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Morgan Plus 8

Morgan Plus 8 Published: 25th May 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Morgan Plus 8

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Post-1986 cars
  • Worst model: They’re all good!
  • Budget buy: Late 3.5-litre cars
  • OK for unleaded?: Best use an additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3960xW1600 mm
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Mechanics good, body bad
  • Club support: Superb
  • Appreciating asset?: Oh yes
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Delights for die-hards
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Malvern’s marvel retro supercar is as thrilling today as when launched in 1968 but requires owner dedication – too much for many. Antique design yet not that DIY friendly but there’s great specialist and club support

Whether by a happy accident or design, Morgan created the most unusual yet exciting 60’s supercar ever when it slotted in Rover’s then new V8 to replace the discontinued Triumph tractor engine thus creating the Plus 8 that marks its 50th this year.

A raucous rodeo-riding thrill half a century on, it was one of the sensations of ’68 and, for many, still the only Morgan worth entertaining.

How the Rover unit found its way into the car depends which story you want to believe. One is that, tipped off about the TR5, 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 revitalise 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.

Morgan turned down Rover’s offer but said he would like the engines instead! Not surprisingly, Rover was, initially, rather lukewarm over the idea and Morgan had to find its 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, md of Austin Morris. Talk about good fortune…

And talking of good fortune, a 36 year production run means there’s more than 700 around, resulting in no shortage to buy although the Plus 8 of ’68 is a different beast to the last of line; problems lie in choosing the one that suits you best.

History

1968 Plus 8 replaced the Triumph-engined Plus 4 using the Buick-derived 3.5-litre Rover V8, good for 160bhp mated to the old Jag/Aston Moss four-sped gearbox. Rest of the car (priced at under £1500) is broadly unchanged although this Morgan was one of the first cars to feature new-fangled alloy road wheels as optional.

1972 That September, the tedious heavy Moss gearbox (that even die-hards find heavy going) was replaced by the Rover transmission first seen in the P6 3500S.

1976 With Rover SD1 in the showroom, the Plus 8 gained its engine and a beautifully slick five-speed transmission. It’s a lesser known fact that the original bodyshell was quietly widened by a useful two inches to 59’’ while car by now virtually always ran on unique looking alloy wheels.

1977 First major change since wider track sees the body shell widened further to 62 inches for added cockpit space. At the same time, alloy panels became optional while the car’s width also increased to house wider wheels and tyres.

1984 Carburettors gave way to fuel injection which along with other tweaks spelt 190bhp and a modern diesel-like 220lbft go torque; as expected, it was such a popular option that it was standardised for ’86 by which time rack and pinion replaced earlier system.

1986 Until now, the rot prone chassis was only painted – galvanising became optional from this year on and standard from 1997 while the wood frame was protected by a Cuprinol-like treatment.

1990 V8 grew in size, with 3.9-litres the standard fare with 235lbft of torque. Brake servo was reinstated by 1993 after 12 years of strange absence.

1995 onwards. The excellent Rover R380 gearbox is adopted while for 1997, a full fat 220bhp (261lbft) 4.6-litre became an option. Other revisions included a redesigned dash, while the doors were lengthened to allow easier access to the cabin quarters.

Morgan also launched a commemorative Le Mans edition in 2002 to celebrate 40 years since the company’s major success at La Sarthe; only 80 were made and sold out within days. This was followed up with an Anniversary edition in 2003, celebrating 35 years of Plus 8 production although emission problems caused Morgan to pull Plus 8 production after 6233 models, replaced by cleaner Jaguar V6 power in 2004. A special Plus 8 has just been released by Morgan to commemorate 50 years of the model.

Driving and press comments

As their vintage specs suggest, any Plus 8 is as arduous as an intense workout in the gym. Any Morgan is not for the meek and mild – Plus 8 more so – although the newer the model, the easier they are to live with, not least thanks to a wider track, which makes them less skittish on poor surfaces.

Post-1990 cars thankfully employ telescopic dampers at the rear, which makes a huge difference to the Morgan’s roadholding and ride but don’t buy any model expecting Elan-like manners or a Lotus-like smooth ride because you get neither from this Morgan. What you do get instead is a V8-powered rollercoaster!

So if you’re careless with the throttle in the wet or broken surfaces then chances are you could be exploring the scenery unless you’re alert – which you should be as Morgans aren’t tailored for relaxing cruises.

