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Morgan vs Panther

Can a Morgan tribute act be as good as the real thing? Published: 17th Jan 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Morgan vs Panther

What The Experts Say...

While they appeal to like-minded enthusiasts, they are chalk and cheese in character, the easy-going Panther Car Club told us on its stand at the recent NEC Classic Motor Show, pointing to its whacky Cruella DeVille meets pink Panther (Kallista) stand theme as evidence. On a more serious note, it says while the Morgan remains a timewarp classic, the Lima and Kallista have the benefit of being 40 years younger in design and concept. Spares are not chief problem and a really cracking Kallista can command up to £25,000, the club adds.

Morgan vs Panther
Morgan vs Panther
Morgan vs Panther
Morgan vs Panther
Morgan vs Panther
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Whether Panther wanted to ‘copy’ Morgan is open to debate, but it couldn’t have chosen a better carmaker to use as a yardstick – and copy cat Panther couldn’t have come from better stock. The history of Morgan has been well charted, less so Panther, which was started by Surrey-based motoring enthusiast Robert Jankel, almost 40 years ago. A keen fan of sleek 1930’s sports cars, he wanted to build cars that were aided by contemporary running gear. The first was the pseudo Jaguar S100 that was badged the J72 (short for Jankel/1972) using E-type running gear. A pastiche that paid complement to Bugatti’s Royale (Deville) followed in 1974. So is the Lima and Kallista a worthy alternative to the real thing?

Which one to buy?

Original vs classic clone

Jankel’s earlier efforts were pitched at the top of the market but the ‘affordable’ Panther (launched in 1976) was Morgan-sized and relied upon the Vauxhall Magnum 2.3 as its base, including floorpan, as well as MG Midget doors, all topped by a retro-styled quality fibreglass body.

A fairly popular Morgan rival it was not only sold by Pather direct but also sold via selected Vauxhall dealers. A quoted 897 were made before the Series 2 surfaced in ’79, now featuring its own separate chassis as the Viva was due to be discontinued by 1980 but it also resulted in far better rigidity and so handling.

There was also a tantalising Turbo derivative but only 10 were made (out of 350 S2s in total) before the company went into receivership and was later purchased by Jindo Industries in 1980.

The Lima was superseded by the similar looking, albeit slightly larger, Kallista, now sporting Ford Escort 1600 CVH power and Cortina running gear, plus there was an option of Granada V6 2.8 grunt. This model ran up to 1990, then under the ownership of SangYong who made a further 73 cars; with a very good attrition rate there’s still a fair choice around although may be a case of what you can get as Panthers don’t come on the market often.

Morgan production is a minefield to explain, by comparison! It started off with side valve Ford engines, before fitting 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 1.6 engines, quickly followed in tandem by Ford XR3 power, with a five-speed gearbox available from ’83. Thereafter the Rover 2 litre T Series was tried with acclaim.

To the uninitiated Morgans have hardly changed over the decades… But those in the know will inform you that’s not true and later models from the 1990s boast modern mechanicals (fuel injection, fivespeed gearboxes etc) and are much easier to drive than earlier versions yet still retain the style and character that makes these Malvern marvels so popular.

Current models use vivid Ford engines to good effect. In terms of what’s around, 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 prestigious coachbuilder awards when contemporary.

What’s the best to drive?

A question of character

It would be easy to dismiss the Panther duo as the also-rans from the outset but both the Lima and Kallista perform very well indeed, and some road tests at the time rated the Lima and Kallista above the equivalent Morgan. The main reason has to be down to the chassis design.

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 unsurprisingly short of sophistication, yet on the right kind of roads, it’s exhilarating fun – when you’re up for it.

Panthers are softer going and demand less from the driver thanks to a more contemporary (Vauxhall) chassis that is far more compliant yet, like the donor Magnum, handles very well. The later, larger and stiffer Kallista is that bit better and less jolty and both designs feature a front chin spoiler (optional on Kallistas) which, while totally out of kilter with the styling, does aid stability. The Lima was reported, in tests, to have a pretty trigger happy tail, especially on poor tyres, however.

Speak to many Morgan specialists and they’ll tell you that the forgotten ‘Fours’ get a rather poor press because Plus 8s steal all the glory and yet the lighter, smaller, slower versions are arguably the better driving machines and are certainly not second best.

In terms of performance. With so many engines in the Morgan’s portfolio, space doesn’t permit a detailed report but, in general, performance only starts to become ’interesting’ with (Ford) 1600cc and the Fiat unit is much favoured by those in the know, liked for its latin character and brio while the Rover 16-valve is another favourite, ditto the Jag-powered V6 Roadster which replaced the Plus 8 for a number of years – it’s well worth a test drive.

Panthers are surprisingly evenly matched, both giving TR6 levels of performance. The original Vauxhall engine is typically unrefined and breathless when used hard but its brilliantly strong mid range guts has always been its forte in Magnums meaning you don’t need to red line it. The Ford Escort XR3 engine (carb-fed not fuel injected) used in the Kallista is crisper but not half as gutsy – and the same goes for similar powered Morgans – but the Capri 2.8 V6 is a different kettle of camshafts.

Kallistas are all five-speeders while some Limas featured Vauxhall VX4/90 overdrive transmissions plus there was an automatic option which was never officially available on any Morgan although some Plus 8s have been converted over the years.

To sum up, Morgans perform how you’d expect a 1930’s sportster to, and so demands understanding and strong commitment from the driver – although the newer the 4/4, the more convivial it is. The steering (via an old fashioned box) is also rather vague, things not helped by the upright wheel’s vast diameter which accentuates the play.

If you like a challenge then the Morgan is the one for you as it really has 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 exhausting if in a hurry. For many that’s the main attraction, as is the fact that irrespective of age, Morgans retain a vintage feel. So, if you’re expecting anything less even from a newish model, then think again – there’s no free rides with any Morgan!

Panthers pander to those who want those retro looks and feel but with more modern manners and an easier life – yet are still drivers’ cars – although details such as hood fit and trimming is less satisfactory than on the Morgan and the interiors are not so sturdy or quality made.

Owning and running make it a morgan?

This is where the Morgan clearly gets its nose ahead. 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 units are becoming scarce and pricey.

Of course, you can buy brand new Moggies from around £39,000 and while the days of decade-long waiting lists are long gone, second-hand models still hold their values well. Arguably the Lima, with its Vauxhall platform, is a fair bit simpler to maintain, as parts will be easier and cheaper 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 modified; Kallistas have a different design being three inches longer but the owners’ club tells us they can be modified easily enough.

Costing roughly the same when new (actually the £10,747 Panther Kallista was £1000 dearer than a Plus 4 in 1986), they command similar second-hand values. The owners’ club is extremely enthusiastic and helpful so running one shouldn’t pose any major concerns.

And The Winner Is...

Whisper it, but, unless you’re a retro roadster fan, you may find the softer running, more modern Lima/Kallista more suited to your needs. What they undoubtedly lack is the sheer heritage and sense of occasion the Morgan always offers, which for many will surely clinch it. While it’s entirely predictable to opt for the Morgan (as you will probably do, if solely for the badge and image), you have to give the Panther alternative due credit and a test drive.

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