Morgan is probably one of very few British companies that still has a spring in its step during lockdown. The Malvern firm’s first big international launch for the Plus Four has had to be postponed due to the disruption of the pandemic, but you sense the work done just before it temporarily shut up shop was enough to get over the hill, one it had been climbing since the first digital drawings of its ground-breaking CX platform were produced more than four years ago. Along with the Plus Six, the already-popular Plus Four has put Morgan on a totally new path, one that head of design Jon Wells thinks will enable his team to make some pretty bold moves with subsequent products – both aesthetically and technically.
“It’s no secret that we’ve a space at the top of our line-up for an Aero successor,” Wells, a member of the Morgan Cars family for twelve years, tells PH. “Its successor is being worked on and, without giving too much away, we’re prepared to go further than we’ve done before thanks to the flexibility of the CX platform. There’s no monocoque so we’re certainly not tied to one look, we’ve shown with the Plus Four how different the platform can become, and with the BMW engine partnership, we’ve a great supply of powertrains to choose from.”
How does a turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 two-seater to succeed the AeroMax sound? From the tone of his voice on the phone, it seems Wells is on board with the suggestion, but he refrains from getting into the future halo model’s specifics. Right now “it’s about the Plus Four”, he says. Instead, he leaves the door wide open, stating that the “CX platform had flexibility designed into it from the start, so we could use a higher specification of BMW’s modular engines [including the Plus Six’s 3.0-litre B58] or even go down the alternative fuel route. That’s certainly something we know about thanks to the hydrogen fuel cell LIFEcar and EV3 project from a few years back”.
Ah yes, electric. Something not even a brand as firmly tied to tradition as Morgan has been able to avoid. Not that it’s ever wanted to, as the EV3 showed the firm has plenty of ideas when it comes to zero-emission motoring. He says the shelved 2016 model continues to have an impact to this day, with the response to its reveal demonstrating “that people want to see Morgan doing new things for the future”, while “keeping to [its] heritage and remaining a genuine, authentic coach-built car”. The company trained its dealer network to work on EVs so it’s ready to hit the ground running. And, handily for Wells, the packaging freedom offered by an electric car is self evident.
“But when it comes to EVs, we’re making an electric Morgan, not making a Morgan electric,” he affirms. “And there are things that I’d like to retain even the most forward-thinking designs; like the driver will always sit just behind the car’s centre line, behind an A-pillar on the centre and with a dramatic view down the bonnet. That proportion probably stays but beyond that we’re free to play with the Morgan philosophy, so you can expect something to illustrate that it has performance, but without looking too aggressive. How do you maintain the Morgan identity without an intake? We’re thinking about that, with functional design as priority.”
Wells refers to the EV3’s brass fins, there to keep the batteries cool, as an example of EV functionality that’s aesthetically-pleasing and “adds to the car’s story”. He admits that round headlights are likely to remain a staple feature of the Morgan face no matter the powerplant behind them, although new LED technology does allow for variations of the inner details.
The same goes for the wood that mounts to the CX structure, which Wells expects to remain across the board due to the production freedoms it enables, like “actually changing the shape of the car without affecting the platform beneath”. That’s not to say that Morgan wouldn’t consider other things; Wells points to the EV3’s use of sustainably-sourced carbon as evidence of the changes that could be brought about when relevant. But the company needn’t forget about the technical merits of its unique wood-framed engineering.
It does, however, need to consider the potential wider-reaches of its CX platform cars. With improvements to NVH and refinement provided by the aluminium, CAD structure (so no more “pencil and pad sketches”), Wells isn’t the only one expecting the firm’s present customer base – typically men aged between 45 and 60 – to expand. Retro style is at the height of fashion, after all, and Wells is fully aware of a growing hunger for film cameras and vintage clothes, a trend Morgan is well placed to take advantage of. It seems to be going well, despite the impacts of coronavirus; Morgan received record levels of online exposure with the Plus Four, a car the company reckons could become a driver’s favourite thanks to its manual gearbox and one-tonne kerbweight.
“We’re also at a stage now where we can consider future technological and safety regulations before they’re implemented, rather than always reacting as we used to before CX,” Wells says. “We think about pedestrian impacts, which require clear space between the car’s front and engine, and how to place cameras for driver assistance tech, which normally spoils the A-pillar’s lines. And we’ve already proven that we can effectively cool a hot turbocharged engine in what’s a very tight package, while showing that we can make modern wishbone suspension work with a bespoke wire-wheel design. Our pot of technology available for future cars is really very large.”
