“A True but Primitive Sports Car. Sports cars come and sports cars go but the Morgan has outlived most of them.” Road Test, Morgan Plus 8. Motor Sport Magazine, December 1968
And you know what, twenty years after Bill Boddy remarked on the longevity of Morgan, this particular Plus 8 rolled out of the Malvern factory gates, bound for the owners who have only recently parted with it a further thirty years later, just as the last brand new Plus 8s ever are sold. In life some things are constant and Morgans are certainly one of those, remaining synonymous with the ethos of hand-built craftsmanship even today.
Born out of the increasing demand for mobility in the early 20th Century, the first offerings from H F S Morgan’s fledgling company had just three wheels and initially two cylinders, the option of a fourth wheel and double the cylinder count becoming available in 1935 as the Morgan 4-4, so named to reflect its key component count. The slow development ever since, perhaps necessitated by the diminutive size of the company, perhaps simply because they preferred to plough their own furrow, centred on the upgrading of the power unit and drivetrain which in itself demanded little more than utilising the latest kit from the major players such as Coventry Climax, Standard, Triumph, Ford and Rover. The underlying trend was for engine displacement to increase, hence the Plus 4 of 1950 and ultimately the Plus 8 that Bod so enjoyed in 1968. Between that road test and the car we have here, the Plus 8 essentially gained a gear ratio, fuel injection and electronic ignition (which helped add another forty-odd brake horse power), so Morgan can hardly be accused of pursuing reckless paced development.
When you have been waiting nigh on five years for your dream motorcar, delaying its registration (and hence being able to actually drive the thing) by a few weeks to take delivery on the January 1st 1989 must have seemed both a drop in the ocean and a lifetime. But patience is a virtue as they say and compensation doubtless came in spades over the next thirty plus years with the original husband and wife owners only parting with the Morgan in March of this year. Bought with continental touring in mind that is exactly how things have panned out with a consistent average of around 4,000 miles being covered each year for the first 10 years of its life. Twenty years further down the road and the lifetime average has halved, with this decline in use being the driving (or lack of driving) factor in the Plus 8’s sale.
The generous history file contains a Full House of documentation from the Morgan’s initial order to its delivery, a protracted process handled conscientiously by Allon White and Son Ltd., Factory agents based in Cranfield, Bedfordshire whose number plates still adorn the car. This culminated in the original Sales Invoice (number 642), issued on 7th November 1988 and detailed on this automotive ‘birth certificate’ are the extensive extras specified, namely a full aluminium body and wings, special order paint, locking fuel caps, spare wheel cover, scuttle roll bar, reclining seats, underseal, walnut dash and even the wild profligacy of door handles for goodness sake. The total cost was a not unreasonable £17,976.97, just a couple of thousand more than a mundane Hot Hatch with a few extras. Small wonder that at about this time Sir John Harvey Jones infamously suggested a price hike to reduce the waiting list, though the Morgan family wisely decided they would rather sell to people who were rich in patience rather than just monetarily. Documents covering all the stages preceding this denouement are also present including the original Order placed on 22nd October 1984 recording the £25 deposit paid just to get onto the waiting list and its associated acknowledgement letter. In June 1987 Allon White wrote to check if the order was still required and correspondence regarding specification, trim and paint colours and so on ensued; with barely a year to go until the anticipated delivery of the Plus 8, this was getting urgent! Crucial handwritten notes refer to a build time of ten to twelve weeks, an additional deposit of £500 to be paid before the start of the build and the Agents' cheese and wine party taking place on Sunday 29th November! On 28th August 1987 the specification was confirmed as above and three months later the good news that a 4% price increase would affect the car was given, again along with the option to cancel the order. In January 1988 indication was given that production would start in the middle of that year and finally, on 7th November the owners were informed that their Morgan would be ready for collection from the factory in a few days time.
Since then, just two specialists have looked after the Plus 8 all its life with extensive bills on file from the “Ultimate Morgan Specialists”, Colin Musgrove Racing and Mike Duncan in Worcestershire who are Morgan Agents. Most recently, in May 2018, a new brake master cylinder was fitted, the brake fluid, anti-freeze and petrol were all flushed and refilled which, along with an MOT test, cost £744.
Also on file is a Plus 8 Owners’ Handbook, a number of old MOT certificates and a selection of Insurance Evaluations for a Morgan scheme, one of which just 25,000 miles ago described the Morgan as in excellent or exceptional condition throughout.
One of the beauties of a Morgan is that visually it could be 60 days or 60 years old and this lovely example falls slap bang in the middle of that range. In lovely condition throughout the body is still just about perfect and despite being formed in aluminium it has survived with no dinks or dents that we could find. At the point of confirming the final specification of the car, the buyer was minded to do without under-seal, presuming this to be superfluous on an aluminium body though perhaps wisely it was added to the final list of optional extras; the protection it afforded against errant stones and the like seems to have been invaluable.
