Morgan Top of the Hill (TOTH) 2019
[If this doesn’t get your blood circulating a bit faster, I don’t what will!! Some new, some old. Both three and four. Something for everyone!! Mark]
[If this doesn’t get your blood circulating a bit faster, I don’t what will!! Some new, some old. Both three and four. Something for everyone!! Mark]
[Now that the press have been able to get their hands on the car, they are doing their best to report. And, I want to be sure you see what the world is saying about this new ‘Morgan.’ I still have no idea if or when we might get these cars in the US, so . . . for now, we have to be satisfied with pictures and words. Enjoy Mark]
Is there a valid twin test for a Morgan? There’s an argument to say that no, of course there isn’t, because if you want a Morgan then only a Morgan will do. But the Plus Six is no ordinary Malvern-built sports car; it’s using the first new platform for almost 20 years, it’s the first post-V8 Morgan, and it’s the first Morgan that won’t have a manual gearbox. Therefore it’s pretty big news. We’ve already established that the Six is borderline revelatory for Morgan, and there’s no better way to truly quantify an achievement than measuring it against a rival.
The F-Type makes more sense here than you might think. Beyond being separated by just three cubic centimetres in their forced induction, 3.0-litre six-cylinder engines, both Jaguar and Morgan use the same ZF automatic gearbox with different settings for shift speed, throttle response and so on. As tested, this F-Type is £79,650; the Plus Six now available to customers (the First Edition seen here is sold out) costs £77,995.
More than that, there’s an ideological examination to conduct here. Because the F-Type, despite piecemeal updates, is a fairly old car now. You could buy a 380hp, automatic V6 Roadster like this one back in 2013, which seems ages ago. So long ago, in fact, that its rivals have disappeared: the 911 is now a £100k car, a Boxster no longer has a six-cylinder engine, the AMG SLK has gone, the Lotus Exige has only gotten more hardcore since the introduction of the Roadster – and so on. To some extent it’s become the modern classic option in its own lifetime; not perfect, though hugely charming and very easy to like, thanks mostly to its styling and quite old-school engine. With the Morgan’s appearing even more emotive, and its architecture actually more modern, could it be a better take on the traditional British roadster appeal?
On the journey to Malvern, the F-Type – unsurprisingly – is entirely pleasant company. Roof up it plays the subdued, mature GT for as long as is required; with the roof down and the right buttons pressed, it’s immediately a louder, more visceral drop-top experience. That it drives how it always sort of has is no bad thing, either: Jag has a rare knack for tuning dampers, steering and control weights, with all present and correct in this middle of the range F-Type. It’s just a really nice sports car, an intriguing riposte to those who see the German equivalent as a bit sterile – even if the suspicion is that nice might not cut it for £80k.
Of course, on arrival at Morgan, it’s the Jag which is made to seem sterile, generic and overwrought. The F-Type is unquestionably a handsome sports car, in a way which could probably be called timeless, but there’s nothing like a Morgan for seizing your attention. The Plus Six almost seems like a restomod for its maker – dropping modern and familiar running gear in a body that looks near-identical – though it’s so much more than that. The clever bit is in appearing traditional for those who want it, with a more modern stance readily apparent to those in the know.
The mix of current day and timeless continues on the road, too. This is now a car that taller buyers can fit in, that requires little more effort to mooch around in than a Z4 and which can deal with imperfections in the road without wilting under the effort. The claim for a 100 per cent improvement in torsional rigidity from the CX platform sounds eminently believable, even at slow speed. The Plus Six still feels very much like a Morgan, however, with that evocative view out over the bonnet, a dashboard like no other and the sense of rather more wind in the hair than usual thanks to a perched driving position.
So what of that new engine? A big V8, be that from Rover or BMW, has become a mainstay of the Morgan appeal for decades; they’re now gone for good, replaced by the B58 straight-six turbo that’s also found in the Toyota Supra. Here it benefits from Morgan’s own tune and an eight-speed gearbox, as well as performance claims of 4.2 seconds to 62mph and 166mph. Despite effortless ease of use, bountiful torque and better mpg than a 2.0-litre Plus 4, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to see some die-hard fans not take to the six-cylinder. The rumble has gone, the immediacy of its throttle response is softened off and that endearing muscle car feel of an engine barely contained by a chassis has vanished. A pox on cohesive, thoroughly engineered sports cars, eh…
While the V8 is missed, the straight-six actually does an admirable job in pulling at heartstrings. The noise is more authentic than in a Supra, for starters – speakers can’t be manipulated if there are no speakers – with turbo whoosh overlaid by some straight-six howl. And by heck is it fast.
The F-Type never feels genuinely potent until it’s been made the recipient of its own V8 (where it thunders through that yardstick to become rabidly quick), meaning that the Morgan leaves the P380 V6 for dust here. Blame the weight advantage, the Morgan lugging around in the region of 400kg less with more torque; there’s just so little inertia, a trait of the light car/big engine blueprint that no level of technology can replicate (save perhaps electrification – and even that feels like a different kettle of fish). The Z4 and Supra are both brisk using this engine – the Morgan is properly fast, and just occasionally scarily so…
Perhaps the bigger surprise, though, is a Morgan made to seem capable of handling this sort of performance. No, it’s not a Boxster Spyder rival, scything through chicanes with a dab of oppo on exit. It still requires some thought and some planning, it still does wibble and wobble over poor surfaces and the front end is not the most immediate – but this is a world away from before. There’s traction and there’s grip, and finally there’s faith that what your feet and hands do will have a direct, predictable correlation to the car’s behaviour – not always guaranteed before. The Plus Six is a small, nimble car, and there’s little to beat zipping through country lanes in a Morgan that actually feels like it’s relishing the prospect. The electric steering has a more natural feel than a Supra’s, the brakes are strong and progressive (once through the dead travel) and there’s now sufficient body control and damping composure to enjoy a road rather than endure it. The gearbox is way sharper than the old BMW slusher, too, which would encourage use of the paddles, though they’re both too small and not nice to use, which is shame.