2020 might not go down in history as a particularly favourable year, but as far as Morgan’s story is concerned, it’s looking like a turning point. Wells says the Plus Four’s enquiry list exceeded expectation, suggesting that once things return to normal, the brand will expect to hit the ground running. Using his enthusiasm as a guide, it’s what’s to come after that which will really get the marque into its 21st century stride. For now, Morgan’s design boss is “itching to get back out on the road for a drive.” We couldn’t agree more.
On a stunning road trip to the Gamble House, we rediscover the joy of doing things the old way.
The gamble house is the greatest surviving example of American Arts and Crafts-style architecture, and it was saved by an offhand comment. Completed in 1909, the peak of that building style in Southern California, the house was considered passé by the mid-1940s. The owners wanted to sell the place until someone suggested painting all the woodwork white, “so it won’t be so dark in here.” Instead, they took the house off the market, kept it in the family, and in 1966, gifted it to the city of Pasadena. The residence is now a historic landmark, preserved and maintained by the University of Southern California School of Architecture.
Decades later, we’re in an Arts and Crafts resurgence. The forgotten style is now sought after in antique furniture and original buildings. “It’s lasted more than twice as long in its rediscovery as it did in the first place,” Robert Siminger, a docent at the Gamble House, told me.
The Morgan Plus 4 I parked in the driveway shares something with the residence. Each is of a kind, created to remind us of the joy in simplicity. Introduced in 1950, the Plus 4 was discontinued, revived, canceled, and, in 2005, reintroduced again. Built by a small, family-founded firm in England, the car has been in production as a throwback for longer than it existed as a contemporary design. And now, for the first time in years, you can buy one in the United States, brand-new. A few days before our long weekend with the Plus 4, I showed my girlfriend Natalie a picture of the car, all pouncing fenders and pert headlights. Gumballs on the doors, no bumpers. The perfect air of an old race car, despite the fact that the car is neither a race car nor technically old.
“It’s going to ride terribly,” I warned her. “If it rains, we’re screwed. If it gets cold, we’re screwed. There’s no trunk. The body is made mostly of hope, and it’s all comically unsafe.”
Natalie eyed the Plus 4 the way she looks at Christian Bale. I might as well have been warning her about sunburn while booking tickets for Waikiki. “We’ll be fine,” she scoffed.
We picked the car up at Morgan West, a dealership in Santa Monica, and spent the rest of the day roaming Southern California. Los Angeles is car-blind. Monotonously good weather and an obsession with image make six-figure supercars as common as mailboxes. You go wailing down Sepulveda Boulevard in some carbon-fiber drop-top, nobody bothers to look up from their phone. Not so with the Plus 4. Not since 1968 has the model been an official U.S. import, but it now crosses our border as a “component car,” with a drivetrain in a separate crate and installed upon delivery. Other similarly shaped Morgans (the Plus 8, the 4/4) came to the U.S. in small quantities in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, but any car from the marque’s small village of Malvern is a rare sight in the States.
So people stop and gawk. They snap photos and shout questions. The Plus 4 doesn’t project wealth or power. It’s approachable, and it extends that grace to anyone sitting inside. Nobody could be scowly or standoffish in a car with such a wide-eyed, pleasant face.
Or such a small footprint. Photos don’t do justice to the car’s scale. Those sweeping fenders are based on a design Morgan first put into production in the Thirties. They evoke huge, stately coupes á la Cruella De Vil, but the Plus 4 is nine inches shorter and more than a foot narrower than today’s Miata. You sit in the thing like a kayaker, bodywork barely reaching your elbow, looking like you’ve wrapped the hood around outstretched legs. And you drive it with your heels together. The steering wheel and windshield are both about a foot closer than in modern cars, coaxing you into the bent-elbow driving position of prewar racing heroes. The seat snuggles up to the rear axle, inches behind your spine and way behind the car’s longitudinal center. You turn the wheel and watch that long, tapered nose swing into the corner as if you were sitting in the back of a bus.
The ride is… taxing. Morgan founder Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan designed his signature sliding-pillar front suspension back in 1909, and the company has since seen little reason to mess with it. Our car, on sport springs, informed us of every dip, sway, and imperfection in the road. On certain stretches of freeway, the Morgan picked up a strong front-to-back seesaw motion. You nod along helplessly, looking like you’re vigorously jamming out to the eighth notes of a hot jazz number.
