The relaunched classic boasts old-school beauty – and breathtaking speed
When jovial business guru the late John Harvey-Jones visited the Morgan Motor Company in 1990 for the BBC’s Troubleshooter show, he declared the firm “almost automatically doomed” due to its outmoded manufacturing and inability to edge production beyond a quaint nine-and-a-half vehicles per week. The waiting list, often 10 years long, that sometimes resulted in would-be owners being laid to rest long before their cars emerged from the factory really would have to be addressed…
Thirty years later, production has soared to a heady 15-plus cars per week (for contrast, Toyota builds more than 13,000 per day on average) and Harvey-Jones’s recommendation to modernise has finally manifested in the most radical leap forward: a redesign of the resolutely retro Plus Four. It’s a key model in the marque’s offering that has remained largely untouched since its introduction in, er, 1950.
Arriving at the ramshackle brick buildings in Pickersleigh Road, Malvern Link, Worcestershire – Morgan’s home since 1914 – I am pleased to see that things still look much the same as ever. The timber store is well stocked with blocks of ash for making the wooden framework to which bodywork and vintage-style running boards are attached; part-finished cars are still being pushed by hand from one build process to another; and there isn’t a robot in sight.
But when it comes to the finished product, Morgan has modernised – and then some. Instead of the steel chassis that formed the basis of the original Plus Four, the new car sports a “CX-Generation” platform made from bonded aluminium, at the front of which sits a two-litre BMW TwinPower Turbo engine tuned to produce a useful 255hp.
The combination of new underpinnings and lightweight aluminium panels set around the signature ash frame make for a weight of a gossamer 1,009kg in the automatic model, giving the car a power-to-weight ratio of 253hp per ton – which makes for true 21st-century sports-car performance (0-62mph in 4.8s and a top speed of 149mph).
Until recently, the Morgan line-up comprised several four-wheel models with similar looks, plus the more aggressively styled Aero Eight and the quirky Three Wheeler that harks back to the brand’s origins as a maker of lightweight “cyclecars”. Now the range has been distilled to comprise the Three Wheeler, Plus Four and Plus Six (an ultra high-performance model also on the CX-Generation platform but with a six-cylinder BMW engine), with the Plus Four set to become the most popular model.
Outside and in, it looks similar to the old car, with the same slightly fiddly manually folding roof, low-cut doors and a cockpit that, while easier to get into, still demands a fair deal of flexibility. Once ingress is achieved, there’s miles of legroom and a comfortingly low-tech dashboard with just the basics: speedo, rev counter, start button and one knob each to control a blower and heater (nothing too precise – just cold, warm or warmer). The flat windscreen is just the same too – so long and narrow that it requires three short wipers to cover its area. The sound system, however, has had an upgrade, with Bluetooth connectivity and some quality speakers for music streaming.
But it’s only in driving the Plus Four that the difference from its predecessor becomes readily apparent. The rigidity of the aluminium platform completely eliminates all of the old model’s shakes and rattles and, combined with up-to-date suspension and braking systems, it’s far smoother, sharper and more relaxing at both low and higher speeds. When the occasion demands, it really is blisteringly, cartoonishly quick…
And with the waiting list now down to six months, you can even have one delivered in the same lifetime.
While Harvey-Jones might not be too pleased that annual production numbers are only just hovering around the figures he was hoping to see 30 years ago, he would not be sad that Morgan has moved away from its original remit of 1909 to produce cars for everyday motoring (its first model was called the Runabout): the car I drove, with extras including special paint, box weave carpet, sports exhaust and luggage rack (an essential) carried a price tag of £74,949.
And with the waiting list now down to six months, you can even have one delivered in the same lifetime.
