Grand Throwback #4 - 2007 Morgan Aero 8 GT3
Unique, sadly half-decent at best - but the foundation for something better.
Morgan. You should know this name right? We famously associate the brand Morgan with... Well let's see here.... 'Distinct' designs(by which I mean, 'particularly niche'), use of wood... Plus being decent amounts of fun, if usually... fairly uncompromising(please, do bear reference to the Morgan 3-wheeler...). Morgan exists for the people that like something truly different, probably best described now as a walking throwback to the 1900s' British Sportscars. The company is going to be celebrating it's 110th Anniversary since it's founding in 1910 anytime now, and that's certainly not a feat that's exactly common in our automotive world.
Ever since they found their formula that worked, Morgan has been sticking pretty damn well to it. It's all the signature features of a car from the olden' days, bulbous headlights, eccentrically appealing designs, and doing things very much the old-fashioned way. In our automotive world where several manufacturers are attempting to fill niches for the sake of it, or just following the curve in hopes of a better financial prospect. By being an outlier to most of these cycles', Morgan sticks out as a company that manages to survive on its own formula.
Morgan has had a couple of hits with race cars over the past years, and the Morgan Aero 8 GT3 is one of them. But before we talk about it, we should first examine the car that forms it base.
This is actually one of the later Series IV cars, note that the headlights are more crosseyed on the earlier Series models.
The Morgan Aero 8 was first debuted in 2001, being the first new design for Morgan since the Morgan +4+ of the 1960s. Designed by Matt Humphries while he was still a design student in Coventry before graduating and becoming Morgan's first Head of Design, the Aero 8 was known for it's use of a bonded Alcan aluminium frame and bodyshell, a step on from older Morgans. Those had used aluminium skinned wooden body tubs on a steel chassis'. Of course, ash wood was still used in its construction, this time as the car's substructure for support.
Its panels and extrusions were bonded and riveted to yield a torsionally stiff platform for the suspension's fully independent double-A-arms front and rear, while not having anti-roll-bars(not that it needed them anyways). Eibach coil springs and Koni shock absorbers were some of the other components, with its stopping power stemming from cast-iron discs, with 6-pot calipers at the nose and 2-pot calipers at the tail end.
With a retracting roof that was said to be fairly decent for the time, the car was first delivered to the world powered by a BMW-sourced M62 4.4-litre V8 engine. Producing 329hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, it was mated to a Getrag 6-speed manual and an LSD... Without Traction Control(not that you really needed it, for it was a stable drive). When the Series 4 Aero 8 came out in 2007, it's engine had been upgraded to the 4.8-litre N62 V8, now with an optional 6-speed ZF Auto if you didn't feel like operating the clutch constantly. Power had increased to 367hp and torque to 361 lb-ft.
This is the earlier car with the more 'crosseyed' look.
In a car that weighed just 1150kg, either ways it would've been fast. The Series IV specs reported that the brutishly elegant package could soar up to 170mph, hitting 60mph from standstill in 4.5 seconds. By comparison, a 2000s' Z4 was 100kg heavier even with its smallest engines, and a E46 M3 up to 400kgs more porky.
From its debut through to the Series IV that was revealed in 2007, the car was infamously critiqued for its particularly cross-eyed front fascia, stemming partly from the VW Beetle-sourced headlights, though later fixed by swapping to MINI units(The Series IV being the generational type the GT3 would later be based upon). Several 'special editions' had been released throughout its lifetime even up till then. One example is the AeroMax, limited to just 100 units from 2008 to early 2010. This is the same model that Richard Hammond wrote the cheque for back-then(does anyone still remember it?). Oh and another trivia fact, its taillights apparently came from the Lancia Thesis.
The AeroMax. Not bad, actually.
The first two AutoGT cars from 2007.
But, it's time we move on from the street and to the track. By the time the GT3 versions of the Morgan Aero 8 were on the horizon, Morgan had already accrued plenty of racing experience throughout the lifetime of the Aero 8 up till that point, and even before, with the Plus 8 GTR 'Big Blue' from 1996(whose aluminium chassis became the building blocks for the Aero 8's production model). Having participated at several racing events from then on, from Le Mans to Spa with racing-specced versions of the Aero 8. From 2002-2004, Morgans were sighted at several prestigious racing events across the World, plucky underdogs playing against established competition, though not always finding success. For example, after 17 hours, a yellow DeWalt-liveried #73 car had bowed out of the 2002 Le Mans with engine issues. Other Aero 8's had been also run in GT2 on the side with similarly little success, but it was a oddly popular sight.... However, their success wasn't as consistent as their popularity. They did however score some decent results, for example finishing the 2003 Spa 24 hours in 11th/12th in-class, where ex-F1 driver and French national hero, Jacques Laffite drove one and fell in love with it.
It also had a 10th-place finish at 2004's 12 Hours of Sebring while in the GT-class, which is fairly admirable, considering the relatively less experience Morgan had in comparison to more established competitors.
The #17 DeWALT liveried car that appeared at 2002's Le Mans. It didn't finish, but considering it's development and shoestring budget, it was a creditable achievement. Do note that this car did not use a truly-BMW engine.
The Morgan that appeared at the 2004 24-hours of LeMans. This time, the car actually managed to finish.
But by 2007, Morgan was once again appearing on the International Circuits in the GT3 class. 3 cars were prepared and fielded by the AutoGT Racing team, sponsored by Banque Baring Brothers Sturdza S.A.(A Swiss Private bank run apparently by another car nut), and helmed by the renowned F1 racers Jean Pierre Jabouille and Laffite himself, both making an appearance for the first race of the season at Silverstone.