This quantum leap for Morgan ought to leave the F-Type feeling a little stagnant dynamically, but the fact is that the Jaguar did a damn good job out of the box. It isn’t the last word in any parameter, though arguably it doesn’t need to be; instead offering a balanced, rewarding, satisfying sports drive. Here, for instance, is a car with a Dynamic mode you might actually want to use and which does make the car feel more dynamic – tauter, more responsive, keener – rather than simply harder and worse. The subtlety in set up, including steering resistance that doesn’t assume unnecessary weight and damping that always retains some fluency, must be far more difficult to engineer in than simply cranking everything up to the max in hope of a ‘sportier’ feel. While the F-Type perception might be of a shouty and skiddy sports car – which it’s also more than capable of being – the Jaguar integrity and flow remain.
Which makes that weight penalty all the more frustrating. Because following Morgan with Jaguar, there’s no amount of class and capability that can undo the feeling of aloofness and detachment in the latter. And even when the summer turns sleety in Wales, the Morgan has traction and purchase, commodities that have previously been in short supply. Granted, the limits are ultimately lower (its rear Avons being the same width as the Jag’s front Pirellis) and trickier to approach given quite a short wheelbase. The Plus Six will spin its wheels in fourth gear, which is nothing if not a fitting repost to those who suggest a six-cylinder Morgan isn’t proper.
It is also, in the right situation – which includes moments in the real-world that don’t feature an empty Welsh B-road – tremendously entertaining. When it’s not the right situation and there’s a brand-new F-Type also trundling down a sodden motorway in rather more comfort, it’s less so. Because while bigger people do now fit, they’re still sat too high and with their feet cramped. While the roof makes some sense with practise, it’s still not suited to the actual requirements of a downpour. The engine is now quieter and more efficient at a cruise, though the driver is still bombarded with wind noise. Apparently the Plus Six is more suitable for cruising than any other previous Morgan; goodness knows what effort they must take.
Point is the Plus Six certainly retains some Morgan idiosyncrasies. Frustrations, for those feeling less kind. And the Jaguar, for all its apparent meekness in a direct comparison, requires far less compromise to deliver a genuine sports car experience. One that, despite advancing years – perhaps because of them, given the dearth of rivals – still has the charm to lure you in and the prowess to prove it’s more than superficial.
So what does all that mean for any kind of useful conclusion? The Morgan, after all, doesn’t even have a radio, leave alone sat-nav, CarPlay and a 10-inch touchscreen. The Jaguar, for all its pomp and ceremony, feels as mass produced as an XE diesel; both in its ease-of-use and its quite ordinary feel in comparison to Malvern’s best effort. They’re very different cars.
The Plus 6, though, is a watershed moment for Morgan and a mammoth achievement; it requires less compromise than any previous model while still delivering wholeheartedly on the pub-lunch-in-the-countryside charm that’s expected (or demanded) of a sports car from the Malvern hills. As a modern take on a much-loved formula that’s decades old, injecting usability without removing significant emotional appeal, it must be marked a resounding triumph.
It’s not as complete a sports car as the F-Type, which still retains a considerable talent for worming a way into your affections – though arguably it never had to be. This experience is worth the compromise; if an £80k sports car is being saved for high days and holidays, which is hopefully a fair assumption to make, then it should be a special one. For all the flaws and foibles, and despite the Jag’s enduring allure, it’s the Morgan that ticks the box most convincingly. For those who’ve lusted after one for years, there’s never been a more compelling reason to take your place on the waiting list.
SPECIFICATION – MORGAN PLUS SIX FIRST EDITION
Engine: 2,998cc straight-six, turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 335@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 369@N/Arpm
0-62mph: 4.2sec (claimed)
Top speed: 166mph
Weight: 1,075kg (dry)
MPG: 38.2 (NEDC)
CO2: 170g/km (NEDC)
SPECIFICATION – JAGUAR F-TYPE CONVERTIBLE R-DYNAMIC P380
Engine: 2,995cc, V6 supercharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 380@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 339@3,500rpm
Top speed: 171mph
Weight: from 1,614kg
Price: £71,725 (as standard; price as tested £79,650 comprised of Madagascar Orange Ultra Metallic Paint for £3,500, Black Exterior Pack for £625, Ebony Suedecloth sunvisors with vanity mirrors, Ebony Suedecloth headlining for £580, 20-inch ‘Style 5042’ carbon fibre, Satin Grey and diamond turned wheels for £520, Climate Pack (two-zone climate control, heated windscreen, heated front seats and heated steering wheel) for £1,070, Front parking aid for £255, Rear view camera for £275 and Seat Memory Pack (auto-dimming, power fold, heated door mirrors with memory, electrically adjustable steering column with memory 12-way electric seats with driver and passenger memory) for £1,100
The Morgan Motor Company has delivered the first Plus Six production cars to its UK Dealership network at an official handover ceremony during the annual Morgan ‘Thrill On The Hill’ event at Prescott Speed Hill Climb in Gloucestershire.