Bless all of it in its glorious imperfection. It is impossible to drive a Morgan distracted. The manual steering tells you how much weight is on the front axle down to the pound. The firm brake pedal will lock up all four tires on a panic stop. The exhaust thrums like the getaway car in a black-and-white movie. The drivetrain is deeply plebian—2.0-liter, direct-injected, Ford four-cylinder, and a five-speed manual borrowed from an early Miata, 180 horsepower to the leaf-sprung solid rear axle—but sitting down there, low enough to palm the pavement, wind trying to steal your sunglasses, it’s all exhilarating. And unmistakably a product of the nation that birthed Luddites, that launched the Arts and Crafts movement. A sense of keeping the old ways alive with ancient dedication. Writing about the history of the movement in 2002, British architecture historian Alan Crawford said, “Unlike their counterparts in the United States, most Arts and Crafts practitioners in Britain had strong, slightly incoherent, negative feelings about machinery.”
No wonder no other nation produces brand-new cars with structural components made from wood.
In an essay explaining Arts and Crafts at its beginning, the English artist Walter Crane in 1893 described “a protest against the turning of men into machines.” The movement began in Scotland, at the end of the 19th century, as people left their farms and villages to live in cities and work in factories. The labor was often dangerous and always dull, and the products felt cheap and artificial, designed for profitability over functional utility or enjoyment. “The concern that the Arts and Crafts movement was trying to address was that people were becoming ‘alienated from their work,’” Jennifer Trotoux, interim director and curator at the Gamble House, says. “If you were doing just one repetitive thing all day long, you didn’t see the big picture of what you were creating. That was considered an unhealthy mode of work.”
“The whole point of the movement was to go back to a simpler life,” Siminger says. “The house itself was as much a part of the art as the objects within the house.”
Every visible surface of the Gamble House has thus been shaped and styled by human hands. Huge timbers span the structure, traversing every upstairs room and making the home feel like an upturned wooden ship. The details draw your eye closer until you’re fully consumed by items you wouldn’t give a passing glance anywhere else—the metal straps cinching two joists, the joinery of a picture frame, the way every corner of every brick in a fireplace has been hand-filed to make it friendlier, more approachable. There are no finish nails covered by putty, no joints painted over. Artisans capped every fastener with a contrasting piece of wood. “The house is telling you about itself: ‘This is how I’m held together. This is what I’m made of,’” Trotoux says.
An entire generation of California bungalows have Arts and Crafts touches, but Gamble House luxuriates in the style. Architect brothers Charles and Henry Greene had an unlimited budget to create both the structure and nearly everything inside it. They finished each room in its own exotic wood—mahogany, teak, cedar, fir—with intricate custom furniture to match, all chosen to evoke a particular mood. Aunt Julia’s bedroom, upstairs in the southwest corner, is warm and hushed. The flooring and furniture are made of blond ash—the same flexible, resilient stock found in the Morgan’s wooden framework.
Gamble House cost around $50,000 to build in 1908—roughly $1.4 million in 2019. To recreate it now would take far more. Old-growth exotic woods in these sizes and quantities are basically impossible to come by. Even at the turn of the last century, amassing such a timber collection was virtually unheard of.
And that gets us to an irony. Maybe you recognize the Gamble name—as in Procter & Gamble, the giant industrial manufacturer founded in Cincinnati in 1837, still one of the world’s largest corporations. Ivory soap, and a contract to supply it to the Union Army during the Civil War, made millionaires of P&G’s founders. David Berry Gamble, second-generation, commissioned the California house as a retirement retreat. An architectural movement launched as a rebuke against industrialization came to comfort a man whose name is synonymous with America’s industrial revolution.
There’s some symmetry here. The Morgan is far from our standard definition of luxury, but with no options, a Plus 4 will run you $70,000. Our test car, loaded, commands $90,000. Door check straps are optional. The Plus 4, like every modern Mog, is clearly meant for occasional use, a plaything for those wealthy enough to spend BMW M4 money on a car built like a shed, and tenacious enough to snag one of the 50 to 100 examples Morgan says it will ship to the U.S. annually.
