[Given that I have gotten a good number of questions relative to the Plus 6 lately. I thought I would post this overview video. It gives some details about the car. I am not sure if and when the car will make it to the US, and don’t expect it to be inexpensive. I suggest we ask our dealers what they know. Cheers, Mark]
[This falls into the category of ‘what not to do!’ The good news is that the cockpit looks relatively intact. I haven’t heard the condition of the driver, but the car is totaled. Mark]
What is it?
Picture Britain’s typical family-owned and operated business. The sort that mothers and fathers pass on to their kids, or in which uncles, aunties and cousins all pitch in together. You’re imagining a chip shop, right? Just me? Perhaps a pub, a corner shop or a post office, then. Not a car factory, I’d bet.
Well, just imagine one – if you can. It won’t be easy. Making cars isn’t something you succeed at simply by getting up early, drinking lots of tea, getting your hands dirty and having a go. It’s complicated. It requires up-to-date specialist know-how, and expert design, engineering and manufacturing skill. Peeling spuds, pulling pints or stamping envelopes, it ain’t. And yet The Morgan Motor Company was family-owned and operated right until the year of its 110th anniversary; this year. Not a bad innings, that.
Change has finally come to Pickersleigh Road, however. Earlier this year, the Morgan family decided to sell a majority share of the business to the Investindustrial private equity group that previously owned Aston Martinuntil its recent market flotation.
Ask around at the firm’s visitors’ centre as to why that decision was taken, and the answers come very honestly. “It was the right offer, when all the others over the years just weren’t,” one staffer said. “We’d reached the point where the family was beginning to hold the company back rather than drive it on. Growing the business now needs investment and well-connected, industry-savvy leadership. Which, we’re hoping, is what we’ve now got.”
At the same time as announcing that change in ownership, back in March, Morgan also announced its first ground-up new car in 19 years: this one, the Plus Six. In development since 2016, this’d be better thought of as the old regime’s parting gift to the company rather than the first fruit of the new one. Ironically, though, it’s definitely ‘all-new’ enough to feel like the latter.
Based on a new aluminium box-section monocoque chassis twice as stiff as the old Aero-series chassis that served under the Plus Eight, but also no more heavy, it’s also the first factory Morgan with a turbocharged engine: BMW’s 335bhp ‘B58’ turbo straight six hooked up to the familiar ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. Unlike any Morgan before it, the Plus Six has electromechanical power steering, and its new chassis has even been designed to accommodate electric drive motors in future.
What’s it like?
You’re getting into a little bit of the company’s future, then, when you click the chromed button door release, swing open the tiny, cut-down driver’s door, and step over one of those famously wide running boards to lower yourself carefully into the Plus Six’s all-new cockpit. The seats remain pretty narrow, just like the footwells – but the cabin has clearly grown for length, with this 6ft 3in tester is genuinely spoilt for leg room. There’s both reach and rake adjustment on the steering column, and a very sound layout of controls overall. I’m not sure that footwell leaves room for a third pedal except at a squeeze, though there has been talk of a manual version. Even so, chances are you could be comfy here for a few hours at a stretch, almost regardless of how you’re built.
The Plus Six’s cabin finish is generally very good. Our test car had attractive ‘box weave’ carpets, embroidered headrests and soft, attentively stitched hides – though it could have done with a more appealing-looking steering wheel. Instrumentation is by traditional analogue clocks placed, in Morgan convention, in the middle of the fascia – and the more distant positioning of the speedo than the rev counter, together with the size of its numbering, makes you glad there’s also a small digital trip computer screen with a digital speedo visible through the orbit of the steering wheel rim. If not for that, you’d need to take a passenger with you at all times, just to tap you on the knee as you hit the national speed limit – which, for all I know, may very well be what Morgan owners do anyway, just in case.
And it really wouldn’t take long to hit that limit, by the way. That BMW straight six sounds a bit tuneless at times, offering a lot more turbo induction noise than exhaust burble under load – although an ‘aftermarket’ exhaust which might, I suspect, be fitted to your car even before it leaves the factory, apparently adds greater audible fruitiness.
Assuming it adds enough of it, there’d be very little else to find wanting here about a powertrain with more torque than a top-of-the-range six-pot Jaguar F-Type operating in a car weighing half-a-tonne less. The Plus Six is instantly quick, picking up from dawdling speeds with real swiftness. It is not a car that needs to be driven at all hard to go fast, or to feel enlivening for its outright pace. That’s new ground for Morgan, in my experience. There’s no doubt that a good manual version would be more involving and, to this tester, would suit the car better. Still, the ZF auto’s manual mode is quick enough to feel like a very acceptable compromise, and it’s as slick as anywhere when shifting by itself (although I do wish Morgan had found some nicer-feeling shift paddles than the somewhat flimsy, plasticky ones familiar from the PSA-Peugeot-Citroen parts bin).
