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MG T-Type vs. Morgan Plus 4 vs. Triumph TR2

Certain old sportsters never die, they simply evolve over the decades – some even to the present day... Published: 7th Sep 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Andy King must rank as one of the most known and respected experts on T Types and he recently told us their popularity remains on the rise, especially in Europe where they are always welcomed, although fellow specialist, Barrie Carter, says sales has tailed off of late but the repairs and restoration side is booming.

Ask any good Morgan sage and they’ll will tell you that a Four not only make a great ‘starter’ Morgan, but they also have benefits over the Plus 8. Try both to compare, many suggested to us. Pre-TR4s are different cars later models and so attract the more purist enthusiast.

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There’s something about a war era car that differentiates it above all the rest – character. Take the Big Healey and Jag’s XK as prime examples, while these respective models may well be enhanced and improved over the years the essential character remained much the same.

No classic epitomises this more than a Morgan, a sports car conceived during the 1930s when wealthy young things were searching out ways to enjoy themselves in the early days of motoring. The Four has always been the mainstay of the marvel Malvern car company, even when the mighty Plus 8 eclipsed it in 1968 and the ‘Four’ more or less has kept true to its roots.

The early Triumph TRs posses a Morgan-like character and indeed the later also used that same trusty Standard engine in certain models up until 1968 when the Plus 8 replaced it. The TR2 was designed as a direct competitor to Morgan as well as arch rival MG, who up until 1955 was living in the past, still churning out an update of the pre-war T Type, itself heavily based on the old pre-war Midget.

T Types (from A-F with no E) continued a long line of small MG sports cars which started with the M in 1928. While highly collectable now, the T range were not originally appreciated by enthusiasts of the day as they were the first MGs to be built after the company was sold to the Nuffield Group and used many mundane Morris saloon parts as a consequence.

TA was a bit of a disappointment to MG enthusiasts, for while it looked familiar it not only used a lot of ‘saloon’ underpinnings but the loss of the famed overhead camshaft engine in favour of the old ohv lump from the Morris 10 was a step too far! In MG guise this engine was known as MPJG. The Morgan Plus 4 and especially the 4/4 are models that Morgan can’t kill off, as much as it has tried over the decades and even released a new one!

Introduced in 1950, it succeeded the 4/4 (which has a special 80th anniversary model just launched-ed), but really harked back to three-wheelers and wasn’t much more sophisticated, even using the same quirky sliding pillar front suspension which Morgan still uses to this day.

And while the style and character has remained more or less intact, it’s to Morgan’s eternal credit that the outfit has been able to successfully update it over the many decades with a wide variety of four cylinder engines – from the TR ‘big four’ to Ford Mondeo Duratec units, with a mix of Fiat and Rover engines twincam in between. Some ‘Morganists’ regard ‘fours’ better cars than the Plus 8. In a similar vein, many enthusiasts prefer the no nonsense nature of the pre-TR4 sportsters but what’s the right timepiece for you?

Which one to buy?

Age needs be no barrier…

Priced at £880 back in 1950, the Morgan was a more expensive car than the MG TD which, at just £445, sounded like a bargain because when the Triumph TR2 was launched it carried a £787 ticket.

Such is today’s classic car market however, that now prices are very similar with the best TF 1500 and Plus 4 Drophead (TR engine), all fetching £25-£35,000 which is extremely surprising considering that only 1250 Moggies were produced in the five years against 40,000 TD-TFs over the same period.

The Plus Four’s 68bhp, 2088cc Standard Vanguard engine gave way to the much more powerful 95bhp, 1991cc TR2 engine from 1954. At the same time, the car’s aerodynamics were improved by fairing in the upright radiator. By comparison, the MG TD offered just 54bhp, the TD MkII 57, the TF 1250 and TF 1500 a still measly 63bhp.

While the MG and Morgan look similar with their pre-war styling, pronounced wings and running boards make the MG the slightly more modern looking.

Although based on the pre-war TA, there were numerous improvements along the way including a completely new chassis that now ran above the back axle allowing softer, more cambered rear springs which improved the ride. Box sectioned side rails increased stiffness and so handling and independent coil spring double wish-bone front suspension and rack and pinion steering were then state of the art.

