CC Capsule: 1999 Morgan Plus 8 – Some Like It Very Hot

Careful, this one has a bit of a temper. This is not your typical cute little granny Morgan. It may look like it’s made of plywood and tinfoil, and it’s certainly styled like it came out in 1948, but don’t let appearances fool you. It could keep up with any contemporary Corvette, Benz SL or Aston Martin in a straight line, and even give a Ferrari a run for its money.

Up to a point, of course. Top speed is only about 130mph (210kph). There is a price to be paid for those classic lines and the body’s wooden skeleton. But the 220hp 4.6 litre V8 shoehorned in that tiny 1000kg roadster propels it from 0 to 60mph in under six seconds. Quite the hurried little grandma, our Plus 8.

The bonkers idea of a V8-powered Morgan was mooted in 1967, just as soon as Rover started making these engines, using a discarded Buick design. Morgan had been looking for a larger (and affordable) British-made engine for some time, but always had issues with making straight-6s fit under the car’s relatively short bonnet. The V8 solved that problem quite handsomely.

The first Plus 8s thus reached an unsuspecting public in late 1968. In those days, the engine was a 3.5 with twin carbs, only producing 168hp and mated to an antiquated Moss 4-speed. But it was already a formidable machine, eating E-Types for lunch and Maseratis for dinner.

Power and displacement grew steadily as time went on and Rover refined their V8. The gearbox was replaced by a much better Rover unit, eventually becoming a 5-speed, though some cars were also fitted with automatics.

Chassis-wise, the starting point was the late ‘60s Plus 4 – that is to say, something pretty much pre-war. It was widened some to accommodate the V8 and the track was also augmented several times, allowing for beefier tyres. Rack and pinion steering was added in the ‘80s, but the traditional Morgan sliding pillar front suspension was kept on virtually unmodified. The live rear end got a limited slip diff, but few other improvements. This apparently made for a rather harsh ride. Or sporting, depending on your point of view.

The body, as per other Morgans, kept the ash frame, but the skin was made entirely of aluminium. The cockpit is not exactly spartan, with plenty of wood trim and leather, as well as a cool Moto-Lita wheel, but some of the switchgear looks clunky and cheap. This being a late model, the dash is set in deeper in and the smaller gauges are grouped in a square central cluster. No radio and no HVAC, but then again, where would they fit?

Production stopped in 2004 due to Land Rover abandoning their (by now ancient) pushrod V8. But in 2012, it reappeared, now fitted with the 4.8 litre BMW engine also used on the Aero, whose chassis it also employed. The revival was brief though, coming to an end in 2020. The current performance model is the Plus 6, proving that there was a way to squeeze a straight-6 in a Morgan.

Our feature car certainly looks like took a few extra vitamins, but then Morgans can be (and frequently are) modified and/or updated by the factory itself. The handmade nature of the beast and a multi-decade production run means older cars often have new chassis (rust protection was non-existent until the mid-‘80s) and options for better brakes, souped-up engines or beefier exhausts are plentiful. Morgans never change, but they can be improved.

About 6000 of these mad motors were manufactured, plus a few hundred of the newer BMW-powered types. Plus 4s are not uncommon in British car-obsessed Tokyo, but encountering the Big Eight was something of an event. Glad it was standing still for the occasion.


Related post:

Carshow Classic: 1936 Morgan 4/4 (And Morgan History) – Trying To Understand The Enigma, by Roger Carr