Morgan Sports Cars

The strangely titled Morgan Plus 4 Plus deviated from Morgan’s classic style and alienated enthusiasts. See more pictures of sports cars.

The Morgan Motor Company got its start by building three-wheeled motor vehicles in 1910. By 1935 it had entered the four-wheel market, and 1950 saw its first sports car. In this article, you’ll find that, with a few exceptions, Morgan styling remained in the 1930s no matter what year a car was built.

The Morgan 4/4 Series II arrived in 1955, already looking like a throwback to a bygone era. Mechanicals would change, and performance would be upgraded over the years, but for more than three decades, the 4/4 (four wheels, four cylinders) would retain its distinct styling and hand-built, steel-over-wood-frame construction. Not quite as long-lived, the 1950 Morgan Plus 4 was a more-powerful, more-sporty iteration of the 4/4, though it too looked like it rolled straight out of the 1930s.


In the early 1960s, Morgan experimented with a more modern-looking car, with less than stellar results. The clumsily-named Morgan Plus 4 Plus deviated from many Morgan norms: It had a curved windshield, hardtop roof, fiberglass body, and hidden spare tire. In the end, its non-traditional styling managed to alienate Morgan enthusiasts and drive off would-be converts. Fortunately, Morgan got back on track with the Morgan Plus 8, and continues to blend modern performance with classic design.

Learn more about the history of this fascinating company, who to this day build each of their cars by hand. We'll get started on the next page with the classic Morgan Plus 4.

To learn more about Morgan and other sports cars, see:

This is a 1961 Morgan Plus 4, but it’s hardly distinguishable from a ’54 model or a ’69. For that matter, its basic chassis and ash-framed body can be traced directly to the original four-wheel Morgan of the 1930s. That of course is the magic of Morgan, which builds fewer cars than it can sell, thereby fueling demand.

The groundwork for what would become the Morgan Plus 4 was laid back when the automobile was just becoming a more common form of transportation. Like Henry Ford, Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan dreamed of making his fortune with a cheap universal car -- only he lived in England, where "proper" automobiles were heavily taxed. He thus turned to tax-free cyclecars: small, three-wheel roadsters with two-cylinder motorcycle engines and brisk performance. What set the Morgan apart from other cyclecars was its independent front suspension by a simple sliding-pillar design, a genuine revolution for solid-axle 1910.

Morgan prospered through the '20s as one of Britain's most affordable cars before being eclipsed by cheap four-wheelers from giants Austin and Morris. But the rugged tricycle "Moggies" remained a force in competition, and their sales appeal shifted from basic transport to winning sports car, a reputation that persisted through the last of the line in 1952.

By that point, Morgan's mainstay was a "proper" sports car called the 4/4 (4 wheels/4 cylinders), new in 1935 but remarkably little changed since. By the '50s it was as antique as an MG-TC, with an ash-framed body and hard sliding-pillar suspension, yet HFS and his son Peter refused to change it. Happily, the 4/4 charmed enough Americans that tiny Morgan prospered anew with its old-fashioned cars.

But even Morgan wasn't entirely immune to change, and in 1951 it issued the Plus 4. Aimed mainly at wealthy Americans, this was a deluxe replacement for the 4/4 (which would return in 1956). It had a longer wheelbase, belated hydraulic brakes, and instead of a mild 1.3-liter four, a 2.1-liter Standard engine from that firm's new 1948 Vanguard sedan. A four-seat roadster soon joined the traditional two-seater, as did two- and four-place "drophead" convertibles.

The car is an example of the model that helped endear the Plus 4 to enthusiasts by employing a succession of Triumph engines. Outright speed was not the issue; a vintage sports-car feel was, and with its cut-down doors and spartan cockpit, the Plus 4 delivered.

Styling evolved a bit in 1954, as the flat-faced radiator gave way to a domed vertical-bar grille. Also that year came a more potent engine option, the 95-hp version developed for Standard-Triumph's own sporting TRs. This was the Plus 4's only engine by 1959, when wider bodies with faired-in headlamps appeared, along with optional front disc brakes. The last were standard by 1962, as was a modernized engine with 105 hp or, in rare Super Sports tune, 115-120 hp.

The Plus 4 vanished after 1969, then returned in the late '80s for Britain and Europe with a new engine and updated interior. But that's Morgan for you: changing yet changeless -- not unlike jolly old England herself.

To learn more about Morgan and other sports cars, see:

Morgan styling hasn’t changed much since World War II, but modern instruments and the steering wheel mark this 4/4 as a post-Sixties model.

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.

Note the traditional passenger tonneau and hood tie-down on this Morgan 4/4.

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.

To learn more about Morgan and other sports cars, see:

The lower-body lines of the Plus 4 Plus were conventional enough, but the bell-like roofline wasn’t. A spare was enclosed by a trunk with an external lid, three more items new to Morgan.