The Morgan on the other hand was stuck in a time warp with its 30 year old sloppy steering box and floppy chassis all held together with an ash frame. But, be honest, isn’t that the way we like them?

The MG was first launched before WW2 and these early models are really for the hard core enthusiast; for the majority of us the TD, with its rack and pinion steering and better suspension is the better starting point, with the last TF1500 range the best developed of the lot.

In many ways, the Morgan has successfully replicated itself over and over again – meaning that while it remains vintage, it’s been modernised where it matters, such as disc brakes, five-speed transmissions and so on. If you’re so inclined, you can buy one brand new – with no long waiting lists.

Let’s not ignore faithful, modern MG replicas like the Naylor. Revamped in all the right areas, a good number of respected MG experts rate it as the ‘best TF’ on the block and a match for later Morgans. Naylor was the most faithful reproduction of the TF, albeit using 1980’s Austin Rover hardware, including the 1.7-litre O Series engine from the Marina/Ital.

Known as the Naylor TF 1700, it was constructed along the lines of the TF but with an ash wood body frame, front hinged doors (to comply with E-regulations) and McPherson strut front suspension. But it was only £40 cheaper than a Morgan Plus 8 back MG T TYPE VS MORGAN PLUS 4 VS TR2 in 1985 (£13,950!) In 1996, and under new owners, it emerged as the Hutson TF where another 61 cars were made, some in kit car form. Today, Naylors are a treasured classic and the vast majority of the 100 made still survive.

Another replica came from Harper Roscoe Motors of Cheshire who became the European makers of the American TF1800 albeit with a British built chassis and MGB mechanicals. The car was praised for its build quality and, thanks to a relocated petrol tank to a safer location, more luggage space. Prices started from £9500 back in 1983.

The TD Silverstone is Malaysian, and sold as a brand new car using Toyota running gear. Its mix of old and new technology may outrage purists works well. Imported to Europe by Lifestyle Automotive (http://www.lifestyleautomotive.co.uk).

Should we ignore a TF-looking kit car called the Gentry? Made from angle iron frame, plywood flooring and a mix of alloy and GRP body panels the body was dropped onto a Triumph Herald or Vitesse chassis. And what about the Magenta, a TF-like body using BMC 1100/1300 running gear and a MG1100 grille? The TR started off with a 1991cc 90bhp engine. Options included overdrive (on top gear only), wire wheels and, later on, a hardtop. The earliest cars featured full-length doors which fouled high kerbs and were therefore shortened and are known as the ‘short door’ cars in the trade. The later replacement TR3 is little different apart from the ‘egg-crate’ grille and an engine uprate to 95bhp (later 100bhp) although it became the first sports car in its class to boast standard front disc brakes. A 2.2-litre engine was offered but few were fitted. TR3B is a rare oddball, the B moniker was only built for export as a TR3 with the TR4’s 2138cc engine, although this beefier engine has since found happy homes in earlier TRs (along with a host of other club accepted mods).

Four-cylinder TRs traditionally trailed the TR5/6 by fair sums but the market has seen the gap in values shrink to the point where some early TRs can be worth as much and even exceed TR6 prices. Values generally start from £6000 for a running restoration project to £11,500 for a nicely restored car and perhaps around £20,000-£30,000 for a specimen or one with motorsport history.

Left hand drive models abound because most went abroad anyway; these can be cheaper to purchase and converting to RHD is straightforward although, thanks to eager Overseas markets, they can sell for a premium so perhaps best to leave alone?

Whittling the huge choice down, we’d say that when talking T Types, the later the better as early TA/TBs are more purist but primitive while the TDs, with their better steering will be more acceptable to most drivers. TF is the best developed but do you like the styling? The TR3 is a better all rounder to the TR2, not least because of the interior improvements which saw external door handles fitted.

