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As many of you will remember, Bill Fink was our honored guest at the MOGSouth 40th Anniversary Meet in Aiken SC. My first Morgan was a Bill Fink propane car as is my current Plus 8. ISIS Imports has been a wonderful supporter of MOGSouth for many, many years. To me he was a good friend and my Morgan hero. He will get greatly missed by us all!! Mark
Bay Area sports car importer and vintage car racer Bill Fink was identified Monday
as the victim of a house fire in Bodega.
The Sonoma County
Sheriff’s Office said Fink, 77, died late Sunday in a fire that destroyed a
single-story home on Salmon Creek Road. Although Fink’s wife and two friends
were able to escape the blaze, firefighters were prevented from getting inside
the home due to intense flames and heat.
“A number of
the volunteers and first responders knew the victim. That’s hard for anyone
that responds in a rural setting,” Gold Ridge Fire Protection District
Chief Shepley Schroth-Cary told The Press Democrat. “And in an effort to
save somebody, they were close to the victim before being driven out by fire.
That’s always tough when you’re close but not successful.”
Schroth-Cary said the fire’s origin has not yet been determined, but it is not considered suspicious.
Fink was well
known in the world of vintage British cars, especially among owners of Morgan
sports cars, a legacy brand with a cult following. For decades, he was the only
West Coast importer of Morgans through his San Francisco business Isis Imports,
now called Morgan Cars USA, which had moved to
Bodega in recent years, while still maintaining space on Pier 33. The Chronicle
dubbed him the “Morgan Master” in a 2000
profile. Fink’s company celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2018.
Morgan Motor Company, founded in 1909, still hand-builds about 800 sports cars
annually, each based on their cars from the 1930s onward, as well as more
modern versions which still feature similar lines. Fink had a close
relationship with the company in England, and is credited with helping to keep
the marque alive in the United States by working with the car maker to meet
American import requirements and emissions standards.
didn’t stop with new cars, though. Fink and his business has helped keep many
vintage cars on the road though restorations, the supply of parts and
expertise. His involvement with the Morgan Sports Car Club of Northern
California reaches back to the 1960s.
was Bill who kept Morgan’s alive in the 1980s and most of us were in some way
touched by his unbelievable efforts,” wrote one owner on a Morgan forum.
Fink spent the
hours before his death on Sunday with the club on their annual “Oyster
Run,” an organized rally through Marin and Sonoma counties, spending time
with old friends and talking cars.
Much has been made of the 3.7 Roadsters coming into the US but little of the other options, like the Plus 4. Here is a good review, thanks to John Wade in Huntsville. Enjoy.
The lack of airbags didn’t worry me. Nor did the conspicuous absence of rollover protection, ABS, traction control, stability control, and power steering. That stuff (or lack thereof) is cake; be mindful of your surroundings and your right foot, and you’ll more than likely be alright. Rather, it was the five (six? seven?) step process to erect or disassemble the cloth top of my loaner 2020 Morgan Plus 4 that caused me to sweat the most.
As if on cue, the skies above Morgan West—the home of Morgan Motors in Los Angeles and one of nine authorized dealers scattered around the U.S.—was ominously gray and heavy with the rain my weather apps declared was inevitable. Clearly, I’d need to memorize the innumerable snaps, clips, latches, and handles involved, along with the correct way to collapse the top, so I could avoid a soaking of both myself and the car’s gorgeous saddle brown interior. Beyond ruining interior electronics and leather, I ran the risk of shearing portions of the canvas lid if I didn’t fold its exposed metal joints in the correct manner.
Despite my fumbling, my instructor and Morgan West master mechanic Stefan Mincu wasn’t concerned. “You can be rough with these cars,” he explained as he leaned into the cockpit. “They look and feel delicate, but they’re quite robust. Plus, if you break anything, don’t worry—we’ll fix it.” That’s not something you expect to hear from a boutique automaker whose nationwide inventory would likely fail to fill half the lot at a Ferrari dealership.
