Buyer’s Guide Morgan Plus 8 How to bag antique looks, V8 power
James Walshe examines one of the greatest British bruisers of all
Why you want one
While it may look like a quaint, charismatic Thirties roadster, this particular Morgan packs the most unexpected punch. For those in the know, it is a British brute and a classic legend. For others, they’d be forgiven for jumping out their skin if one of these were to start up nearby. The Morgan Plus 8 absolutely oozes drama… in the best possible way.
From the stunning, swoopy shape to the outright thrust from its Rover V8, this particular product of Malvern’s little factory is still very much in demand and for that reason, there’s no such thing as a bargain Plus 8. However, once you’ve done the maths and checked the contents of your piggy bank, you’ll discover that legendary engine has never found another home quite like this one! Which one should you buy?
Production of the Plus 8 began in 1968 and ended in 2004, so while that sounds like you’ll have a fair choice, they’re not exactly common. You’ll find a mix of aluminium and steel bodywork, so it’s important to know what you are looking at on a viewing. Many cars will have received a refurb by now, so check paperwork closely to find out who did it, and when.
Under the bonnet, early models got the same unit as the Rover P6, and some later versions a higher-output unit from the SD1. From 1983, Lucas fuel injection meant almost 200bhp and from 1990, the Plus 8 was fitted with a Range Rover 3.9 and later, a 240bhp 4.6. Gearbox improvements also took place, with a Rover 2000 ‘box replacing the Moss unit in 1973 and a five-speed gearbox arriving in 1977, along with a revised dash. You’ll find airbags on models built after 1997, and GEMS fuel injection from 2000.
Morgan Sports Car Club member Alan Foster, who hads owned his Plus 8 for 33 years, says it’s vital to try before you buy. ‘Morgans have quite a stiff ride, for instance, so hiring one to get a feel for it is wise. Alan also recommends one particular book by author David Wellings. ‘Buying and Maintaining a Modern Traditional Morgan will help get your head around Morgan’s rather complex model history!’
What should I look for?
Fortunately, Morgans appeal almost exclusively to petrolheads, so the average standard of care is high, but it’s still worth being very wary of misuse and lack of maintenance by knowledgeable folk. The Morgan’s wooden frame provides a huge amount of strength to the steel chassis so it’s essential the car you’re looking at is in good shape underneath. There is a certain amount of flex, but detect too much on the test drive and you could be facing trouble. It’s not unusual for a Morgan to need dismantling in order to execute fairly minor repairs, so you’ll need to be a confident restorer before you get stuck in yourself.
Garage storage will have been key to preserving the chassis and, of course, that ash frame. If the door is difficult to shut, be certain it isn’t because of rot in the frame. Give the B-post a gentle shove back and forth with the door open. Movement is bad news. Same goes for the trim down on the sills and also the wooden A-posts (for which you should jiggle the door and look for excess movement). Those built from the late Eighties have survived better, thanks to their galvanised chassis and pressure-treated ash frame but if original, that wood treatment will have taken place a long time ago. If you’re looking at an early car, you must ask if the chassis has been replaced.
The Rover V8 is a durable lump, but do check for signs of head gasket failure, plus you’ll need to know the cooling system has been maintained properly. The aluminium cylinder heads warp easily, so imperfect cooling needs fixing, pronto! Tired Rover V8s experience timing chain rattles. Plus 8 owners put their cars to an amazing variety of uses, from crossing continents to competing in the Morgan Challenge race series, so investigating the previous owners’ pastimes tends to throw up crucial clues about the car’s health – and therefore its value. 3.5-litre Rover V8s are capable of high mileages if they’re well maintained. There are quirks in the front suspension and steering that require close consideration when maintaining. The unsophisticated sliding-pillar system needs regular lubrication so make sure it has been done. Some owners may have converted to hard chrome-plated kingpins (helping to increase longevity) but when inspecting any car, rock the front wheel back and forth to see if the kingpins are worn and look for a shimmy from the steering wheel while on the test drive. While you’re at it, see if you can detect sagging rear springs too.