[It occurred to me in the middle of the night that some folks may want MOGSouth Name Badges. If you are new to the club, or simply can’t find yours, we’re here for you!! In case you are wondering, they look like the picture below. They are available for $8.00 plus shipping. I can’t remember what the shipping is, so let’s say $2.00 each. If you want one, simply send an email to MOGSouth@yahoo.com and provide us with what you want the badge to say (Name, nickname, Alter Ego, etc.), put a check in the mail to Mark Braunstein (address on the membership roster) and we’ll get the process started! And, be patient. They will take a bit of time to get created and mailed. FYI, they either come with the little magnetic device that magically attaches to your garment but leaves no holes or the old ‘pin it to your shirt’ style! Let me know if you have a preference. Cheers, Mark]
As many of you know, the Amelia Island, GA Concours d’Elegance weekend is traditionally a big weekend for MOGSouth. For many of us, the start to the new Morgan year. This year (2021) will be similar to the previous few years.
We will have our MOGSouth Noggin on Friday (6 March) evening and we will again participate in the Saturday (7 March) Cars and Coffee. The formal Concours d’Elegance is scheduled for Sunday (8 March) but has in the past been moved up to Saturday if the weather is challenging.
As is the norm you have to register for the 2021 Cars & Coffee at Amelia Island event to bring your Morgan and you have to be accepted. (They will send a letter.) You need not register if you don’t want to bring your car and simply want to spectate.
However, it is best to register, even if you are unsure. The registration form is attached below. The earlier you register, the more likely you will be accepted. They are limited in the number of cars accepted due to space constraints, so don’t procrastinate. If you don’t use your acceptance you can always give it to someone else who didn’t get accepted. So Register now!! Cars and Coffee Registration for 2021.
The MOGSouth Spring Noggin will again be on Friday (6 March), starting at 5PM until going until whenever, at the TBD. Note: We are working to find a warmer spot for the Noggin. Last year it was quite good but a bit too chilly for us. We will communicate the location as soon as it is confirmed.
Then Saturday morning (7 March), those of us with Morgans, will all gather at 0730 at the Surf Restaurant’s front parking lot, along A1A (3199 S. Fletcher Avenue, Amelia Island, FL.)
From experience we know that if we don’t arrive together, we will be parked where ever they have a space, and most likely not together.
We will only wait at the Surf Restaurant for 10 minutes or less, so don’t be late!
For those coming from out of town, there are a number of Lodging options. You can stay on Amelia Island or in Fernandina Beach, if you can get a room (they go very fast) and you are willing to pay the price (they are very expensive.) Alternatively there is a Hampton Inn, Jacksonville East, Regency Square that is just south of the Jacksonville -395 bridge over the St Johns River and just a short (45 – 50 min) drive along FL-105 to Amelia Island.
Plan on a great Morgan weekend and we hope to see you there!!
Aside from filling the gas tank, changing a Morgan’s engine oil is perhaps the most common task required to keep the car running properly. This bit of routine maintenance can be done by a ‘quick lube’ shop on your break, at the Morgan dealership (if you have one!) or more commonly, in your own garage or driveway. New, clean oil is an engine’s best friend, but too much of it can cause costly damage, reduce engine performance and should be removed as soon as possible.
If Some Oil is Good, More Oil Must be Better? Right?
To understand how overfilling your engine oil is too much of a good thing, it’s helpful to first provide a little background.
Engines are comprised of hundreds of precision-crafted parts working in unison at high speeds and temperatures, all of which require oil for proper lubrication and smooth movement. You add oil to an engine to the crankcase, as directed by your Morgan’s Owner Handbook, using the oil filler port under the bonnet. The oil settles in the oil pan when the engine is not running. When you start the Morgan, the oil circulates throughout the engine, to lubricate all the moving parts (like the spinning crankshaft), and passes through an oil filter that removes contaminants that could potentially cause damage.
When too much oil is added, the level in the oil pan becomes too high. That allows the spinning crankshaft to come into contact with the oil and essentially aerate it. The result is a foamy, frothy substance that cannot adequately lubricate the engine.
Also, the extra oil may create excessive pressure inside your engine that will look for an escape through various gaskets and seals. If one or more of those fail, that will lead to leaks and who wants a leaky Morgan?
One area that is sometimes omitted when discussing excessive oil is the a drop in engine performance. This drop in performance comes from a few places. The foamy, frothy substance that circulates with the crankshaft weighs something and this added weight makes it harder for the engine to spin. The spinning is what makes the power and adding any load here causes a performance hit. Also, the inconsistency of the oil pressure, caused by the foamy, frothy oil cloud, will most likely result in another performance hit.