However, if the silver blue Plus 4 roadster I got my hands on for a few days is anything to go by, that could all change in the next few years. Like many other ultra-low-production manufacturers—Superformance is the first to sprint to mind—Morgan awaits whatever comes from the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015. That act was a dictate to NHTSA to develop specialized and more lenient regulations for small-scale automakers without requiring them to adhere to the same safety and emissions rulebook held by multinational behemoths like Toyota and Ford.
For now, all new Morgans inside Morgan West’s showroom sneak into the country via the same loophole many other kit-car and low-volume manufacturers take advantage of: The cars arrive in the U.S. sans engine and sometimes transmission, and are only introduced to their new hearts on U.S. soil. My tester Plus 4 received its transplant at Morgan West, presumably where the mass majority of L.A.-based Morgan customers opt to have their cars prepped.
Don’t call the Morgan a kit car, even if it toes the same regulatory gray lines as such machines do. All Morgans are handcrafted originally in Malvern, Worcestershire, U.K., via a blend of modern and old techniques that, yes, do still include extensive use of wood. Specifically, the frame that supports the exterior body is built from ash wood and overlaid with aluminum paneling for rigidity and longevity. Wait, you say, I thought the chassis was made of wood? No, it’s steel. Same goes for those allegedly wooden body panels that are actually aluminum.
Pep-talk over, I cut my way through the heart of Santa Monica in a vehicle I was woefully unfamiliar with. After taking stock of the interior, every preconceived notion I held about Morgan shattered. The Plus 4’s fit, finish, and quality is beyond even the best products emerging from top luxury brands. That doesn’t mean the Morgan is more luxurious or well-furnished, but the car feels hand-built and unique in a way semi-mass-produced cars do not, regardless of price. Leather appointments are tight and of the highest quality, and the metal trim and touchpoints are flawless and substantial. The floorboards have a nice strip of polished metal etched with the Morgan crest running the length of the footwell; it’s all done with a level of extreme care and artisanship you’ll be hard-pressed to find as part of anything not wearing Aston Martin wings on its snout.
All this finery and care put into presentation and build quality does an excellent job of enhancing the off-the-shelf switchgear. Buttons, knobs, warning lights, and signal stalks are surely lifted from something else, but it all seems very mise en place. Even the gauges add to the experience: Charmingly, the tach and speedo are both mounted on the center of the flat dash, just above the shifter. This attention to detail extends to the exterior with impeccable paintwork and tight panel gaps.
Just about the only thing not hand-built (or at least hand-finished) is the 2.0-liter Ford Duratec GDI four-cylinder engine under the split front cowl. This is essentially the same naturally aspirated 2.0-liter found in the recently discontinued U.S.-market Ford Focus, and it puts out 154 horesepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, routed to the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission purloined from an early-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata.
All of these separate ingredients—craftsmanship, 1950s styling, quality control, modern engine—add up to a rather bizarre package. As most newish Morgans do, it looks like it rolled directly out of the post-war sports car boom, but when you slide inside, you find seat belts, heated seats, a digital odometer, and Bluetooth connectivity. The engine is direct injected, electronically controlled, and eco-friendly, but as mentioned there are no driving aids, no ABS, no power steering. The car is appointed like a fine grand tourer, but the ride is excruciatingly raw, there’s no trunk whatsoever, there’s no glovebox door, and the only way to keep the weather out is to drive with the removable side-curtains installed.
Taken as a whole, the Morgan Plus 4 is a unique automotive experience. In 2020, it’s the anti-car, a flash from an alternate reality where we retained what made old cars so charming and visceral, and gussied them up with better tech and build quality. Forget restomod muscle cars; those are designed and built to drive more like a modern car than an old one. The Plus 4 is perfect parity between the Old World and New Age, warts and all.
