Wednesday January 24, 2018
Just suppose that it is 1968 and you are in the fortunate position of having £1,500 to spend on an open-topped car. Then, flicking through the current issue of Motor, you read of a vehicle that ‘has no real rivals but occupies its own little niche in the market’ and moreover one with a V8 engine that costs £1,475 with seat belts an extra £12 12s 9d. And with the hood lowered, who could possibly resist the new Morgan Plus 8?
Two years earlier, Rover’s great Technical director Peter Wilks paid a visit to Malvern to meet with Mr. Peter Morgan, the Chairman of the famous firm, and the result of that meeting was that the ex-Buick would be used in a new sports car. The Plus 4 had been in production since 1950 and latterly boasted power from the Triumph TR4. However, the debut of the TR5 in 1967 marked the end of the 2-Litre ‘Big Four’ and the replacement six-cylinder unit was too large for the Morgan’s engine bay. But, with the lightweight 3.5 litre plant the company’s formula would be transformed.
Heading up the Plus 8 project was the racing engineer Maurice Owen and his team worked on modifying the Plus 4 to accommodate the larger engine. The wooden floor was replaced with a steel panel, the chassis was reinforced, the body was slightly enlarged and a new collapsible steering column and revised switchgear reflected the latest safety regulations in the USA export market. The Moss gearbox was retained as were the detachable side screens and the almost defiantly primitive hood.
The Plus 8 was launched at the ’68 London Motor Show where, to put it mildly, its appearance was in a marked contrast to almost every new car of that year. Even after visitors to Earls Court had marvelled at the Jaguar XJ6, the Reliant Scimitar GTE, the Triumph 2.5 PI, the Volvo 164 and many other fine vehicles, the Morgan stood out as a truly individualistic vehicle. Its looks may have had strong pre-war overtones, conjuring images of chaps in flat hats and jaunty cravats off to the races but the alloy wheels denoted a car capable of 0-100 in 19 seconds; acceleration that was definitely in line with the motorway age.
The latest Morgan induced in the Motor Sport reviewer a sense of ‘nostalgia for the days of pre-war trials, of exploring good country in exciting cars’ with ‘memories of V8 and V12 Mallards come crowding back’ but a top speed of 125 mph was superior to the MGC, Triumph TR5 and Lotus Elan. The ride was not one of the smoothest but this was of little account to the true devotee of the marque. Dash it all, supple suspension was the province of decadent long-haired types, for this was a sports car in the tradition of Tim Birkin, albeit with 1960s overtones. This theme of ancient and modern extended to the equipment – in place of the non-adjustable seats of earlier Morgan’s there were now sliding Rest all buckets and a control for hazard flashers but heating was still via a "fug stirrer" unit in the passenger footwall - and with no provision for an interior demister.
Morgan built the Plus 8 until 2004, with a famous revival in 2012 and this year will see an extremely splendid limited edition model to celebrate the model’s 50th birthday - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJLqg4jrnJ4. Of the original version, it indeed has an appeal that is idiosyncratic, authentic and quite sublime. And if Terry-Thomas did not run a Morgan Plus 8 in the late 1960s, he jolly well ought to have done.