Morgan Plus 8 50th Anniversary Edition 2018 review


What you’re looking at here is an Aero 8 attending a retro-themed Plus 8 fancy dress party that’s been going on since 2012. It has the Aero 8’s bonded, riveted aluminium chassis, and while its 4.8-litre motor is a V8, it’s supplied by BMW.

So there’s no ash frame, nor even sliding pillar front suspension. It’s all far more modern than that. Then again, a new Porsche 911 is probably even less closely related to an original, so maybe nobody cares. And the Plus 8 certainly feels suitably aged.

In fact, whether by design or not, at times it feels absolutely ancient. The door handles are the same as those on my elderly Land Rover and the primary dials are all but illegible at speed.

The tub may be made in a relatively modern way, but it still wobbles like a custard tart over potholes, while the steering flies in the face of the modern vogue for ultra-aggressive off-centre response: turn the Plus 8’s wheel and you’ll be shocked by how little happens at first.

Oh, and the brakes are overservoed, there’s no storage space for anything on board, nor any luggage space, the modern BMW column stalks look ridiculous in here and if you’re going to take the Speedster on a motorway, you’ll look ridiculous, too, because unless you’re insane, you’ll have a full-face crash hat protecting your bonce, if not your dignity.

And yet. I’m not that sensitive to a car’s appearance because I’m always more interested in how it drives, but in this spec, even I can see the Plus 8 looks fabulous.

Low, wide and with something of the vintage hot-rod about it, its shape suggests a certain kind of rarefied driving experience, something more physical, challenging and engaging than the modern norm. I already knew it would be terribly flawed because I’ve not driven a Morgan that wasn’t, but did that make me want to drive it any less? On the contrary.

Besides, let’s not forget what’s in front of us here, namely an 1100kg sports car directing the power of a 4.8-litre V8 motor through a manual gearbox (an automatic is available, but why would you?) to the rear wheels alone. If someone published that spec as a prospectus for a brand new sports car, we’d all be leaping around the room with excitement.

And it’s not as if it’s gained nothing from its Aero 8 underpinnings. The last time I had a proper go in a Plus 8 was in 1989, when I drove around the Lake District noting that, even by the standards of nearly 30 years ago, the car “hops wholesale across the road as soon as it looks at a bump”. The ride was “truly appalling” while the steering could “generate kickback that wrenches the wheel from your hands”.

By those standards, this Plus 8 has the chassis sophistication of a McLaren.

Most importantly, this is a car in which the numbers just don’t matter. Yes, it has 367bhp and will reach 62mph from rest in a not-that-impressive 4.5sec, but the engine is a woofling, rumbling delight, and its slow but positive six-speed transmission perfectly in keeping with the car’s character.

The power delivery is delightfully lazy, awash with torque from 2000rpm, so you change gear mainly because you can.

I was surprised also by how much grip was available: with a standard limited-slip differential and suspension modifications made for the Aero 8 in 2016, it clings on grimly in the curves.

Actually, I’d rather it had a lower limit, because by the time you start the all-in wrestling as the car starts to slide, you’re going fairly rapidly, and for me that’s part of the fun with the Plus 8. Instead of the car doing it all for you like so many moderns, with the Morgan it’s the driver who ends up helping out the car.

You have to anticipate how the steering will react to any given input, make sure your entry speed isn’t too high and then rely on torque and traction to spit you out of the corner. And because the car is actually fundamentally stable, it first needs a bit of provocation and then some accurate helmsmanship with its somewhat approximate steering when it finally breaks loose.

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