All Plus 8s are extremely fast and have more than enough power considering their antiquated steel/wooden structures, which Noah probably had a hand in. Despite increases in power, the earliest cars are probably the fastest carb-fed Plus 8s by dint of their gearing, lower weight and pure grunt, but all versions can crack 0-60 in little more than six seconds.

It’s not just the driving experience that marks it out as hardcore, as the rest of the car is pure vintage with merely adequate storage space an old fashioned hood and a claustrophobic cockpit.

But nobody said the Plus 8 was for daily driving and as Morgan expert Melvyn Rutter of Hertfordshire once told us, the vast majority of enthusiasts that buy an early model already own a modern one and it’s highly unlikely somebody new to the marque will go for an original Plus 8 straight off.

For occasional use as well as long-term value, buy a 1968-72 edition. For Rover V8 speed and some worthwhile usability and service, take the largest selling and later production Plus 8s is our view.

Flicking through old contemporary road tests reveals not simply verdicts on the car but also how the testers perceived the Plus 8, depending upon their age one presumes.

Autocar was the first to get its hands on the car and while mightily impressed with the Morgan’s pace, test drivers criticised other aspects. “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 car “glued to the road”, the antiquated tiller “light and positive” and drawbacks of the ancient chassis was in his view “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 thought that the old world design both enhanced and spoiled this now (by 1968 standards) seriously quick car. How you judged a Morgan rather depended on your outlook and still does. “A true but primitive sports car” said the prim and proper Motorsport magazine.

Testing a five-speed model 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”.

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 1984.

“Totally impractical but great fun – when it’s in contact with the road” is how another road test summed this Morgan up! However, it’s best left to an owner to describe the car – like a Car reader back in May 1985. In his letter, a Mr Beal wrote: “ I am a worried man. 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!”

Values and the marketplace

Plus 8s are valued very highly anyway and this is bound to cement during the model’s 50th. As a result, you’d be pretty lucky to find a remotely half decent buy at under £20,000 with the best of the best four times this, especially if it’s concours with special history or is one of the rare 1975 Plus 8 Sports Lightweights (of which less than 20 were made), although in general, between £40-55K is the going currency with the earliest versions (less than 500 made between autumn 1968 and September 1972) the rarest so boosting values during this major anniversary year.

However. it’s strange but considering how values of TRs and the Big Healey have rocketed of late, this doesn’t seem to apply to Morgans in general so they remain pretty good value and the 50th anniversary of the Plus 8 shouldn’t affect prices overly (early carb fed models and 35th Anniversary versions excepted) so predicts John Seymour of specialist Richard Thorne.

He says that, predominantly, Plus 8 buyers are new to the Morgans rather than 4/4 or Plus 4 owners trading up. And for that reason Thorne’s philosophy is to quiz all potential buyers just what they want to use the car for – very critical says Seymour – before some extended test drives are given, as a quick gallop around the block doesn’t do any Morgan justice.

In the main, the market is strong (picking up rapidly now the snow has gone says John) and split in two categories; garage ornaments and the cars which are fully used, although, alas, only 20 per cent of Plus 8s fall into this bracket but the majority are also modified with sports exhausts and perhaps an engine chip to make that V8 sing being the most popular fit.

Improvements

Which brings us nicely to this chapter! There’s a raft of engine tuning parts for the evergreen Rover V8 engine (which can be taken up to 4.6-litres), but isn’t a Plus 8 already quick enough in standard tune for our Gatso-infested roads?

Besides, with a Plus 8 originality will become more critical as the years roll by but if you must… a sports exhaust with or without manifolds, modified heads, fast road camshaft, four barrel carbs will see the basic 3.5-litre nudge the 200bhp mark; 3.9-litres can yield an extra 50bhp and above is available – which given that some Plus 8s can weigh under 1000kg (in common with a Caterham) is ample…

Most owners concentrate more on chassis and running gear improvements from mild – such as new dampers and springs – to wild, like Librand’s high tec front suspension kit which does away with the old design costing some eight grand. Peter Mullberry Fabrications is one of the top Morgan tuners that even the factory consults for advice although the outfit says that the majority of owners may only alter their cars to gain a better ride. He has developed a modern five-link coil design; much too exotic for the road but for track work, it’s another matter. Morgans ride inherently high but better springs at £140 generally does the trick here. Mulberry Fabrications sells AVO dampers with its own tailored damping. Telescopic kits – which make a considerable difference on early versions cost some £200.

