Vintage SCI Review: 1957 Morgan Plus Four (TR-3 Engine) – Already Outdated, or The Anti-190SL

The evolution of the sports car has a number of key developmental milestones. But one company decided to ignore them early on, and just stay in the late 1910’s forever, with the exception of adding a fourth wheel to their legendary three wheeler in 1936. But still with the same highly archaic sliding post front suspension (with very minimal travel and zero camber change), a very hard ride, a highly elemental cockpit, plywood floors, and traditional wood-framed body. It was finally replaced just this year by an all-new Plus Four with a completely new chassis and modern suspension, but the traditional look (and a bit of ash body framing, for bragging rights) are still there, of course.

The Plus Four tested by SCI was specifically set up for weekend racing, which the Morgan was still competitive in, due to its light weight (1940 lbs), 47/53 F/R weight distribution and other qualities. But as the opening of the article makes clear, already in 1957, the Morgan was a relic from another era. Just as the Germans had defined the future of the GP car in the 1930s, with fully independent suspension all-round, so were the Porsche 356 and Mercedes 190SL the harbingers of the future of the sports car. But for those that felt that a genuine sports car needed to be hard-riding, hoary, heavy-steering, uncomfortable and race-ready, this was your machine.

The Germans were the pioneers in “the scientific approach” to racing cars, understanding early on that a rigid body with a fully independent suspension was the way to optimize grip over all surfaces. And of course, mid-engines, in the case of the Auto Union GP racers.

But “due to its unique road conditions, England has been the traditional stronghold of the classic sports car”. Why was that so, anyway? It would seem to me that the undulating surfaces of the narrow roads there would actually benefit more from a proper suspension. But that’s not how it turned out, and the Brits’ approach with typically more flexible separate frames and crude and stiff suspensions became the de facto approach to building sports cars (and passenger cars) for way too long. The AC Ace was a pioneer in breaking away from that formula, and its handling over all surfaces was praised as a consequence. And then of course there was Colin Chapman and Lotus, which also showed the way forward. But the bulk of British production sports cars were seemingly stuck in the 1920s forever; the MGB until well into the ’70s.


Actually, there were a few minor modification made for 1956, from the 1936 version. Rubber-bushed rear spring shackles! Armstrong tubular shocks! A quarter inch wider front brake! What’s the world coming to?

Apparently the brakes were still considered a weak spot for competition, but quite adequate for road use.

But what hadn’t changed soon came to the forefront, even in 1957. The odd seating position, bolt upright on a “pneumatic” cushion (presumably to soften the blows from the non-suspension). “Nothing is adjustable…sideways positioning is not good either…the fixed legroom is naturally close for a six-footer…elbow room is at a minimum with the side curtains up…no room for the left foot.”

Don’t even ask about the top. The only good thing is that it can be removed entirely for competition. But erecting it requires setting up the tubular framework and then fitting the top itself over it and snapping it into place. And installing the side curtains. And then trying to see out. Or stay warm, although in the summer the heat emanating from the center-mounted transmission provided plenty of unwelcome heat.

But these are the joys of traditional sports cars! None of that mamby-pamby stuff that the 190SL had: a proper suspension that doesn’t make the car hop and skitter over bumps, a tight body, roll down windows, a tight-fitting insulated top, a roomy cockpit and comfortable seats. Nah! That’s all for women…

Anyway, it’s all for a good cause, as this race-prepped Morgan with a 2.0 liter TR-3 engines fitted with “large bore SU carbs” would obviously run circles around that dog of a 190SL. Right?

Here’s the proof:

The Morgan rocketed from 0-60 in a mere 11.2 seconds, and ripped off the 1/4 mile in 18.1 seconds.

That dull, effete damensportwagen 190SL with its dull little 1.9 L engine needed all of 11.0 seconds to amble from 0-60, and 18.1 seconds to haul its fat little butt through the 1/4 mile.

You see? The British formula was obviously the winning one! All that profound discomfort was all worth it.




The joys of the classic Brit sports car experience are summed up in a few key phrases: “You may have gathered by now that the creature comforts are on the slim side, though starkly honest, and the ride of the Plus Fpur has the same raw attitude. It tackles big bumps with a leaping, bounding motion…small vibrations give the body a hard time, and search out all possible rattle sources. Generally, the ride is hard...”

Only “generally”?

But the handling makes it all worth it; maybe. “in fact the Morgan understeers very powerfully at most speeds. This is accounted for by the front suspension geometry, which is such that the wheels lean out with the car in corners, and also by the fact that the front end is much stiffer than the rear...”

But there’s the famous British steering: “Steering is not ideal, with two inches (!) of play at the rim and a strong castor action that verges on heaviness…understeer and heaviness means the Morgan goes wherever you have the strength to point it”. Meaning no women, thankfully, will want anything to do with this last bastion of manhood on wheels.


(Note: in a layout mistake at SCI, the end of the Morgan review was cut off and instead part of another review printed, which I’ve blanked out)

Obviously, I’ve been a wee bit selective in my choice of excerpts. Yes, the Morgan could still be hustled around a track at decent speeds in the right hands. And yes, driving or riding in a Morgan is an experience no one will forget. And it’s one that’s obviously highly addictive to a certain minute slice of the motoring world. Some folks will always want to live 50, 80, or even a hundred years in the past. And for them, the Morgan is their time machine.

Obviously, I prefer the “scientific approach” for the longer haul. And apparently the rest of the world (except for those few Morgan die-hards) agrees, or has been forced to agree, as the evidence was too overwhelming. Essentially every modern sports car is the direct evolution of the qualities that the 190SL pioneered in 1955 (and the Porsche even earlier).