On to that new chassis, then, which pretty plainly gives Morgan a great deal of fresh opportunity for enhancing and fine-tuning the handling of this car – but which you wouldn’t say it had fully explored just yet. It has certainly helped to banish some of the worst dynamic traits that Morgan owners may be used to from this car. The Plus Six tracks very straight over bumps taken at speed. It has a reasonable amount of supple compliance in a ride that remains only medium-firm feeling; one that doesn’t feel nearly as wooden or brittle as some Morgans have, over the years, but that still struggles to keep perfect close control over pitch and squat.
The new chassis has put a little bit of extra length into the car’s wheelbase compared with that of its predecessor model, and yet it retains steering that’s uncharacteristically slow by sports car standards, with almost three full turns between not especially tight-feeling extremes of lock. It’s also suddenly quite light of weighting.
For both reasons, while the Plus Six handles gentler faster bends with appealing precision, it doesn’t feel quite as agile, wieldy or keen as it might through tighter ones – and for what remains a small, light sports car, you really do notice. It was a contributing factor, for this tester at least, in eroding slightly the immediacy of control you’d ideally like over the car’s steered axle – the other being the sheer distance between that axle and where you sit in the car, which is another way in which this appealingly small two-seater is made to feel larger than it might.
Should I buy one?
Well, you’d certainly have to get used to the proportions of the Plus Six – likewise the slightly athletic entry and exit routine, the placing of the minor switchgear, and the intricate sequence of doing and undoing of steel pop fasteners and opening and closing of latches necessary to get the roof up quickly in a shower. So much of all of that feels akin to memorising the password for the manned door of the owner’s club. It’d all be a labour of love to get to know, I’m sure – and, for the lovers, the dynamic strides that Morgan has taken with this car will surely seem great.
For me, it’s what this chassis might go on to do that’s really interesting – because while the Plus Six is a lot better than you expect it might be in some ways, and in others quite honestly just a lot less bad than you might have feared, it now seems tantalisingly close to becoming a much better driver’s car with the right kind of dynamic tuning. I’m not suggesting it’ll ever handle like a Porsche, Lotus or Alpine – and neither would anyone want it to. But it’s certainly diverting to wonder, for now, just how close it might get.
Morgan Plus Six specification
Engine 6 cyls in line, 2998cc, twin-turbocharged petrol Power 335bhp at 5000-6500rpm Torque 369lb ft at 1600-4500rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1075kg (dry) Top speed 166mph 0-62mph 4.2sec
[Don’t believe everything you read. It is not a twin turbo (e.g. two turbos) , rather it is a single twin-scroll turbo. Mark]
John Stanley found this video. It is very appropriate as it shows some clips of the Revs Institute (previously the Collier Museum) which we visited on each of our trips to Key West.
I was quite amused when watching as some of the comments are equally applicable to these older Morgan three wheelers we are trying to maintain. ‘It has a total loss oil systems – the oil is drawn from the tank through the sight glasses – so you know the oil is flowing – into the engine then out onto the driver and the road. So it is a messy car . . . ‘
Photos by Bruce Holder
When you think of a Morgan it’s perfectly acceptable for the mind’s eye to draw up the image of gentle drives in the countryside, gingham blankets and picnics in the sun. And for many older Morgans, that is most definitely the case. However, we really shouldn’t let ourselves think that. Morgan has been entwined with motorsport since its black and white beginnings way back in the 1900s. The company was founded in 1909, but just three years later in 1912, Morgan’s three-wheeled offering was on the steep banking of Brooklands, where it was competing to win the award for greatest distance covered in an hour by a cycle car. Admittedly, Morgan lost out to a GWK, however, the following year it scooped the victory by covering 60 miles.
The point here is that Morgan cars and competition go hand in hand. Over the decades the model range has grown, and so too has the racing arm of Morgan. Morgans have been seen at Le Mans, they’ve been seen at hill climbs and thanks to the incredibly popular Morgan Challenge racing series, they have been seen battling it out in packs at almost every circuit in the UK. Yes, Morgans like to race. A lot.
This has led to the growth of Morgan’s side business, if you will, which goes by the name of Aero Racing. It’s here that select Morgans are ‘breathed’ on in order to get them competition ready. Suspension, wheels, brakes, race equipment such as seats, roll cages and fire extinguishers, and of course, engines, are all fitted or built in house at Pickersleigh Road alongside the road-going counterparts.