Checking to See if Your Morgan Has Too Much Oil
If you think you have excess oil in your Morgan’s engine, the quickest way to know is to look at the dipstick. “Too much oil,” however, is not a precise measurement. Every engine design has different dimensions, so knowing at what level your engine oil will become a foamy, frothy oil cloud is almost impossible.
The dipstick is a graduated rod that slides into a tube that goes into the engine’s oil sump. It typically has low and high marks to show if your car has too much, too little, or the perfect amount of oil. Anywhere in that range is perfectly fine, as is maybe a modest amount above the top level, but I would certainly get nervous going much above that. It’s advisable to get into the habit of checking the level frequently, and certainly after an oil change.
Your owner’s manual can tell what to look for when checking your car’s oil, but the owner’s manual is really only valid if the engine is bone stock. If you have modified the engine’s sump or the engine itself, the manual might be incorrect.
[Note: I once bought a Morgan that didn’t have a dipstick! I went to check the oil and was gobsmacked! (Is that even a word?) So, I know there are universal ones available, and cheap too! Mark]
There are other indicators that will suggest you have an overfill problem, including blue exhaust smoke, a burning smell, an oil leak, or an excessively high or low reading on your oil pressure gauge (some Morgans have gauges, some do not).
What do I do to Get Rid of the Excess?
If you have significantly more oil than the top of the dipstick range, play it safe and let some out. There’s nothing high-tech about the procedure: Loosen the drain plug like you do for an oil change and let out a cup or two at a time. Then snug the drain plug, start and idle your engine for a minute, shut it down, and then recheck the dipstick, wiping it once and then putting it back in for a correct reading. And, do all of this while parked on a level surface. (Make sure you dispose of the used oil properly and don’t just dump it down the drain!)
Also, remember that if you’ve been driving the car before the oil change, the oil is likely hot and could cause burns if you don’t handle it appropriately. If you’d prefer having a ‘quick lube’ do the job, go for it, but be inquisitive and don’t just assume they know what they are doing. Make sure they do it correctly and check their work afterwards. They may know Toyotas but will not be familiar with Morgans.
This week marks a historic moment for Morgan Motor Company, as the boutique sports car manufacturer has made its last-ever steel chassis.
Introduced in 1936, the steel chassis has been produced continuously ever since, making it the longest-ever running production car architecture. But even a company as traditional as Morgan must keep up with the times, which is why the UK-based firm switched to the CX-Generation bonded aluminum platform last year.
All its current four-wheeled models are underpinned by the modern architecture. Nevertheless, Morgan still had some pending orders for steel chassis cars and this week the last of them was built, putting an end to an 84-year tradition.
Morgan’s steel ladder chassis debuted in 1936 in the Morgan 4-4, the brand’s first car to have four cylinders and four wheels; up until that point, the company had only sold three wheelers.
With many alterations and improvements, the steel chassis went on to underpin a variety of models over the years, including the Plus 4, Plus 4 Plus, first-generation Plus 8, 4 Seater, V6 Roadster, and the 4-4’s eventual successor, the 4/4. Actually, every four-wheeled Morgan produced before 2019 has used a variation of the steel chassis, with two exceptions: the Aero range and the second-generation Plus 8.
The chassis’ famous design elements include its combination of sliding pillar front and leaf spring rear suspension, a setup used by very few other car manufacturers. In total, Morgan has made 35,000 four-wheeled cars with a steel chassis, and they were delivered in 65 countries around the world, with many of these models still being used today.
The final steel chassis car is a Morgan Plus 4 70th Edition, purchased by a loyal Morgan customer who also owns the famous Le Mans-winning Plus 4 ‘TOK 258’. The Plus 4 70th Edition marks 70 years of production of the Plus 4, which began in 1950. It is limited to a run of just 20 individually numbered examples, all of which feature a gold-painted chassis, Platinum Metallic paintwork, and a host of other upgrades.