As Morgan carried on with its Thirties-style cars through the Forties and Fifties, customers kept buying and the press started complaining. The Morgan family -- particularly Peter Morgan, who'd become managing director at the end of the Fifties -- listened politely but resisted change. That is until 1963, when they suddenly unveiled a very different car, the Morgan Plus 4 Plus.

This was Malvern Link's first (and so far only) attempt at anything like modern styling, with a smooth "bubbletop" coupe body on an unaltered Plus 4 chassis. Its other novelty was that the body was made of fiberglass by an outside supplier instead of by Morgan using its traditional steel-over-wood construction.

Announcing the Plus 4 Plus was a laid-back grille of familiar Morgan design above a normal Plus 4 bumper. The windshield was curved and the roof fixed, both firsts for Morgan, as were glass door windows, which slid up and down via contact with the leading edge of the door frame. Seating remained strictly for two, but with a large cargo hold behind and a separate trunk with lid, two other Malvern Link "breakthroughs." The roof was almost bell-shaped and the lower body square-cut, with slab sides, large wheel cutouts, straight-through fenderlines, and a simple tail.

Triumph's 2.1-liter TR4 engine had recently been adopted for the Plus 4 roadsters, so the coupe had it, too, along with front disc brakes and, on most examples, center-lock wire wheels. Modern it may have looked, but the Plus 4 Plus had the same very hard ride, limited suspension travel, and jackhammer back axle as other Morgans. So primitive is this chassis, in fact, that experienced Morgan owners are said to be able to run over a coin on the road and tell whether it's up heads or tails.

Awkardly named Plus 4 Plus saw Morgan flirt briefly with modern styling, coupe coachwork, and fiberglass construction.

Though smart-looking if no head-turner, the Plus 4 Plus was too radical for marque loyalists and too crude for non-Morgan owners. Malvern intended to build 50 but completed just 26 before abandoning this experiment in modernity after only three years.

To learn more about Morgan and other sports cars, see:

Alloy wheels, wider track, and a two-inch wheel-base stretch help identify Morgan Plus 8s from Plus 4s. Interior trim is more opulent, but construction remains old-world, including wooden underbody pieces. The example pictured is a 1987 model-year Plus 8.

Like every Morgan, the Plus 8 offers elemental motoring at its best -- and worst. That means a cramped, leaky, stiff-riding sports car, but one with super-responsive handling and an old-time driving feel no modern car can duplicate. It also means resolutely 1930s styling -- Morgans were "retro" decades ago -- plus patient handwork by virtuoso artists in wood, metal, and leather.

Like every Morgan since the '20s, the Plus 8 issues from the quaint Pickersleigh Road shops set up by HFS Morgan himself in the Worchestershire hamlet of Malvern Link. And though neither the company nor its cars have essentially changed over the years, Morgans have become quite costly, in part because demand far exceeds supply. Want a new one? Order now, then wait five years.

What's special about the Plus 8 is that it delivers everything Morgan at much higher velocities. That's because it has a V-8, the same all-aluminum pushrod design that was born at Buick and adopted by Rover. Actually, the 8 was a child of necessity, evolved from the Plus 4 to replace that model when its Triumph-sourced engine was discontinued.

Luckily, the V-8 was an easy fit, requiring just a two-inch-longer wheelbase and a slightly wider chassis. Better still, it was little heavier than the old four yet packed nearly 50 percent more power. Add in modest overall weight and you have a "veddy British" roadster that can out-drag some Ferraris.

Top speed? It's now an alleged 130 mph despite the vintage "aerodynamics," but only fools would attempt that. Morgans have always been best in top-down touring on smooth, snaky roads at up to, say, 80 mph; this one merely gets there a lot quicker.

When the supply of four-cylinder Triumph engines dried up, Morgan switched to the compact Rover V-8 and created the Plus 8. The new engine was an easy fit and didn’t alter the Morgan driving feel; it just made it possible to enjoy at higher velocities.

Today's Plus 8 is basically the debut 1968 model, but axles and fenders have been widened a couple times and performance improved by a mid-'80s switch from carburetors to fuel injection, then more displacement (from 3.5 liters to 3.9). Though U.S. imports have been spotty since 1972 (blame safety and emissions laws), street-legal 8s are again available to determined Yanks with deep pockets.

Twenty years ago, Road & Track described the Plus 8 as being all about "romance -- young love, moonlit motoring on winding blacktop roads and coffee stops in unlikely places. A car for F. Scott Fitzgerald heroes and heroines, yet surely as appealing to the pot generation. . . ." That's still true, thank goodness. We'd all be poorer without this defiantly individual new-old car.

To learn more about Morgan and other sports cars, see: