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Autos: English Eccentricity

Robert Farago

Richard Huke doesn’t seem like the road rage type; by his own admission, the soft-spoken 70-year-old Welshman is a shy person. Still, when he cruises down a local motorway in his Morgan Aero 8, the retired architect sometimes finds his blood boiling. “I simply can’t stand it when some idiot comes up and sits inches away from my rear bumper,” Huke says. “I change down a gear, put my foot down, and leave him behind, looking like a fool.”

As well he might. The Morgan Aero 8, which will make its American debut in early 2004, features a bonded aluminum chassis married to an ash subframe. (Yes, ash as in the tree.) The combination of low weight (approximately 2,400 pounds) and serious horsepower (290 hp) gives the Aero 8, which is powered by a BMW 4.4-liter V-8, enough shove to outpace a Porsche 911 Turbo.

And if you’re measuring style, the Aero 8, in Huke’s opinion, leaves the Germans far behind—in a thoroughly English sort of way. “Most sports cars on the road today look like blobs,” says Huke, who in 1956 purchased his first Morgan, a prewar coupe, and is now driving his fifth. “The Aero 8 keeps those wonderful Morgan lines, but brings them—bang!—up-to-date.”

The Aero 8 resembles the Batmobile, with its outrageous running boards flowing over the front wheels and its long hood, leading to a tiny windscreen, tilted backward for maximum malevolence. The Batmobile may have a jet intake at the front, but the style and spirit of the two vehicles are identical. Fire up the Aero 8, and you can eas-ily imagine flames shooting out of the pipes.

Not so fast, Boy Wonder! First, you have to get into the beast. If you’re wide of beam, you can get in any time you like, but you can never leave. Second, the clutch snatches like a 3-year-old. Third, the 6-speed gearbox is about as precise as spiritual advice from a Buddhist monk. Lastly, the car’s handling demands respect.

The Aero 8 isn’t an overpowered, tail-happy car; it just feels that way. You can sense exactly what the chassis, suspension, and each wheel is doing, all at the same time.  Once you get used to the razor-sharp steering and learn to slide the car around the bends, the Aero 8 delivers major fun. All it takes is a judicious right foot, a steady set of hands, and courage.

Most owners will probably follow Huke’s lead and enjoy their Morgans on sunny days at sensible speeds, which may be just as well. The Aero 8 is not a logical choice for a daily driver. Owners face the traditional challenges of an English sports car: small trunk, leaky roof, questionable electrics, and less-than-perfect climate control.

Huke, however, isn’t bothered. “I’ve lived through the war. I’m used to deprivation,” he says. “Wherever I take her, I always get an audience. Frankly, the Aero 8 is so beautiful it’s embarrassing.”
 
Morgan Motor Company, +44.1684.573104, www.morgan-motor.co.uk

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