With its 1950 Plus 4, Morgan moved upmarket in size, weight, power, and price. The British manufacturer realized it might lose some potential customers but was happy to live with the situation for awhile. By mid-decade, though, the Plus 4 had become more potent, and Morgan felt it should again field a lower-power car. This explains the revival of the Morgan 4/4, though it was completely different from the car that carried that title during 1935-50.
In fact, the new 4/4 was closely related to the Plus 4. The main difference was engines, purchased from Ford Britain instead of Triumph. Gearboxes were now in unit with the engine, not separated as on the Plus 4, but the rock-hard ride, crude weather protection (including removable side curtains), vintage styling, and ultra-low driving position were all there.
The reborn 4/4 has been around for more than 30 years now and shows no signs of dying away. Like other Morgans, it's always had the same antique chassis design, body construction, and styling -- a kind of technological time warp that customers keep coming back for nevertheless. Engines have changed several times over the years, and the model has picked up most of the improvements made to the Plus 4 and Plus 8.
The original Series II 4/4 of 1955 arrived with the cowled radiator, semi-faired headlamps, and sloped tail of the then-new Plus 4, none of which have changed since. But unlike bigger-engine Moggies, body styles were limited to just a two-seat roadster at first. Thus, three decades of 4/4 evolution have centered almost entirely on engines and transmissions, ranging from a 36-horsepower/3-speed drivetrain to a 98-bhp/5-speed team, though standard front disc brakes were a notable Sixties "innovation."
Let's chart the changes. First up was the old 1172-cc Ford UK side-valve four. In 1959 came the new oversquare overhead-valve 997-cc "Kent" unit and 4-speed gearbox from the 105E Anglia. Ford spun off larger and powerful versions of this in the next few years, and Morgan always hurried to fit the best available. Capacity rose to 1340 cc in '62, to 1498 cc from 1963, and finally to 1599 cc and 88 bhp in 1968. (The last, incidentally, would be familiar to Americans in Ford's imported Cortinas and Capris of 1968-72 and early Pintos, not to mention Formula Ford racing.) By that time, the Plus 8 had replaced the Plus 4, so the 4/4 was also offered as a four-seater.
The name changed, too, to 4/4 1600, and specifications were frozen for the Seventies, when production averaged 6-8 a week. (The big automakers may have had problems, but "cottage industry" Morgan somehow muddled through that turbulent decade.) Top speed was up to 100 mph despite awful aerodynamics, and acceleration was brisk if hardly breathtaking.
The next turning point didn't occur until 1982, when Morgan actually offered a choice of engines, both 1.6-liter fours: the sohc Ford "CVH" four, European cousin to the American Escort unit, and the twincam Fiat unit familiar from the 124 sports cars, each mated to a 5-speed gearbox. Three years later, Morgan substituted a 2.0-liter derivative of the Fiat unit for a revived Plus 4, thus coming full circle.
Production continues and seems likely to for some time to come. The total recently passed 6,500 units, paltry by Detroit standards, let alone for 30-plus years. But then, Morgan builds old-fashioned cars the old-fashioned way, and things like that just won't be hurried.