Review and road test of the Morgan Convertible 4/4 & Plus Four (1992 to date)
WOODEN IT BE GOOD?
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Morgan is a car company like no other. With a long and illustrious history dating back to 1906 and encompassing all manner of three and four wheeled vehicles, there's a lot to cover in a brief used model guide. Therefore we shall limit ourselves to the models produced since 1992 which still leaves four key product lines in the 4/4, the Plus Four, the Plus Eight and the astonishing Aero8. Buyers who choose Morgan cars tend to cherish their prized possessions and used vehicles are usually scrupulously maintained and generally fairly low mileage. Naturally, you may have to pay for the privilege but you'll be in good company. The register of Morgan owners has included King Juan Carlos, Brigitte Bardot, Nicholas Cage, Whitney Houston, Queen Noor of Jordan, Ralph Lauren, Mick Jagger, Lord March, John Peel, Stirling Moss and Peter Sellers.
Models Covered: 2dr Convertible 4/4, Plus Four, Plus Eight, Aero 8: (1.8, 2.0, 4.0, 4.4 4.6-litre petrol)
The reason we've chosen 1992 as a kick off point was because it was a fairly pivotal year in the history of the Morgan Motor Company. A number of engine changes were made as Morgan re-evaluated its supplier chain. The 4/4 model's 1.6-litre Ford EFI unit was replaced by a far superior 1.8-litre Ford Zeta powerplant while the Plus Four's Rover 2.0-litre M16 engine was replaced with the more modern T16 unit. The company was still recovering from the savaging it had received at the hands of industrialist Sir John Harvey-Jones in his 'Troubleshooter' TV series. His conclusions were at odds with the Morgan family's strident views on how the business should be run, his key contention being the fact that long waiting lists (for which Morgan was famous) were the antithesis of modern customer service. Somewhat perversely, the programme had the effect of attracting hundreds of new orders as viewers were lulled by the obvious loving craftsmanship on display.
1996 saw Morgan re-enter competitive motorsport with some success. Charles Morgan and dealer Bill Wykeham competed in a specially modified Plus Eight in the international BPR race series that metamorphosed into the more familiar FIA GT series the subsequent year. Lessons learned from the racing programme were directly applied to road car production and in 1997 the Plus Eight gained new aluminium superform wings, longer doors, a redesigned fascia that included facility for airbags and, most importantly, the introduction of the 4.6-litre V8 version.
With production output standing at a heady eleven cars a week in early 1999, the yearly output of the factory had not been greater since pre war days. The Geneva Show of the 29th February 2000, however, marked the most significant development in the company's recent history. This was the world debut of the all-new Morgan Aero 8, an all aluminium car that featured a mighty BMW 4.4-litre V8 and controversial styling. Amid a rash of 'Guten Morgan' headlines, motoring writers were rendered dizzy by a car that boasted what a senior BMW engineer described as "the finest non-BMW chassis ever to use a BMW engine."
What You Get
If you're anything like me, you tend to classify cars by the kind of people who drive them. So it is that I imagine a Morgan owner as a straight-backed, rather bluff sort of cove. He's highly opinionated, probably smokes a pipe, has a natty moustache and doesn't suffer fools gladly. Nevertheless, as Rowan Atkinson once put it, "if one had to choose a bloke with whom to be holed up in a trench under heavy enemy fire, no-one could be better than a Morgan owner."
Get the picture? An uncompromising car for the kind of person that laughs at power steering, electric windows and all the modern conveniences of 21st century motoring. A good chap to have in your corner - as long as you don't have to put up with his war stories, endless reminiscences and tobacco smoke for very long.
There are basically three Morgan lines, 4/4, Plus 8 and the flagship Aero 8. The 4/4 offers a few variants all powered by the same 1.8-litre engine. The Plus Eight is a hoarier beast and is available as a two-seater roadster only, having been in continuous production since 1969. Called Aero 8 as a homage to the three-wheeled racing model introduced in 1919, the newcomer is based around an advanced bonded and riveted aluminium chassis. The aerodynamic bodywork's aluminium too, honed apparently in a wind tunnel for a 40% reduction in drag over the existing Plus 8. Other aerodynamic benefits include a flat undertray to improve the airflow beneath the car and a venturi to reduce potential lift at the rear.
