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Morgan Plus Eight

Definite Plus Published: 4th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!
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Morgan Plus Eight

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Post-1986 cars
  • Worst model: They’re all good!
  • Budget buy: Late 3.5-lire cars
  • OK for unleaded?: Best use an additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 3960x1600
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Mechanics good, body bad
  • Club support: Superb
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy

Model In Depth...

Rover V8 is long-lasting so long as oil and anti-freeze has been regularly changed. Rover V8 is long-lasting so long as oil and anti-freeze has been regularly changed.
Cockpits cosy with right vintage feel but may be weather-worn Cockpits cosy with right vintage feel but may be weather-worn
It’s usually best to buy from a leading specialist such as Melvyn Rutter for top cars, aftersales and peace of mind It’s usually best to buy from a leading specialist such as Melvyn Rutter for top cars, aftersales and peace of mind
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Morgan’s Plus 8 celebrates 40 years of V8 fun and there’s never been a better time to buy this retro-looking rocket

Pros & Cons

Performance, parts support, driving experience, charisma
Tricky to restore, can rot badly, usually costly to buy
£16,000-£35,000

In the rush to remember the 60th birthdays this year of icons such as the Jaguar XK, Morris Minor and Land Rover, a 40th birthday is being celebrated much more quietly - that of the Morgan Plus 8. This is a true landmark car though, because if you were asked to name the fastest accelerating cars ever built, it’s unlikely you’d think of this ancient-looking roadster from Malvern. Yet there was a time when the Rover-powered Plus 8 could slaughter far more expensive, sleek and glamorous machinery on the drag strip. Capable of sprinting from a standing start to 60mph in just 6.7 seconds (later cut to 6.1), the Plus 8 offers exhilaration like few other cars. It’s a great car to own too; parts availability is generally good and it’s pretty much impossible to lose money on a Morgan, as long as it’s looked after. While some of the early cars are now getting very collectable, hard to fi nd and very expensive to restore, you can pick up your own decent Plus 8 for £16,000 or so - as long as you don’t mind settling for a late 3.5-litre example. However, while the cars are great to own, buying can be fraught with problems. Fail to spot structural rot, or assume that corrosion is a mere cosmetic affectation, and you could end up paying over the odds for a car that needs a complete rebuild. When you bear in mind that even relatively minor rot can mean dismantling the car and starting again, you have to tread very carefully before you buy a Morgan!

History

It’s pretty impossible to lose money on a Plus 8

The cowled-radiator Morgan debuted in 1954 with just four cylinders; it wasn’t until 1968 that the V8-powered Plus 8 was launched, using the now evergreen Buick-derived Rover unit. Those early cars were fi tted with a four-speed gearbox made by Moss (like old Jags), but by 1972 (and with the Rover 3500S introduced) there was a proper Rover four-speed unit fi tted. From 1976 there was a new edition on sale, called the Sports Lightweight, but with just 19 examples made, you’ll have your work cut out trying to fi nd one.

From 1977 there was a change of engine and gearbox; it was still the 3528cc Rover V8 unit of course, but from this point it was to SD1 speci-fi cation. At the same time, alloy panels became optional while the car’s width also increased to house wider wheels and tyres. There wasn’t much development for a few years, but in 1983 the car received fuel injection as an optional extra; by 1986 though it was fi tted as standard to all cars. Three years later, in 1989, a 3.9-litre V8 was introduced while from 1997 there was the option of a 220bhp 4.6-litre unit - although this engine was offered for just two years. Also from 1997 on, there was a redesigned dash fi tted, while the doors were lengthened to allow easier access to the cabin. Morgan launched a Le Mans ’62 commemorative edition in 2002, to celebrate 40 years since the company’s success at La Sarthe; 40 were made. This was then followed up with an Anniversary edition in 2003, celebrating 35 years of Plus 8 production; 200 were built. Then it was all over, because in 2004 the plug was pulled on Plus 8 production after 6233 had been made; the model was replaced by the Roadster with Ford/ Jaguar 3.0-litre V6 power.

Driving

This is what it’s all about; you don’t buy a Morgan for its practicality because you’re having far too much fun driving the thing to think about where you can fi t those golf clubs. All Plus 8s are fast and they all have more than enough power considering how antiquated the steel/wooden structure is! The earliest cars are the fastest carb-fed Plus 8s thanks to their gearing, low weight and power, but all versions can crack 0-60 in little more than six seconds - showing the E-Type a clean pair of heels. Frankly, if you’re careless with the throttle in the wet, the chances are you’ll be exploring the scenery - this isn’t a car for ham-fi sted drivers. At least newer Plus 8s are easier to drive thanks to a wider track that makes them less skittish on broken surfaces, while any post-1990 car has telescopic dampers at the rear which makes a huge difference to roadholding. The bottom line is this: don’t buy a Plus 8 expecting tidy road manners or a comfy ride - buy one because it’s effectively a road-legal dragster.

