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Morgan Roadster

Published: 21st Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • The Morgan uses an ash frame, over which are stretched metal panels; sometimes aluminium and sometimes steel. All this sits on a steel chassis, which rots just like the ash frame and steel body panels. Even if the outer panels are in decent condition, there’s more than a good chance that the chassis and/or ash frame will have corroded badly, so a full restoration will be needed even if the car looks fine from the outside.So don’t be fooled by looks alone.
  • Cars built after 1986 are the safest bet, because the wood was treated and the wings were painted before being fitted, rather than after. Earlier cars are more likely to have a rotten frame as a result, as moisture gets into the seams between the outer panels due to cracked paint. The key thing is how well the car has been looked after. Pampered cars are worth the extra.
  • Check for play in the door hinge post, by holding the door along its trailing edge and seeing how much vertical movement there is. Make sure theplay is in the post and not just the hinge pins; the latter are easily replaced but the former is a structural fault that’s costly to fix. The three wooden pieces (the hinge post, sill board and door rocker) you’ll need are just £200 or so, but it takes a couple of days per side to strip away the bodywork, let in the new timber, then put it all back together again. Bank on a bill of £1000 or so per side to make it good again.
  • The front chassis crossframe doesn’t like heavy smacks. Replacements cost under £500 but require a jig to fit properly. Chassis cost around £700 a go but it’s a massive labour-intensive job to rebuild a Morgan.
  • Anything that involves dismantling the panelling is also big money. Also, panels such as wings and bonnets will only be supplied for an approximate fit – the skill is in getting them to line up properly, which generally requires hours and hours of labour. If things are really bad, it could be worth investing in a new bodyshell, which comes as an ash frame that’s panelled and includes doors.
  • Mechanically, things are less worrying as tried and tested assemblies are used. Ford Kent is most trusty but the Rover unit is long lived so long as the oil is changed regularly to prevent sludging, fouling up the hydraulic tappets and leading to cam wear. Head gaskets can cause concern as well but it’s an easy engine to work on and parts are plentiful.
  • Quirky sliding pillar front suspension works well but kingpin wear is heavy and can last no more than 25,000 miles. Rear springs are known to sag; check to see that the car sits all square on level ground.
  • Given the cost and hassle of restoring a Morgan it may be worthwhile buying a new one. The days of waiting lists stretching decades with inflated prices for queue jumpers are long gone.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 3/5

    Vintage which you either love or hate. Hard ride, but V8 big fun

  • Usability: 3/5

    Not really a daily driver, but new cars provide modern reliability

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    Old style oily bits, easy to fix. Chassis/wood care is much harder

  • Owning: 4/5

    In terms of satisfaction Morgans are great if hardcore to live with

  • Value: 4/5

    Not depreciation-proof anymore but offer good value craftsmanship

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There's nothing like a Morgan for new car vintage style fun. But you need to be as dedicated as the craftsmen who make them, says Robert Couldwell

