5 things I learned from driving a Morgan Plus 4 in the Scottish Highlands
If you were to go on a long weekend up to the Highlands of Scotland, what car would you take? An Elise would probably be a good shout, as would something that could get the glens echoing; maybe a manual Ferrari 360 Modena?
Anyway, I decided to go venture far from the path of normality and gave the folks at Morgan a call. What was the result? London to Mallaig and back in a Morgan Plus 4. As they say, nothing ventured...
It was a thorough test of the plucky Brit, with hundreds of motorway miles followed by some of the most intricate and scenic strips of tarmac in the world. So after an intense 1500 miles, it's safe to say it's a car/journey combination that I won't be forgetting any time soon. Without further ado, here's what I learned:
It's classic car motoring but everything actually works
First of all, yes, the body frame is made from wood. Ash to be precise. Lift the carpet and a wooden panel reveals itself, carefully nailed into place by the chaps at the Morgan factory in Malvern. Throw in a Moto Lita steering wheel, beautifully hand crafted analogue dials and a manually operated canvas roof and Morgan has absolutely nailed the recipe that it has been wheeling out of its factory gates for the last 60-70 years.
Sure, the roof leaks when you drive in rain above 50mph and the windows are simply sheets of plastic that love a good rattle. But when you realise just what you're sitting in and hear the car 'brump' into life on a frosty Highland morning, it reminds you that retro experiences like this are few and far between these days. It's a wooden car and you should be bloody proud to drive it.
Its engine needs an adrenaline shot
The powertrain Morgan has opted for is a mixture of Ford and Mazda. A 154bhp 2.0-litre I4 has been swiped from a Focus and the gearbox is from an MX-5. The transmission has been chosen perfectly - you can't go far wrong with the little Japanese roadster's unit - but the powerplant connected to it leaves a little to be desired.
It makes all the noises that a car harking back to the 1950s should, but only until about 3000rpm, at which point it only accelerates further into a bland, uncomfortable rasp. This means that it's not an engine that wants to be thrashed, feeling a tad constrained and unwilling. What it really needs is something with a bit more bounce about it, and the engine that immediately jumped into my head as the perfect replacement was the Alfa Twinspark.
The 2.0-litre found in cars such as the GTV had precisely the personality that the Morgan is crying out for, although I can't see the engineers at Malvern giving the Italians a call any time soon. Saying that, keep it below 3000rpm and it makes all the pops and grumbles that a classic car should but there's plenty scope for a much more spritely package with a bit of an engine rethink.
Don't drive it flat out
Considering I was accompanied on the roads of the West Coast by everything from a Vauxhall VX220 Turbo to a McLaren 650S, there were times when the red mist would descend and it was time to toss the little Plus 4 about. And within a couple of corners, the Morgan quickly communicated how it's meant to be treated.
It's not one for being hustled through tight bends, leaning on high grip levels before waiting to get back on the loud pedal. Instead, its skinny tyres can only handle so much speed and the unique profile makes for a cornering feel that doesn't really belong in the 21st Century.
Along with a lack of grip, the chassis flexes quite alarmingly, virtually screaming for some form of reinforcement to cure the somewhat cumbersome dynamics. It means that the fun of throwing the Morgan into a bend on a Scottish sea cliff quickly disappears, replaced with immediate regret about the attempted entry speed.
The Morgan isn't even an 8/10ths car then, it's more of a 60% 'chunterer', if you get me. It is happiest when 'chuntering along' at 45mph, with the greatest use of the chassis being a half-distance acceleration followed by a well-planned and conservative corner entry. Once the slender front tyres have done their job of hanging on and rotating the car, the power-to-weight ratio then completes the job, jigging the car up the road in a satisfying manner.
It has all the presence you could ever want
Not many £50,000 (the value of this highly-specced demonstrator) cars can hope to outshine the Plus 4 once parked up. Even next to Mustangs, Ferraris, R8s, Huracans and countless Porsches, the plucky wooden Brit was constantly being given the classic nod of admiration given by knowledgeable petrolheads. You can't buy class and decorum, hence why the pronounced Morgan never struggled to get people talking and wanting a look.
With its heavily squared-off rear and seemingly neverending front wings, the Plus 4's shape is one that is respected by every age demographic. The iconic grille will forever be bolted to the front of Morgans, and seeing one on the road further signifies that - unlike MG and Triumph - there's still a classic British brand that has stuck to its guns.
It reassured me that the British motoring industry is in good hands
Having recently taken a Suffolk Jaguar C-Type out for a spin, my time in the Plus 4 further added to my renewed outlook on the car industry on our little island. While the big hitters like Jaguar, Aston Martin and Bentley keep surging to new heights, the smaller firms like BAC, Ariel, Suffolk and Morgan also don't seem to be leaving the landscape any time soon.
The quality of craftsmanship within the Plus 4 is essentially what you're buying, leaving any carbon fibre, double-clutch nonsense to the likes of Lotus and Caterham. It won't set a twisting B-road alight in any shape or form, but nor should it. All it has to do is attract the admiration of every motorist passing by and communicate the essence of classic car motoring through its sumptuous leather seats. And - despite its shortcomings - it'll have you wondering why on earth you suddenly yearn for a slice of 1950s motoring.