Not only is the traditionally styled Plus 8 roadster on sale in the United States, but the legendary — yet little-known — Morgan company of Britain has created a brand-new Aero 8 model to join the lineup. Previously available in Europe, the Aero 8 arrives in the United States in the 2004 model year.
The Aero 8 takes the traditional Morgan profile and brings it up to date with a sleeker, more aerodynamic shape. Morgan claims this is the first all-aluminum coach-built automobile. An aluminum body sits atop a chassis of the same material that's based on Morgan's GT2 racecar.
The Aero name was inspired by one of Morgan's early three-wheeled models built between 1919 and 1936. A BMW 4.4-liter V-8 engine works with a Getrag six-speed-manual gearbox.
Traditional Morgan styling cues include an exceptionally long hood and short deck and are more curvaceous on the Aero 8 than on the Plus 8. The Aero 8's sleek headlights fair into the fenders, and the vertical-bar grille flows neatly into the hood. The smooth shape was developed in a wind tunnel and generates negative front and rear lift.
Aero developers made the use of lightweight, technologically advanced components a priority. The Aero 8's bodywork is a blend of thermoplastic and hand-formed panels, and this car qualifies as an aluminum intensive vehicle (AIV). Sections of aluminum are bonded using high-performance adhesive and riveted for secondary strength. The car's total weight is 2,500 pounds.
Continuing the Morgan tradition of coach-building, the aluminum body is mounted on an ash framework and crafted by hand. On the other end of the technology spectrum, CATIA software aided the design work. Forged 18-inch alloy wheels hold Pirelli tires, and AP Racing brakes are installed. The Aero is equipped with run-flat tires and a tire-pressure monitor; no spare tire is included. The double-skinned fabric top has been designed for easy up-and-down operation.
Morgan's fully independent suspension consists of long cantilever upper arms and lower wishbones up front, as well as inboard Eibach coil springs over Koni shock absorbers. Long transverse wishbones and cantilever-mounted fully floating inboard coil springs are used at the rear. The Aero 8's ground clearance is 6 inches. The car has a 50/50 weight distribution, front to rear, with one occupant aboard.
Both Morgan models seat two occupants in traditional, British-roadster style. The Aero 8 makes extensive use of Connolly leather and bare aluminum. Some portions of the ash hardwood frame are visible.
All glass areas use invisible heating elements. Optional equipment includes air conditioning and Blaupunkt entertainment systems that feature satellite navigation. Cruise control is standard, which is a first for Morgan. A lockable luggage compartment has a remote release, and a removable Mulberry leather case replaces the conventional glove box.
Under the Hood
A BMW-built four-cam 4.4-liter V-8 engine generates 325 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 330 pounds-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm using VANOS variable inlet valve timing. A Getrag six-speed manual is the only transmission available. Morgan says it's the first manual gearbox with a self-adjusting clutch, which provides consistent pedal performance. The Aero 8 is the first Morgan to use drive-by-wire technology and onboard diagnostics. The automaker claims the Aero 8 can accelerate from zero to 62 mph in less than 5 seconds and reach 160 mph.
The Aero 8 is equipped with depowered front airbags for both occupants. Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are standard.
Thrilling. No other word adequately describes the experience of piloting a European-spec right-hand-drive Aero 8 through narrow English roads near the Morgan factory. Stomp the gas pedal and the Aero 8 lunges forward like a runner leaving the starting block. Turn the wheel a hair and this light-on-its-feet two-seater follows your instructions instantly.
Getting inside is the first hurdle, especially if a metal roof is installed; climbing out is even tougher. But in between lies unbridled motoring excitement in the old-fashioned British sports-car mode that's been brought up to date by the presence of a big BMW V-8. With optional side exhaust pipes installed, the noise under acceleration assaults the ear like a snarling beast — but to enthusiasts, it's a gratifying sound.