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Morgan vs Caterham

If you demand every drive to be a little bit special then few do it better than a Seven or Morgan. What’s best? Published: 25th May 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Chris Rees is the author of Magnificent 7, the definitive guide to Lotus and Caterham 7s, and is a serial 7 owner. He says: “The 7 is a piece of genuine Chapman genius: simple, light and the purest sports car on the planet.

“One example of the purity it inspired in me was that I never once put the roof up on my 7, and not just because it’s fiddly. In no other car is the open-topped experience as complete as in a 7, from starlit night skies to sunny days – even the occasional rain shower is all part of the fun.

“My advice for first-timers is not to be tempted to go too extreme – start with a low-powered car and enjoy its handling perfection first before you explore the more intimidating Superlight R versions, which many people find just too fast for the road.”

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Okay, so this is hardly a strict comparison test in the sense of our normal clash candidates, but there’s some surprising similarities between these old time bespoke Brits. Firstly, they have stood the test of time incredibly well with the Morgan over 80 years old and the Seven a comparative sprog, said to have been designed by Colin Chapman over an idle weekend, turning a sprightly 60 this year.

Secondly, they are individual and yet utterly recognisable and appeal to motoring extroverts who like old fashioned thrills that, style-wise, aren’t slaves to fashions and fads such as hot hatchbacks. You have to want to own a Morgan or Caterham (nee Lotus) not despite of their faults, quirks and drawbacks – but because of them!

Poles apart they may be, but there must be some Seven owners who have perhaps toyed with the idea of a Morgan as a more mature and roomier alternative at some point.

However, would a Malvern marvel suit them just as well?

Which one to buy?

Spoilt for choice

Without doubt, while Lotus invented the Seven, Caterham kept it alive to ultimately thrive. Early Lotus models were ultra-basic and powered by small-capacity Ford and Austin engines. The definitive 1968 Series 3 models brought 1600cc Ford crossflow engines, disc brakes and the look that Caterham later adopted and have kept for almost half a century.

The squared off glassfibre-bodied Series 4 of 1970 proved a dead end and when Colin Chapman abandoned Seven production in 1973, sales agent Caterham Cars took over its production, quickly reverting to the Series 3 shape.

In the 1970s, you could choose either Ford crossflow power – which remained an option until recently – or a Lotus Twin Cam engine. When Lotus stopped making it, Caterham switched to the Cosworth BDR as the high-power choice in 1984, but also offered its own Ford-based 135bhp 1700 Supersprint engine. Ride quality was improved with the introduction of de Dion suspension in 1985, which allowed higher powered engines to be fitted as well as the fivespeed Ford Sierra XR4 gearbox. The old Ford live axle option faded away.

All-round disc brakes became standard in 1988, just before Caterham started fitting vibrant Vauxhall 2.0-litre engines to create the HPC model and with 175bhp to play with, these were extremely rapid. To bring the car into the fuel-injected era, Caterham adopted Rover’s brilliant K-Series engine for 1992 (which remains the mainstay of the model to this day). Initially offered in 1.4-litre form, it evolved into 1.6 and 1.8-litre guise. A six-speed gearbox option from 1995 improved driveability,

The biggest advance was the launch of the Superlight versions from 1996. Inspired by the low production JPE special edition, these were stripped-out lightweights, at their most extreme in Superlight R form with engines ranging from 190 up to 230bhp! There was even a wide-bodied SV version for amplehipped customers, while the latest CSR models switch to Cosworth engines.

Despite attention-grabbing headlines for the Superlights, Caterham’s Classic remains a very popular budget option, and this has continued with, most recently, a Suzuki-power three-cylinder variant. Like all Sevens, there’s choice of DIY kit to save money or add to the bonding experience, or bought fully-built.

Morgan production is also minefield to explain but evolves around the mainstream 4/4 and the sportier Plus 4, although their design overlap. It started off with sidevalve Ford engines, before fitting the Anglia and Classic ohv units (S3) followed by the evergreen 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 ’80s, Morgan switched initially to Fiat Mirafiori 1.6 engines, quickly followed in tandem by Ford XR3 power, with a five-speed gearbox available from ’83 before the crisp Rover 2-litre M16 unit was tried. Today, the 4/4 uses Ford Mondeo engines (1.6 and 1.8) to good effect.

In terms of overall choice, there’s slightly more on offer from Malvern than Kent, plus Morgans remain available in a four-seater format, which may be the decider for some.

With so many models, produced over the decades, it’s essential to decide what you want from the outset; the older they are the more classic, but modern versions are better suited to modern motoring,

What’s the best to drive?

All are character building

The Morgan remains pure 30s in many ways and that includes the suspension which, with its odd sliding pillar front set up and simple leaf springs at the stern, is hardly high tech. Although hard riding, and short of sophistication, on the right kind of roads, it’s exhilarating fun although you have to be up for the ride.

With so many engines in the ‘Fours’ 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 with the Rover a close second and you certainly don’t need a Plus 8.

Indeed, many seasoned Morgan experts believe that the ‘Fours’ are the most agile and in the spirit of the car than the brutish Plus 8

No-one who gets behind the wheel of a Seven fails to emerge at the other end without a smile on their face. It’s quite simply the most direct, purest drive you’ll ever experience. You are pincered into the narrow seats, sitting just inches above the tarmac.

The tiny steering wheel offers razorsharp reactions to deft wrist movements and a more direct feel than any other car. If you spread your fingers, you can touch the gear lever, whose movement is so short that you can change gear in less than a blink of an eye.

Whichever engine you choose you will be rewarded with astonishing acceleration. Light weight is what it’s all about (most weigh under half a ton) and with a 1.6-litre K-Series engine fitted, you can expect to reach 60mph from rest in six seconds, or in Superlight guise that goes down to 4.7… Very few supercars get close. But the best is yet to come.

Straight line speed is one thing, but it’s the way a magnificent Seven corners that makes it so special. Nearperfect weight distribution imbues the brilliant chassis with incredibly balanced manners. On modern rubber it grips up to unbelievable speeds but can be barrelled confidently into corners because its reactions are so predictable and precise. Quite simply it’s the closest thing to a full-on racing car you can use on the road.

Yes, they are noisy, draughty, hard riding and basic as a result, but you’ll never forget your first drive (or even ride) in a Seven. And then you’ll be hooked.

To sum up, the roomier more mature Morgan performs how you’d expect a 1930’s sportster to, and so demands understanding and strong commitment from the driver but Caterhams pander to those who want a road legal racer or fourwheeled motor bike that belies its ever advancing age and refused to grow up!

Owning and running

Pretty evenly matched

Both marques boast huge support from not just specialists and owner clubs but also their factory so running one isn’t difficult although the Morgan’s hand crafted nature makes repairing and restoring one, harder than you’d expect from a tried and tested design.

In terms of values, they are fairly evenly matched; Lotus versions are worth perhaps double that of a Caterham, the one exception being its boxy-styled S4 which sell for Caterham-level prices of £10-£15,000. A similar budget will net you a 1990 4/4 or an earlier Plus 4 which is rarer slightly sporting pick. Our advice, is to drive a few (you can hire Morgans – try Melvyn Rutter) to see if you can actually get on with their uncompromising characters!

And The Winner Is...

None – or both – depending how you look at it because as their characters are so different they are like chalk and cheese. A Caterham may be fine for a blow-the-cobwebs away blast, but if you’re more in the mood for touring then a Morgan does it better, particularly if you regularly take a passenger on board. We can’t see a Morgan motorist changing to a Caterham but we can envisage a Seven owner wanting to, one day, slow down a bit for less frantic thrills …



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