The official handover, which took place on the hill itself during the lunchtime break, represented the first deliveries of the all-new Plus Six, which was announced at the Geneva Motor Show in March this year.
In total, 11 UK-based Morgan Dealerships were in attendance to take delivery of their new Plus Six models at Thrill On The Hill, from as far north as Perth in Scotland to as far south as Exeter in Devon.
The arrival of the new demonstrators offers an opportunity for customers to try the latest Morgan, and the company would like to invite anybody interested in experiencing the new Plus Six to contact their nearest Dealership. More than 150 Plus Six orders have now been placed, with customer deliveries expected to begin during the fourth quarter of 2019.
The Plus Six is an all-new car that celebrates Morgan’s distinctive design. It features a BMW three-litre inline six-cylinder turbocharged engine and is the first model to be built on the company’s new CX-Generation aluminium platform. Fewer than 1% of its parts are shared with other Morgan models.
Steve Morris, Morgan Motor Company CEO said: “We are delighted to witness the first Plus Six models being handed over to our UK Dealership network here at Thrill On The Hill 2019. The sight of all 11 Plus Six First Editions is one to behold, and this handover marks the culmination of years of hard work from our small team based in Malvern Link. I would like to thank all the staff at our factory, and our Morgan Dealerships in the UK and around the world, for their continued efforts in bringing Plus Six to market. We look forward to a bright future for this fantastic new Morgan.”
► It’s an all-new Morgan!
► Uses 335bhp BMW straight-six
► Prices start from £77,995
This doesn’t happen too often: a brand-new Morgan sports car. And despite appearances, this really is a brand-new car beneath the familiarly-styled coachwork, on a fresh platform that will underpin further future Morgan models.
Yep, a straight-six does the donkey work here, and it’s got a real kick: BMW’s B58 engine also found in the Z4 M40i and Toyota Supra, among other berths.
In this car its 335bhp feels more potent than ever. The Plus Six weighs 1075kg dry, and it can snort and snarl its way from 0-62mph in 4.2sec, quicker than the same-power BMW Z4 and even a smidge faster than the Toyota Supra, but it feels even quicker than that. Largely because you’re closer to the engine doing its work, hearing its turbo swooshing and smelling its exertion through the bonnet vents just ahead of you. Of the various cars the B58 engine powers, it feels at its most characterful in this car.
When you want it to be, but overall, it’s actually surprisingly refined and well-rounded – by low volume sports car standards, you understand.
The engine is coupled to the eight-speed ZF torque converter auto gearbox it’s also paired with in the Z4 and Supra. In its default mode it shifts smoothly and unobtrusively, changing up relatively early. Nudge the lever to the left for Sport mode and downshifts become more extravagant and upshifts later and swifter; more so still if you press the Sport Plus button on the centre console, which alters the throttle and gearshift maps but doesn’t muck about with the power steering or traction control. In fact, it doesn’t have the latter at all, which is absolutely fine by us. It does have ABS, however.
It does feel odd to see that familiar BMW gear selector in the middle of the Plus Six’s hand-built cockpit, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that a H-pattern ’box would fit the car’s character more completely.
But the B58 engine and ZF auto transmission are very much an item, and separating the two isn’t straightforward. Morgan says that if a suitable manual gearbox were to become available, it would certainly consider offering a manual version in the future. Still, the pedals feel a tad offset, which might be exacerbated with the addition of a clutch pedal.
Regardless, the ZF ’box is easy-going in town and you can override it with manual shift paddles mounted to the steering column surround. Shame they’re plastic and rather ordinary-feeling, but manufacturing bespoke shifters would have inflated the Plus Six’s price accordingly.
The Plus Six is the most undemanding Morgan to drive yet – which isn’t the same thing as saying it’s uninvolving.
It has electric power-assisted steering – Morgan’s own – which is remarkably stable on bumpy roads. There’s real stability either side of the straight-ahead, and the steering doesn’t paw at cambers or feel nervous at speed, which does wonders for fatigue on long journeys. It’s perhaps not the most feelsome setup in the world, and in some ways you might wish it actually did writhe around in your hands a bit more on B-roads, but for high-speed stability and carrying momentum on uneven roads, it’s impressively well-resolved.
With all that torque on tap (369lb ft between 1600 and 4500rpm), the Plus Six tends to leave a light smear of its bespoke Avon tyres on the road in its wake under acceleration. We drove the Plus Six on a hot sunny day but you get the impression you’d have to be on your guard in the wet. It uses an open differential rather than a locking diff, chosen to help make things less intimidating on slippery roads, and for the most part it works extremely well; it’s only in occasional driving situations you find yourself with an LSD craving.
Overall, the Plus Six’s handling is very polished. In terms of outright body control it’s not perfect by any stretch, as is entirely reasonable for a car developed by a small independent company on a budget a fraction of the size of a large manufacturer. It’s a car that it takes longer to trust than some, with less immediate feedback through its controls than one might expect of a sports car. Once you learn to trust it, it’s really quite benign with a balance that appealingly tends far more towards oversteer than understeer. For an ultimate drive on a great road there are other sports cars you might choose over it (not least Supra, Alpine, Elise) – but that’s not necessarily what the Plus Six is about. It gets far closer to them from a dynamic point of view than one might expect, with a character all of its own. And in straight-line acceleration it’s more exciting than most cars this side of an Ariel Atom.