Not only is Morgan the oldest survivingBritish car maker but it surely the only one to be in the same family ownership. In the ninety nine years since its foundation there have only been three managing directors, the founder HFS until his death in 1959, his son Peter until his retirement in 1999 and now his grandson, Charles since. The fact that the Morgan Motor Company has survived this long may be down to divine guidance. There were certainly several clerics in HFS Morgan’s family. His father was the Reverend Prependary H.G. Morgan and his maternal grandfather was the Reverend Archibald Day formerly vicar of St Matthias, Malvern Link the current home of Morgan. HFS as he was known by friends and staff alike was an engineer having graduated from the Crystal Palace Engineering College. He started his career in the GWR railway and worked there as a draughtsman for seven years but cars were his first love and he opened a garage in Malvern Link from which he ran a successful bus service with a 15-seater Wolseley10. He became a Wolseley and Darracq dealer but was desperate to build his own car and so fitted a Peugeot 7 HP twin-cylinder engine into a three-wheel tubular chassis. This became the Morgan Runabout and the dynasty was born. Production started in 1910 and a four wheeler followed in 1936 in the form of the 4/4 (four wheels, four cylinders) which has become known as the ‘flat rad’ for obvious reasons. This was a very simple carwith two longitudinal ‘Z’ chassis rails and the famous ash frame which started to rot from the day it was made. The frame was panelled in aluminium. It was fitted with the Coventry Climax ‘fire pump’ engine of 1122 cc giving just 34bhp, enough for a top speed of 74mph, which was pretty fast for the time. The 4/4 carried on with detail development until 1953 when the next major change was made (that’s major by Morgan standards anyway). The exposed radiator was covered with a streamlined cowl making the car look much more modern and giving us the shape that it still current and loved.
The same concept continued with various engines from Standard, Triumph, Rover, Ford, and Fiat and the only real challenge to the status quo came in 1964 in the form of the Plus Four Plus, a glass fibre-bodied closed coupé with a TR4 engine and a 115 mph maximum. Such was the negative reaction at the time that just 26 were made until it was withdrawn in 1967. Ironically this is now one of the most valuable classic Morgans and worth as much as £50,000! Morgan had flirted with a V8 engine in the 40s experimenting with the Ford flattopbut a change in car taxation put paid to it before it could be produced. It was the demise of the TR engine and the availability of the Buick-derived Rover V8 that created the wonderful Plus Eight in 1968.

Which model to buy?

There really is no answer to this question as there is something in the range available to suit everyone, or at least everyone who can cope with driving a car that regardless of its age is based on a 70 year old design with little or no practicality. This is another classic which before buying requires a long test drive. It is very tempting to be taken in by the wonderful classic lines and to buy on a whim only to have regrets later. That’s not to say that there aren’t thousands of happy Morgan drivers totally at one with the quirky driving experience. The Plus Four Plus Coupé model can probably be discounted first owing to its sheer rarity and high price. The early ‘flat rad’ cars are really only for the diehard Morgan enthusiast as they are difficult to get into, have vague steering, marginal brakes and pedestrian performance making it difficult to keep up with the traffic. This doesn’t stop them costing in excess of £15,000, however. The next one to avoid is the 1.6-litre Ford CVH powered 4/4 model which is harsh. soulless and unrewarding. From 1950 a 2-litre Standard engine was fitted and the 4/4 became the Plus 4 which would be developed over the years with various Standard/Triumph engines, the TR2 engine of 1954 providing the first ton up Morgan.These cars are worth looking at and because of the extra torque of their engines are good to drive. The 4/4 was re-launched alongside the Plus 4 in 1955 but only had the 1172 cc side valve Ford engine which due to its sluggishness is not to be recommended. The later 4/4s and Plus 4s had disc brakes which were a great improvement so considering that Morgan prices vary little whether 50s, 60,s 70s or 80s, it is probably better to go for the later cars which do have more creature comforts, a lot more performance and marginally better controlled suspension. As far as performance is concerned the twin cam Fiat engine fitted to the Plus 4 from 1984-1986 is the four cylinder gem and the most sporting drive. Then there is the Plus 8 which when launched in 1968 out accelerated the Jaguar E-type to 110 mph despite being over 30 per cent cheaper. There can be nothing more rewarding than a Plus 8 on a smooth, dry, well sighted bendy road early in the morning. In terms of value for money the Plus 8 is right up there as year for year it is little more than the much slower 4/4. If you feel you can handle the supercar performance this is the one to have although it only comes as a two-seater whereas the 4/4s and Plus 4s also come as family four-seaters.

Behind the wheel?

A classic that before buying demands a long test drive

Sitting in the driving seat while still on the drive, looking along that sexy long bonnet there can be few better places to be. However once you get out on the road things aren’t always as simple. On wide smooth roads with open bends, there is nothing to touch a Morgan but once you get onto a typical badly cambered, pot-holed British back road the car becomes hard work with more bounce than an Arthur Daley cheque. After all, this suspension was designed in the 1930s when average speeds were much lower. In this situation it is better to lower your speed and be content with the wonderful driving environment and the sporty noise whether it is a Fiat, Rover, Triumph or Ford (not the CVH) engine. These are fairly light cars and all the 1600cc and up perform well enough and it is best using a fast in – fast out cornering technique rather than trying to carry speed through the bends. Being light cars, the brakes are good although locking up can sometimes be a problem. All the later cars are reasonably roomy and well appointed and even tall drivers can be comfortable. The unassisted steering is naturally heavy but this is only noticeable when manoeuvring and parking up.

Ease of Ownership?

By their nature Morgan dealers are enthusiasts

Provided your Morgan is right when you buy it and has been properly rust and wood-rot proofed, it will berelatively cheap to maintain – probably no dearer than a Big Healey and certainly much cheaper than a pre-war rival from Lagonda, Alvis and so on. Many of the mechanical components are proprietary and therefore easily and economically available. The Morgan factory holds an impressive range of parts and charges reasonableprices and there is a network of dealers keen to support all ages of Morgan. In fact, it is probably easier to maintain a Morgan than many ‘everyday’ cars. Also, by their naturethe Morgan dealers are enthusiasts and are going to be much more interested in solving your problem than dealers of volume moderns.

The Daily Option?

There are undoubtedly hardy types who will use their Morgans every day but they must be few and far between. Morgans make an MGB or Triumph TR seem pretty civilised by comparison! If the sun is shining it is one thing but if it’s raining there are going to be other places you would much rather be – your company Mondeo or Insignia for instance. The hoods are basic and take time to erect – rather like an old MG – and not the most water tight or wind-proof. Certainly a reasonably modern Morgan is more than capable of coping with the daily commute if you are. It will be reliable, it will start on cold days and if driven conservatively will even cope with ice and snow provided the tyres are in good condition. Having said that, damp road-salt doesn’t do a lot for the steel chassis and particularly the ash frame so stick to the Mondeo on winter days and turn the heater – and the stereo – up.Driven reasonably, any modern Morgan, irrespective of the engine fitted under that wonderful vintage-style bonnet will give reasonable fuel consumption and insurance if on a classic policy will be less than your modern. Buy one 1972or older and the road fund licence will be free which is not to be sniffed at. The only other problem with everyday use is storage space – there isn’t really anywhere to put anything unless you have a four-seater and throw stuff in the back. There really is no competitor to a Morgan unless you go back to pre-war Rileys, ACs, Allards, Aston Martins and Mgs. An Austin-Healey might give a similar drive but it lacks that wonderful view along the bonnet Morgans give.

Timelines

1955-61

First cowled radiator Morgan launched (4/4) using Ford 100E sidevalve power with three-speed gearbox but known as Series 2. Anglia 105E power from '60 (S3), 1340 Classic unit (SIV) a year later with disc brakes.

1963

Series 5 announced fitted with 1.5 Cortina engine and gearbox in normal 65bhp tune or 'Competition' 85bhp alternative. Car runs in tandem with Plus Four, fitted with Triumph TR powerplant – dropped in 1969 after 3642 were made.

1968

1972

All-synchro gearbox taken from the Rover 3500S is now fitted while lesser known fact is that original bodyshell is widened by two inches to 59 inches while the Plus 8 virtually always ran on unique looking alloy wheels.

1976/77

Rover SD1 engine now used, rated at 155bhp. along with five-speed 'box. Body sizes grows again for to 62 inches width while for '77 another inch is added to the girth. Alloy body panels become an option fit across the Morgan range.

1980s

Fiat 1.6 Twin Cam (1981- 83), Ford Kent replaced by ohc 1.6 XR3 in 1982 (gaining fuel injection in 1991) and for 1984 V8 moves over to fuel injection yielding up to 190bhp and 220lbft of torque.

1990-2003

Range Rover sourced V8 replaces 3.5 – torque now up to 235lbft and Plus survives in this form until 2003 when emission regs kill engine off – replaced by Jaguar S-Type V6 unit.

We Reckon...

Morgans are special cars that are made for special people. It’s a vintage car built for today so don’t buy one and expect today’s civility and refinement wrapped in an old car body. But if want old car characteristics and traditions with a touch of moderninity where it matters then there’s nothing to touch a Malvern marvel.



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