Of course, when you have a race shop on site, you’re going to want to capitalise on that, which is exactly what Morgan did a few years back with the car you’re looking at here. This is the Morgan ARP4. That’s Aero Racing Plus 4. And this is more race car than road car, but it’s a road car nonetheless. Think of it as Usain Bolt in a houndstooth jacket. Smoking a pipe.
The Plus 4 has been in production since 1950 and many would argue that it has proven itself to be the backbone of the company. The Plus 4 is the go-to car from the Morgan range. There’s the smaller-engined 4/4, but that can leave more spirited drivers wanting. There’s the V6 Roadster, but for some this it too far removed from the traditional Plus 4. Then of course there are the V8 Aero cars along with their successor, the Plus 6. These are halo cars though, and their bonded aluminium chassis and modern tech detract, for some, from what a Morgan should be. The Plus 4 is pure, traditional Morgan though, hence its huge popularity. Even now, in 2019, the Plus 4 still boasts that traditional steel ladder chassis with an Ash-framed body sitting on top, all handmade of course.
The ARP4 takes the normal 2.0 Plus 4 and squarely drop-kicks it into the absurd, but in the best possible way. As you look at the car it’s all very familiar. Those long, flowing wings. The bonnet that spurs away from the driver for a seemingly impossible distance, that tight but perfectly trimmed cabin. Yes, it’s just a Plus 4. Until that is, you look closely. The custom-made Image 16×7-inch split-rim wheels grab your attention first, and then your eyes are naturally drawn to the rubber wrapped around them. Yokohama 225/55 AD08R in this case, which for those in the know, is a serious tyre.
There are other visual hints towards the ARP4’s true purpose. The black grille, the lack of bumpers, the exposed aluminium in the cabin, it all suggests something other than gingham and sandwiches.
Open that handmade, heavily louvred bonnet and you’re in for a treat. The 2.0 Ford engine that you’d normally find in a Plus 4 is still there, but only in essence. The reality is a 2.0 Ford engine that has been breathed on, heavily, by none other than Cosworth. And Cosworth knows a thing or two about screwing the ponies out of a Ford engine. 225 ponies in this case, thanks to throttle bodies, level 2 race cams, a re-worked cylinder head and a reworked crank on which you’ll find Cosworth’s forged rods and pistons. Bolted onto the back of it is a five-speed manual close ration ‘box, which in turn is bolted to a 3.9:1 differential.
Of course, power is nothing without control, but the ARP4 has the covered in spades. First of all, there are those sticky Yokohama tyres. Then there’s the five-link rear suspension, while Spax adjustable shocks can be found at both the front and rear. Four-pot Aero Racing developed brakes sit up front with vented discs, while solid discs take care of things at the back. This is a fully resolved, no point missed, out and out race car. It just happens to have a radio and leather seats.
And that’s the thing. As we slide into the driver’s seat, we can’t help but be lulled into a false sense of security by the familiar leather and rich box weave carpet. It’s just like sitting in a ‘normal’ Plus 4, but with white dials and a touch more metal on show. It is not, however, the ARP4 is not a normal Plus 4 when you press the start button.
The car barks into life with an urgency that takes you aback. The throttle bodies snarl and gulp for air, and then you jab the throttle. The noise of the throttle bodies is captivating, intoxicating in fact, and more than enough to remind you that this is no normal Plus 4.
As we engage first, we look out on the empty runway of Bruntingthorpe ahead of us. No traffic, no speed cameras, no laws to abide. It’s just us and a car that was built, that wants to go fast. Engage first, come off the surprisingly light clutch, we’re off. Without trying the rear wheels spin up and rooster tail water behind us. Second, we find grip and reward the ARP4’s obedience with a bit more throttle. Third, we’re coming up to 100mph and also the first corner, a long, sweeping right-hander at the bottom of the runway. Camera car in front of us, we decided to lean on the Morgan through the corners in a bid to get a heroic powerslide shot. But we can’t. Despite being rear-wheel drive, powerful and about as heavy as a Post-It note, it will not slide. This thing is planted firm. We try to induce it with a clutch kick. A little slide out, then back in line. It will not break traction without a fight. We are, frankly, impressed. The ARP4 is a well set-up car.
We come out of that bottom corner and start our advance of the runway itself. Camera car be damned, we want to see what we can get out of the ARP4. Fourth, 120mph and we’re still pulling. The wind noise is loud, but those throttle bodies are not willing to lose the shouting contest. Fifth and final gear in that MX-5 gearbox and we climb to 135mph before we need to work back down through the gears for the tight right-hander. As we do, the brakes bring the speed down quickly and without drama, the car stays level through the fast corner and then we start the process all over again as we head down the back straight. This thing is like a drug. The noise, the speed, the sharpness and directness of it. It’s astounding. And the grip, just… wow.
