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Morgan Plus 8

Published: 16th Oct 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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How the Rover V8 engine turned a quaint hand made vintage sports car into a supercar shamer that’s still humbling them all nearly half a century on

There’s a new Plus 8 out, a special lightweight hard core 367bhp special edition to mark another Morgan centenary, this time 100 years of the famous Malvern Link company.

At 70 grand, the Speedster is the ultimate Plus 8, for the time being at least, because this Morgan model has always been considered hard core before the term was even thought of. Like when it had 200bhp less to play with back in 1968, costing only £1477!

The original Plus 8 came about through necessity in the mid 1960s. Triumph was ditching its old farmer’s friend Ferguson four, which Morgan also used, in favour of a fuel injected straight six. Peter Morgan didn’t want to elongate the chassis to cater for this also heavier engine so looked for an alternative.

When The Car Was The Star

How the Rover unit found its way into the car depends what story you want to believe. One is that, tipped off about the TR5, Morgan already had started to look at some options which included Ford’s new V4 and V6 engines along with a V8. The other tale is that Triumph’s rival, Rover, approached the specialist company to help make a Rover sports car in a bid to relaunch 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.

Fact or folklore but you have to question the logic of the latter account. For a start, why would Rover, pioneer of the gas turbine car and the innovative P6 saloon launched in 1963, want to associate itself so closely to a vintage car maker? And what about Rover’s BS experimental car that used its V8 mid mounted. This stillborn sports car was one of the most advanced cars of its day and was killed off because it made the E-type about as outdated as a Morgan!

Academic perhaps because Morgan turned down Rover’s offer but said he would like the engines instead! Not surprisingly, Rover was, initially, lukewarm over the idea and Morgan had to find its own Buick engines.

By mid 1967, Morgan still weren’t being delivered the promised engines 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…

Stokes – the man who thought motorsport success was of no importance to BLMC – had just severed its Healey connection and was about to do the same to John Cooper; Stokes would have probably sent Morgan packing. Instead, enthusiasts Webster and Turnbull loved the car and agreed to supply its engines so long as Morgan didn’t try to compete head on with BL with a modern rival.

Fat chance of that… and the association lasted 36 years until stringent emission regs killed off this wonderful engine.

1968

After the disaster of the Apollo 1 Fire, NASA fast tracked to put man around the moon less than two years later, when Borman, Lovell and Anders saw ‘Earthrise’ for the first time.

Following Peace and Love and ‘flower power’ of ’67, 1968 was a far more brutal year with riots in the streets across the globe; the student protests in Paris being particularly famous.

THE GENERATION GAME

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.

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 this time that the classic car movement was getting into top gear making this new old car almost unique.

“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.

When the Plus 8 was sadly pensioned off due to emission regs 20 years later and a Roadster using a Jag V6 replaced it, many thought the spirit of the car would die. But it did not and was a worthy replacement as have successive BMW powerplants.

In a changing world Morgans have remained a constant and it’s up to enthusiasts to accept Malvern’s cars for what they are – present Aero8 range and the Speedster with their modern chassis with wishbone suspension accepted.

CAR’S THE STAR

Most will recall not actual car the but the Morgan car company in the famous Troubleshooter series when Sir John Harvey Jones gave a damming verdict on the Morgan Motor Company and its old fashioned production methods. The bosses rebuked his advice and the publicity resulted in bulging order books…



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