The all-new Morgan Plus Four, launched in March 2020, has switched to the new bonded aluminum CX-Generation platform. It remains to be seen if it will last as long as its predecessor…
The red 1986 Plus 8 was converted to gasoline in 2013, soon after I got the car. It was a propane car with very low mileage. At the time, I had another Bill Fink propane Morgan but it wasn’t being used much. I had come to the realization that the Propane BBQ bottle exchange (you exchange your empty one for a full one at the 7-11) was killing the future of Propane as a clean motor fuel. No one, well nearly no one, still pumped propane so it was almost impossible to find fuel on the road. You had to know exactly where to go and know exactly when you would need propane (many places that pumped propane didn’t open on weekends) and plan your trips accordingly. What good is Morgan if you must be so exacting in your travels? In my mind Propane as a motor fuel, was no longer viable, it was dead. So, a conversion to gasoline was the most appropriate answer.
Well, I did the usual thing, sticking with the Offenhauser intake manifold that Bill Fink had used for his propane setup and opted for an appropriately sized (e.g. small) 4 barrel carburetor. I used a Holley 390 CFM. Others have used any number of 4 barrel carburetors and some have worked better than others. For me it was an easy decision, I had two other Plus 8’s with this carburetor and they were fine, so I stuck with the Holley. And, for the most part, the Holley carburetor worked fine for this conversion, as well. I only messed with it when I needed to. This Plus 8 was my long distance driver and I didn’t want to screw something up.
Well, then it happened. I got another long distance driver in 2017 (the 2005 Roadster) and the red 1986 Plus 8 became, as the Brits would say, redundant. So, reluctantly I put it up for sale on Hemmings. Well, after a few calls from dealers with crazy offers and a few price drops, I pulled it off Hemmings. I guess the market just wasn’t right. As I really didn’t need to sell the car I decided to play with it!
After the conversion from propane to gasoline, the car went everywhere. Road trips to Virginia and the Keys, etc. But, I continued to tweak it as necessary. After, one road trip, I feared boiling fuel and changed the metal spacer (between the carburetor and intake manifold) to a phenolic (plastic) one. I also added a h eat barrier. Finally, I switched the Offenhauser intake to an Edelbrock intake. All good. But, . . .
There were a few things I didn’t like about the Holley set up, a few ‘purple squirrels’ if you will. They included reluctant starts from cold and a momentary hesitation under acceleration. I thought both were related in some way to a fuel delivery issue.
To correct the reluctant start issues, I tried several different ‘low pressure’ fuel pumps on the car. All the pumps worked to a degree, well, except the one that turned out to be ‘gravity fed.’ I ran out of gas, with a half a tank of gas in the car? WTF? The tech support people from the vendor said the pump had to be lower than the tank. Well, in a Plus 8, there isn’t much ‘lower than the tank’ than where I had it mounted, except perhaps on the road surface itself! I finally found a pump with 2 feet of vertical lift to solve that problem. But, you still had to turn on the key (power up the pump) and get the fuel to flow to the carburetor. Before you engaged the starter. This took a few moments and even then it required a pump or two on the gas pedal to get the car started. It was even worse when it was hot, e.g. at the gas station. Sometimes it just wouldn’t start and you had to wait until the car cooled down.
The other thing I didn’t like with the Holley configuration was a momentary hesitation I got when accelerating hard. Sort of like a burp. This mainly occurred when the car was somewhat cold. Again, I thought it was fuel delivery. It might have been something else, but I focused there.
These were my purple squirrels and I was determined to find them and fix them. Both of them appeared, to me and my simple mind, as fuel delivery issues.
In my investigation, I finally turned to the panacea of all fuel delivery systems, Fuel Injection. I could have opted for the Flapper, HOTWIRE or GEMS systems used by Morgan but I didn’t have one at hand, so I started looking at my options. (FYI, the 1986 era Plus 8 would have most likely had a Flapper EFI coming out of the factory.)
I talked with several MOGSouth members who had already gone down this path and found that a throttle body EFI system made the most sense. I looked at them all. There were the manufacturers themselves and then there were other vendors simply re-branding systems manufactured by others. In the end I was able to sort through the chaff. Some were quite extensive (invasive?) in their installation but also in their capabilities, e.g. they would control coolant fans, AC, ignition timing and other things. Some of this was a bit much for me as I was focused simply on fuel delivery.