Limited to a production run of just 50, the ARP4 was a rare car when it was new, but it’s even rarer now. However, they do come up for sale from time to time. To get yourself into one, expect to part with £60k at least. But trust us, if you do, you’ll be very glad indeed. The only thing that will upset you is the fact you don’t have your own runway to play on.
[I was surfing the web and found this. It caught my eye as I am trailering one of my Morgans, this coming weekend, to Pensacola for their all British Car Show. Lately I find I am driving less and trailering more. Especially with the older cars or for car events farther afield. Maybe it’s the creature comforts offered by the tow vehicle, or I may just be getting old. (I don’t like the second option so I’ll go with the first!) I have a car trailer and have some experience however I don’t want to become over confident or complacent with something this critical. So, give it quick read and perhaps you will learn something new, as I did. The last thing we need it an accident or worse yet, an injury. Be safe but have fun! Mark.]
According to statistics compiled by the DangerousTrailers.org web sitee, an average of 68,358 American motorists are involved in towing-related accidents each year, each resulting in average damages exceeding $43,000. While towing a trailer seems simple enough, proper equipment, safety practices and loading techniques are all essential components in ensuring that trailering drivers get from point A to point B with vehicles, passengers and equipment intact.
The first step to towing any kind of trailer is ensuring that both trailer and tow vehicle are properly rated for the load to be carried. Should the proposed tow vehicle be rated by the manufacturer to safely tow up to 5,000 pounds, pulling a double-axle car trailer, loaded with a 1961 Chevrolet Impala, across Colorado’s Independence Pass certainly isn’t recommended. The best advice here is “buy enough truck,” understanding that new towing requirements may require the purchase of a different tow vehicle with a higher weight rating.
A proper hitch and receiver are the next essential components, and for towing a vehicle the absolute minimum recommended would be a Class III hitch and receiver, rated at a maximum trailer weight of 6,000 pounds (when used with a weight carrying hitch) or 10,000 pounds (when used with a weight distributing hitch). A Class IV hitch and receiver gets a higher rating (up to 14,000 pounds, when used with a weight distributing hitch setup), but may not be applicable for tow vehicles aside from full-size pickups and SUVs. Beyond this lies Class V hitches (rated up to 17,000 pounds with weight-distributing hitches) and fifth-wheel hitches, which are primarily the domain of heavy-duty pickups.
Once satisfied with tow vehicle and hitch setup, the next challenge becomes finding a suitable trailer to handle your perceived vehicle hauling needs. If your towing is limited to hauling a Formula Vee racer to regional vintage events, a double-axle enclosed trailer will likely be overkill in terms of both size and weight. On the other hand, when towing a Mercedes-Benz Unimog cross-country, a two-wheel car dolly may be suboptimal for your needs. When purchasing a trailer, try to consider both current and future needs; if your passion is for restoring Corvairs, then sizing a trailer may be fairly simple. Should your passion extend to all GM products, including pickups, sizing a trailer may be more of a challenge.
For hauling vehicles, trailers should be equipped with a weight distributing hitch and trailer brakes (which may or may not be required by the state in which you reside). An anti-sway system may be a wise investment as well, particularly for those new to towing. Sway likely represents the biggest danger to towing trailers, and it can be caused by factors as diverse as excessive speed, strong crosswinds, passing trucks or improper trailer loading.
To minimize the risk of sway, loads should ideally be centered over the trailer’s axles, evenly balanced from side to side. This isn’t always possible, so most recommend carrying slightly more weight to the front of trailer (assuming that the rig’s tongue weight isn’t exceeded in doing so). Under all circumstances, avoid placing the heaviest part of the load to the rear of the trailer’s axle, as doing so will increase the likelihood of trailer sway.
If a trailer begins to sway, the best corrective action is to gently let off the accelerator, slowing (without applying the tow vehicle brakes) until the trailer is again under control. Should you have an electronic trailer brake controller, applying the trailer brakes manually will bring a swaying trailer under control, which is further justification for an electronic trailer brake and controller setup. Accelerating further or braking the tow vehicle heavily are likely to exacerbate the problem, so both should be avoided. Be aware that certain situations (crossing bridges or being passed by tractor-trailers, for example) are likely to create cross winds; be aware that this make increase the chances of trailer sway, and be prepared to act accordingly.
