The Plus 8 offers something in the Allard J2 vein, with way too much power for its antediluvian chassis, but with a dash of British style


If Scotchman William "Braveheart" Wallace had been alive in the late 20th century, he probably couldn't have resisted the broadsword of sports cars, the Morgan Plus 8-even though it was built by the hated English. It's just the thing for carving up your favorite country lane.

For most lovers of British roadsters powered by V8s, Triumph TR8s and Daimler SP250s don't quite cut it-they lack style, cachet, or provenance. And Tigers just seem like muscle cars that lost their way. Those who dithered (myself included) when Allard J2s were under $100,000 are now completely out of luck. Or are they?

As this column often points out, when one car appreciates beyond the reach of the majority of the market, Dave Kinney's Law of Substitution comes into play. And in spite of what Porsche's marketing people say, there's always a substitute. Looking for something in the Allard J2 vein, with a ride bruising enough to make you ponder potential kidney transplant matches, way too much power for its antediluvian chassis, and a dash of British style? Look no further than ye olde Morgan Plus 8.

By the late 1960s, supplies of Morgan's mainstay, the Triumph 2.2-liter 4-cylinder, had dried up. Perhaps caught up in the American performance car craze, Morgan was looking for more power than the TR6's 2.5-liter 6-cylinder could deliver. They were also smart enough to choose something that wouldn't upset the car's balance; the excellent 215-ci aluminum Buick-Olds V8 inexplicably discarded by GM was actually lighter than the cast iron Triumph 4-cylinder. Morgan extended the wheelbase of the first cars by two inches in 1969.

Stunning transformation

The transformation was stunning. Motor magazine got theirs to go 0-60 in 6.7 seconds, with a quarter-mile time of 15 seconds. The hottest Plus Fours took about ten seconds to get to 60. Top speeds were nothing to brag about, but with the drag coefficient of a suburban ranch house, it was to be expected. Aside from the punishing ride (courtesy of Morgan's sliding pillar front suspension), quirky handling, side curtains, and a top courtesy of the Boy Scouts, the most annoying aspect of early Plus 8s was the gearbox.

The Plus 8 was introduced with the infamous Moss gearbox. Old in 1961 when the E-type was launched with it, by 1968 the Moss box was an even bigger anachronism than Morgan itself. Slow and noisy with a crash first and only theoretical synchromesh in every other gear, at least it fit the character of the Plus 8; in the E, it was about as appropriate as a boat anchor.

In 1972, Morgan substituted a 4-speed from the Rover 3500, and by 1976, the car gained the 5-speed from the 3500's successor, the SD1. The track was widened by two inches in 1973, and again in 1976. Steel bodywork was fitted from 1977, with aluminum still optional.

By the late '70s, Morgan's EPA exemption ran out and ironically, with its American-designed V8 not certified for sale in any new car, their only choice was to have Bill Fink and Isis Imports in California convert the cars to run on liquid propane. A surprising number of Plus 8s and even 4/4s were sold in the U.S. that way.

Fortunately, Rover began importing the SD1, Triumph TR8, and later the Range Rover with the 3.9-liter aluminum V8, and eventually Morgan was able to sell gasoline-powered Plus 8s again in the U,S. With good gearboxes and fuel injection from 1984, 0-60 times were down to the mid-fives. Rack-and-pinion steering was standardized in 1986.

Straightforward, with ample spares

Older cars are the purest, with narrow bodies, low bumpers, low-back seats, and very cool J.H. Robinson alloy wheels. Bumper and lighting regulations did the car no favors, as later examples have larger bumpers mounted on huge impact shocks and really ugly Ford-supplied airbag steering wheels. Side reflector lights spoil the graceful fenders (although these can be removed easily enough).

Surprisingly, the cars look better on alloys than the chrome wires and low profile tires so often retrofitted to 1990s Plus 8s. They appear more like a neo-classic or replicar on modern rubber.

Mechanically, the cars are straightforward enough and ample spares are available. Indeed, the car just went out of production in 2004. If there is a potential trouble spot, it is the ash frame that supports the bodywork. Sagging doors give this condition away, but in truth, it is far less common than in a T-series MG simply because most Plus 8s are at least 30 years newer. Frames should also be checked for rust and body damage. Interiors are straightforward and easy to retrim. Tune-up parts for later cars are as close as your nearest Range Rover dealer.

Morgan has always had a long waiting list, and new ones have always been in short supply in the U.S. Consequently, late-model Plus 8s have retained the vast majority of their original values. Expect to pay $45,000-$65,000 for a gasoline-powered later Plus 8. There was only one factory-built four-seater.

The Moss box cars are quite rare and have appreciated well in excess of their original asking prices. Road & Track's 1969 test car, which was a privately imported car owned by a reader, cost just $2,800 F.O.B. Malvern Link, England, at the then prevailing exchange rate. While rare at auction, around $40,000 seems about right for a sorted early car.

The Plus 8 will never be collectible in the sense that an Allard J2 is. Morgan has little race history to speak of, and the post-1967 production date of the Plus 8 means that in spite of its pre-war appearance, it is eligible for very few important events. But as something in which to pull up to a local British car show, a Plus 8 has a lot of swagger. It's also great fun to play the unassuming Nigel Shiftright-type in a tweed cap, smoking a pipe and then showing your dual exhaust pipes to a surprised Corvette or Boxster owner.

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