The Morgan Motor Company started with the Runabout and V-Twin 3-wheelers way back in 1909, and while these iconic little cars put the company on the map, it is the evergreen Morgan Plus 8 that has kept it there.
The 4/4 and Plus 4 models were the original Morgan sports cars, but in 1968 Morgan decided to make use of the muscular Rover V8 powerplant to produce the Plus 8, a completely different beast. Slotting a big, torquey engine into a lightweight body made the Plus 8 the fastest accelerating car in the UK for a number of years. It was produced largely unchanged until 2004, when the venerable Rover lump was finally discontinued.
After eight years, the Plus 8 made a triumphant return, heavily revised and powered by a BMW-sourced 4.8-litre V8. This was the same unit as the Aero 8, but offered to people seeking the more traditional Morgan look.
The Plus 8 is not a car for those looking for a retro styled modern driving experience. A fidgety ride, dismal weatherproofing and rudimentary safety equipment require a mindset adjustment for those used to modern sportscars. Yet the effortless power delivery and beguiling nature of the Morgan can make for an engaging driving experience. And despite its shortcomings a Plus 8, whether old or new is a worthy addition to any collection.
Which Plus 8 to buy?
The first Plus 8 models were introduced in 1968, weighing well under a ton and powered by the aluminium-block Rover V8. The basic architecture may have stayed broadly similar throughout production, but there were many detail improvements over the years. This means that in general, the newer cars offer more performance and reliability, which is no surprise.
Notable improvements were a five-speed gearbox and the option of aluminium panels in 1977, along with a more powerful fuel-injected engine in 1984. Chances are though, you will find that owners have retro-fitted various improvements over the years.
Being hand-built is core to the nature of the Plus 8, and is one of its defining trademarks. Fit and finish can only be described as old fashioned, and a loose-fitting soft top does mean that you will get wet it in the rain. It’s all part of the Morgan charm of course, and quirks such as unique keys for doors, ignition and boot take some getting used to. In all fairness, they were never intended to be used as daily drivers and are at their best blasting the cobwebs out at the weekend.
The incremental improvements and modifications that the factory carried out over the years mean that each car will be unique, and a thorough test drive is essential to make sure the car feels right.
Production ended in 2004 when Rover stopped V8 production, until the BMW-engined replacement was launched eight years later. The newer BMW-powered Plus 8s might look very similar, but there are marked differences between the two models. For one, the newer cars are larger and weigh around 200kg more than before. Not that you would necessarily notice, as the 390bhp 4.8-litre V8 pushed performance levels to a new high. The interior is a big step up in terms of quality and there were a number of customisation options to choose from.
Performance and specs
1968 Morgan Plus 8
||3532cc 16 valve OHV V8
||160bhp @ 5200rpm
||210lb ft @ 2700rpm
|Price when new
Dimensions and weight
• Many Plus 8s tend to be parked up for extended periods and this can lead to the usual issues such as perished hoses, seized brakes and dampers. A thorough assessment by a specialist and an extended test drive can highlight any potential problem areas.
• Thanks to the ash frame construction, the inspection process is a bit different than with a traditionally built car. Check the wooden rockers below each door and feel for loose tack pins by pressing along the inside of door panels. Once again a specialist is best employed to assess the condition of the body.
• Parts for engines and running gear are still in good supply, as are body panels from either specialists or Morgan themselves.
• Repairs to the chassis will require specialist attention but running gear is based on tried and tested componentry.
• Suspension systems are robust however rear leaf springs can crack and conversion kits are available to remedy the issue.
• The Rover V8 is a well known and are generally reliable unit. Early cars tended to be inadequately cooled, and timing chains can also stretch over time.
• The very early Moss gearbox equipped cars can be tricky to repair, but conversions to the more common Rover four and five-speed gearboxes are available.
1968: Morgan Plus 8 is launched to complement four-cylinder only 4/4 range. Power is by a 143bhp 3.5-litre Rover V8, four-speed Moss gearbox is standard
1972: Four-speed Rover 2000 transmission replaces older Moss unit
1977: Higher output version of Rover V8 introduced. Five-speed gearbox now standard and aluminium body panels become optional
1984: Fuel-injection pushes V8 up to 190bhp
1990: 3.9-litre V8 introduced still producing 190bhp but with increased torque
1996: 4.6-litre V8 introduced with 240bhp
2004: Production ends for Plus 8 as Rover V8 engine is discontinued
2012: Re-engineered Plus 8 launched. Body now larger and glued and riveted as on Aero 8 models. 390bhp 4.8-litre BMW sourced V8 replaces Rover V8, and six-speed manual or automatic transmissions available. Airbags and ABS standard for the first time.
Owners’ clubs, forums and websites
• www.morgansportscarclub.com – Morgan Car Club
• www.morgan-motor.co.uk – Manufacturer website
• www.morganspecialist.com – Morgan Specialists
Summary and prices
The original Rover V8 powered derivatives vary greatly in specification and thanks to the near 40 years of production and being hand-built, no too are exactly alike. Pricing of these cars is a continually moving target but you are generally unlikely to find a decent car for under £30,000.
Prices can range up to £80,000 and values tend to be affected more by condition and an interesting history than by mileage or mechanical specifications.
The new generation of BMW powered Plus 8s can be bought new from around £80,000 depending on customisations, most used models retain their values well. Those looking for something that provides a multi-layered driving experience peppered with quirks that make ownership both endearing and at times a little frustrating have come to the right place. There is nothing quite like it on the road today.