If the non-rack and pinion steering is too arduous, Peter Mulberry’s £160 steering bearing conversion is a cost effective answer to lighten it. Melvyn Rutter also markets new columns at under £400 plus a remote suspension greasing point at around £40. Or you can add an electric power steering from the likes of EZ and Litesteer. Brakes are barely adequate mind; Mintex F4R or EBC pads being the first step before looking at better discs.

A caring owner will have sorted cooling issues with an uprated rad and fitted electronic ignition plus a remote greasing point for the front suspension, to make lubricating the kingpins easier by allowing the front suspension to be lubricated from under the bonnet; it’s a pretty cheap mod. Tyres? A 205/60 is proven to be a good compromise for road use.

What To Look For

General

 

  • Look for a good past history by a specialist as while their pre-war makes suggests easy-peasy home maintenance the reverse is true. As with bespoke builds. drive a few to gain a datum as standards vary and a Plus 8 is certainly a model that you should buy from a known source.
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  • Restorations are difficult and specialist. Major dismantling is costly, and new front wings are nearly £900 each. Rear items exceed £400 a piece. Also, major panels are supplied for an approximate fit – getting them to line up properly often requires a lot of labour, but at least there’s no welding anywhere except for the chassis.
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  • 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. So check it out.
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  • BL-derived electrics are not the most durable. Items such as lights, switches and instrumentation are readily available and affordable, but the rocker switches in post-1976 cars – the ones that incorporate warning lights – can be temperamental. Hoods are quite cheap at under £500.

 

Engine

 

  • Trusty V8 is reliable as long as the anti-freeze concentration has been maintained and the oil has been changed every 5000 miles. The unit is so unstressed that 250,000 miles are no problem at all as long as it has been maintained but skipped oil changes lead to camshaft wear and hydraulic lifter problems due to gummed up oilways.
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  • If the engine has been neglected, or it’s covered an inter-galactic mileage, it will have worn and that’s bad news if you’re keen to retain originality. Slotting a different powerplant in is easy enough, but parts to keep some Plus 8s standard are becoming hard to find – especially pre ’76 stuff.
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  • Earliest versions had rope oil seals on the crank and mains bearing caps that were apt to ‘float’ and knock out bearings. Rover’s development of engine was somewhat reluctant, but by ’82 most of the major problems had been ironed out – including using neoprene oil seals and stiffer alloy block.
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  • The only other issue is cylinder head retention; Buick engines had 18 retaining bolts for each head, whereas on ‘SD1’ motors, one outer row of four is not used and so naturally this creates uneven stress. This does not automatically cause the gasket to blow, but allows unspent petrol and exhaust fumes to ‘weep’ into the centre of the Vee.
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  • Rover did not completely solve the problem until the mid 90s would you believe, when the other row of four bolts was deleted and the heads were attached to the block by just 10 equally spaced bolts. A ‘fix’ for 14-bolt heads is to torque down the centre two rows of five and simply leave the outer four fitted but un-tensioned and held in place by Loctite.
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  • Head gaskets are prone to fail as are exhaust manifolds (sports types £1044 from Librands) but the engine is probably the easiest component to repair at home apart from certain aspects of the fuel injection where Lucas injectors are no longer available and you need to switch to Bosch types.

 

Running gear

 

  • Expect play in the steering, but more than a couple of inches means it’s shot. Until 1984, all Morgans used old-fashioned Burman worm-and-peg steering box so it’s somewhat imprecise. Tyres are getting progressively wider, which puts increasing strain on the steering gear, causing it to wear ever quicker.
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  • Rack-and-pinion steering became standard in 1984, which is usually trouble-free, aside from the gaiters splitting – but they’re an easy and cheap fix. Unduly heavy steering suggests worn track rod ends. Open the bonnet and try to move the steering column; if there’s significant play, it’s time for a new universal joint at a cost in the region of £100.
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  • The sliding pillar suspension works well but the kingpins last no more than 20-25,000 miles but cost only £50 in parts (chromed ones costing £120 a pair last a lot longer), while the rear leaf springs sag but replacements cost comfortably under £100 each.
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  • If wire wheels are fitted, so check for worn splines and broken or damaged spokes. Jack the car up and get someone to sit in it, pressing on the footbrake. Try to turn the wheels backwards and forwards – if there’s any movement the splines need to be renewed.