I departed Santa Monica and took to Malibu’s nearby hills for a shakedown run. The 154 hp only has just more a ton to haul around, returning straight-line performance that’s similar to a new Miata’s, and is more than enough poke. It might be new-fangled, but Morgan fussed with the Ford 2.0-liter’s character to handily turn it from staid commuter to an effervescent and buzzy little engine befitting of the Plus 4’s antiquated persona. A Miata transmission of any age remains one of the best in the business and is a joy to snap-off quick shifts with in pursuit of the 2.0-liter’s peaky powerband. A completely redesigned exhaust system from what the engine usually mates to is partially behind the personality shift, but even without the rasp, it’s rev-happy and alive in a way you wouldn’t expect from an engine designed for basic transportation.
Then, I found a corner. I drove gingerly for the first half-hour, cognizant about the lack of any built-in safety nets. Manual steering and stiff brakes force you to think far ahead, though the steering is one of the Plus 4’s best attributes once you fall into rhythm. At speed, it’s well-weighted and exceptionally tactile, sending small (or not-so-small) jolts through the leather-wrapped polished metal steering wheel for each pebble or lane divider you cross.
Handling is more difficult to get a read on than most classic small sports roadsters I’ve driven in the past, primarily due to an antiquated suspension layout. The hardware includes thoroughly modern bushings, springs, and shocks, but the Plus 4 retains the same sliding-pillar front suspension and solid rear axle design as it did nearly 70 years ago. The whole car creaks and flexes when pushed, and feels completely disjointed over rough pavement, but once you start to learn what to expect from the chassis, your confidence builds on a smooth canyon road and you begin to push a little harder, inch by inch.
Eventually, all the ragged stuff just melts away. The squeaks and rattles become endearing, the punishing ride forgivable, and suddenly, the idea of an independent rear suspension and adaptive ride seem like futuristic follies. Who cares about entry speed when you’re having this much fun? You’ll get to where your going eventually.
Therein lies the Plus 4’s secret: manage your expectations, and it’s unfiltered, unpasteurized automotive fun of the highest caliber. Drive one around for a few hours, and while you might not rush down to Morgan West to place a deposit, you’ll get it. You’ll understand why a small group of enthusiasts plunk down brand-new Porsche Cayman S money for a car that has no trunk, a complicated cloth roof, no fixed windows, and zero safety features beyond a three-point seatbelt.
Here’s hoping the Plus 4 sticks around for another seven decades.
Morgan will send
off the current Plus 4, a heritage-drenched two-seater roadster introduced in
1950, by building a batch of commemorative models designed to celebrate. The
70th Anniversary Edition gains a more powerful engine in addition to a long
list of specific visual tweaks inside and out.
The Plus 4 hasn’t been continuously produced for 70 years. It went on hiatus between 1969 and 1985, but it remains one of the oldest designs on the market. Its demise also signals the end of an era for the small British manufacturer, because the steel chassis it’s built on will follow the Plus 4 into the pantheon of automotive history. To send it off, designers chose to coat the body in Platinum Metallic paint, install dark grey wire wheels, add black trim, and fit what Morgan calls a motorsport-inspired front panel. Sketches hint at what the droptop will look like.
The cabin receives
Ravenwood veneer on the dashboard, dark grey carpet, and a black steering
wheel, among other upgrades. Don’t let the retro design fool you, though; it’s
more comfortable to drive than it appears. The two passengers travel on heated,
leather-upholstered seats, and the 70th Anniversary model offers footwell
lighting. Morgan will add a numbered plaque on the dashboard to highlight each
commemorative model’s exclusivity, and buyers will receive a neat photo book
packed with images taken during the production process.
Over the years, Morgan has sourced engines from Triumph, Fiat, and Rover before settling on Ford. The last batch of Plus 4s will continue to receive a Blue Oval-built, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that shifts through a Mazda-provided five-speed manual transmission, but Aero Racing, the company’s in-house competition department, bumped horsepower from 154 to 180 by remapping the engine. It also exhales through a sports exhaust with black tips. The extra horses allow the Plus 4 to reach 60 mph from a stop in under 7 seconds.