Suspension is by double wishbones all round. In terms of ride as opposed to handling, it doesn’t quite breathe with the road as, for example, a Lotus does, with a slightly abrupt edge to its suspension movements – although it’s one that feels more comfortable with miles, and it isn’t unreasonably firm; it is a sports car, after all.
I struggled with the driving position, so important in a sports car. The hand-made seats (trimmed in leather with an almost limitless choice of grain and colours) look fantastic but I couldn’t help but feel like they’re mounted little too high. I felt perched on, rather than ensconced in, the car.
There is a decent range of adjustment, more so than in previous Morgans, with the seat sliding fore and aft and the backrest tiltable, enabling taller drivers to get comfortable in the Plus Six than in previous models. The Plus Six offers 200mm more legroom than a Plus 8, for example.
Nonetheless, I’m 5ft 10in but the top of my head was buffeted by the airflow, to the point that my hat was blown off my head at one point, and there’s lateral support only if you shuffle down in the seat to better support yourself against the side bolsters. The lumbar support can also be inflated or deflated with a squeezable rubber pouch, which helps, but my driving position still felt like a compromise.
The steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake, further increasing the Plus Six’s appeal to drivers of all sizes. It’s a shame the wheel itself, an off-the-shelf unit from GKN, doesn’t look a little more bespoke. There’s some beautiful craftsmanship at play in the cabin, but naturally the first things your eyes are drawn to are the gear selector and the wheel. They are reasonable compromises to allow for given the tight budget this entire car was developed within. The Plus Six was funded by Morgan itself (and some government funding) and they’ve done a lot with a little.
It’s called the CX Generation platform, CX signifying 110 years of Morgan. Throughout that time, remarkably, the company has been family owned and run; that finally changed at the beginning of 2019 with a majority stake purchased by European investment group Investindustrial – although the Plus Six was completed before the acquisition.
The Plus Six is the first car to be spun from the CX platform, which will also underpin a future flagship model to fill the gap in the range left by the Aero series. Intriguingly, the platform has provision for electric motor architecture, so a hybrid model could be possible.
Apart from the car’s structure, designed to be roomier and with greater adjustment for different drivers, the CX’s electronics platform also unlocks a variety of opportunities for Morgan: the Plus Six features central locking and puddle lights beneath the doors, for example, and while the car doesn’t currently feature traction control, it may do in future updates.
Yes, while the CX platform is based around a bonded aluminium monocoque – a type of structure Morgan has been working with for around 20 years now, and using BMW engines for the same stretch of time – it still features a supplementary ash frame to which its body panels are mounted. Aside from tradition, it brings extra rigidity and has benefits in impact protection.
It’s not cheap, at £77,995, but that’s a more palatable price than the now out-to-pasture Plus Eight model which had strayed into six-figure territory.
The car tested here is one of the first 50 ‘First Edition’ models off the line, costing £89,995. Each comes with a hardtop as standard to supplement the moderately fiddly but effective fabric hood and a host of special design details. Each First Edition will be finished in either Emerald metallic green paintwork with tan leather or blue-grey Moonstone with blue leather (pictured).
The Morgan Plus Six is a deeply appealing car. While it’s more sanitised than classic Morgan models, its increased civility hasn’t eroded its character or sense of occasion. To be sat within it, sidescreens and roof removed on a sunny country lane, vented bonnet ahead and arms in the breeze, is an experience unlike almost any other in the modern automotive landscape.
The burly straight-six is both smooth and tractable at low speeds, feels electrifyingly fast when extended, and the Plus Six’s handling bodes well for further-developed applications of the CX platform in the future. The extra accommodation and relatively low 170g/km CO2 output has the potential to open possibilities in previously inaccessible European markets too.
The driving position is an issue for me, and the interior furniture may be for others, but overall this is the most well-rounded model Morgan has yet produced, and an encouraging product for the next chapters in its chronicles.
|Price when new:||£77,995|
|On sale in the UK:||Now|
|Engine:||2998cc 24v turbocharged straight-six, 335bhp @ 5000rpm, 369lb ft @ 1600-4500rpm|
|Transmission:||8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive|
|Performance:||4.2sec 0-62mph, 166mph, 38.2mpg, 170g/km CO2|
|Weight / material:||1075kg (dry)/aluminium monocoque with supplementary ash frame|
|Dimensions (length / width / height mm):||3890/1756/1220mm|
MALVERN, U.K. — Think of the very pinnacle of modern small-series automobile production; a chassis made of aluminum riveted, bonded and welded together just like the latest from Aston Martin or Lotus. Then think of English ash-wood framing on top of it, draped in expertly hand-beaten aluminum panels just like the earliest days of the motor car – the 2020 Morgan Plus Six in all its anachronistic glory. It’s like walking onto the Space Shuttle command deck to find an astrolabe in the corner.
But then Morgans are weird, of that there’s no doubt, although there’s no arguing with the figures. This latest Morgan Plus Six will accelerate from 0-62 mph in 4.2 seconds and go on to a top speed of 166 mph, assuming your license can stand it. At this point you might be laughing madly, especially if you know Morgans. It’s all flies-in-the-teeth acceleration, medieval chassis technology, and never mind the handling because you’re in the air half the time anyway.
John Beech, Morgan’s chief engineer (formerly of Lotus) and his small team have worked miracles. This CX chassis (Roman numerals for 110) debuts under this Plus Six model, along with a new double wishbone MacPherson strut-derived front and four-link independent rear suspension with 19-inch wheels, plus an all-new engine and transmission.
The relationship between BMW and Morgan continues, though this time, they’re doing what Peter Morgan, the second generation Morgan to run the company, once described as ‘mission impossible’: cramming a straight-six engine under that traditionally long and heavily louvered bonnet. Peter chose instead to create the legendary 1969 V8-powered Plus Eight, but now a BMW B58 turbocharged inline-six, displacing 3.0 liters and making 335 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, snugs under the Plus Six’s center-hinged hood. It’s coupled to a ZF eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission driving the rear wheels.
This is one of the finest ‘sixes’ in production, and in the Plus Six it combines performance with excellent on-paper fuel economy. It’ll achieve 31.8 mpg in the generous European test cycle, but we could only manage 23 mpg average during our drive. Regardless, it’s fully Euro emissions compliant, partly because the car’s featherweight 2,370-pound curb weight means the engine isn’t heavily taxed moving the Plus Six about. The outgoing and dipsomaniac 4.4-liter V8 Aero and Plus 8 models attracted punitive taxation in many places.
Cramming in the engine has taken a lot of work, though. Ancillaries have been relocated and the cooling system has been redesigned, with new hood nostrils and extra louvers in the hood to get the superheated air out. Even so, the front hood release on the turbo side of the car gets too hot to touch even after a gentle run – owners will need to carry gloves.
Climb into the cockpit (not the most dignified of maneuvers) and the biggest change becomes clear – it’s still intimate enough to be a sports car, but there’s a lot more space. By the tape, the Plus Six adds 0.8 inches to the wheelbase, which somehow freed up nearly 8 inches of leg room, 3 inches of width across the cockpit, and a deeper and more useful rear parcel shelf.
Pretty much anyone will fit into this new Morgan and it’s comfortable, too, with a tilting and telescoping adjustable steering column, air conditioning, even power door locks. Taller drivers might want for a slightly lower seat height (there’s room to get an inch or two lower) and maybe a bit more width in the seat backs, but it’s genuinely possible to spend a day behind the wheel without feeling like a piece of unfolded origami on climbing out, which you certainly did in the previous models.
The dashboard retains the traditional Morgan layout with a central speedo and rev counter, but with modern instruments and a small digital display screen in front of the driver flanked by stark and unattractive gauges for fuel contents and coolant temperature. There’s no navigation, but there is a Bluetooth system so you can use your phone instead.
The leather upholstery is quite lovely, especially the quilted finishes. The gear knob is provided by BMW, but Morgan does the handbrake and a very plasticky steering column surround. The hood is beautifully made, but like Morgans of old, it’s a finger eater to erect and you’ll struggle in the downpour to tug the windscreen capping down. In addition, the aluminum frame rattles over bumps and, with the hood furled, the aluminum cockpit trim reflects distractingly in the windscreen.
Stab the push-button start and the big BMW mill growls into life, refined despite the upgraded exhaust fitted to our test car. It’s only in the upper end of the rev counter that it produces any real sturm und drang.
You need to recall that this car is at least half a ton lighter than any other BMW fitted with the same engine and Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, it’s fast. The twin-scroll turbocharger picks up early and fast and the bluff nose surges, unzipping the horizon towards you. Push the gearlever to one side to access the Sport program, which sharpens up the gear changes and throttle response and then there’s an additional Sport+ button to give yet more alacrity. Mid-range response is effervescent but the top end is simply stupefying.
If you launch it from stand still, those rear 255/35/19 Avon tires will leave perfect black lines for just as long as you want them to. Few owners are going to drive it like that, but when you’re overtaking, it’s a nice edge.
And unlike the previous hot Morgan models, this one isn’t frightening. The Plus Six is quick, but it’s also extraordinarily composed and refined, and that long-travel throttle and gentle-giant low-end response makes it an easy car to drive briskly.
As in other BMW applications, that ZF ‘box can be a bit obstructive, reluctant to kick down at times, although there are steering-wheel paddles with which to flip down a ratio and the Morgan’s lightweight and extra work on the transmission software make it feel a bit sharper.
Despite having a laughably infinitesimal amount of wheel travel, Beech and his team have found a compliance and chassis balance that rides and handles over some pretty poor road surfaces. No longer do sharp undulations leave the exhaust scraping the road and the nose goes where it is pointed. It is set up gently and the mien is slightly more gran turismo than all-out road racer, but that’s where the market is and that light weight means you can still play with it. The steering isn’t particularly communicative (and it could do with a slightly faster ratio), but those Avons are faithful and true; if you decide to push the tail out under throttle, you can get it back without too much drama.
For those used to Morgans this is a sensational debut, for those new to the marque, it’s the first Morgan that needs little excuse to include it in sentences containing Jaguar’s F-Pace, BMW’s Z4 and Porsche’s Boxster. What’s more there’s more to come with Aero models and sports derivatives, which will answer some of the minor niggles mentioned here.
It’s on sale now priced at £89,995 for the First Edition models, £77,995 for the standard cars. Each car takes about four weeks to build and Morgan is hoping to build up to nine a week; there’s a waiting list of 150 already.
And now the bad news, Plus Six won’t pass US production-car safety tests and while there are nascent new laws which might allow it to be sold, we’re still waiting for them to be enacted.
This would be the most perfect car for America, but if you want one, you’ll have to contact your senator.
What’s new about the Morgan Plus 4 110 Works Edition?
The term “What’s new?” is quite a strange one to associate with a Morgan because these cars are built in such traditional ways. But the Plus 4 110 Works Edition does have a range of fitments which differentiate it from the rest of the range. And yes, it still uses ash in its makeup, just like other Morgans.
You get a Sports ECU map for better performance, as well as a motorsport-inspired exhaust with black ceramic tips. In addition, there are motorsport-style wheels finished in satin grey. The car also has ‘110 Anniversary’ logos stitched into the headrests of the sport seats which are – handily for the UK – now heated.
How does it look?
There’s nothing on the road today which comes close to the Plus 4’s styling. It’s why it turns heads wherever it goes and looks just as happy parked up outside the supermarket as it would at the front of the Savoy Hotel. The huge sweeping wheel arches and elongated bonnet look just as good from the inside as they do from the outside – your view out over the front is one you’d struggle to tire of.
The 110 Works treatment only helps the overall effect. Our car came in a grey metallic colour, with contrast satin finish paint used on the bonnet and stone guards. The mesh-covered headlamps finish off the design, as does the new bonnet side vent – a new touch on this celebratory Morgan which you won’t find on other Plus 4 cars.
What’s the spec like?
Keen button-pressers are going to be disappointed in the Plus 4, but a wealth of in-car technology isn’t what the Morgan is about. You get a trip computer – and that’s about it. As we mentioned there’s a 12-volt socket, and heated seats too – the latter of which are surprisingly hot, but ideal for winter-time driving.
However, when it comes to customisation, Morgan has you covered. You can have the Plus 4 finished in pretty much any colour you could think of, with all manner of interior trim finishes available to accompany it.
What’s the Plus 4 Works Edition like inside?
The cabin of the Plus 4 is snug, but not unpleasantly so. Storage isn’t as much of an issue as you’d expect, with the small area behind the seats more than large enough for two soft weekend bags. Door pockets are ideal for smaller items such as keys and wallets, while the glove compartment can take the rest.
The level of finish is exceptional, though. Hand-stitched leather covers the dashboard, while chrome instrument binnacles walk a fine line between retro and modern. There’s no radio, but Morgan has thought to include a 12-volt charger so you can charge your devices via an appropriate adaptor.
Roof-up and the cockpit feels smaller again, but it’s not too bad. The wind does tend to rattle the mohair hood though – in our opinion, you’re always better sticking with the roof down, and to hell with the weather.
What’s under the bonnet?
The Plus 4 utilises a Ford-sourced 2.0-litre petrol engine with 155hp and 201Nm of torque. That may not sound like all that much but, given that the Plus 4 weighs under a ton without fluids, it’s more than enough to get it up to speed quickly enough. In fact, Morgan says it’ll crack 0-60mph in 7.3 seconds, and push on to a top speed of 118mph – figures which feel more than accurate from the cockpit.
Drive is sent to the rear wheels via a Mazda five-speed gearbox. Despite the relatively brisk performance, Morgan claims that the Plus 4 will return an impressive 40mpg while emitting 164g/km of CO2. Couple this with a 55-litre fuel tank, and you’ve got a car with a very decent touring range, giving you even more time to enjoy the car between trips to the pump.
What’s the Morgan Plus 4 Works Edition like to drive?
Get behind the wheel of a Morgan Plus 4 and you’re immediately aware that things aren’t quite as they’d be in a modern roadster. The steering wheel sits right up into your chest while the legs-out driving position feels distinctly different. Turn the key, and you’re met with an old-school exhaust note, with the 2.0-litre engine springing into life with a decent glug of revs to make its presence known.
At slower speeds, the Morgan takes some effort to pilot. The steering is heavy around town, while the ride is easily unsettled. Throw more speed into the mix, however, and the Plus 4 settles down considerably – it’s surprisingly refined on the motorway and will happily barrel along at the legal limit.
Faster corners require plenty of concentration, but there’s loads of grip to be found. The engine loves to rev too, with reasonably long gearing meaning you can exploit the 2.0-litre’s willingness to fire towards the redline whenever you get the chance.
As far as birthday presents go, the Morgan Plus 4 110 Works Edition is right up there. The additional extras you get – both visual and mechanical – strengthen it as an overall prospect.
Though the driving experience may be distinctly old-school, it’s an immensely enjoyable one and a welcome splash of water to the face of the tech-heavy encounters you’ll have with the vast majority of cars currently on sale today.
It’s a smile-inducing car, the Morgan Plus 4 – both for the driver and for the people you pass – and it’s tricky to put a price on that, don’t you think?
Model as tested: Morgan Plus 4 110 Works Edition
Price (on-road): £64,995
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Gearbox: Five-speed manual
Power: 155 hp
Torque: 201 Nm
Top speed: 118 mph
0-60mph: 7.3 seconds
Fuel economy (combined): 40 mpg
CO2 emissions: 164 g/km
I DON’T HAVE to be in here at 7am but that’s when I arrive. I like to have a cup of coffee and a chat with the other lads before I start work. I’ve got my own corner of the wood shop, and I only work on the standard Morgan – the ‘Traditional’ , we call it. Over the years, I’ve done most of the jobs and they just leave me to get on with it.
At the moment I’m finishing off the last doorframe of a car, making sure it fits in the aperture. I’ve already built the doorframe in a little jig we have, which holds it all tightly as it’s glued together. Once its in place I’ll trim it so it fits absolutely perfectly. Using modem glue means the time to make the door has fallen from a whole day, when I started here, to five hours. That’s modem efficiency! Still, some things never change. The solid oak press we use to shape the wheelarch is at least 80 years old.