The cars themselves were fairly different from its road-going bretheren. In place of the normal 4.4/4.8-litre engines, a BMW-sourced S50LA 5.0 V8 filled the hood, mated to a Hollinger 6-speed Sequential. However, the gears were reportedly a little long and the engine was stock, though still providing some 420bhp(or more, as some accounts claim). Since the car had been lightened to weigh in at 1080kg according to its official papers, through the extensive use of carbon throughout its body panels with other gutting(making it 200kg lighter than the DBRS9 Joe le Corre just covered), on paper, it did seem like a fair combination. --- Oh, and if you'd like to know where the wood is on the GT3s, I'll answer that for you now: It was in the boot(Where the Fuel Cell, Radiator and Gearbox was also stowed), and on the dash(which even had its standard trim and gauges retained). [Plus as aforementioned additional structural supports like on the road cars.]
The original Koni dampers were dropped in favor of BOS units, mounted in a traditional wishbone set up, while uprated AP Racing brakes replaced the standard brakes. A fair bit of aerodynamic development had taken place, with the most obvious additions being the large rear diffuser and a single plane rear wing (in common with all GT3 cars then), while smaller details included a number of new vents and louvres integrated into the redone full carbon fibre body.
All these changes were made and the car's plans were successfully homologated as GT-013.
In total, 7 drivers drove the 3 cars prepared by AutoGT. Jacques Laffite and his daughter Marguerite, Frederic O'Neill, Jean-Francois Leroch, Johan-Boris-Scheier(These five all being French), Gael Leusoudier, and George-Alexandre Sturdza(Swiss).
However, this didn't mean smooth sailing. Though the specs seemed to suggest a fair combination, it was later reported that the stock S50LA engine fitted to these GT3 cars were particularly prone to cutting out under cornering stress, an issue that seemed to continue to plague them at least throughout their first season(though it's also said that the engine was kept stock so as to keep the gearbox and engine for lasting the entire season for cost saving).
Alongside, it was also realized that the aero attached to the Morgan all-round.. Just wasn't effective enough. Throughout their first season, despite their efforts, the team's highest position was only 24th/35 for car #49 at 2007's FIA GT3 @ Monza. The car was then driven by Laffite and O'Neill. Otherwise, the team had a spate of DNFs throughout the season. Leroch/Sturdza's Car #50 DNFed at Bucharest, just a month before Monza that year. Leroch/Scheier's #51 also bowed out with a DNF at Monza.
In its second season in 2008, things went slightly better for them. With their best position being 2nd for what-was-now Car #29 driven by Scheier and Lesoudier at 2008's 5th Championship round at the FIA GT3 Nogaro round, the team had noticeably higher results. From most of its cars being stuck at the tail end of the grid, AutoGT Racing managed to see results that pushed them up to more than 10 places above their most-seen positions the Season before. With the cars managing to participate through the whole season, admittedly with a few DNFs at a couple of races along the way, it seemed that Morgan was starting to get the hang of it..... But after the season finale at Dubai in November of 2008, that was the curtain call for the Morgan Aero 8 GT3s that had been homologated as GT-013.
Why? It was because for 2009, AutoGT prepared a new pair of vehicles that were based upon the then-imminent targa-topped SuperSport model of the Aero 8, with it's homologation papers calling them GT-022.
The two GT3s fielded for the 2009 season, prepared by AutoGT Racing. These were the original's successors.
One of the Mark Bailey Racing cars that was used in the British GT Championship.
Despite some appearances in British GT through 2008 and for two races in 2009 under the Mark Bailey Racing banner, 2008 was the original Aero 8 GT3's last true appearance. For 2009, at least in just the grand scheme of the FIA GT3 European Championship, the SuperSports GT3s christened GT-022 would take the places of the Aero 8s labelled GT-013.
A shot from the 2009 GT3 season at Zolder, featuring both of the SuperSports GT3s in one.
Making a splash and being an underdog doesn't mean certain victory. Morgan probably knew that better than we all thought it might have, considering its exploits elsewhere even before the homologation of GT-013. Just because you've managed to craft a complete car out of the experience that other older prototypes gave you doesn't guarantee anything. In life, even as we move, we must remember that others would also be moving in some way. When Morgan decided to agree to stepping into GT3 with AutoGT as their outfit, Morgan had to have known that they were at a continuous disadvantage, for they lacked many of the things that other participating manufacturers had. I would say that indeed, their results before the uses of cars planned under GT-022 weren't exactly the most achievements to write about, but if there's anything to thank the original GT3s for.... I'd say it's that they became exactly what predecessors like 'Big Blue' and the other vehicles fielded at other racing events were for GT-013, just for the next breed of vehicle. The moment GT-022 became a thing, the hopes that had ridden on GT-013 became GT-022's to bear, and... It delivered. But that's a story for another time.
That is however just my mere opinion. As a certain character said in a video game once:
'Anyways, that’s what I’ve come to think, and I think that’s enough.'
In any case, I have nothing more to add. So this is where this post ends. I hope that this read has been a decently satiating contribution to the 'Grand Throwbacks' series that the 5 of us, Dylan, Stijn, Joe, Jeremy and I set out to do. If there's anything you would like to add, such as details I overlooked or couldn't find, advice, or more, please feel free to say it. I'll be honest when I say that this is the first time I've written in almost two years, and I thus can't guarantee that it's exactly the same level of quality as what the former 3 have written already, so really, anything is appreciated even if I don't sound like it.
This post is being published as the fourth in a week-long series about the first generation race cars of the now incredibly successful GT3 racing formula. Please, even if mine is the weaker link in the series, do hold out hope for the final part that comes out tomorrow, written by another of this 5.
Until then, live well through the current chaos of the world!
Just one more for a send-off, alright?