’s pleasure”.

Motor said the gearbox was as vintage as the car’s styling and the ride so bad that roadholding suffers more than the passengers but “in the right conditions its rating as a fun car is very high indeed”. “A true but primitive sports car” reckoned the prim and proper Motorsport magazine while Road & Track quipped in December 1968 that the Plus 8 “must be the newest old car in the world” and World Car Guide (what was that?-ed) simply remarked it’s “One helluva lot of fun to drive”.

These early appraisals rather set the tone for decades to come because fundamentally little of the design changed over the 36 year production run!

Testing a five-speed model sporting a clutch of other improvements (such as a better heater and more spacious cockpit) some ten years later, Autocar loved the excitement of it all, but – judging cars by 1977 standards – believed that the Plus 8 deserved a better chassis to make driving one easier. “The Plus 8, although tremendous fun, is needlessly hard work”. Rival Motor had its testers toasting their feet in a chilly March 1977 and liking its improved dash layout although said the same old faults remained. Yet as it rightly summarised, “What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than thrashing along a country road, with the wind in your hair, the crackle of the exhaust in your ears and a smile on your face?”.

That same year, Car & Driver regarded the Plus 8 as “a different kind of replicar because it’s a replica of itself ” yet summed up its test by stating “There’s definitely a place for the Morgan in this world”.

It was around about this time that the classic car movement was getting into top gear making this new old car almost unique in the market.

“It’s not a formula for everyday motoring… but tucked away in the garage beside a dull modern tin box waiting for the sun to shine – that’s a very different story” hailed What Car? of all people in ’84. It’s easy to envisage Morgans appealing to the more mature sort of enthusiast but the youthful GTi loving Performance Car was also smitten when testing the new 190bhp fuel injected version. “A car with this amount of poke seems almost obscene on the open road”, a young tester and part-time racer wrote, further adding, “ We could really appreciate the appeal of the marque, not as daily transport perhaps but as a fun car/ adrenalin pump the Plus 8 has no peers”.

The switch to rack and pinion steering was a mixed blessing in some quarters, mind. While appreciably lightening the effort required, several test reports also commented on its lack of high speed feel and Motor added that “The bump steer may be all but eliminated but it requires a confident driver to a bumpy road at Porsche-speeds because the car can be thrown around at will.” “Totally impractical but great fun – when it’s in contact with the road” is how another magazine put it.

What can you compare a Morgan with? The reborn Autocar of the 80s thought a swanky sophisticated BMW M3 convertible – surely the polar opposite to the basic and brutal Plus 8 – was as good as anything in 1989 and concluded that with the German “You enjoy the car while in the Morgan you enjoy yourself ”.

One CAR reader around that time vouched for that. “I am a worried man”, he wrote. “I have recently taken delivery of a brand new Morgan Plus 8. It is dangerous due to phenomenal V8 power on tap combined with appalling handling. The build quality is at best dubious to say the least…” adding “the car leaks something chronic and can liken the steering to that of a Scammell truck.

“I have had to buy a Mini to use as second car as the Morgan is totally impractical as an everyday vehicle… So why am I a worried man? Because I love it, absolutely love it. It is worth a masochistic minute just to drive my Mog down an English country road on a fresh winter’s day with the hood down. Wonderful!”

Morgan has just announced that it will build its last traditional steel platform this year, shifting to aluminium, but while the materials may move with the times its sports cars remain true to their roots and long may it remain. “Sports cars come and sports cars go but the Morgan has outlived most of them,” hailed one feature – and that was back in 1968! More than half a century on the appeal of the potent Plus 8, however it’s served up, is strong as ever to enthusiasts of all ages who no doubt will be echoing long held views and sentiments from the past. And rightly so.

They said it

How do you regularly road test a car that fundamentally remained unchanged for more than 30 years? It became a problem for the established motoring journals who understandably found themselves repeating previous views and let classic clichés creep into their copy. But surprisingly, when younger road testers belonging to newly launched magazines, got their hands on a Plus 8, far from writing the old timer off as an archaism, a relic that should have died years ago, they also became won over by the Morgan’s unique charms and character and it continues to this day. As one magazine p

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