In a world of huge multinational automakers, England’s tiny Morgan Motorcars is a breath of fresh air. In business since 1909, its cars recall the glory days of the English sports car industry, in both their style and technology. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a future. Morgan’s newest model is the Aero 8. It’s both cutting edge, and archaic. And now, it’s come to America.
And when it arrives in summer, the 2004 Morgan Aero 8 will deliver a healthy dose of classic Anglo excitement. While undoubtedly a proper English roadster, the Aero 8 benefits from recent racing experience in both its chassis design and styling.
Unlike the earlier Plus 8, the Aero 8 replaces Morgan’s traditional steel chassis with aluminum members. It all rides on a 99.6-inch wheelbase, and has the same trim 162.2 inch length as a Honda S2000. The body panels are also alloy, and offer equal doses of traditional curves and modern aggression, plus either this removable hard top, or a more expected manual soft top.
The sleek but vintage-inspired shell is accentuated by these 18-inch center-bolt cast magnesium wheels and low profile tires. We’re told the tiny trunk grows on production cars.
The Morgan Aero 8 itself is a flyweight at only 2,500 pounds. Our test car was a U.S.-legal prototype made available by Cantab Motors, of Purcellville, Virginia, Morgan’s East Coast distributor.
It’s powered by a 4.4-liter V8 borrowed from the BMW 540i. Output is 282 horsepower and 324 pound-feet of torque. BMW has been working with Morgan for two years on the development of the Aero 8 for a proper engine match.
Add a smooth, short-throw 6-speed manual gearbox, and the Aero 8 hurls to 60 in only 4.5-seconds. The quarter mile thunders by in 13.1-seconds at 109 miles-per-hour. With so much torque pushing so little car, the Aero 8 leaps off the line, and sprints rapidly through an incredibly flat power band. Throttle response is instantaneous, and the shifter light and positive. Only a sluggish clutch engagement slows things, and then only by milliseconds.
The Aero 8 pulls equally well off the corners, such as those at West Virginia’s Summit Point Raceway. The short-travel, unequal-length suspension and fast ratio steering combine for amazingly sharp reactions. Turn in is lightning quick, with just a touch of front plow. Too much power applied at mid-corner will cause the tail to step out. But after a couple of laps, our driver was using the excellent response and smooth delivery to control those slides, easily pointing the Aero 8 with the throttle. The experience is part race car, part roller coaster, and always exhilarating.
Stopping the Aero 8 are huge brake discs, 13-inches up front and 12-inches at the rear, which bring it down from 60 in an average of 142 feet. With its light weight and no ABS, there is a tendency towards lockup when worked hard, but thanks to good pedal feel, it’s also easily controlled. The Aero 8 hops and bops a bit under braking, but when powering over the humps and bumps of public roads, its suspension is impressively compliant.
It’s truly modern performance, from a car that still holds fast to English coach-building tradition, most especially in the plywood passenger cell, which is still built of English Ash. It encloses a tight aircraft-like cockpit, that while well worn in this prototype, will be delivered with the wood-and-leather style of a true English roadster, plus all the modern conveniences.
With wide, no-step running boards, entering the Aero 8 demands a certain dexterity. The foot wells are pretty tight, but overweight 6-footers fit fine, even without the tilt/telescoping steering wheel that will come standard on production cars. Hey, if you want more space, buy a Bentley.
The Aero 8 won’t cost you as much as a Bentley, however, but it’s not cheap. Base price is a cool $95,000. That’s the price of a car that’s so exciting and so rare.
The Morgan Aero 8 is a thrilling ride from the glory days of the English sports car, to the 21st century, and in 2004, to an American road near you.
Engine: 4.4-Liter V8
Torque: 324 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 4.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.1 Seconds @ 109 MPH
60-0 MPH: 142 Feet