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GALLERY: PLUS 8S OLD VS NEW

The Plus 8 badge covers a classic Mog on vintage chassis, or a state of the art aluminium road runner with all mod cons and BMW’s smooth version of V8 punch. Jeremy Walton is our man in the driving seat, then and now!!!

13 years since Walton drove Morgan’s 4.4-litre BMW-powered Aero generation, which provided the foundation for the new 2014 Plus 8 that Walton piloted to supply a unique 1969-2014 perspective. WHICH MODEL TO BUY? The Plus 8 had an elongated production life with ever-larger Rover V8s from 1968- 2004; BMW power arrived for the Aero 8 at 4.4-litres in 2000, now 4.8-litres. 

Interested in value alongside the most prestigious of a respected classic model line? Our usual advice is go for as early and original as practical. For Plus 8s, using the fi rst edition with the Moss gearbox regularly would be tiresome even for a hardcore Morgan fan. Their comparative rarity (at less than 500 made between autumn 1968 and September 1972) boosts values. A notchy, but more effective, fourspeed Rover 3500 box took the Plus 8 through the remainder of 1972 to early 1977 and accounted for over 700 manufactured. The Prize amongst the Rover V8 model gearboxes is the fi vespeed, and the later (1995) R380 box is capable of a really sweet change. 

The fi ve-speeds were hitched either to carb or fuel injection eights, or the later (post Summer 1989) 3.9 injection unit. From a production driving viewpoint, that’s one to have, but the fi ve-speed models are comparatively common (2100+ made) as they were sold/exported from January 1977 onward. It is also worth knowing that 1986 saw the factory adopt a Cuprinol-based preservative for the signifi cant wood chassis components, infl uencing durability decisions. Not all Rover V8 motors are born equal and in Morgan production the 3.5s wore SU then Stromberg carburettors with a 10.5:1 compression featured. Note that quoted power ex-factory varied from a 1973 low of 143 horsepower to 217 in 1997 with Lucas fuel injection fi tted! If acceleration is your thing (and no Plus 8 is slow), later is better: I would opt for the well proven Bosch L-Jetronic variant also arriving in 1983, ousted when the lustier 3.9 stretch arrived in 1990.

CLASSIC CHOICE

A 4.6-litre (ex Range Rover) was the biggest optional gun, offering a muscular 261lbft torque. Yet the investment here would be a Morgan Green Le Mans 1962 limited edition, offered in Summer 2002 with unique white carbon fi bre hardtop and racy trim. Just 80 were made, sold out within days, either as 1.8-litre 4/4s or 3.9-litre Plus 8s. Today, BMW power remains a potent and suave servant. However, the Plus 8’s price has accelerated faster than 0-60mph stats, but there is always the stripped out (no windscreen or weather equipment) and faster Speedster. At a £15,205 saving, cheaper could be a real investment, since only 60 Speedsters are scheduled for 2014 manufacture and a German dealer bought 10 of the fi rst 30 made… 

BEHIND THE WHEEL? YESTERDAY’S PLUS 8 

“Real sports car motoring returned with the advent of the Morgan Plus 8, which combines dragster like straight line acceleration with the crudest road holding and suspension in the game.It even retains the harsh Moss gearbox of the Morgan Plus 4 and earlier Jaguars.” That was the legendary William Boddy, editor of Motor Sport magazine for a Guinness Book of Records term, summing up the original 1968 Morgan Plus 8. My job, as a junior, was to take this medieval Morgan with a memorably fabulous power to weight ratio back from central London to Malvern HQ, preferably without crashing it.

There was also the contrast of rocker switches in that central panel rather than the traditional toggle switches of earlier eras. Luckily I did not have to wrestle with the hood – still not the most amiable of operations for today’s plush mohair weather protection – a sunny day and a V8 sports car to drive were rather more appealing to a 24 year old. There was another wrestling match win though, that with the heavyweight Moss gearbox without synchromesh on fi rst and not much detectable synchronisation thereafter. However, since the V8 was in low (Range Rover) tune with strong torque evident from 1000rpm upward in top gear, the gear change was not an obstruction to a fun long run.

I was used to tuned and standard Lotus Elans/7s, Minis, Imps and Fords of the late 1960s, but they all had consistent levels of grip, especially my favourite Lotus models. So when I power dived down into a gentle motorway dip and curve at more than 115 exhilaratingly breezy mph, I thought absent traffi c and the tech spec would see me through, no drama. Riding on 185 wide (for 1968 anyway) tyres, armed with quirky and suddenly over centre but quick steering (2.4 turns of lock) and rigid suspension with no apparent body lean – what could possibly go wrong? Erring on the side of caution, I picked a path from left hand to right hand sides of the three-lane motorway layout. 

Mog and I started to turn left as planned, but the middle lane was a hop, skip, and jump blur. We did land safely in the Fast Lane and I landed this fl yweight V8 without the benefi t of discernible aerodynamics – just about! The rest of the trip was calmer, but deeply enjoyable as we sped over the main and country roads leading to Morgan. The train trip back home was slow, boring and involved station changes, time to refl ect to my fi rst Morgan experience. Back then my sports car instincts was Lotus on a used MG Midget income, but Morgans stayed special, especially when I drove a successful race spec example for an Autocar test at Silverstone and surrounds (registered MOG 1!). 