 

Body and chassis

 

  • Construction is based on pre-war technology, with a steel chassis and an ash frame, over which lie stretched steel or alloy panels. Even if the outer panels are fine, the chassis and/or frame could be rotten and need a full restoration.
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  • Post-1986 cars survive best as their treated wood and wings were painted before fitting, rather than afterwards. Earlier cars are more likely to have a rotten frame, as moisture gets into the seams between the outer panels due to cracked paint. The key thing is how well the car has been stored during winter.
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  • Start by checking for play in the door hinge post. Hold the door along its trailing edge and see how much vertical movement there is. Ensure the play is in the post and not the hinge pins – the latter are easily replaced (Morgan sells stainless types for £50 a go) but the former is a significant problem that costs £1500 or more per side to fix, plus painting.
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  • While the door’s open, push on the B-post (or elbow rail in Morgan terminology). If the wood behind the bodywork is rotten (use a simple finger nail test) there’ll be plenty of movement.
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  • New body tubs are available – they 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 £4200 minimum, which may be cheaper than paying for localised repairs.
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  • Wing edges need careful checking for corrosion. Each edge is rolled around a steel wire that 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, as it will weaken everything.
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  • The chassis is simple but durable and strong if it’s in good condition. Until 1986 it was only painted – galvanising became optional from then on and standard from 1997.
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  • Cross members are the most rust-prone areas, especially at the back – replacement means that the entire rear has to be dismantled. Also check chassis around the engine mountings as cracks can form.
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  • New cross-frames cost around £500 but if the chassis has distorted then a new one costs over £1100 – and 500 or more hours worth of labour to rebuild. The key area to check is forward of the toe board, which is where the most distortion is likely.

 

Transmission

 

  • Morgans are incredibly lightweight and so the transmissions inherently have an easier time so are mostly reliable if the cars aren’t excessively thrashed. If wear or faults do occur, repairs can be costly on all gearboxes but the difficulty often lies in their poor parts supply with the original Moss four-speed transmission affected by far the worst.
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  • SD1 ’boxes were used on Jags and Triumphs so are the easiest to find second-hand.
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  • Listen for a rumbling from the gearbox, ensure that it doesn’t jump out of gear and check that the synchromesh hasn’t gone – although bear in mind there isn’t any first-gear synchro on the Plus 8 Moss ’box. It’s the same with the rear axle – make sure it’s not whining or leaking oil.
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  • All cars featured a Salisbury back axle, with limited slip. Parts are hard to find but specialists can rebuild the existing unit for you – at a price. However, only bearings, gaskets and seals are available and if a new crown wheel and pinion or any gears are needed, you’ll need to convert the car to a BTR axle, at around £2200.

 

Three Of A Kind

Panther lima/Kallista
Panther lima/Kallista
This pseudo-vintage twosome offers open-topped motoring with pre-war looks but twinned with less agricultural motoring care of, more modern mechanicals, originally Vauxhall 2.3 Magnum-derived (including engine, some turbo’d) before the Panther’s own designed and superior Kallista came along. But will you buy either and wish you had the real thing? Probably not says the owners’ club…
Austin-Healey
Austin-Healey
Although it’s not as vintage looking as a Morgan the Big Healey must be considered as a mainstream alternative and of similar values due to its antiquated macho manners and brute power. Great looks, lusty if not searing performance and the same rough and ready ride quality… but they rot like mad and are as dear to restore as an E-type or Plus 8 but specialist and club support is top notch.
Morgans
Morgans
Don’t dismiss the four-cylinder Moggies as many Morgan specialists say they are more agile drivers plus are significantly cheaper to buy and run; particular favourites include the Fiat and Rover twin cam powered models. The Jaguar V6-powered Roadster is vastly underrated say many; Plus 8s have always been a bit hard core where as the V6 Roadster is far more friendlier and just as thrilling.

Verdict

A massive chunk of the Plus 8’s special charm has always been its step-back-intime looks, feel and driving experience. It’s a pretty antiquated driving experience but one that’s totally different to the majority of old classics and this includes XK Jags and TRs so a lengthy test drive is a must – why not hire one from a main dealer for the weekend so to see if it really suits you? They can also take a lot of taming, more so in the wet, thanks to its crude suspension while the ride will always be rodeo-like… but what you get in return is supercar-like pace and the thrill of really working hard at the wheel – there’s no free rides with this Morgan!



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