Classics World test drives and reviews the 1971 Morgan Plus 8 Sports…
It’s difficult to think of a car that’s more British than a Morgan, which is still very much in production, albeit nowadays with European-sourced engines. Our 1971 Morgan Plus 8 represents the quintessential ‘classic’ period model at its best. Hand-built in Britain, by British craftsmen and women and with a British engine, the mighty Rover V8 (albeit, Buick-derived).
It wasn’t until 1968 that there was talk of a production Morgan powered by a Rover 3.5-litre V8, which did reach fruition, with 484 built between 1968-1972, featuring narrow bodies measuring only 4ft 9-inches in width. Between 1972 and 1977 saw another 702 models produced with a slightly different technical specification, notably using a four-speed and (later) five-speed Rover gearbox. Production continued up to 2004 with variations to specification, both chassis, body and mechanically. All cars offered the traditional Morgan-build using a steel chassis with a wood ash frame, which together with V8 power offered a truly spirited performance.
Our road test Morgan Plus 8 is finished in black, with a black leather interior, and is one of the very few models equipped with a Moss four-speed manual gearbox. The speedometer has been replaced at some time and the true mileage isn’t known. Previously, the car spent a great many years in Sweden, returning to our shores several years ago. Though the bodywork is pretty straight all round and the paintwork is mostly in very good order, there are signs of ageing. It has some stress cracks around where the side screens fit to the doors and some on the running boards, along with a little microblistering to the bottom of the driver’s door.
Don’t forget, though, that this Morgan is a 1970 model; it’s been used and enjoyed and thus has picked up some patina in the process. The brightwork is in good order and the stainless steel luggage rack is a most useful fitment. The original rough-cast alloy wheels are in reasonable condition, if not mint. Our tried and tested Plus 8 has a side-exiting exhaust system – the original single tailpipe would have exited on the left hand side, though a twin-pipe system was available as an option.
Interior wise, this Plus 8 has pleasingly retained a huge degree of originality, right down to the chunky 15-inch Astrali leather-trimmed three-spoke steering wheel and the Restall seats (Restall Brothers of Birmingham), complete with gold and black badging on the frame at the front. These have been retrimmed in black leather and show the odd scuff mark, but no tears. The interior does show signs of minor wear and the dashboard-mounted rocker switches are well patinated! Interestingly, a previous owner has fitted a pair of wide webbing, racing style lap straps made by Filler Products Inc.
ON THE ROAD
Getting into the driver’s seat should be done very carefully, ensuring you don’t gouge your knee on the lower extremity of the dashboard. You are immediately aware that there’s not a great deal of rake to the steering wheel; it’s not far short of vertical but a most agreeable driving position, enhanced by the rake of the seats. The foot pedals hinge from the floor with the clutch pedal reasonably weighty. The Moss gearbox has a fairly short throw shifter, with a very noticeable clunky mechanical action. Even with the weight of a V8 engine up front (it actually weighs only slightly more than the Triumph cast iron four-cylinder), there’s still the unmistakable bouncy jaunty ride, so characteristic of the front suspension set-up, which can be slightly skittish on poorly surfaced roads.
The torque from the 3.5-litre Rover V8 engine is hugely impressive; you can pull away in any gear, without the engine labouring. With 160bhp on tap in such a light car, the acceleration is very brisk to say the least. The side-exiting exhaust has a pleasingly deep and muted rumble and not the slightest bit intrusive. The steering is reasonably heavy at most times, but that’s not a bad thing in sports cars and the 15-inch Astrali steering wheel is just the ticket for hauling the car around corners. The Plus 8 is without doubt a hairy-chested sports car, allowing you to have as much driving fun within the limits of your own comfort zone, but beware wet roads and pushing it that little bit too far!
If Darth Vader were to drive a 1970s vintage Morgan Plus 8, we reckon he’d be more than at home behind the wheel of this example. Its all-black exterior and interior may look a tad sinister and, though it’s not in mint condition, represents a period Plus 8 with a Moss-box that’s not too precious to be driven all year round if required.
There has been plenty of work completed professionally in Sweden, which amounts to many thousands of Krona. It’s an aggressive, raw, masculine machine that delivers impressive performance. Be prepared to be intoxicated; the Moss-box Plus 8 models rarely come up for sale – the owners simply like them too much!
Engine: 3528cc V8
Torque: 210lb ft@2600rpm
Top Speed: 124mph
0-60mph: 6.7 secs
Gearbox: Four-speed manual