The car has seen updates, concessions to modernity, but Malvern has been smart enough to keep most of them buried. It took us two days to discover the stereo, a detachable-faceplate head unit tucked under the dash and against the firewall. Reaching the volume knob is like grasping for your shoelace with your seatbelt on. No matter: Wind noise completely drowns out the speakers above 30 mph. And even in sunny Southern California, the car can seem underdressed for the weather. Erecting the mohair top requires two people and a week of steady practice. Still, with the roof closed, the side curtains jabbed into place, and heat blowing from the two swivel vents hidden in the footwells, the Plus 4 is delightfully cozy. The gauges give off the warm sans-serif glow of an old console radio. A cool breeze sneaks in at the rear edge of the door and whispers at your elbow.
Every good convertible feels like a secret, special place with the roof up—an intimate, slightly clandestine hideout for two people who enjoy each other’s company. The Morgan, its side windows rising only about as high as your nose, reminds you of the joy of being hidden from the world while traveling through it. Somewhere in the middle of the crossover explosion, we forgot that we don’t need acres of glass to operate a motor vehicle. We can simply duck to a low window to check in with the rest of society.
Twenty-first-century luxury yearns to disappear, smooth and seamless, and from a certain perspective, the idea is noble. It banishes ornery design, anticipating every desire. We like to think this frees us to put our minds to greater problems. But the result is domestic amnesia, when you walk into a room and don’t know why you’re there, or when you get to your destination and recall nothing about the drive. Worry behaves like a gas; it expands to fill the space we give it. Short of giving everyone a Gamble House to hide out in, psychologists should prescribe Morgans as therapy.
These are modern problems, of course. To have too much stuff, so cheap and ubiquitous as to be sickening. To be so catered to and comforted as to be anxious. It’s hard to acknowledge these ills without sounding like a spoiled child, surrounded by toys but still not having fun.
Somehow, the auto industry manages to embody both of these diverging traits, cranking out charmless, disposable cars that do most of the thinking for us. And here, we find our brethren. Gamble House docent Robert Siminger drives a wicked little Ford Model A hot rod to give tours of the residence. I chatted with a master carpenter in the driveway as he loaded tools into a small-window 1967 GMC pickup. Several Gamble House volunteers, when they’re not in Pasadena, donate time to the Petersen Automotive Museum, just a half hour away.
Nice to know there are folks like us out there, people who aren’t satisfied by cheap consumerism or cosseting luxury. Artisans keeping the old craftsman ways alive— at home and on the road.
[The Morgan Three Wheeler Club (MTWC), in the UK, has an interesting scheme whereas members who have too many cars, or for various other reasons, loan a Morgan out to other, and in some cases young(er), folks.
It is a bit of a win-win as the other folks get to experience life with a classic car that they might not be able to afford at the moment and the car owner gets the car looked after by knowledgeable club members (not necessarily those borrowing the car) and run routinely (we all know the importance of running the car every so often). The club (MTWC) also pays for the borrower’s car insurance.
It is an interesting idea and I have to believe a four wheeled Morgan would work just as well as a three wheeled car.
This little video was made by the borrowing couple as an omage to the car (Mabel) they borrowed for the last two years. The car has now gone on to someone else.
It would appear that the MTWC has two vehicles being loaned out at the moment. Enjoy, Mark ]
From the MTWC Web Site (edited a bit): Holly and subsequently Scott borrowed a 1934 Super Sports JAP through the Classic Car Loan Scheme over the last two years. Mabel presented a few minor trials and tribulations but more often provided great fun and became an integral part of the Davies/Cornish Family.
Last weekend, Lancs & Lakes Group members collected Mabel as Steve is to borrow the S/S for the next 12 months.
Scott’s words: Mabel unfortunately left us yesterday on the back of a trailer, leaving a big hole in our garage and newly formed classic car shaped hearts. Whilst we are a little sad of her departure, we also so grateful that we got this opportunity. Words cannot describe the totally surreal and privileged position of borrowing her for not one but two years. Thanks to all for making this happen!
I published Programmes 1 & 2 a few days ago. This is a third programme that has just been made available. These videos were made in early 2009 during Morgan’s Centenary celebrations. These were originally available to purchase, however this is the first time these programmes have been made available for free.Enjoy, Mark
Many of you may have seen this a few years ago, as these were made in January to March 2009 during Morgan’s Centenary celebrations. These were originally available to purchase, however this is the first time these programmes have been made available for free.