Perhaps because I am much older now with a few more four-cylinder miles accrued alongside the V8s, I appreciate their breeding and staunchly individual craftsmanship more today than back in the sixties. BEHIND THE WHEEL? TODAY Today, Morgan’s rebadged BMW V8s measure 4.8-litres, lacking the turbochargers of current Munich motors, adding more than 200 horsepower to the 1968 Plus 8 recipe. Plus 8s are an expensive minority within Morgan’s annual 1,200 production, the startling comeback success of the Mog three-wheeler occupying half of 2014 output. Yet Morgan has sold more 1000 Morgan-BMWs resting on the aluminium chassis, clothed in handbeaten or Superform alloy composites. They appear both as a closed Aero Coupé, or within convertibles but carrying Plus 8 nameplates.

“The Plus 8 is now the perfect marriage between retro icon with leading edge technology underneath,” says youthful James Gilbert from Morgan’s media department. But then he would say that, wouldn’t he? Yet, burbling back to Morgan at the end of an exhilarating drive, it is diffi cult to argue. Every mile is memorable as this Morgan allies acceleration in the road rocket zone (4.5 seconds intrudes between zero and 62mph), to sixth gear docility and seductively classy charm. The detail fi nish of this Anglo-German sports car is a major attraction. Some well-polished Ash hardwoods blend into the dashboard and doors. Not so keen on numerous louvres and vents for that long snout and rear panel, but the machined metal for gear lever and handbrake are visible, tactile, pleasures. 

The cockpit is seductive, pale brown leathers a standout in an automotive world rammed with harsh hides that look like plastics in 50 shades of drab. The leather rim wheel, featuring bright metallic detailing to spokes and boss is more attractive than most current airbag items, but a passenger side SRS bag folds within a distinctly down-market plain plastic panel. Carpeting is lush and you are cosseted with standard air conditioning. We had the ZF six-speed automatic fi tted (manual six-speed is a no cost option), allowing a generous footrest and steering wheel paddle shifts. 

Starting the Plus 8 is an event: twist a conventional key, press a Start button and wait for exhaust echoes that makes an offi cial Urban economy fi gure of 16 Imperial mpg sound worth it. From factory parking lot gurgles onto outright aggression, only a race V8 does it better. Over tight lanes, the driver feedbacks are mixed from fabulous to truly retro, the latter traits not always welcome. The 2014 ride was mildly more absorbent than 2001 Aero Morgan-BMWs, despite this demonstrator wearing 19-inch diameter Rays wheels, supporting fat 225/35Z and oversize 245/35Z rears from Avon-Cooper.

As the elongated bonnet nods over the gentler contours of wider roads and the rev-counter settles to 2000rpm at motorway velocities, our sunshine mood persists in the face of some quirky Morgan dynamics. The quick steering goes through a disconcerting over-centre patch as you apply tighter cornering lock and the turning circle is truck-like. There is still fl exing and creaking over the kind of country lane surfaces that Morgan drivers should enjoy. Body and screen movement under duress is improved over that 1968 Plus 8, but so it should be!

SPECIALIST VIEW FROM ALLON WHITE SPORTS CARS 

ORIGINAL PLUS 8 

Loads of character from a nice, low revving V8 that provides plenty of grunt. The cars are mechanically quite simple and easy to look after and capable of running up high mileages without drama. Reasonably easy to fi nd, with good ones available from £25,000 and depreciation is negligible. For many, this is the ultimate big Morgan and encapsulates everything that the Morgan Motor Company is about. 

NEW PLUS 8 

Combines the best of both worlds – traditional Morgan styling married to a thoroughly modern engine, chassis and running gear. The bonded aluminium chassis and independent suspension gives excellent handling and a refi ned ride. A superb 4.8-litre BMW V8 produces nearly 370 bhp and ensures superb performance. Probably will be the last of the classic styled Morgans to feature a V8 and will be quite rare – so best grab one whilst you can!

TIMELINES

1968 

Best known for its four-cylinder traditional sportsters, Morgan did a bold thing in the late 1960s by slotting in the evergreen Rover V8 unit to create the Plus 8. The fi rst featured a 3528cc 160bhp Rover V8, mated to a Moss four-speed gearbox but without synchromesh on fi rst gear. 

1972 

To make driving a bit easier, an all-synchro ‘box from the P6 3500S was fi tted while the bodyshell was widened by two inches, to 59 inches for more cockpit space. 

1976 

The engine was donated by the SD1, complete with a slick fi vespeed gearbox; there was now 155bhp on offer

1977 

The bodyshell was widened further to 62 inches for added cockpit space and in 1977 another inch was added to the girth. In this same year, alloy panels became optional across the range. 

1984 

The Plus 8’s twin SU carbs had been replaced by electronic fuel injection by now and as a result liberated a stonking 190bhp coupled to a modern diesel-like 220lb ft of torque. 

1990 

Things got even wilder with the arrival of Rover’s enlarged 3946cc lump for the Plus 8 – giving up to 235lb ft of torque. The Plus 8 soldiered on until 2003, when it was fi nally canned because of emissions regulations. 

2001 

Aero 8 with BMW V8 power, fi rst 4.4, then 4.8-litres for 2008. First Morgan to discard past design and adopt a CAD/CAM designed aluminium chassis and frame with modern suspension set up.

 

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