Ensuring that trailer and tow vehicle are level will also help to minimize the risk of sway, and different trailers may require the use of different height receivers. If you frequently tow more than one trailer, investing in a multi-position receiver may be easier and less expensive than buying separate receivers for all trailers. Also, ensure that the receiver ball size matches the hitch of the trailer; attempting to tow a 2-5/16-inch hitch with a two-inch receiver ball is a recipe for disaster.
Prior to loading the trailer, it’s a good idea to give it a full inspection, particularly if it hasn’t been used in a while. Check tire pressuree as well as tire tread depth; tires may show ample tread, but those with signs of dry rot should be replaced. Attempting to wiggle the wheels and tires from side-to-side may show if wheel bearings are worn, and it’s a good idea to pack (non-sealed) bearings with grease annually. Check electrical connections for corrosion, and use dielectric grease on the connector pins to minimize the chance of future corrosion. Inspect wood deck planking for any signs of rot, and replace as necessary. Finally, hitch the trailer to the tow vehicle to double check that all lights (and electric trailer brakes, if equipped) are functioning.
The specific procedure for loading and strapping down a vehicle on a trailer will vary by trailer and the type of ratcheting strap used, but some general guidelines still apply. First, be sure the vehicle’s weight is centered over, or slightly forward of, the trailer’s wheels. As much as you can, ensure that the side-to-side weight of the trailer is balanced by offsetting tool boxes with things like fuel jugs. When using ratcheting straps that cradle a vehicle’s tires, be sure that all attachment points are secure and close enough to the tire to ensure proper operation (per the strap manufacturer’s instruction). When using over-the-axle type ratcheting straps, be sure the strap is wrapped around a structural member, but not rubbing against coolant hoses, fuel lines or brake lines. When using ratcheting straps that attach to the vehicle, ensure (again) that straps are attached to strong enough part of the frame to carry the load. As a general rule of thumb, one strap in each corner should be the absolute minimum number used, and placing four wheel chocks (in front of the front wheels and behind the rear wheels) gives additional piece of mind. As a further reminder, the trailered vehicle should be in Park (or in first gear), with the handbrake set.
Once the trailer is hitched to the tow vehicle, it’s a good idea to go through one more safety checklist. Is the load level, or does the tongue weight of the trailer (or the drop of the receiver) need to be adjusted? Are all the electrical connections tight, and do all signals, lights and brakes work as intended? Are the safety chains crossed in an X-pattern beneath the trailer hitch, forming a cradle in the event of a hitch failure? Is the tether for the electric trailer brakes set? Is the nose wheel up and locked, and is hitch securely locked into position? Have the lug bolts on the trailer (and any other fasteners potentially prone to loosening) been tensioned to the proper torque?
As with most tasks, prior proper preparation is the key to safe and successful trailering, and the best way to avoid becoming one of the 68,000 plus motorists involved in trailering accidents each year.
A tip of the hat to Brad Babson for his help in compiling this piece.
[This is a view of the factory as it is prior to any real changes. Things may be different in the future as modifications are driven, in processes and tooling, by the new investor. Also, there is an Aero 8 GT in build, well it appears all but finished, with a matching M3W. Striking color! (Turn up the volume or the tour guide is hard to hear.) Enjoy, Mark]
The Little Aluminum V-8 That Saved Britain’s Bacon
LIKE THE KID WHO FLUNKED FIFTH grade and then grew up to become a decent stockbroker, the troubled youth of GM’s 215-cubic-inch (3.5 liter) aluminum V-8 didn’t hinder its fruitful life. Born in 1961, this resilient engine introduced turbocharging to production cars but failed to earn a sufficient U.S. audience, whereupon it was sent to England to live out its life in everything from Range Rovers to TVRs. Along the way, this mill, commonly known as the “Buick aluminum V-8” for reasons that will soon be explained, inspired countless designs and enabled a cottage sports-car industry. It was the only American engine design ever to win a Formula 1 title. One could argue that GM’s aluminum V-8 was every bit as ingenious as the Chevy small-block.
General Motors began studying aluminum V-8s in 1950 to power its LeSabre and XP-300 dream cars. Although cast aluminum had been used early in the 20th century for crankcases, constructing entire blocks and cylinder heads out of this material was a major breakthrough in the U.S.
In Europe, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lancia, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, and Volkswagen perfected aluminum construction after World War II. The success of VW Beetle imports convinced U.S. automakers they would need downsized cars powered by smaller and lighter engines to compete. In 1960, the Chevrolet Corvair began the move to aluminum engines, followed by Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Plymouth, and Rambler in ’61.