Inside, the Aero 8 is claimed to be the most luxurious Morgan ever. All the glass areas (front and rear, plus electrically operated side windows) are heated using invisible heating elements to give clear vision and rapid all-round demisting and defrosting. Air conditioning is available, though unbelievably, you have to pay extra for this and your choice of stereo.
What to Look For
Given that ash frames are still used for construction of traditional Morgan models there's an inspection process to undertake quite unlike any other car. While you don't have to have the car fumigated for deathwatch beetle, it's worth checking the wooden rocker below each door and the sill board beneath it. Open the doors and press your fingers firmly into the cabin's side padding to feel for soft rockers and loose tack pins in the threshold strip. Post 1986 cars are better in this respect than early models due to the fact that most of the wooden parts were treated with Cuprinol wood preservative. Other improvements in the build process introduced in 1986 included wings that were sprayed and then attached to the car. Prior to this the wings were attached and then spray painted in situ. When the body flexed, hey presto, the paint cracked and rust was a problem behind the wing panel.
Engines and gearboxes tend to be tough tried and tested units although it may require an expert to assess the suspension and steering. The key problem that many Morgan cars suffer is underuse. This can lead to problems such as brake calipers seizing, sticky shocks and dampers, perished tyres and rubber hoses and gaskets drying and deteriorating. When offered a low mileage Morgan, take a good look at these parts and go for a long test drive (50 miles plus) accompanied by the vendor.
Parts prices vary wildly and any specific comments here are soon out of date. Seeing as many parts are hand built and hand finished to fit in the factory, off the shelf parts sometimes need a degree of customisation. The factory can still furnish owners with parts from new although some of the older and rare engines can be an issue. That said, a good deal of chassis parts, hoods and ancillaries are on offer from both the factory and Morgan appointed agents up and down the country. With the enthusiast nature of the cars, it's unsurprising that there are a number of websites devoted to the joys of Morgan ownership and this vast network of like-minded souls around the globe can normally turn up the most obscure part or tip.
On the Road
It's impossible to drive a Morgan without realising just what it was that encouraged the early pioneers to build their sportscars in the first place. Behind the wheel, you're open to the elements - and not only the sun or the rain; each pothole is an adventure.
Every ripple, bump and groove in the roadway demands a corrective response from the driver. Every change of direction involves such a heave of the huge steering wheel that you feel more like you're at the helm of a naval gunboat than a sportscar. It doesn't sound an attractive prospect (and in the wet it certainly wouldn't be) but with the roof down and the sun shining, take it from me, it's addictive.
The 4.6-litre Plus Eight storms to sixty in just over 5 seconds courtesy of the same 4.0-litre V8 engine that powered the old Range Rover. You don't worry about that in the Plus Eight - where of course, you're paying significantly less. Thrust back and forth through the rather recalcitrant five-speed gearbox that's fitted to this model and you'll find that this powerplant has astonishing flexibility. Morgan indeed claim it to be one of the world's fastest production cars from 80-120kph in 5th gear. Finally, there's also the flagship Aero 8 model, powered by a 32-valve 4.4-litre BMW V8 developing 286bhp: good enough to take this car to 160mph and from rest to sixty in 4.9s.
Morgan ownership needs to be entered into with a long-term commitment, the cars not being the same as mass-produced sportsters. Bear this in mind and be prepared for a certain amount of character and you should form a long lasting relationship. Despite the addition of the awesome Aero 8 to the range, for most Morgan ownership still means the classic Plus 8 model and it's a car that demands respect. If you feel that modern sports cars lack a little communication and personality try a used Morgan - any model will do. They want for neither.
Morgan Convertible 4/4 & Plus Four (1992 to date) review by ANDY ENRIGHT