'We're a bit short of people to do the car-to-car pics – is it alright if one of my friends drives the Plus 8?' I could hear my question being repeated at the other end of the phone line to Steve Morris, operations director at Morgan, and I could also hear Steve's response: 'Yeah, that's fine; just tell him to be careful...'
That's why we love Morgan: they're real people, and they don't stand on formalities. We were doing next month's cover shoot last Saturday at the Malvern Link factory and had been entrusted with the actual car that's going to be on Morgan's stand at the Geneva Motor Show in March. It had barely 500 miles on the clock and was absolutely immaculate. If anything were to happen to it, Morgan's global press launch could be seriously buggered up. And yet they were trusting enough to let us put it in the hands of (to them) a total
stranger. Thanks, guys.
So it's a relief to say that after a weekend of living with the car, I don't have to make any excuses about it. Quite honestly, I think it's one of the best things I've driven in my 23 years of being a motoring hack. Yes, it does cost £85,000, which superficially seems quite a lot. But if I had that kind of money, I'd seriously be thinking of buying one.
Why? Not least because it just makes THE most fantastic V8 sound you've ever heard. When I first saw the car, I was a little disappointed that it didn't have side-exiting exhaust pipes, which are an option on the Aero models. But there are four tail-pipes at the rear and they actually sound BETTER than the side-pipes; less raucous, more mellifluous.
At idle or when you're trickling along at low revs, the Plus 8 is quite discreet – at least, as discreet as a bright orange roadster can be – but when you goose the throttle, you unleash an incredible noise that could be a Le Mans GT40 spearing down the Mulsanne. And even if you're only burbling through town at 20mph in second gear, when you back off the throttle you're rewarded with a barrage of snap, crackle and pop from those quad tail-pipes that'll put a childish grin on your face every single time.
This Plus 8 is also monstrously fast. Morgan quotes a 0-62mph (0-100km/h) time of 4.5 seconds, and the limiting factor there will be the lack of electronic traction control you can get the back end to step out – not just in first and second, but third too, especially if the road's a bit damp. The thing weighs just 1100kg, for heaven's sake, and it has 367bhp going through the rear wheels, so it's not hard to see why.
So far, so very good, but there's a lot more to the Plus 8 than raw performance. It rides very well indeed on the firm side, naturally, but never uncomfortably so and the brakes and six-speed manual gearchange are perfectly weighted. A brief excursion to a highly illegal speed on the proverbial private test track showed that, slight breeziness around the back of the neck notwithstanding, it's quite civilised with the top down at 100mph or more. You can always buy a scarf.
A lot of people were unconvinced about the bug-eyed look of the Aero 8 when it appeared more than a decade ago. The Plus 8 is based on the same chassis but has the traditional Morgan face, and for many it will be the car they've been waiting for. They're unlikely to be disappointed.