Aluminum’s appeal is a density, or weight per volume, that is 60 percent lower than that of cast iron or “gray iron,” until then the traditional engine-block material. Per pound, aluminum yields two to three times the bending stiffness and strength of cast iron and three times the tensile strength.
Aluminum’s downside is cost. Iron ore is simply mined, melted, and mixed with a few ingredients before casting, but refining aluminum is a complex, energy-intensive process. First, bauxite ore, a claylike material, is mined. After melting and settling, alumina (aluminum oxide) in the molten ore is purified with an electric current, a process called electrolysis. Because of aluminum smelters’ high electricity consumption, they are typically located near hydroelectric dams, where the electricity is plentiful and cheaper. As a result, aluminum typically costs five times more per pound than gray iron. In the mid-1950s, GM engineer Joseph Turlay, who designed Buick’s first production V-8 for the 1953 model year, topped an experimental cast-aluminum block with hemi heads, a supercharger, and dual carburetors to produce 335 horsepower from 3.5 liters. That V-8’s 550-pound weight was a major breakthrough compared with the typical 700-pound iron-age engine.
GM engineers soon began work on a production aluminum V-8 to power the Buick Special, Oldsmobile F-85, and Pontiac Tempest slated for 1961. Buick won the development and manufacturing assignments, with Turlay overseeing and Cliff Studaker assisting the engineering effort.
GM’s game plan was to use a stretched Corvair unibody to underpin its new compacts. More refined ride and handling would, hopefully, justify higher prices for the upmarket models. In addition, the aluminum V-8 would foster weight savings throughout the chassis, thereby improving performance.
Toward that end, the 3.5-liter V-8 was a showcase of light design. The block, heads, intake manifold, timing chain cover, water pump, and water outlet were all made of GM’s 4097M aluminum alloy containing II-to-13-percent silicon. This added material lowered the aluminum’s melting temperature, helped it flow more readily into molds, and reduced shrinkage during solidification. A touch of copper was added to improve corrosion resistance. The pistons, rocker arms, and carburetor were also aluminum. The final 324-pound dry weight was 200 pounds lighter than Chevy’s small-block and roughly half the weight of Buick’s 6.6-liter V-8.
Turlay’s engineering team applied creative solutions to myriad design issues. Because aluminum bores weren’t durable enough to withstand piston scuffing, cast-in-place iron sleeves with grooved outer surfaces engaging the surrounding aluminum were used. This provided a tough bore surface without sealing concerns. Shrink-fit iron valve seats and guides were incorporated into the aluminum heads, also for durability. A deep-skirt block with five cast-iron main-bearing caps provided a stiff bottom end. The cast-aluminum pistons were linked to the cast-Armasteel crank through forged-steel connecting rods. (Armasteel was GM’s name for a special cast iron manufactured by its foundries.)
Combining an 8.8:1 compression ratio with dished piston crowns and shallow combustion chambers achieved detonation-free operation on regular gas. The spark plugs were located within half an inch of the bore center to minimize flame travel. The 3.50 inch bore and short 2.80-inch stroke minimized piston speed and engine height.
Because aluminum expands significantly more than iron when heated, the engineers worried that steel bolts screwed directly into aluminum threads might loosen in service. Testing proved the bolts would maintain the desired torque if they were well lubricated during assembly.
Aluminum-block manufacturing was the one area where Buick ventured into the unknown. The technique adopted was called semi-permanent mold casting, because it mixed conventional sand cores with permanent steel dies. Sand cores defined the internal coolant passages and the crankcase portion of the block. The reusable steel molds used for the outer flanks, deck surfaces, and valley area saved manufacturing minutes and provided a smoother finish than was possible with sand cores.
Following dyno development and a million miles of durability testing, Buick’s engine was tuned to deliver 155 (gross) horsepower at 4800 rpm and 220 pound-feet of torque at 2400 rpm, with a relatively flat torque curve. Upping the compression ratio to 10.25:1 and adding a four-barrel carburetor hiked output to 230 pound-feet and 185 horsepower, or 0.86 horsepower per cubic inch. Chevy’s 283-cubic-inch V-8 delivered 230 horsepower (0.81 horsepower per cubic inch) with a four-barrel carburetor.
Oldsmobile entered the 1961 model year with a version of this V-8 called the Rockette to evoke a family tie to the Rocket 88. To make efficient use of manufacturing facilities, Buick cast all the blocks and crankshafts, and Olds manufactured its own heads, pistons, valvetrain, and intake manifolds. One significant difference in the blocks was Buick’s use of five head bolts per cylinder whereas Olds preferred six (stay tuned for the reason why). Pontiac equipped most of its Tempests with what it called an Indy Four—basically, a V-8 chopped in half—with the Buick 3.5-liter V-8 available as an extra-cost upgrade.
