Morgan Plus 8 | Features | octane

30 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Morgan Plus 8 | Features | octane
Morgan Plus 8

Forty-four years after its original debut, the Plus 8 is back – this time with 4.8 litres of BMW power and 21st-century technology under those classic curves

We’re pulling away from a roundabout on the ring-road of a Midlands town. It’s Sunday evening and the road is empty, and we’re out cruising in Morgan’s new Plus 8. ‘Does this thing have traction control?’ asks my car-mad passenger, who’s a keen vintage racer. So I floor the accelerator.

The four tail-pipes bellow a V8 battlecry, and the back of the car immediately steps sideways as the tyres give up the fight. And we’re in third gear at the time. No response is necessary: if there is traction control fitted to this Morgan, then it ain’t up to the job.

Hooligan behaviour, certainly, but the Plus 8 has always been that kind of a car. The 3.5-litre Rover original of 1968 was the classic combination of a big engine in a light car, and this 4.8-litre BMW-powered reincarnation takes that simple formula to the extreme. You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to work out that 367bhp in a car weighing 1100kg equates to considerably more than 300bhp per tonne.

Fortunately, there’s much more to the new Plus 8 than simply an excess of power.

The Rover-engined Plus 8 stayed in production a surprisingly long time, and remains Morgan’s single biggest-selling model about 6000 cars. The first prototype (which used a Buick version of the V8 that Rover was then still evaluating for its own cars) was finished in February 1967, and the final production cars were built in March 2004, to be superseded by the radical new Aero 8. Along the way it evolved through 3.9- and 4.6-litre engine capacities, switched from SU carburettors to Strombergs and then to Lucas fuel injection, and grew physically wider.

But what didn’t change was the Plus 8’s raison d’Ϊtre: 911 Turbo-humbling acceleration allied to steam-engine torque. OK, so the ride quality was old-school Morgan the suspension was as old as the company itself, consisting of sliding pillars at the front and a leaf-sprung live axle at the rear but, really, who cared?

All this changed at the end of the millennium, though. By now well into its fourth decade of production, the Rover engine could no longer handle the environmental and technical demands of the 21st century. And Morgan itself, stung by ill-informed media snipes that it was perpetually backward-looking, wanted to reinvent itself.

It did that in a suitably dramatic way by announcing the BMW-engined, Chris Lawrence-developed Aero 8 roadster at the Geneva Motor Show in 2000.

For many, though, the Aero 8 was a step-change too far. Enthusiasts loved the performance but were much less convinced by the cross-eyed looks. I remember the feelings of misgivings I experienced on seeing a pre-launch example at the factory, and I wasn’t in the position of having to decide whether to spend £50,000 for the privilege of owning one.

In truth, it didn’t look that bad but the Morgan hardcore knows what it likes and likes what it knows, and for them the Aero 8 was like a Picasso portrait hung in a gallery previously stocked with Gainsboroughs.

So, for 2012, the company has followed the route many would have preferred to see it take in 2000. The chassis is essentially Aero 8, with the latest development of BMW’s N62-series V8, and it’s clothed in Morgan’s now-familiar Superformed aluminium panels; but the style is unmistakably traditional, albeit funked-up with very 21st-century Italian alloy wheels and, on this example the 2012 Geneva show car lurid orange paint.

Initially, we were disappointed not to see the side-exit exhausts that are an option on the Aero SuperSports coupé. That disappointment didn’t last long. To put it simply, the Plus 8 makes the most glorious, spine-tingling, melodious, inspiring and, yes, loud V8 music you’ve ever heard.

It’s never coarse and you can keep the decibels down if you need to, but the noise alone makes the £85,000 asking price seem halfway palatable.

The good news is that there’s a lot more to like about the Plus 8 than just the sound it makes. We’ve already hinted at its performance; well, the acceleration is literally breathtaking, in that if you squeeze the throttle hard, the resultant shove in your back is enough to expel the air from your lungs or so it seems. The quoted 0-60mph time is 4.5 seconds and there’s so much torque that it scarcely matters which gear you’re in at the time.

Morgan Plus 8

As for top speed Morgan claims 155mph, presumably with the (double-lined) hood up for aerodynamic reasons, although we’d guess that a Plus 8 with no additional spoilers front or rear would be getting pretty exciting well before then. Hood down, we can confirm that the Plus 8 remains quite civilised into three-figure speeds; it’s a bit breezy around the back of your neck, but that’s what scarves are for.

At 5ft 9in across that’s 1751mm in the new money the new Plus 8 is a whole foot wider than the 1970 original shown in our pictures, and that translates into a cockpit that’s perfectly comfortable for modern humans who have, shall we say, benefited from a more substantial diet than previous generations. There’s plenty of legroom, although on this left-hand-drive car, at least the limitations of fitting a cockpit between two running boards mean that there’s no space for a clutch footrest.

Sensibly, Morgan has retained the original car’s dashboard layout that has the speedometer and rev-counter located in the middle of the dash, so taller drivers don’t have to duck down in order to read instruments obscured by a steering wheel rim. That’s a major irritation on the Aeromax and SuperSports, and while the central location works fine, we’d love to see Morgan introduce a head-up display projected onto the windscreen there’s your next challenge, chaps!

Beneath the bespoke alloy panels and between the Aero 8-derived suspension lies 4.8 litres of BMW’s finest V8, bolted to a six-speed BMW manual gearbox or, if you prefer, a six-speed ZF automatic. The manual ’box is lovely to use, being light and sweet-shifting, and clutch and brakes are just as pleasant; the latter feel very progressive and powerful, and you don’t notice them in normal driving, which is the best compliment you can pay.

Oh, and there isn’t any traction control. We checked.

If we have any criticism of the steering less a criticism, more an observation it’s that it’s initially slightly lazy to respond but then sharpens-up quickly, such that you can over-input if you’re not anticipating it and make allowance accordingly. But since this is a prototype car, straight out of build and generously entrusted to us with virtually zero miles on the clock, it would be unfair to read too much into this we remember all too well our drive back from Italy in the prototype Aero SuperSports (Octane 85), whose alarming high-speed wandering tendencies turned out to be due to a batch of faulty track rod ends with insufficient tolerances

And that brings us to Morgan’s bΪte noir for so many years particularly in relation to the original Plus 8 the ride quality. Be not afraid. The new car doesn’t rearrange your internal organs the first time you encounter a bit of broken tarmac. OK, the ride is on the firm side, but it never gets uncomfortable and it would be very acceptable in any performance car, never mind a Morgan.

You could very happily drive this Plus 8 a long distance and would emerge stirred, but not shaken.

That’s rather less true of John Spencer’s 1970 Plus 8, a well-campaigned car that was owned for many years by Jeremy Holden, of accessory retailer Holden Vintage Classic. Both Autocar and Motor tested a similar Plus 8 when new; the former declared that the ride was ‘decidedly uncomfortable over second-class roads’, while the latter said, ‘On grade two surfaces, the ride is so bad that roadholding suffers more than do the passengers.’

Morgan Plus 8
Morgan Plus 8
Morgan Plus 8
Morgan Plus 8
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