Car of the Year 2004: Morgan Aero 8

  • Robert Ross

Morgan, the oldest family-owned carmaker in the world (founded in 1910 by the grandfather of present owner Charles Morgan), enters the 21st century offering its state-of-the-art Aero 8. Such longevity represents a colossal achievement given the esoteric nature of this British marque and the stifling requirements that today’s car builders must meet. Yet Morgan has designed an all-new car that combines quirky but rational methodologies—like an ash tub surrounded by a hand-formed Superform aluminum body—along with the latest drivetrain and safety developments. (Superform also supplies bodies for the Aston Martin Vanquish and the Bentley Continental GT.)

That the Morgan Aero 8 made it to the “Car of the Year” event is remarkable, because it will not be available in the United States until June 2004. But thanks to efforts by the factory in Malvern Link and by Dennis Glavis of Morgan West (www.morganwest.net), a European version was delivered just in time to participate. The low, swooping Morgan presented an elegant and unusual silhouette parked among its 11 stablemates, all of which—with the exception of the Lamborghini—were fairly prosaic by comparison. The audacious shapes of the Aero 8 are best appreciated in person, and the two-tone paint—flawlessly applied in classic Rolls-Royce colors—comes to life only under a natural sky. An amalgam of old and new, the Aero 8 is a defensible and logical evolution of its predecessor, the Plus 8. Design cues such as the flowing fenders, long hood, and signature Morgan grille are combined with modern lighting and wheels to create a car that looks like nothing but a Morgan—à la Blade Runner.

Under the aluminum skin, the tiny roadster’s underpinnings are modern and beautifully engineered. The jewellike aluminum chassis is by Radshape, and the engine is a BMW 4.4-liter V-8, mated to a Getrag 5-speed gearbox. Cars coming to the States will be equipped with a more powerful 330 hp version and an all-new ZF 6-speed gearbox in an endeavor to provide smoother power delivery and quieter operation. The U.S. cars will also have a wider cockpit (the rest of the car’s dimensions will remain the same) to provide the driver with space for some movement of that extraneous appendage called a left arm. To say the Morgan is cozy is to understate the obvious, and big, tall drivers may simply walk away from the proposition of driving it. Once shoehorned inside, however, you will notice that the interior is exquisitely trimmed in the best leather, wood, and aluminum. The ambience is unlike that of any other modern automobile, and I found the experience captivating—in every sense.

Driving the Aero 8 requires a certain suspension of disbelief. This delicate and graceful car delivers blistering performance akin to a small-block Cobra. Responsive and immediate, the car’s power and handling are everything you would expect from a purpose-built, rear-drive, V-8 sports car. Certainly, anyone in the market for a roadster with modern performance and nostalgic attributes would do well to consider the Aero 8 in lieu of the best Cobra, Jaguar, or other historical replica cars. Word has it that one customer will be replacing his new Mercedes-Benz SL55 with an Aero 8.

While some drivers felt the Aero 8 was not a top contender, I suspect this was prompted by compromised ergonomics and a noisy transmission, both problems that will be addressed in 2004. Of course, practicality is not the point here; fun in large doses is. And no Aero 8 owner will have to see his car coming down the other side of the street: Only 99 examples are slated for U.S. shores. This exclusivity alone may be worth the price of admission.

“The Morgan Aero 8 proves the impossibility of attempting to reinvent
quaint, antique, quirky, cute, symbolic, nostalgic, fascinatingly impractical, and delightfully uncomfortable sports cars.” —Paul Dean

“You’ve got the wind in your hair, bugs in your teeth, and you’re grinning
like an idiot. It introduces the element of danger in driving. You must do the driving, not the car.” —Bruce Hannay

Specifications
Engine 4.4-liter V-8
Power 330 hp at 3,600 rpm
Torque 330 ft lbs at 3,600 rpm
Zero-to-60 time 4.0 seconds
Top speed 165+ mph
Transmission Getrag 5-speed/ 6-speed ZF in 2004
Wheelbase 100 inches
Curb weight 2,200 pounds
Base price $100,000 (estimated)

Return to Robb Report Car of the Year 2004

 

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