The racing community was impressed by America’s new small V-8, too. Mickey Thompson concluded that this ultra-light engine was the ideal means of rattling the Offenhauser crowd at Indy. In 1962, Dan Gurney qualified eighth in Thompson’s Harvey Aluminum Special powered by a 4.2-liter Buick V-8, but he dropped out half-way through the race with a broken gearbox.
Unfortunately, the buying public didn’t swarm to the General’s new premium compact cars. Only Pontiac topped 100,000 sales in 1961; combined Special/F-85/Tempest sales exceeded the Corvair’s volume by only 10 percent. The issue was price. The cheapest Olds F-85 cost $118 more than a Chevy Bel Air. Instead of merely hoping sales would rise, Buick and Oldsmobile swiftly rejiggered their game plans. In 1962, Buick moved down-market, and Oldsmobile grabbed the next rung up the price ladder.
Buick’s 1962 companion to the aluminum V-8 was a V-6 made by whacking one cylinder per bank. To spare the higher cost of aluminum, the block and the heads were converted to cast iron. Keeping the V-8’s 90-degree V-angle was hardly ideal from a vibration standpoint, but it did allow machining the new V-6 with existing tools. What began as a crude expedient eventually ended up as GM’s rock-star 3800 V-6, a story for another day.
Oldsmobile promoted its Rockette aluminum V-8 to Jetfire Turbo Rocket status by adding a Garrett AiResearch turbocharger fed by a single-barrel side-draft Rochester carburetor. Beating Chevy’s Corvair Monza Turbo to market by a few weeks gave Olds bragging rights for the world’s first turbocharged production model. Peak power surged to 215 horsepower at 4800 rpm—clearing the one horse-per-cubic-inch hurdle. The torque curve peaked at a potent 300 pound-feet at 3200 rpm. Without major changes to the host engine or any loss of smoothness or drivability, midrange torque rose by 40 percent.
Turbo pinwheels spinning at 90,000 rpm were supported by aluminum sleeve bearings lubed by engine oil. Exhaust gas accelerated the alloy-steel turbine wheel from 40,000 rpm during cruising to 80,000 rpm in less than a second after the throttle was floored. An exhaust waste gate built into the turbocharger limited boost pressure to 5 psi.
Instead of lowering the naturally aspirated V-8’s 10.25:1 compression ratio, which would penalize efficiency, Oldsmobile devised a system that metered Turbo Rocket fluid during boost conditions in a 1:10 ratio with the gasoline consumed. This 50/50 elixir of distilled water and methyl alcohol (antifreeze) with a splash of corrosion inhibitor cooled the gas and air mixture sufficiently to forestall detonation. To their surprise, Olds engineers found that the alcohol content added six horsepower to peak output.
The tank that stored this juice was pressurized by a tap off the turbo’s compressor to force delivery to the carburetor’s float chamber. Safeguards were provided to inhibit boost when the essential fluid was depleted. Testing predicted the 5 quart supply would last nearly 1000 miles.
BEATING CHEVY’S CORVAlR MONZA TURBO TO MARKET BY A FEW WEEKS (AND BMW AND PORSCHE BY A DECADE) GAVE OLDS BRAGGING RIGHTS FOR THE WORLD’S FIRST TURBOCHARGED PRODUCTION MODEL.
Osmobile’s 1962 JetRocket V-8 topped by a Garrett AiResearch turbocharger fed a single-barrel Rochester downdraft carburetor. Five psi of boost raised output to 215 horsepower at 4800 rpm and 300 pound-feet of 3200.
Those extra head bolts? Oldsmobile designed them into its version of the 215 to help avoid warpage and blown head gaskets on the turbo variant. The pistons, the bearings, and the valves were also upgraded.
Proud of their achievement, Oldsmobile engineers Gil Burrell, Frank Ball, and James Lewis concluded their Turbo Rocket tech paper by saying, “This engine is a development that will be appreciated by all engineers, performance enthusiasts, and other people interested in advanced mechanical powerplants.” Car and Driver technical guru Roger Huntington dubbed the engine “the most radical design from an American factory in many years.” He rated the ’62 Olds Cutlass F-85 Jetfire “an elegant and comfortable high-performance car of medium size”.
Unfortunately, GM’s hot small engine was caught out by radical changes sweeping through the industry. For the 1964 model year—the dawn of the muscle-car era-—GM’s premium compacts grew into intermediate A-bodies powered exclusively by iron engines. Buick and Olds kept the V-6 and added larger V-8 options. Pontiac used a Chevy inline-six for base power and offered V-8s ranging from 326 to a wild 421 cubic inches.
The aluminum 215 V-8 lasted only three model years, in part because it was a costly indulgence. The casting process suffered from porosity issues—seepage through the cylinder-block walls—and the high scrap rates gave top management the willies. If the porosity wasn’t discovered upfront, coolant contamination of the oil triggered an expensive warranty claim. Customers who used the wrong antifreeze suffered radiators clogged with aluminum deposits. Mechanics hurriedly changing spark plugs occasionally stripped threads in the aluminum heads.
Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire owners often ignored the dash light urging them to replenish their Turbo Rocket fluid. The most pressing issue was fewer than 10,000 turbo cars sold, resulting in its cancellation after only two model years. Some dealers even stooped to removing the booster for disgruntled customers. The Corvair Monza Spyder also failed to top 10,000 sales in 1962, suggesting that turbochargers were too mysterious for most small-car buyers.
On the opposite side of the earth, Oldsmobile’s light, compact V-8 was held in higher regard. Australian racing driver Jack Brabham commissioned auto-parts supplier Repco to base a Formula 1 V-8 on the Olds block endowed with SOHC heads and a flat plane crankshaft to produce more than 300 horsepower from 3.0 liters. That shrewd move earned Brabham the 1966 drivers’ and constructors’ titles. This was the first and last time an engine with American production-car roots prevailed in Formula 1.
Britain’s Rover also took advantage of GM’s aluminum V-8. By the early 1960s, the 3.0-liter F-head inline-six that powered its flagship sedan was overdue for replacement. On a visit to the States, Rover’s managing director, William Martin-Hurst, stumbled across a Buick V-8 that Mercury Marine intended to install in a boat. The engine was instead shipped to England, where Rover engineers concluded it would suit their needs.
In 1965, Rover inked a deal with GM that included all rights to the aluminum V-8, tech data, blueprints, and a few used engines. Designer Turlay, about to retire from Buick, moved to England to assist the production restart. Apparently, it didn’t occur to anyone at GM that Rover would be competing against GM’s own European brands, Opel and Vauxhall, with the exiled engine.
Rover switched block manufacturing to conventional sand casting with pressed-in cylinder liners to solve the porosity problem for good. Starting with the P5 sedan in 1967, Rover’s 184-hp V-8 graduated to the P6 a year later and to the Range Rover luxury SUV when it debuted in 1970. The enduring success of the Land Rover brand in our market is the direct result of its arrival with a smooth, potent engine.
Growing in steps to 5.0 liters, the aluminum V-8 thrived in MGS, Morgans, Triumphs, and TV Rs and stayed in production until 2004. The remanufacturing firm MCT then took the baton to continue the supply of engines to Britain’s low-volume specialty brands until 2010. Without this V-8, the Japanese would have annihilated British sports cars as quickly as they had laid the U.K.’s motorcycle industry to rest.
GM’s courageous aluminum and turbocharging initiatives yielded several worthy permutations of the original Buick 215 V-8, notable racing success, and millions of satisfied customers.
In life, as in the engine lab, tenacity pays off.
As you all know, I have several Morgan cars. Each of these cars is different and each of these cars needs to be maintained in a different manner.
For each car, I have identified a number of maintenance tasks that need to be accomplished at specific times and/or mileage intervals. I also have a tracking mechanism (computer program) that keeps me from forgetting to change the oil or check the lights on a given car.
These maintenance tasks have been identified over time through personal experience, found in published books, MMC handbooks, or recommended by others with similar cars. These lists have evolved over time, and continue to evolve.
These service lists may seem excessive or not accurately match your specific list, but I thought I would provide them, not as gospel, but as merely a suggestion, starting point, or food for thought.
In each of these service lists there are also likely to be duplicate tasks, misspellings or other editing problems. My apologies, these errors get fixed as I find them, as this really is a work in progress.
These service lists are provided as Microsoft Excel files (*.xlsx) which should be readable and/or editable by just about everyone. If, however, you cannot read and/or edit these file, and want to, just let me know. I will find another format that works for you.
There are certainly others of you that are far more technically inclined than I am and can offer some very good advice (send me an email!) on what I should change.
Morgan Plus 8, 1991, five speed, left hand drive, original paint, gasoline engine, 25,300 original miles, Pirelli tires, chrome wire wheels, black leather interior, always garaged and never been damaged. $59,500. Call Joan at 239-466-3852 or email email@example.com. Car is located in Fort Myers, FL