Morgan Milestone: Plus 8 50th Anniversary limited-edition model to debut at Geneva

Morgan Milestone: Plus 8 50th Anniversary limited-edition model to debut at Geneva

Photography by Richard Lentinello, and courtesy of the Morgan Motor Company.

2018 marks the half-century mark for British automaker Morgan’s traditionally most-powerful model, the eight-cylinder Plus 8. The first generation of this coveted flagship sports car was powered by the aluminum Rover 3.5-liter — née Buick 215-cu.in. — V-8, the GM-developed engine that was Anglicized a few years prior, following its tooling being purchased by the Rover Company.

The Morgan Motor Company recently announced its plan to build 50 examples of a ’50th Anniversary Special Edition’ Plus 8, the first of which will debut on March 3 at the Geneva Motor Show. These cars, like all Plus 8s built since 2012, will be powered by a BMW-sourced 4.8-liter V-8, and they will be the very last ones to use that engine.

The traditional coachwork of today’s Plus 8 cloaks a bonded-and-riveted aluminum chassis, as well as that German powerplant, which makes 367 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque, and can be mated to either a BMW six-speed manual or (gasp!) ZF eight-speed automatic. With a power-to-weight ratio of 315 hp/ton, a modern Plus 8 can hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and reach a governed 155-mph top speed.

And while the first Plus 8 (0-60 in 6.7 seconds, 124 mph) couldn’t match those specifications, it, too, was a brilliant performer, thanks to the ash-framed aluminum and steel body that contributed to its 1,900-pound curb weight, working in alliance with the twin-SU-carbureted 3,528-cc V-8 that would make 184 hp and 226 lb-ft in U.S. tune.

Eight cylinders first took the place of Four in 1967, when the first prototype was built under Peter Morgan‘s direction; the Morgan Motor Company debuted the production Plus 8 during the 1968 Earls Court Motor Show in London. As Richard Lentinello explained in his Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car feature on the unrestored 1971 Plus Eight shown in these photos,

Because the factory was too busy trying to meet the ever-growing demand for its sought-after Plus 4s and 4/4s, Morgan contracted out the prototype work for the Plus 8 to a racing engineer named Maurice Owen, who was also a Morgan enthusiast. Working out of a small research building on the grounds of the factory, Owen oversaw the construction of several mock-ups made to ensure that the fairly compact, and lightweight, V-8 would fit properly. The engine’s greater width meant a new steering column had to be employed, so they adopted a new collapsible column that was manufactured by A.C. Delco-Saginaw. A thermostatically controlled electric fan also had to be used, due to insufficient room for the stock engine-mounted fan. The only major alteration that had to be made from the standard Morgan body and chassis was that both had to be increased in width by two inches.

In his book Morgan: First and Last of the Real Sports Cars, Gregory Houston Bowden states: “In order to carry out the work as simply and as quickly as possible, Maurice used the traditional Morgan principle of ‘make first and draw later.’ This principle is not entirely peculiar to Morgans for, as Maurice points out, Sydney Camm of Hawker Aircraft built three aeroplanes before doing any serious drawing!” No doubt it was an interesting method of engineering and producing a car, yet, in the end, it all worked out quite well for the Plus 8.

Dr. Tony McLaughlin, the first and only owner of this bumblebee-hued beauty seen here, learned directly from company chairman Peter Morgan that the Plus 8 had passed muster with U.S. safety and emissions regulating groups, but due to a delay in getting U.S.-spec components, the first such examples wouldn’t be built until late 1970. Dr. McLaughlin was able to secure his order for a 1971 Plus 8 in November 1970, with the car being delivered in August 1971.

This example was one of a handful to arrive in original form. While V-8-loving America would seem a most natural market for the Plus 8, our ever-tightening emissions and safety regulations would curtail opportunities to buy this car. Those examples that were imported by Bill Fink’s Isis Imports, Ltd. between 1974 and 1992 would feature engines altered to run on propane, for emissions compliance, along with coachwork specially reinforced to meet our stricter bumper and side-impact guidelines. The work that went into making these Morgans road-legal was staggering, and included the aforementioned fuel conversion, 5-mph bumpers, steel reinforcement body and cowl hoops, inertia-reel seatbelts, flame-retardent interior materials, and more. Isis-sorted, LPG-fueled Plus 8s could even be turbocharged to the tune of about 225 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque, as Road & Track revealed in 1980. Various exemptions allowed a handful of new models to be imported through the late 1990s, with our 1998 models using Land Rover-spec, OBD II-compliant 4.0-liter engines and circa-1994 Jaguar airbag-equipped steering wheels.

Morgan offered a run of 35th anniversary Plus 8 models in 2003, while the last Plus 8s built with the venerable Rover V-8 emerged from Malvern Link in 2004, total production having encompassed some 6,000 examples. We’d guess that current BMW-powered examples could be made to comply with U.S. emissions regulations fairly easily, although the safety standards represent a very different topic, considering ‘smart’ airbag, electronic stability control, back-up cameras, and other current requirements. Could a few of the forthcoming Plus 8 50th Anniversary Special Edition models be imported under the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act? Time will tell.

While you wait for that March 3 debut, you can entertain yourself by building your own Plus 8 using Morgan’s online Car Creator software. Would you park a Plus 8 in your garage?


Source: www.hemmings.com/blog

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