The Rover ‘Diamond White’ paint has a tiny bit of ‘spidering’ in a couple of places where moisture has worked its way between paint and body but this is minimal and the finish itself is still bright, contrasting nicely with the black wing piping. There is one small chip on the near-side front wing and evidence of a little refinishing on the lower part of the near-side rear wing, along with some inevitable scuffing where the side screens sit tight against the bodywork when fitted. We have tried to show these minor blemishes in the photo gallery.
For a machine of this (apparent) era, there is very little chrome-work though what is there is in very good condition indeed with virtually no blemishes.
The interior is pretty much like new and is trimmed to a high standard. Knowing the car’s use was not going to be limited to sunny weekends, the original owner specified vinyl seat trim which looks virtually factory fresh, a testament to a pragmatic choice and diligent care since. The walnut dashboard is very nice with just a few cracks which don’t penetrate below the varnish finish. A couple of big ol’ dials relaying road and engine speed are front and centre to the driver with four less busy ones grouped over towards the co-pilot. There is a very full complement of weather gear including hood, centre zipped tonneau cover, side screens and their associated storage bag, all of which appear to have barely been used. The hood can be erected by one idiot in about an hour (see how far the sun had moved in the pictures), or probably less than five minutes by one or ideally two experienced operators. Once on, it is commendably taught and fits well, secured by a combination of poppers and classic ‘Lift-The-Dot’ fasteners plus the odd bit of space age Velcro. It is suitably comfortable and snug inside in a ‘camping expedition’ sort of a way that has you almost willing it to rain. Door pockets provide somewhere to stash the wine gums and add a bit of welcome elbow room.
We found the clutch surprisingly light but that might be down to expectation and reputation. The gear-change for the Rover LT77 five speed ‘box is a similarly pleasant revelation being direct and positive with a short throw requiring no great effort to wrist-flick the cranked leaver around the gate; undoubtedly a significant improvement on the earlier cars’ Moss or Rover four speed units.
Unclip the centre hinged bonnet (it’s all about catch alignment rather than brute force) and the V8 looks right at home though given the apparent age of its surroundings, one might expect it to be oozing fluids from a variety locations, whereas in reality it is relatively dry. Impressive but compact it certainly looks at home and access is excellent thanks to the deep centre hinged bonnet, though that hinge has had to be skilfully relieved in the Factory to clear the plenum chamber sitting atop the engine. The air intake for the heater is a little scruffy but all the coolant and fuel hoses look to be in good condition. Chunky exhaust manifolds connect with a stainless steel system exiting via a single rear pipe.
The Plus 8 is fitted with Morgan Motor Company Ltd ‘No. 8 Mk 3’ alloy wheels - as known to everyone as Plus 8 wheels, they are that distinctive - shod with Avon tyres that are about one third worn.
Underneath the car the chassis looks perfect and everything is well greased and protected giving the impression of a cherished and well looked after Plus 8 which we suspect has been garaged all its life.
Not surprisingly the +8 is chock-full of period touches all be it from a different period to the V5. A multi-louvered bonnet, twin chrome fuel fillers, Lucas ‘1130’ wing-top sidelights and a slab-tank back carrying the spare wheel are all reminiscent of a bygone age. Morgan came to the same solution as Jaguar when faced with clearing a wide yet shallow windscreen, namely triple wipers.
The classic Rover all aluminium Buick derived V8 has just enough modern ancillaries to ensure it starts first time, every time. Rumoured to be banging out over 200 BHP with torque to match, it is luckily not overly civilised and it still has that raw, or at least rare if not steak tartare, feel to its brawny delivery.
We felt the Plus 8 drove really well and one experienced Morgan pilot declared it the nicest he has driven, maybe the optional scuttle roll bar fitted does more than provide some welcome additional protection in a roll-over scenario or perhaps it is just a reflection of how well this example has been maintained.
Once installed under the nicely worn-in leather rimmed steering wheel - definitely side, not top entry a la Lotus 7 or Elise - everything is handy and though the steering wheel is close set. You still tend to set off trying to steer with your wrists and forearms, however, you quickly find that it actually requires more leverage and the expression ‘shoulder to the wheel’ is never more appropriate. Doing the driving instructor hand shuffle is the norm and for this reason alone one would imagine not many forklift truck drivers own Morgans.
The ageless charm of the Morgan Motor Car is in part that it is old to start with and with no new model every few years to ‘upgrade’ to, values have been as solid as their sliding pillar front suspension. For example, this machine went from £17,500 in 1989 (though it could have been sold on immediately for a healthy premium to a less patient customer), to an insurance valuation of £21K in 1998 to perhaps £30K today, though it could actually be bought for significantly less. Not a bad investment for a ‘modern’ car owned from new but the fact that the very last of the line new Plus 8s sold out a few months ago at over £130,000 each makes this a little bit of an old fashioned bargain.