There is a third programme that will not be available until Friday. I will watch for it and post it as soon as I can. Enjoy, Mark
BY CHRIS POLLITT April 12, 2020 (https://www.carandclassic.co.uk/)
Photography by Bruce Holder
The lead shot for this feature wasn’t easy to get. A close-knit tracking shot is only ever millimetres away from looking like a Hollywood car crash, so you have to have your wits about you. On this occasion, that was somewhat difficult. There was a Morgan ARP4 ahead of me, and ahead of that was the Land Rover Defender tracking car, from which our photographer, Bruce Holder, was dangling precariously.
To my right, almost close enough to touch, was a Caterham Seven, exhausts barking while Paul, the driver, jostled for the perfect position to satisfy Bruce’s eye. As for me, I was in the Lotus Evora. I’ve already put plenty of miles on an ARP4. Plus, my mop of hair would have ruined the shot had I been in the lead car sans roof. Besides, I didn’t mind driving the Lotus, especially having discovered the button that makes the exhaust system even louder.
So why was it so difficult? Quite simply, because it was one hell of a distraction. Yes, other motorists were left agog at the sight of us three bombing along while a man on a string tried to take pictures (special acknowledgement goes to the man who’s chin was quite literally on his dash as he drank in the spectacle), but so was I. It was a hell of a moment. Three cars (four if you include the Defender) that all show why us Brits are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to going fast. When it comes to sports cars, Britain is at the top of its game.
Yes, it’s been a turbulent journey, with many great names falling by the wayside over the decades. But even though many British sports car builders have gone, that doesn’t mean we’ve been left with the dregs – far from it in fact. What we have now are the purest cars, the machines that have survived and evolved with such commitment that they have escaped our nation’s involuntary automotive cull. Basically, we’ve got the best of the best. But even so, that begs the question; which one floats my boat? And what of the ones that don’t?
To work that out, we have to look at the other cars flanking the ARP4. First of all, we have the Caterham Seven. Small enough to park under your stairs but with enough punch to rip them from the foundations, it’s a little brute. Obviously its origins are intertwined with Lotus, given that the Caterham started as Lotus Seven built under licence, but that’s where the ties end. A modern Caterham does not try to win over a modern Lotus customer. It’s too wild, too bare, and
too barmy in fact. The Caterham Seven, in any guise, exists to appeal to those of us who put speed and excitement above all else. There are no compromises with this car. There is no boot, no creature comforts of any kind. It’s just man and machine working together; nothing more, nothing less.
Power-wise, the Seven is available with various outputs. In the case of the 310 we had our hands on, 152bhp was on tap from the 1.6-litre Sigma Ti-VCT engine, pushed through a five-speed transmission to the rear wheels. If that engine sounds familiar, that’s because it is. You’ll find it under the winged bonnet of a current Morgan 4/4. In the Malvern offering though, it’s a tame 110bhp unit that gently encourages the Morgan along. In the Caterham, it’s a different animal thanks to more power and a lot less weight. The Seven moves the scales to 540kg, which is about the same as the weekly ‘big shop’.
Drive the Seven and you need to adjust. Not only is your face contorted in ways you didn’t think possible by the rushing air, your body is also shocked. This thing is wild, untamed almost. It has no godly right to be as shouty, as outright fast and ultimately, as raw as it is. It feels unfinished, but not in a negligent sense. It just feels like it’s not a full car, it’s so light and basic. Given its tiny weight and silly power combination, you’d assume that the Seven has no grip. To do so would be to assume incorrectly. The De Dion semi-independent rear can put the power down without worry, while the front double-wishbone set-up ensures that the direct and mechanical steering points the car exactly where you want it.
Disc brakes all round with no end of bite make sure you don’t end up in a tree. Driving a Morgan is an occasion, it’s an event. That’s why we love them. The Seven? It’s a swift kick to the senses. We love it, but for some, it may be a bit much. You can’t drive a Caterham in a civilised
manner. It’s the devil on your shoulder, the terrier tugging at its lead; it wants to go wild at all times. We applaud it for that but at the same time, we’re not sure we could live with it. It’s a car to be enjoyed when the mood takes you, not to be suffered when it doesn’t.
At the other end of the scale is the Lotus Evora. Full-bodied, it feels wider than it has any right to. But out of the three cars here, it also feels the most conventional and ‘car like’. Sitting in this thing, it’s obvious that the Evora is the kind of car that can swallow the miles while still rewarding the driver when he or she wants to push the pedal into the carpet. And rewarded you are. The Evora we have here is a 410, which as the name suggests, has 410bhp.
