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Morgan 4/4

Published: 9th Aug 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

An ash frame is used, 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 panels.

Cars built after 1986 are safest; wood is treated and the wings were painted before being fitted, rather than after. A pre-1986 car could rot within eight years or still be pristine at 20, depending on how it has been stored. Until 1986 the chassis was just painted – galvanising was optional after this date and standard from 1997.

Start by checking for play in the door hinge post. Make sure the play is in the post and not just the hinge pins; the latter are easily replaced but the former is a serious structural fault that’s an expensive thing to put right.

Most common rot spots are the crossmembers, especially the one at the back. If these need replacing it’s a major and pricey job because the rear of the car has to be dismantled.

An array of gearboxes has been fitted to the 4/4. Whichever is fitted, do all the obvious checks such as listening for rumbling from the gearbox, ensuring it doesn’t jump out of gear and make sure the synchromesh hasn’t gone – although the 4/4 didn’t have any until the Series V of 1963.

The Ford gearboxes are incredibly tough, with replacements never being needed – they seem to last forever. A Salisbury diff was fitted to Series II to V cars. Parts are hard to find, but specialists can rebuild your existing unit for you – at a price. However, only bearings, gaskets and seals are available; if a new crown wheel and pinion or any gears are needed, you’ll need to convert to a BTR axle. Such a swap costs over £2500 though.

Although the rear axles are strong, they tend to leak oil. Unless the oil level is topped up regularly, the unit will run dry and wreck the crown wheel and pinion in the process. The diff’s lifespan will have been increased if its oil has been has been renewed every 5000 miles.

Turn the steering wheel and see how quickly the road wheels respond. The chances are there’ll be a fair bit of play in the system. All 4/4s were fitted with a cam-and-peg steering box, with a Burman-made system being used until 1985. These earlier boxes weren’t especially well made, with plenty of play a standard feature.

Later cars have a Gemmer steering box, which can be fitted as a direct replacement for the earlier type. This is lighter in use and also has better self-centring and lasts longer as well.

Play in the steering column could also be down to wear in the upper or lower plastic bush. Re-bushing has to be done by a specialist as the parts aren’t available on a DIY basis. Your best bet is to get a replacement column from Melvyn Rutter for £750 (exchange), which is machined and improved to eliminate this weak spot. Using a specially machined solid phosphor bronze lower bush and metal top rose bearing, these columns will easily last more than 100,000 miles.

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When it comes to Morgans, everybody wants a Plus 8 – but why, asks Richard Dredge, when a 4/4 is as much fun and cheaper to buy and run

Try to find a motoring moniker more long-lived than the Morgan 4/4 and you’ll search in vain. First used almost 80 years ago, the 4/4 may look as though it hasn’t evolved much, but in reality there’s no interchangeability between the latest and earliest models, even if the basics haven’t changed at all.

All 4/4s share the same design of steel chassis, with a live rear axle and sliding pillar front suspension. They also have the same ash-framed bodyshell, but where the older model’s panels were steel, newer cars have an aluminium outer skin. Also, while both have motive power provided by a Ford four-cylinder engine, that Blue Oval badge is the only thing the two powerplants have in common. The same goes for the gearbox and diff; the layouts are much the same but the durability and refinement have improved significantly.

To see how much the 4/4 has changed we pitched a 2012 model against a 1966 ancestor. However, even this earlier car was screwed together three decades after 4/4 production started, its cowled radiator marking it out as a post-1953 model. Stick with the cowled radiator design and the 4/4 is still nearly six decades young – but just how much has the driving experience changed in almost half a century?

WHICH MODEL FOR YOU?

A quick look at the timeline soon shows just how many stages the 4/4 has gone through since its debut. While the new car won’t give much cause for concern when it comes to rustproofing or basic durability, older cars will need more TLC even if they’ve been restored – 1960s and 1970s engines, gearboxes and back axles aren’t quite as long-lived as they are now but easier to fix at home.

The thing is, the new 4/4 has as much character as the older models and if you stick a private plate on it many inlookers won’t be able to tell the difference between the different generations – although most classic buffs would know at a glance of course, because of the dimensional differences.

So for that true classic look you could make even the latest 4/4 look like one of its forebears, yet you’d have a car that’s significantly more usable.

A new 4/4 will set you back from £31,500, with plenty of opportunities for further expenditure. A set of wire wheels adds around £1,000, while leather trim is another £900. Those are essentials really, along with the map pockets (£326), bumpers (£960) and the paint protection film option, at £480, would also prove to be a worthwhile investment – unlike the £1967 air-con. For the same money you could buy something rather older – although if you want something pre-1980s you might struggle to find anything suitable as few of these machines ever come onto the market. If you’re tempted to take the classic route rather than just buy a new 4/4, you can pick up a modern (Zetec-engined or newer) 4/4 from around £20,000, but something older that’s still worth having can be worth as little as £13,000.

BEHIND THE WHEEL?

As the entry level to four-wheeler ownership, the 4/4 was never meant to blow your socks off with its performance. This is a car for those who want that classic Morgan charm but don’t feel the need for tyre-scorching grunt – which is just as well, because that’s not on the menu.

Twist the key of the 2012 car and the 1.6-litre four-pot bursts into life almost indiscernbly. There’s all the aural drama of a Focus or Fiesta, and once you start to pile the revs on things don’t get a lot more exciting. It’s a bit disappointing because a car with such obvious visual presence ought to have a great noise too, but despite this, Morgan has probably made the right choice; a constant stirring soundtrack can be rather wearing on a run.

