Morgan Sports Cars

Morgan Plus 4

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.

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