Morgan will make 20
examples of the Plus 4 70th Anniversary Edition, and it priced each one at
£60,995, or nearly $80,000. Don’t start looking for loose change under your
couch cushions, because every build slot was spoken for well before Morgan made
the project public. Deliveries will begin in the spring.
Once Plus 4 production ends, motorists seeking an anachronism on wheels will need to locate the nearest Lada dealer and place an order for a Niva, a rugged off-roader in continuous production since 1977. There’s no telling how long it will stick around for, but the Russian firm recently updated it with an improved interior.
announced plans to phase out the steel chassis that underpins most of its
range, including the Plus 4. Its future models will ride on a new platform
named CX made with bonded aluminum and already found under the
335-horsepower, BMW-powered Plus Six introduced in 2019. Expect additional
models (and more engine options) to join the range during the 2020s as the
independently-owned firm recoups its sizable investment.
Morgan hasn’t revealed if it will resurrect the Plus 4 again, and what form it will take if it returns. In the meantime, the 70th Anniversary Edition is expected to make its public debut at the 2020 Geneva Motor Show in March.
I visited the Morgan factory in Malvern the other day – me and 30,000 other people. Thankfully not everyone came at the same time, but that, believe it or not, is the number of people who visit Morgan’s red brick sheds every year. This is automotive industry turned into tourism. Welcome to the future.
Not that Morgan isn’t worth a visit. It’s so quaint, it’s like it was invented by a Disney executive. The traditional production line is aided by gravity: cars are born at the top of the hill and they slowly descend the natural slope down a series of gangways that link the succession of workshops.
From the moment you step into the topmost shed – the original, built by Henry Fredrick Stanley Morgan in 1914 – the atmosphere is pungent with history. Framed by bare brick walls, wooden floorboards and exposed steel roof trusses, the top shed acts a museum, but step down a couple of stairs to enter the chassis shop and you find yourself in a messy world of hand tools, power drills, criss-crossing cables, shelves lined with box files and plastic trays full of components, bottles of glue, cans of oil, photos and memos and calendars stuck to the walls. It feels authentic – Disney would never accept this kind of health and safety.
Classic Plus 4s are still made side-by-side with the new alloy-chassis Plus Six. The new model has been a leap for a small manufacturer like Morgan – just the wiring loom of the new BMW engine and gearbox looks daunting, its multi-coloured strands sprawling out like there’s a clown’s plastic wig hanging under the dashboard.
Everyone’s favourite bit of the tour is, of course, the wood shed, where a team of master craftsmen hand-form English ash while getting high on glue fumes all day. Even the new Plus Six has an ash frame, acting as an intermediary between the boxy alloy chassis and those classically curvaceous panels. The ash ‘former’ for the rear wing – a gigantic block of wood with a curved channel cut through it – looks like it was found on the Mary Rose and dredged out of the English Channel. It’s survived so many generations of employee, no one is sure how long it’s been there.
But the thing that surprised me most about my day at Morgan was how busy it was. Instead of exiting through the gift shop, the £24 tour starts here – in the gift shop and the cafe, where I sampled the carrot cake, a perfect Morgan-esque slice, beautifully handmade by skilled artisans.
Visitors gather here, buying their Morgan caps and their Morgan branded fudge, before starting the tour, and it was packed all day. Packed with enthusiasts from around the world, a chattering congregation of English, American, Dutch and German accents. As well as the Tour, visitors can also sign up for Morgan ‘experiences’ – £25 gets you a passenger ride in a three-wheeler. Everyone I saw climbing out looked like they’d spent half an hour on a roller coaster. Or in a giant tumble dryer.
It would be unjust to call this a Morgan theme park, because it’s a working factory, steeped in history. There’s no artifice here, nothing’s contrived, and if the visitors stopped coming the cars would still be made the same way. But Morgan is also a vision of the future, specifically our passion for cars and how that will be expressed in years to come.
If Ford and Mercedes-Benz do survive the revolution (and nothing is certain these days) they’ll end up like Samsung smartphone manufacturers – mass producing plastic cases on wheels with lithium-ion batteries. But a few master craftsmen will continue, like the katana-kaji, the ancient samurai sword makers in Japan, still polishing their blades even though a samurai warrior could be felled by a traffic warden with a taser these days.
Ferrari, McLaren, Bentley, Morgan, Ariel – these will be the places we’ll visit, to tour the factory, to see how the old petrol-driven cars are still lovingly made the old-fashioned way, with carbon and English ash, and maybe we’ll also splash out on a thrilling £25 passenger ride. These factories won’t be museums – they’ll be boutique experiences for people who don’t want to let go. Yes, the automotive industry will turn into tourism, selling Bentley-branded scarves, Ferrari flat caps and McLaren fudge.
Alan Braithwaite will take his Three Wheeler on a a 3,500-mile,
The Morgan Three Wheeler isn’t the first car you think of for a huge, cross-country drive, but that’s exactly what 73-year-old entrepreneur and philanthropist Alan Braithwaite and his wife Pat are planning on doing.
The pair will embark on the Trans-India Challenge, a 3,500-mile, 33-day journey around India that will put the Three Wheeler to the ultimate test on one of the world’s most demanding road networks.
Morgan is officially backing the challenge which aims to raise
£200,000 to support Indian aid NGO Goonj, and fund academic research into
Goonj’s ‘circular economy’ model. The sustainable approach recycles urban
waste to use as a form of ‘currency’ to reward rural communities for improving
their local environment – like roads, water supply, hygiene or schools.
Fashion designer and famed car fanatic Ralph Lauren has also thrown his weight behind the challenge too, by donating polo shirts from his company’s Earth Polo range – a range made from thread derived entirely from recycled plastic bottles and dyed using an innovative waterless process.
Meanwhile the Morgan Three Wheeler being used has had very
little in the way of modifications, keeping the 82 bhp S&S V-twin
motorcycle engine and base weight of 525 kg, but having raised suspension
to help the car cope with the rough terrain.
“The Morgan 3 Wheeler is the perfect car for the
Trans-India Challenge because of the attention it brings: it’s different and
it’s fun,” said Steve Morris, CEO of Morgan Motor Company. “You’re
always on an adventure in a Morgan and you drive with a smile on your face. Not
only does it demonstrate what a Morgan is capable of, but you also know it will
bring attention to Goonj. It’s going to be a fantastic adventure all
Braithwaite was thrilled to have Morgan’s official backing for the challenge, which will start in Mumbai on 1 February 2020 and take in cities including Pune, Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Puri, Kolkata, Patna, Lucknow, Agra, New Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur and Ahmedabad, before returning to Mumbai at the beginning of March.
“We are delighted that Morgan has recognised the
significance of the Trans-India Challenge,” he said. “It will be a
massive test for the car, but will certainly put Morgan firmly on the Indian map.
With Morgan’s durability, and the materials used in the cars’ manufacture being
sustainable and re-useable, this is the perfect choice of vehicle. It is
also another milestone in recognising the ‘circular economy’ model championed
The start of the adventure will also be a mere six months after
Braithwaite underwent open heart surgery.
“I actually needed more extreme modifications than the car
for this trip, but I’m confident we’ll both reach the finish line in great
The ancient British roadster is a brand-new barn find.
[I removed a few photos from the article. Nothing new or nothing you haven’t seen before. Mark]\
The Morgan Plus 4’s
doors are cut so low you can hang your left arm out while sitting behind the
wheel and drum your fingers on the left front fender’s long tail. Through the
flat windshield the view is all swoops, sweeps, and louvers. This is a car designed
by people—long since dead—using nothing but their carpentry skills and an eye
for grace and drama. Everything about the 2020 Morgan Plus 4 is archaic and
uncompromised by concerns for practicality, comfort, noise, vibration, or
harshness. The navigation system is a door pocket in which to stow a map. A
thin, paper map. Bumpers are optional.
HIGHS: Gorgeous, beautifully built, rife with old-world charm.
doesn’t apply here. This is a car without a trunk. Trunks were a well-proven
technology when this basic design went into production in 1936 as the 4/4. It
was slightly stretched into the Plus 4 in 1950. It’s not impractical because
it’s old; it’s impractical because that was the choice the designers made way
back then. This is style first, everything else second. It’s not that fast, it
doesn’t handle well in any ordinary sense, and the non-assisted rack-and-pinion
steering is fine at speed but agony when parking. But look at it. So pretty.
Morgan has bounced in
and out of the American market over time and is looking to reenter it again
when the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015 finally goes into
effect. That’s the law that directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) to conjure up some regulations that would allow low-volume
manufacturers like Morgan to sell mere handfuls of cars without the burden of
But until that
happens, Morgans sold here arrive via a circuitous route. The Plus 4 that C/D drove
came to the United States without an engine. Its Ford 2.0-liter —basically the
standard direct-injected inline-four installed in the just-euthanized North
American-market Focus—came over in a separate crate.
LOWS: Primitive, uncompromising, with the compelling character of
The reunification of
engine and rolling stock was done at Dennis Glavis’s Morgan West in Santa
Monica, California. It’s the sort of small shop that persists because of its
owner’s love of Morgans rather than on strictly economic grounds. The place is
crammed with new, newish, old, and ancient three- and four-wheeled Morgans.
It’s the kind of place best visited while holding a pint of Guinness, indulging
a garrulous enthusiasm, and having an afternoon to kill. What are the
legalities involved in all this? Hey, you’re not reading the Harvard Law Review
Back in the December
1967 issue, we tested a Plus 4 when the car was only in its 18th year of
production. What was written then holds true now. “A tar divider strip
will launch the Morgan on a flight that would put a Hell Driver [Hell Driver
referred to any of the numerous stunt-driving exhibition teams that toured the
U.S. from the 1930s through the 1990s – Ed.] to shame. A genuine bump will
qualify you for flight pay,” the article explained. “Still, it’s not
the takeoff that gets you; it’s the landing. About 3 landings a week should be
tops. Anatomically. If you’re contemplating a Morgan, see your doctor
specialization has progressed over the last 52 years, but the Morgan? Not so
much. So, beyond a back surgeon, keep a renal specialist on call. Because not
only will a Morgan driver’s spine regularly compress, but their kidneys will
also get shaken to the point where the car could qualify as a diuretic.
In a car that weighs
2150 pounds by our estimate, the stated 154 horsepower available is adequate.
It’s actually 50 horses more—almost a 50-percent bump—from the 104 ponies
claimed for the Triumph TR-4 iron-lump four in that 1967 example C/D tested.
That one had considerably more power than the original Plus 4. When the Plus 4
was introduced at the 1950 Earls Court Motor show it was propelled by a 68-hp
2.1-liter Standard Vanguard four. The current engine, by the way, feeds a
Mazda-made five-speed manual transmission from an early-generation MX-5 Miata.
Exhaling through a
beautiful exhaust header, the Ford four barks awake with a raspy growl. There’s
some sort of radio thing aboard, even a USB port, but the real sound system is
the powertrain itself. No surprise, the Mazda five-speed snicks into gear
easily and switches between ratios with little effort and absolute precision.
The entertainment comes when the power is transmitted back to the solid rear
axle, which is lashed to a pair of leaf springs.
The 1967 Plus 4
galloped to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds and ripped out the quarter-mile in 16.9
seconds at 81 mph. For the day, that’s hauling—at least for a British roadster.
Morgan claims the current Plus 4 goes from zero to 62 mph in 7.5 seconds and
tops out at 118 mph. If Car and Driver had tested this Morgan,
which we haven’t yet, we could probably crack 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. So, it’s
not that quick by today’s standards, but it’s not shabby either.