Cars must be leak-free, as hoods are quite expensive and aren’t exactly weather-proof with age. Sourcing most trim isn’t too difficult, as long as you have the budget to pay for it. We like a bit of patina on a classic, but if the walnut dash and lockable glovebox (optional from 1989) is gone, a new one will cost around £300.
with James Walshe firecracker.
Complex construction means DIYers will need specialist wisdom, so although it’s hard for us to say this (you know how we love a good resto), it might be best to avoid projects. Pick up a crash-damaged racer for £10,000, but it’ll be a difficult and expensive rebuild to undertake. The Plus 8 has held its value better than pretty much any other car, so don’t expect a bargain. £20-30,000 will get you a good one nowadays. Heavily modified cars can exceed £50k. Owners tend to be conscientious, so the best cars need immaculate records and few owners.
BASED ON 45-YEAR-OLD, with a second vehicle. It’s garaged, covers 3000 miles a year and lives in an SP2 postcode. They have no claims or convictions, are a club member, and are employed as a marketing manager: £81.05 or £99.05 with Agreed Value. *Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may vary between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. An additional charge may be payable. **Quotes based on a 1989 Morgan Plus 8 valued at £30,000.
It might look quaint, but +8 is a firecracker.
A CHAT WITH A PLUS 8 OWNER
This is more than just a Morgan to Plus 8 owner Phil Cowpland from Gloucestershire
Tell us about your family connection! ‘My father’s uncle was H.F.S. Morgan – the firm’s founder. We have a close connection, with this car having been bought new by my late father, Douglas. My late brother Martin took on the car afterwards and now it’s with me. When I bought it, the car had 32,000 miles on the clock but within the first year I’d added around 25,000 more! It’s a daily driver!’
2 What’s the best thing about it?
‘You feel eveything. It’s analogue. No power steering etc. All basic tech but for something that’s largely unchanged since 1968, it’s also a robust sports car you feel part of when you’re at the wheel. I know there are other V8s and smaller, more powerful engines out there but there’s just something about that Rover V8.’
3 So, it’s very much part of the family?
‘Without doubt! Although my partner Karen isn’t that keen, my ten-year-old son Dylan certainly is and particularly enjoys being dropped off at school in it!’
4 Do you work on the car yourself?
‘If I wasn’t hands on, I couldn’t afford to own it! I service the car myself, carrying out all the regular work from oil changes to greasing the kingpins. I have a scissor ramp, so those days of getting down on my back, spanners rolling around in the dirt are gone, thank goodness.’
5 Is it easy to maintain?
‘If you’ve mucked about with Spitfires or MGBs and you’re handy with spanners, it won’t phase you at all. I’m 57 now and grew up in an era when we were able to fix our own cars so easily. The Morgan is a delight to work on.
Everything is so accessible. Tilt the seats forward, lift the parcel shelf and you’re looking at the back axle!’
Morgan Sports Car Club morgansportscarclub.com
New Elms Morgan, newelms.com.
Wiliams Automobiles, williamsautomobiles.com
Beamish Morgan, beamishmorgan.com
Brands Hatch Morgans, morgankent.Com
- Bodywork - Steel or aluminium panels are hung on ash frame, fixed to a steel chassis. Go deep when checking for rot. It can be well hidden on a Morgan.
- Roof - The Morgan roof is not exactly hi-tech, so expect old ones to leak badly and for them to cause issues with floor rot. New ones are expensive but worth every penny.
- Inside - Parts can be pricey but all are available. Joining the club will give you access to everything you need.
- Engine - The usual Rover V8 checks apply here. Make sure the cooling system has been properly maintained and listen for timing chain rattles.
WHAT TO PAY
- Engine 3532cc/V8/OHV
- Max Power 190bhp @ 5280rpm
- Max Torque 220lb ft @ 4000rpm
- Gearbox 5-speed manual
- 0-60mph 5.4sec
- Top speed 131mph
- Fuel economy 20mpg
- Length 3.96m
- Width 1.6m
LIVING WITH A PLUS 8
How easy to work on: 5/5
Parts availability: 5/5
Running cost: 5/5