I started at Morgan on 22 September 1975. I’d already done ten years in various building trades, so I had lots of carpentry skills. I liked it because it was close to my house, so I could walk here in 13 minutes across the fields.
Before I came here, I didn’t even realise Morgan had a woodworking shop. Or its own sawmill, which it still has. It must be the only car manufacturer in the world to do so. Our ash comes from Lincolnshire; nowadays it arrives on pallets cut to the lengths we need, so we no longer have waste left over from long planks.
When I joined there were still four young ladies working on old capstan lathes, and one of them became my partner. A lot of relationships have started here over the years. Morgan has been my life, really.
I actually retired three years ago aged 65, on my birthday. They put a cardboard cut-out of me up on the wall when I left because I was such a fixture. But I soon came back and now I work three mornings a week. The ghost of Vince is still up there.
The placing and lifting work does become a bit harder as you get older. I groan every time I stand up, but I don’t mind because I just like doing it. I’ve built or part-built about 6000 frames in my time, and these days I’m often working with an apprentice by my side.
I love showing the kids how it done, passing on my skills, although you’ve got to work swiftly to get the jobs done and do the training. The bodies are going out at a fair rate. These days the apprentices come straight in. They’re usually keen but, if I’m honest, a bit naive. You’re going to make cars, true, but most importantly you’ve got to start by becoming skilled at cutting and planing a piece of wood.
Actually, the type of some tools, is the thing that changed most during my time.
Patience and accuracy are crucial. Being proud of your tools, and sharpening them, is also important because it’s all hardwood we
work with. I have a young lad working by me at the moment who’s just sent off for a rosewood-handled chisel to add to his tools. That’s the right spirit. You have to love your tools.
It’s much easier physically, and my hands are still quite soft. After all this time I rarely get a splinter. You just know by instinct not to brush a rough edge. It’s an old joke here that you pretend to be in agony by getting a splinter from someone else’s work!
I’ve always liked being in a steady job that you don’t worry about when you go home. I work part-time throughout the whole year but I’ll take a weeks holiday when the Cheltenham Festival is on, because I love horse racing.
Morgan hasn’t changed that much over the years, thank goodness. With the old gaffer [Peter Morgan] you could drop into his office to get your passport application signed or whatever, or to ask him something. The management now is much younger, and there s
a bit more pressure on everybody. I’ve known the boss today, Steve Morris, since he was a 17-year-old in the tin shop next door – what we used to call the coachbuilding department!
My partner died 12 years ago but I have a large family life, including her two daughters, and I have three sisters and a brother all here in Malvern. I see my brother every week; he’s the head porter at Malvern College. I’m quite practical at home but I don’t have an ornate ash kitchen or anything like that.
These days I drive to work. I’ve got a VW Scirocco GT and it’s a great car, really quick. I didn’t learn to drive until I was 43, and I’d never driven a Morgan until last summer. My boss let me use a Traditional to take my great-nephew to his summer prom. Everybody looked at it wherever I parked, but they’d never guess there was a bit of the driver inside the car itself . . .
Once, all car companies were like the 110-year-old Morgan Motor Company, a small family-owned affair pumping out a few hundred cars each year. Yet while contemporary early 20th Century garage-land start-ups like Ford and Morris grew to become huge multinational corporations, Morgan remained pretty much the same for more than a century.
Heck, it even still uses wood to frame the bodywork on the cars that it builds today, the chassis stiffness handled by the steel backbone that has also defined the brand since 1909. So Morgan isn’t just a survivor of a once mighty British motor-manufacturing empire, it’s also a preserver of tried-and-tested construction methods, finest craftsmanship, and a relaxed attitude to production targets.
In good years, the number of Morgans produced by the company’s 170 employees approaches 1000 units, but the customers ordering those cars could sometimes wait up to six years before taking delivery. As with a certain brand of cheese, it appears that good things take time. It was this company culture that inspired Allan Duffy’s purchase of this beautiful beetle-back 1933 Morgan Super Sports.
“Back in 1998, when I turned 50, I was looking to buy a car that was older than I was, but while searching books of all the cars made before 1948, I decided that most of them were rubbish. “Then I came across Morgan – I hadn’t heard of them before.” The distinctive Super Sports tri-car is arguably the Morgan that instantly springs to mind whenever anyone thinks of the Malvern Link-based company, especially the prettier ‘beetle-back’ version, with its gracefully-tapered tail and frivolous cooling gills.
The other body style for the SS trike is the ‘barrel-back’, which looks like some backyard mechanic has rudely grafted a beer keg to the rear of the car.
The latter offers the same token luggage stowage, but it comes at considerable cost to the crowd-pleasing visual appeal of a Morgan trike. “I mostly get lots of waves from other drivers when I’m at the wheel,” says Duffy. “The occasional one gives me a look like I’m from another planet.”
The Super Sports was a big leap forward for Morgan when it first appeared in 1930. That was 21 years after the debut of the first tri-car, powered by a Peugeot V-twin engine in 1909, and Morgan would commission power-plant supply from a number of other motorcycle engine manufacturers in those two decades, including Anzani, Blackburne, and J.A.P. Duffy says that often it was a question of getting an engine at the right price that led to so many different motors being employed by Morgan.