Unburdened by the
relatively massive heft of a Focus, the Ford four delivers crisp throttle
response and a friendly, wide torque band. Once the pilot has acclimated
himself to the Plus 4’s, let’s say, demanding driving position, the
responsiveness of the machine is exhilarating. The relatively tall 205/60R-16
Avon tires aren’t aggressive in the sense of what Porsche installs on 911s, but
the mass here is modest enough that they aren’t challenged much. There’s plenty
of stick, even without low-profile sidewalls.
And really, what
would the Plus 4 do with additional tire adhesion even if it had it? The rear
axle’s natural state is to be always on the verge of hopping, and Morgan’s
sliding pillar front suspension is a hammer in search of a nail. The suspension
is a road-divot amplification mechanism. Lower profile tires would only
exaggerate the ride motions even further.
the Plus 4 are tight. It’s a stretch to call them accommodations, and the word
“inside” doesn’t really apply to a vehicle that leaves its driver and
passenger so thoroughly exposed to the elements. The seats are good enough, but
the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for height, rake, or anything else. Over time
in the Plus 4, you learn to hold your left leg in a position where your calf
doesn’t rub up against anything and to skew your right leg so that it’s not
bouncing into the center tunnel but also doesn’t cramp up. The footbox is very
tight, and the bottom-hinged brake and clutch pedals take some acclimation
time. In fact, the footbox is so narrow and the pedals so close together that
it’s actually possible to stomp on all three simultaneously if you’re wearing
thick cross-trainers. Instead, consider Capezio ballet slippers.
Yes, there’s a
convertible top and a pair of side curtains. We didn’t bother to put them up.
Best to save the part of one’s brain where those intricate processes would be
stored for future use memorizing, well, almost anything else. And besides,
Southern California in the early November sunshine is a dang swank place in
which to be driving a brand-new antique roadster with the top stowed.
As easy as it is to
point out the Morgan Plus 4’s challenges and deficits, its charms are just as
obvious. This is a car built to deliver a wholly analog and elemental experience.
As a driver, you always know exactly what the car is doing, even if it is
hopping over a lane after encountering a freeway expansion joint. Even under
braking the tail lifts up disconcertingly.
All vehicles behave
just like the Plus 4 to some extent or another. The difference is that the Plus
4 doesn’t even pretend to mitigate this behavior. Many of the things we know as
manners in other cars are exposed as insulation from the road in a car as
direct as the Plus 4.
Morgan will only ever
export about 300 cars—three wheelers, 4/4s, Plus 4s, V-6–powered roadsters, and
the new BMW turbo-six–powered Plus Six, which gets a new chassis to handle the
power, even though it looks like a Plus 4. Every Morgan is built to the eccentricities
of the person who has ordered it, and that makes each its own special thing.
If there’s one way in
which the Morgan has truly improved over the years, it’s in the quality of its
construction. The aluminum skin covers the ash body framing with tailored
precision. (The chassis is galvanized steel.) And the paint is impeccable. It used
to be that Morgans were great 50-foot lookers. Now they’d hold up under a
To get this experience and quality takes money. The Plus 4 starts at $69,995, and the demonstrator handed to us for two days cost considerably more. It’s not cheap, but truly unique experiences never are.
Two brand-new six-cylinder British sports cars done differently. But which is more fun?
[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.
Engine: 2,995cc, V6 supercharged Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive Power (hp): 380@6,500rpm Torque (lb ft): 339@3,500rpm 0-62mph: 4.9secs Top speed: 171mph Weight: from 1,614kg MPG: 28.8 CO2: 223g/km
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
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.
The Plus Four is a four-cylinder, the Plus Eight was a V8,
so this must be a six?
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
Sounds like it’s quite hairy to drive…
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.
Wot, no manual?
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
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
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
Anyway, you were saying…
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
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.
There must be some downsides to the Plus Six experience?
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,
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.
Tell me more about this new platform
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.
Is there still a wood frame as part of its construction?
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
How much is the Morgan Plus Six?
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).
Morgan Plus Six: verdict
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
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
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.