There were also a number of requirements imposed by all of the systems. A high pressure fuel pump was needed for Fuel Injection (e.g. 58 PSI) which necessitated high pressure fuel lines and filters, a fuel return line was desired (a line for unused fuel going back into the gas tank), and an O2 sensor was needed in the exhaust system.
After much study, I opted for the Go Street 400 EFI system from FITech EFI. (Others will have different requirements and will chose differently. This is just what I did and not an endorsement that you should also go this way.) It seems that the other systems did things I didn’t want to do (ignition timing control, etc.) or they were a tad pricey. Remember, this was now a toy car and costs were increasingly important.
Well, surprisingly I bought the correct system configuration (from Summit Racing) and offered it up as a Garage Day project. Garage Day projects are activities accomplished by me and others on our weekly Garage play date here in central Florida. Things tend to take longer with Garage Day (as can be expected with more help!) but are certainly more fun.
The EFI project started with the installation of the high pressure fuel system. We had to run a high pressure fuel line forward from the gas tank to the area of the EFI, and another high pressure return line to from the EFI back to the gasoline tank. Interestingly, the kit I had bought from Summit had all the components and lines included. I didn’t need to go buy other bits and bobs. The gasoline tank I had installed during the propane to gasoline conversion had a return line port and I had simply blocked it off as it was unneeded in my Holley configuration. We unblocked it now as it was needed for the return line. We also installed the high pressure fuel pump and fuel filters (all provided in the kit by FI Tech.)
There was only one thing needed that we could not do without outside help. We needed to have a bung welded into the exhaust collector for the kit provided O2 sensor. (The FI Tech kit provided a method to install an O2 sensor, but it wouldn’t fit the small diameter exhaust pipes used on my Plus 8.) We went to my neighborhood muffler man for the welding. The other sensor needed was the temperature sensor and one was provided. Albeit, it was too big for the temperature sensor port in the Edelbrock manifold. So, we tapped the intake manifold and fitted the provided temperature sensor. (I might have been able to use the old sensor but was leery of the output it provided, analog or digital? And wasn’t sure it would work properly. So I opted to use the one provided by FI Tech.)
Then it was simply a matter of fitting the EFI to the manifold, bolting it down, connecting the fuel lines, vacuum hoses and connecting the wires. The instructions were simple, and it all went together easily. Then came the fun!!
The FI Tech systems, just like the others on the market, are ‘self-learning’. You start with a basic set of configuration parameters, e.g. engine displacement, idle speed, rev limits, etc. Then as the car is driven, these parameters, and others such as Air Fuel Ratio are adjusted by the EFI system, taking into consideration the exhaust flowing past the O2 sensor, the coolant temperature sensor, etc. Pretty cool!
They also give you a hand-held device that is physically connected to the Electronic Controlling Unit (e.g. ECU or computer) of the EFI system. You can adjust things like Air Fuel Ratio (AFR) or monitor things such as Engine Temperature, as you drive.
The FI Tech system also has a ‘data dump’ facility that dumps the state of the ECU to a file, when asked. I had a high rev miss (about 4,500 rpm) and dumped the computer state when it occurred. It creates a file that shows all the parameters in the ECU and what their values were when the miss occurred. I sent the file to the vendor and got back instructions on what parameter to adjust to correct my problem. I guess I did this a half dozen times. I am impressed and quite thankful for their help in tuning my car. I didn’t expect that kind of support. It was over the Covid 19 time frame so the vendor may have been more accommodating to me and my problems, given they may not have been that busy. They may be less accommodating when they are busy, I don’t know.
Bottom line. I am a happy customer! I found the purple squirrels (this set anyway) and they have been addressed by the FI Tech EFI system. The process was fun, quite challenging, but still fun. I can see a small fuel mileage improvement in just my ‘around town’ driving. I have yet to take it on a decently long highway trip to see what the mileage is then. I believe the car is running quite a bit smoother and I believe there is an increase in hp (say 5%-10%), but I have no scientific way to prove it.
And, all this playing with the Plus 8 has made me love this car even more! It may now just be a toy, and unnecessary, but I may just have to keep it!