The Evora is an enigmatic beast. I won’t lie, I’ve never driven one before this and when I did, I was astonished by how quiet and civilised it was. You really could use an Evora every day, providing of course you’re limber enough to clamber into it on a regular basis. It doesn’t feel fragile or delicate; it felt tough and well engineered. It’s clear that Lotus has upped its game considerably over the years. But with a price tag around £80,000, so it damn well should.
Powered by a 3.5 litre 24-valve V6 complete with an Edelbrock supercharger, there’s no doubt that this is a powerful car. But even so, it drives around with ease and without drama. You can quickly change that. A button on the dash allows you to make the exhaust louder, which is good for a giggle. If you want more, the Sport and Race buttons focus the Evora even more. The most remarkable transformation, however, simply comes via pressure on the accelerator. Give it a stab, hold it in gear and the Evora comes alive. The bark from the engine is incredible and with it, addictive. The suspension is firm but remarkably forgiving. The gear-change is mechanical and direct.
To drive an Evora fast is to be a part of the experience, not just a passenger. Back off though, and it’s just a car – albeit one with terrible rear visibility. We liked it – a lot. You get out of an Evora what you put into it. You’re in control, and that’s nice. But at the same time, we can’t help but feel it lacks a little soul. The switch between its ‘moods’ is so vast that it’s hard to bond with. It’s one thing or the other, but without any real emotion.
Finally, we have the ARP4. Even with its 225bhp Cosworth 2.0-litre Ford engine and modern, opinion-splitting LED headlights, it’s still far more anachronistic than the Lotus and even the Caterham. It looks classic despite being new. The lines of a Morgan are from the past, and it’s proud of it. It’s charming and enigmatic just from an aesthetic standpoint. As for the drive, yes, it’s firm and somewhat unforgiving on the more poorly-maintained surfaces but even so, you know where you are with it.
The Caterham is wild and angry at any pace. The Evora? It has the potential to be many things, but it needs you to choose via the onboard nodes. The ARP4 is a mix of all that. The engine has charm and character, whether you’re going 30 or 130mph. The only difference being that it shouts a bit louder at the latter.
It’s a balanced car, by which I mean it has no shifting personality. It takes very little time to bond with any Morgan and the ARP4 is no exception. It wants you to like it from the off and when you push it, it rewards you. You don’t need to be The Stig to get the most of it, but if you are, you’ll be rewarded appropriately.
Price-wise, the ARP4 we had here can be yours for £60,000, which when put alongside the Caterham’s £30k and the Evora’s £80k, plonks it firmly in the middle. But it’s not a middling car. I’m not saying this with Morgan’s crosshairs aimed firmly at my temple, I’m saying it because I mean it: I would definitely have the Morgan. It’s a car for when the mood takes you, granted. I am certain that time spent behind the wheel purely out of necessity would mar the experience. But in a way, that thought is moot, as you would never buy such a car for ‘necessity’. You’d buy it for fun. And that’s why the ARP4 shines. It’s pure fun. You just jump in it and go. The Evora is great, but it’s too muted. The Caterham, for me at least, leans too much into compromises. It’s too raw, too full-on. It’s a machine you have to drive at 110%, and that would be exhausting.
For me, the ARP4 is a happy mix of the two, but with infinitely more charm, and charm is something I like in a car. The other two have their merits, of course. I love that as a country, we have cars like these. I loved the Lotus a lot. Its bark was infectious and had I been given more time with it, I’m sure my love would have grown. But even so, I know I would have been the one to provoke and create a reason for that love by driving it hard all the time.
As for the Caterham, I love its unabashed madness, but you’d get sick of it quickly. As I said earlier, it’s a lot. It’s in your face at all times. But don’t get me wrong, I love that we, as great Britain, have these cars on our books. I love that all three are steeped in heritage and I was staggered by how far Lotus has come as a car-maker. But even so, the allure of the Morgan shone through for me. But that’s just me. You may choose a different fighter, and if you do, I’m confident that, as long as you buy it for the right reasons, you will be very happy indeed.
With thanks to Williams Automobiles in Chipping Sodbury, Bristol, who supplied all three cars for this shoot.
