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Morgan Plus Four Vs Panthers

The Four Tops Published: 14th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Morgan Plus Four Vs Panthers

What The Experts Say...

Terry Borton of the Panther Car Club reckons the cars as just as good as any Morgan. “Kallista may have been small scale, in production terms, but has reached ‘true’ classic status that makes it even more desirable. Kallista has fi rm handling yet retains good comfort levels, plus boasts benefi cial modern creature comforts such as good heating, wind down windows, ample cockpit room. Plus there’s safety features, like doors that have side impact protection and a front chassis design that aids compression in an impact”, he says. “Robust, reliable Ford mechanicals have everything that the period classic sports car enthusiast could want,” he adds.

Morgan Plus Four Vs Panthers
Morgan Plus Four Vs Panthers
Morgan Plus Four Vs Panthers
Morgan Plus Four Vs Panthers
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A Morgan specialist got us thinking recently, after mentioning that all motoring journalists bang on far too much about Plus 8s. What about the four-cylinder Morgans, which are just as good? Plus, what about the rivals to the Plus 4 and its derivatives? These do not include the MG T Types, because they’re not in the same performance league we feel. However, we did fi nd the perfect (if slightly off-beat) candidates; Panther’s Lima and Kallista! And when you put the Panther and Morgan together they have a lot more in common than you‘d initially think.

Which one to buy?

Original v. classic neuvo

Whether Panther wanted to ‘copy’ Morgan is open to debate, but it couldn’t have chosen a better carmaker to use as a yardstick. Granted, the Lima and later Kallista lack the purity of lines that only comes from a design that genuinely dates back to the mid 30s, although it’s the Series II Morgan 4/4 from 1955 where that the unmistakable Morgan style really stems from. The history of Morgan has been well charted, less so Panther, which was started by Surrey-based motoring enthusiast Robert Jankel, some 40 years ago. A keen fan of sleek 30s sports cars, he wanted to build cars that were aided by contemporary running gear. The fi rst was the pseudo Jaguar S100 that was badged the J72 (Jankel/1972) using E-type running gear. A pastiche that paid complement to Bugatti’s Royale (Deville) followed in 1974, before the ‘affordable’ Panther was launched in 1976. Morgan-sized, it used the Vauxhall Magnum 2.3 as the base, including its fl oorpan, as well as MG Midget doors, all topped by a fi breglass body. A popular car that was also sold via selected Vauxhall dealers, it’s quoted that 897 were made before the Series 2 surfaced in ‘79, featuring its own separate chassis (the Viva was due to be discontinued soon) for better rigidity and handling. There was also a Turbo derivative but only 10 were made (out of 350 S2s in total) before the company went into receivership and was purchased by Jindo Industries in 1980. Lima was superseded by the similar looking, but slightly larger, Kallista, now with Ford Escort 1600 CVH power and Cortina running gear, along with an optional choice of Granada V6 2.8 grunt. This car ran up to 1990, then under the ownership of SangYong who made a further 73 cars. Morgan production is a minefield to explain, by comparison! It started off with side valve Ford engines, before fi tting the 105E/Classic ohv units (S3) followed by the evergreen 1500cc Cortina GT Kent engine, which ran up to 1982 in standard and ‘competition’ tune. In tandem was a couple of Standard Triumph-powered ranges, up to 1969. For the 1980s, Morgan switched initially to Fiat Mirafi ori 1.6 engines, quickly followed in tandem by Ford XR3 power, with a fi ve-speed gearbox available from 1983 before the crisp Rover 2 litre T Series was tried. Today the 4/4 uses a Mondeo 2-litre engine to good effect. In terms of choice, there’s much more on offer from Malvern than Surrey, plus Morgans remain available in a four-seater format, too. Both hand built, and the standard of manufacture is broadly similar. In fact, the Kallista won a pair of coachbuilder awards.

What’s the best to drive?

A question of character

It would be easy to dismiss the Panther duo as the also-rans here but both the Lima and Kallista perform very well indeed, and some road tests rate the Lima and Kallista above the equivalent Morgan. The reason has to be down to the chassis. The Morgan is pure 30s in many ways and that includes the suspension which, with its odd sliding pillar front set up and simple leaf strings at the stern, is hardly high tech. Although hard riding, and short of sophistication, on the right kind of roads, it’s exhilarating fun but you have to be up for the ride. The Panthers are softer going and demand less from the driver. The Vauxhall chassis is far more complaint and handles well. The later, larger and stiffer Kallista is that bit better and less jolty. Both models feature a front chin spoiler (optional on Kallistas) which, while totally out of kilter with the styling, aid stability. The Lima was reported in tests be tail happy, especially on poor tyres however. In terms of performance, Panthers are surprisingly evenly matched, both giving TR6 levels of performance. The Lima’s Vauxhall engine is typically breathless and rough at high revs but its brilliantly strong mid range guts has always been its forte in Magnums.The Escort XR3 engine used in the Kallista is crisper but not half as gutsy – and the same goes for similar Morgan-powered Plus 4s. With so many engines in the Plus 4’s portfolio, space doesn’t permit a detailed report but, in general, performance only starts to become ’interesting’ with 1600cc and the Fiat unit is much favoured by those in the know, liked for its latin character and brio. Bear in mind that, on Panthers and later Morgans, five-speed gearboxes were an option, automatic on the Lima, too. Some Limas featured the VX4/90 overdrive transmissions; Kallstas are all fi ve-speeders. To sum up, the Morgan performs how you’d expect a 1930s sportster to, and so demands understanding and strong commitment from the driver; the Panther panders to those who want the retro looks and feel but with modern manners and an easier life – but is still a driver’s car.

Owning and running

Make it a Morgan

This where blue sky emerges with the Morgan. No specialist carmaker boasts such a brilliant dealer and manufacturer back up and owning one is as easy as running an MGB, if not half so low cost plus parts for certain Ford engines are becoming scarce and expensive. Of course, you can buy brand new Moggies from around £33,000 and while the days of decade-long waiting lists are long gone, second-hand models hold their values well. Arguably the Lima, with its Vauxhall platform, is a fair bit simpler to maintain, as parts will be easier to source. That said, certain Vauxhall mechanicals are becoming harder to obtain. Also the doors on the Lima are not straight MG types but slightly modifi ed; Kallistas have a different design being three inches longer but the owner’s club tells us they can be modded in just an hour. Costing roughly the same when new (actually the £10,747 Panther Kallista was £1000 dearer than a Plus 4 in 1986), they command similar used values. The Panther Owners Club recently released its value guide and states £10,000 for a top Lima, £6000 for a good one and perhaps £1500 upwards for a project. The later Kallistas command between £500-£2000 extra.

And The Winner Is...

While it’s entirely predictable to opt for the Morgan, you have to give the Panther alternative enormous credit. Whisper it, but, unless you’re a genuine retro roadster fan, you may fi nd the softer running and more modern Lima or Kallista far more suited to your needs. What they lack is the sheer heritage and sense of occasion the Morgan always offers, which for many people clinches it. As one magazine put it in a twin test of this pair back in 1978 “With the Morgan it’s the real thing all the way”.



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