There’s just 97lb ft of torque to play with, and while the 0-62mph time is pegged at eight seconds, the in-gear times don’t feel that rapid. It’s just as well then that the 4/4’s gearchange is so slick; the Mazdasourced five-speed ‘box has a well-defined gate and the clutch is well-weighted too. So if you want to make swift progress through the twisties you have to swap cogs quite a bit. However, unless you’re keen to wring the 4/4’s neck, you’re unlikely to find yourself rowing the car along on its gears, because the 795kg kerb weight provides a power to weight ratio of 138bhp per tonne, which puts it well ahead of a Mazda MX-5 and not that far behind a Lotus Elise.

While most of the 4/4’s rivals feature double-wishbone suspension up front, or MacPherson struts, the Morgan retains the sliding pillar suspension that’s been one of the company’s staple features for more than a century. Throw in the live rear axle and the 4/4 wouldn’t feel especially polished dynamically if you’d just jumped out of one of its rivals, but compared with the 1966 variation on the theme, it’s more composed, smoother riding and has a sharper turn in to boot. But it’s not too polished, and that’s meant as a compliment; you’d feel you weren’t getting the genuine experience if the chassis of the modern-day 4/4 was honed to perfection.

Compare any other current car with one of its ancestors from the mid-1960s and they’ll be like chalk and cheese.

But not here; sure just about every detail differs, but the differences aren’t always as huge as you might expect.

The 1966 4/4 is shorter, narrower and lighter than the 2012 equivalent, but slightly taller, so the overall proportions have been retained pretty faithfully.

The doors are noticeably shorter however, which makes entry and exit even trickier than for the 2012 edition, especially if you’re tall. Once you’ve settled in there’s a fixed seat that works fine for me at 5’ 7” tall, but if you’re a six-footer you’re going to find it rather a squeeze.

What really marks this out as a classic though is the gear change, which looks bizarre, although in practice it’s not so tricky to fathom out.

The cranked gear lever protrudes from the bulkhead, but has to travel all the way back to within easy reach of the driver. Except it doesn’t, because it all peters out while it’s still buried under the dash, so you have to lean forward each time you want to swap ratios.

It’s also a very closely spaced gate and there’s an extra pivot point in the mechanism, to prevent it from all feeling ludicrously sloppy. It sounds tortuous, but it works rather well once you’ve got used to it, although it could double as a neat integral anti-theft device.

The gear change is even less of an issue than it might be, because you don’t have to use it that much. Once you’re up to 20mph, fourth will suffice most of the time thanks to the 4/4’s light weight combined with the low-down torque of the Ford Cortina-sourced four-pot.

As a result, it’s rare that you have to shift down to anything less than third, the engine eager to pull from just 1500rpm.

If the new 4/4’s suspension feels rudimentary, it’s nothing compared with this car’s. It’s not as though the 4/4 is especially uncomfortable, but it doesn’t deal with potholes very well, and mid-bump craters will have the rear end skipping out of line. The steering (via a box) is also rather vague, things not helped by the upright wheel’s vast diameter which accentuates the play.

Despite the large wheel, the steering is surprisingly heavy at low speeds, but once you’re on the move it offers a decent amount of feel and feedback. That’s also true of the non-servoed brakes, which pull the car up from speed without fuss.

DAILY DRIVER?

The newer 4/4, with its more efficient engine, should prove to be significantly more frugal than its ancestor, and it’s comfier too. The roof is easier to put up and down (although not especially quick) while the controls are all easier to use.

However, while the newer car is the easier to use, the older model isn’t at all hard; just not quite as convenient. So if you were to choose an older 4/4 as everyday transport, you’d get on fine for at least part of the year. Of course where the Morgan will fall down – especially in ‘classic’ guise is when the weather turns bad. The wipers and ventilation will fail to deliver and you’ll be cursing that you haven’t got a clear view out of any of the windows.

The thing is, while the new 4/4 has a heated windscreen so at least you should be able to see ahead, the heating and ventilation aren’t all that great when it’s chucking it down outside.

So while the newer 4/4 is easy to use, neither model is that much fun in rubbish weather – but both are fine if things aren’t too inclement.

There’s also the safety angle to consider. Despite being a brand new car, the current 4/4 comes without anti-lock brakes or airbags – just like its forebears and most established classics. As a result, once again the older 4/4 isn’t really at a disadvantage to the younger car.

EASE OF OWNERSHIP?

Morgans are hand-made and the factory has the build records going right back to the start. So when it comes to factory support, few car makers can compete with the Malvern outfit. As a result, whether you take the classic route or the modern, you won’t find spares or maintenance an issue. There’s an army of specialists out there plus a great club that’ll help you keep your car ticking over.

On that note, there isn’t much you can’t do on the 4/4 yourself, as it’s just like a big Meccano set. However, while maintenance is simplicity itself, when it comes to restoration you need a wide range of skills to revive one of these cars properly, so don’t think you’ll be able to buy a project and revive it costeffectively, as you’re likely to have to resort to professional help – and probably lots of it.

We Reckon...

Over the past half a century the 4/4 has come a long way in some respects – but stood still in others. This is the way it should be of course; keeping those classic looks while providing a modern driving experience would undermine everything that Morgan stands for.

What Morgan has done is provide the looks and driving experience of a true classic, but with improved ergonomics, extra safety and greater reliability for peace of mind.

Arguably, even the current 4/4 is a bit short of grunt, which is why if you’re tempted to buy a new model you might want to go for a Plus 4 instead. If you’d prefer to take the classic 4/4 route, you might want to expand your search overseas and convert a LHD model for UK use.

Overall, the four-cylinder Morgan is no second stringer substitute to a Plus 8 and are just as much fun as well as being that bit easier and cheaper to own.



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