[I know many of us have tunnel vision when it comes to modifying the Morgan. “Originality is a must! Modification is simply heresy . . .“
Ok, I get it, but I will have to say that in my opinion, one of the wonders of the Morgan car is the ability to modify it with relative ease. Sometimes, we find a need to improve something in the interest of safety. Sometimes, it is just a wild hare that gets us going. I have a few Morgan cars and have to say all of them have been modified in some way. Some are performance modifications while some are simply cosmetic.
In the midst of one of my efforts, the topic of Spark Plug heat range came up. As usually, I found a void in my understanding. So after a little searching, I found this article. It seems simple and direct so I thought I would share. Cheers, Mark]
Depending on the engine modifications you’ve made, you’ll need to take a few extra factors into consideration before settling on the right spark plugs.
These factors include spark plug seat design, thread length and diameter, and reach. One of the most important – and most misunderstood – factors in choosing aftermarket spark plugs is the heat range.
What is Heat Range?
Heat range is the speed at which a spark plug can transfer heat from the firing tip to the cylinder head water jacket and into the cooling system. Choosing the right heat range is crucial for high performance engines. If the heat range is too cold, the spark plug will be unable to properly self-clean by burning off carbon deposits.
If it the heat range is too hot, your engine could experience detonation, pre-ignition, or power loss. Most spark plug manufacturers recommend that the tip temperature remain between 500° C and 850° C.
Heat ranges are designated by each spark plug manufacturer with a number. In broad terms, spark plugs are often referred to as “hot plugs” or “cold plugs.” A cold plug has a shorter insulator nose length – the distance from tip to spark plug shell – and transfers heat rapidly from its firing tip to the cylinder head water jacket.
Cold plugs are ideal for high rpm engines, forced induction applications, and other instances where the engine produces high operating temperatures. Conversely, hot plugs are good for applications that operate mainly at low rpms. Because they have a longer insulator nose length, heat is transferred from the firing tip to the cooling system at slower pace. This keeps the spark plug temperature high, which allows the plug to self-clean and prevent fouling.
Unfortunately, heat range numbers are not universal – each brand has its own method for assigning heat ranges. You’ll need to talk with your sales rep or consult with the manufacturer to find the best heat range for your application and spark plug brand. Be prepared to supply some basic vehicle information, including any modifications you’ve made.
[The internet is a great source for a given vendor’s spark plug offerings and some provide the relative heat range information. ]
As a rule of thumb, you can expect to require one heat range colder than the factory-supplied plugs for every 75 – 100 horsepower you’ve add with your modifications, according to Champion Spark Plugs. Here are some more basic guidelines to get you pointed in the right direction:
Basic Heat Range Guidelines
[Don’t be afraid to experiment a little. You can always revert to what you have now! Mark]
Increased compression ratio [Common with Morgans]: Higher compression ratios mean higher cylinder pressure and temperature. Once again, you’ll need a colder heat range to rapidly transfer all that extra heat to the cooling system.
Air/fuel mixture modifications [Common with Morgans]: Lean air/fuel mixtures raise the operating temperature, along with the plug tip temperature, possibly causing knock or pre-ignition. Use a colder heat range for leaner air/fuel mixtures. Rich air/fuel mixtures can cause the plug temperature to dip, allowing carbon deposits to build up on the tip. Use a hotter heat range for rich air/fuel mixtures.
Advanced ignition timing [Common with Morgans]: In general, advanced ignition timing will raise the spark plug temperature. In fact, NGK estimates an increase of 70° to 100° for every 10° advance in ignition timing. For this reason, you may need to go with a colder heat range to prevent knock or pre-ignition.
Prolonged acceleration/high speed driving [Common with Morgans]: Frequent and drawn-out acceleration and high-rpm driving raises combustion temperatures and generally requires a colder heat range.
Supercharging/turbocharging[Turbocharging is not unheard of with Morgans however Supercharging is not common]: Forced induction leads to increased cylinder pressure and temperature, which could lead to detonation. Depending on the exact application, you’ll need to go with a significantly colder heat range (faster heat transfer) over stock.
Nitrous oxide [Not common with Morgans]: The high cylinder temperatures caused by nitrous usually requires a colder heat range over the stock plug.
Methanol [Not common with Morgans]: Since it has a higher octane level than standard gasoline, methanol delivers more complete combustion. As a result, you’ll need a colder plug to transfer more heat from the combustion chamber.