“It was the key to their survival as a low volume manufacturer for they didn’t have to invest large sums in developing their own mechanical components.” The J.A.P. is considered by some classic car enthusiasts to be the best of the engines, possibly because of the successes of the John Alfred Prestwich-designed engine in racing throughout the 1920s, and its connection to the then premier motorcycle brand, Brough Superior. These longitudinally-mounted V-twin engines all drove the rear wheel through a crude two-speed transmission consisting of two primary sprockets, two drive chains, and two final sprockets. “You simply swapped drive chains to change the gearing.”
With the debut of the Super Sports, Morgan finally moved to something better, with a prop shaft running from the V-twin engine to Morgan’s own gearbox, which boasted three forward gears and, thankfully, a reverse gear. Chain was still used to deliver the torque to the rear wheel, but at nearly an inch wide, it was certainly sized to last. The Matchless V-twin could be purchased in either water-cooled or air-cooled form, with Duffy’s car featuring the bulging water jackets and smooth cylinders of the former.
It has tighter tolerances than the finned version, and the exposed engine is quieter. However Duffy has to constantly monitor the ‘moto-meter’ that is mounted to the top of the chromed twin-radiator surround like a luxury brand mascot. The arrow on the meter can quickly move from ‘cool’ to ‘warm’ to ‘hot’ to ‘boiling’ when driving in city traffic like a barometer warning of the approach of a tropical cyclone. “There’s no water pump or fan; it’s a thermo-siphon cooling system similar to a Ford Model T’s.” Despite this early cooling technology, Duffy has found the Super Sports to be ultra-reliable.
“I can leave it sitting in the garage for ages, then it’ll fire up readily once I put petrol in the tank again, and retard the spark”. Another feature of the Matchless is that it can easily be converted to electric start, something the previous owner of the Super Sports did soon after the car’s arrival in New Zealand from Canada. Duffy says that the Matchless is the equal to the revered J.A.P., having previously owned a 1934 J.A.P.- powered Super Sports.
“There’s very little between them, but I’ve been able to drive this one in some pretty atrocious conditions. “It’s been to some pretty wild n’ wet places (including the notorious Rubber Ducky rally in Taranaki).” Not that you’d know that to look at its immaculate condition. Evidently a restorer in Canada spent 10 years getting this Super Sports to look brand new again. Duffy bought it in 2010 from another Morgan fan, having owned the J.A.P. model for a year.
The Super Sports had been imported to New Zealand in 2004. Duffy invites me to come for a ride in one of the most unique cars in the world. The Matchless fires up readily with an authoritative V-twin rumble as he adjusts the hand throttle and spark timing levers fitted to the steering wheel. I clamber into the passenger seat awkwardly, feeling like a sardine on the packing line of a fish factory. Back in the 1930s, some road testers considered egress and access to and from the Super Sports cockpit to be excellent.
Whatever they were putting in the tea back then, I want some! The V-twin has identical bore and stroke measurements, but delivers grunt like a proper long-stroke British big-bore bike engine, with vibrant torque flooding the driveline as soon as Duffy lets out the clutch. Two well-timed shifts of the crash gearbox later, we’re going 45km/h, a speed where the Morgan no longer requires the two lower gears.
There’s plenty of mechanical drama happening ahead of me. The exposed rockers of the V-twin’s pushrod-activated valvetrain are doing a frenetic dance to the whine of the geartrain down near my right knee, and the explosive exhaust pipes exiting behind me. In my line of sight are the left-wheel motions of the Morgan’s famous ‘sliding pillar’ front suspension.
It was one of Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan’s most brilliant ideas, the independently-suspended front end the key to the accurate and agile steering of Morgan tri-cars through bumpy bends. Feeling calm and relaxed, and living a boyhood dream of a ride in a Morgan tricycle, I glance over at my driver. He has a huge grin on his face as he goes about his work, some of which looks like it requires plenty of practice – such as double-clutching a downshift with the foot clutch pedal and the hand throttle lever while still attempting to turn the car into a corner.
At one point in the drive we have to do a U-turn, and the limited steering lock turns it into a three-pointer despite a wheelbase that is shorter than some professional basketball players. Fortunately the reversing part of the manoeuvre is halted with some efficiency by the Morris Minor-sourced front brakes. “Some people are obsessed with originality, but driving in city traffic requires good brakes, especially in a car that’s as low as this one is.”
It’s not the only limitation to driving a Morgan trike in busy Auckland traffic. The rudimentary engine cooling means it’s better “to keep going than to stop” according to Duffy. He also has to park the tri-car on a flat surface or facing uphill to prevent oil vacating the gearbox.
Duffy is about to list the Super Sports for sale in the global newsletter for Morgan owners; The Bulletin. He says it’s simply because he owns two other four-wheeled Morgans, and the 1981 4-4 is better at driving around town than the tri-car, while the Rover V8-powered Plus 8 is a consummate open road cruiser.
The Super Sports will cruise at 80-90kmh quite happily, but it can be tiring for both the man and the machine. Duffy prefers to tow it to events such as the Art Deco festival in Napier.“I often have to wait for the crowd gathered around it to clear before I can drive it.”
The company also moved away from the three-wheelers once World War II started, and it was a huge surprise to Duffy when it unveiled the new 3 Wheeler model at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show after a 60-year hiatus from building tri-cars. Powered by a 85kW S&S V-twin, and driving the rear wheel via a five-speed Mazda manual gearbox, the 3 Wheeler can sprint from rest to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds. However, it still features H.F.S. Morgan’s patented sliding pillar front suspension, circa 1909.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.