Prices

Some models are in really short supply, especially early cars with the Moss gearbox; those get snapped up as soon as they come onto the market, usually by people who want to take part in historic motorsport. You’d be lucky to fi nd one for less than £25,000 unless tatty, which is a lot of cash when you think that a decent example of the later 3.5-litre Plus 8 can be worth as little as £16,000. However, newer Plus 8s with 3.9 or 4.6-litre engines can be rather more valuable, with such cars still changing hands at up to £35,000.

Improvements

A caring owner will have fi tted a remote greasing point for the front suspension, which makes lubricat ing the kingpins much easier. At just £35 per side, it allows the front suspension to be lubricated from under the bonnet. Before buying a car, check for vertical movement of the steering wheel, indicating that the collapsible steering column top and bottom bush has worn. The best move is to get a replacement column f rom Mel v yn Rut ter for £350, (exchange) which is machined and improved to eliminate this weak spot.Leaks from the lever arm dampers are common, but it’s possible to eliminate this weak spot altogether by converting to modern telescopic alternatives. The kit to conver t is £120 or £250 depending on whether you want to fit the original style of conversion or upgrade to what’s fitted to the latest cars. Whichever, you buy you’ll also need to splash out around £150 for a pair of quality sports dampers. There’s a raft of engine tuning parts for this iconic engine - but frankly isn’t it quite quick enough in standard tune?

What To Look For

  • Major dismantling is costly, and new front wings are nearly £900 apiece; rear items are almost £400 each. Also, major panels are supplied for an approximate fi t – getting them to line up properly often requires plenty of labour, but at least there’s no welding anywhere, apart from the chassis.
  • Start by checking for play in the door hinge post, by holding the door along its trailing edge and seeing how much vertical movement there is. Ensure the play is in the post and not the hinge pins; the latter are easily replaced but the former is a signifi cant problem that costs £1500+ per side to fi x, plus painting.
  • While the door is open, push on the B-post (or elbow rail in Morgan terminology); if the wood behind the bodywork is rotten there’ll be plenty of movement.
  • New body tubs are available, which come as an ash frame that’s panelled and includes doors. A bonnet, rear panel and wings are extra, but everything will be new and the cost is around £3500, which may be cheaper than paying for lots of localised repairs.
  • Wing edges need careful checking for corrosion; for strength, each edge is rolled around a steel wire which causes electrolytic corrosion with alloy panels. Things are little better with steel panels, so inspect the inside edge of each outer panel and make sure the wire isn’t hanging out, weakening everything.
  • The chassis is simple but durable and strong enough if in good condition. Until 1986 the chassis was just painted - galvanising was optional after this date and standard from 1997. The crossmembers are the most rustprone areas, especially the one at the back; replacement means the rear of the car has to be dismantled. Also check the chassis around the engine mountings as cracks can appear here, which spread if left unrepaired and can mean a new chassis is required.
  • At the front of the chassis is the crossframe, which carries the suspension. A hefty whack from the front will distort this, so make sure the car pulls up straight and get underneath to look for signs of an impact. New crossframes cost £460 (with replacement needing a jig), but if the chassis has distorted it’s £700 for a new one - and 500+ hours to rebuild the car around it. The key area to check is forward of the toe board, which is where the most distortion is likely to be after a big shunt.
  • Starting problems can be caused by the battery’s earthing strap corroding; it’s a particular problem with two-seaters, where the battery is located at the back of the car and gets bombarded by road spray.
  • Items such as lights, switches and instrumentation are cheaply available, but the rocker switches in post-1976 cars can be temperamental. These are the ones that incorporate warning lights, and their contacts tend to fall apart with age.
  • The sliding pillar suspension works well but the kingpins last no more than 20-25,000 miles, while the rear leaf springs sag and replacements cost £70 each.

Three Of A Kind

MG TF
MG TF
If you want pre-war charms in a (just about) post-war body, this ticks the box. There’s great club and specialist support while values will always be strong. The earlier cars look nicer, but driving experience is even more vintage. Don’t forget good replicas.
Panther Lima
Panther Lima
Like the Kallista that succeeded it, this pseudo-vintage offering offers open-topped motoring and pre-war looks but with Vauxhall sourced less agricultural, more modern mechanicals. But will you buy it and wish you had the real thing though?
Austin-Healey
Austin-Healey
Although it’s not as vintage looking as a Morgan the Big Healey must be considered as an alternative due to its antiquated macho manners and brute power. Great looks but rot like mad and are as dear to restore as an E-Type or Plus 8.

Verdict

Few marques enjoy the loyalty that Morgan does, and for a multitude of reasons. With few direct rivals, it’s no surprise that many people buy a Morgan then stick with the marque for decades. However, you have to have your wits about you when buying any Morgan, and particularly any example built before 1986. Back then, the cars were built for their fi rst owners, with little thought given to durability. That’s why you need to inspect the car thoroughly; something that may appear insignifi cant may require the car to be dismembered then rebuilt around a new bodyshell. Buy a corker though, and for exhilaration per pound it’s hard to beat the Malvern wonder; there are also few safer places to put your cash.


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