The sheer choice of Morgans’ models can be bewildering and it may be best to speak to a club, specialist or main dealer to see what suits you best. Early TR or Ford Cortina GT-powered models are the most classical but those-in-the-know speak highly of the later Fiat and Rover twincam versions which also in most cases come with welcome five-speed transmissions. Also, if you want a full four-seater the Morgan is default choice.

So what’s the best to drive?

Opinions are divided

Motor magazine tested an MG TD in 1952 and recorded a top whack of 77mph and 0–60mph in 18.2 seconds and all at 26.7mpg. The Later TF 1250, with the same engine, recorded 82mph and 0-60 in 18.9 seconds and 28mpg. This was roughly on par with the four pot Morgans at the time although a TR-engined Plus 4 was considerably quicker with 100mph 0-60 in 13.3 secs with the 100bhp TR3 engine bringing 0-60 down to under 10 seconds.

What’s the best Plus 4? Well, the Ford powered models – first 1600 GT Cortina, then XR3 power – will be the easiest to maintain along with the Rover T16 of the 80s, and all are certainly lively enough but those-in-the-know rate the Fiat twin cam models the best with its beautifully rev happy 1.6 that suits the car’s character well. Roll the decades on and the latest ‘Fours’ can hit 60 in virtually the same time as the iconic Plus 8!

Really, it’s grossly unfair to compare the Morgan against the MG in this respect. All T Types are sweet cars to drive with nippy performance, good nimble handling, a forgiving ride and reasonable brakes (although these are best uprated). The last TF with the XPEG 1466cc engine is the jewel in the crown thanks to the useful extra power and torque. The Naylors are like chalk and cheese thanks to its modern running gear that’s nicely done in period. It elevates the TF to near TR pace while its handling is far superior “an amazing mixture of soft riding suspension and an original post-war chassis”, wrote Car back in 1985 and the car’s sumptuous interior makes it by far the most refined choice of them all.

If you like a challenge, then the Morgan is the one for you as it really needs to be understood and ‘driven’. On wide smooth roads with open curves it is a joy but throw in bad cambers, pot holes and tight bends and it becomes something of a nightmare and positively exhausting if in a hurry.

For many that’s the attraction, as is the fact that irrespective of age, Morgans retain a vintage feel however new they are. TRs feel not dissimilar and for their age go nicely, that lusty engine helping. Overdrive potentially gives you seven-speeds (great for hairpin driving) and the handling is certainly more agile than the later TR5/6 versions due to the lighter engine up front.

Owning and running

There’s nothing in it…

There can be no better support for a 50 year old car than a complete original dealer network and that’s what you get with the Morgan as well as a huge parts stock at the Malvern factory.

Mechanical repairs therefore are easy and not too expensive, but when it comes to that ash frame and the steel or aluminium panels that clad it, it is a different matter. Remember, each Morgan is handmade and therefore individual, however slight, and while panels are available they have to be skilfully fettled to the individual vehicle which is usually labour and cost intensive.

The MG, while made in much larger numbers is still built on a steel chassis and timber outer frame making body repairs and restoration complicated as well as costly although the mechanics, like the Morgan, are straightforward if in some cases expensive to overhaul, such as the XPAG engines. TRs, in the main, are cheaper and easier to maintain although body repairs may prove the exception but at least new chassis frames are available.

Both the MG and Triumph brands boast magnificent club and specialist support enabling you to keep the cars either as standard or with improvements, most which enhance these cars.

And The Winner Is...

Anachronistic without doubt, but Morgans are out and out sports cars that when understood and ‘bonded’ with are very rewarding to drive and own plus ‘Fours’ are in no way poor substitutes to the Plus 8. But while it’s easy to be carried away by the nostalgia and sense of occasion of a Morgan, they are not easy to own, drive or live with as you’d imagine. Moreover, despite such a vintage and time honoured design, are not particularly DIY-friendly either. You may want a Morgan but can you put up with one? A long test drive or perhaps a weekend hire could stop you making the wrong choice but the undeniable advantage of a Morgan is that you can own a new yet classic car at the same time. The MG T Types, on the other hand, will excite less but also offend less plus they ooze charm. They’re more of a plaything and best used as such. The early Triumph TRs fall somewhere in between the pair.



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