The Morgan Aero 8 Is Still The Perfect Modern Expression Of The British Roadster
Photography by Jonathan Harper
I first saw this Morgan while I was driving home from a Sunday morning car show in Malibu, heading south on the PCH. As I slotted into one of the two left turn lanes for Sunset Boulevard I caught a fleeting glimpse of these dramatic metallic green curves a few cars ahead of me in line. I couldn’t quite make out the model they belonged to at first, but I could tell it was something low with a design chock-full of swoop—the opposite of the luxury SUVs that make up most of the traffic around here. Thanks to the instant torque of my EV and my insistence on catching up, with a little bit of maneuvering I managed to end up next to the car at the next red light. I looked over and gave the driver of this beautiful Morgan Aero 8 a thumbs up, and he smiled and nodded back in acknowledgement of our shared appreciation.
A mile or two later, we happened to line up at another red, so I again looked over again and lobbed a compliment this time. I’ve long been a fan of the retro styling and the BMW power plant that make up the Aero 8, but even in the automotive mecca that is Greater Los Angeles it’s rare to see one of these on the road. I told the driver that I liked his “Bimmer-powered Brit,” and he seemed a little surprised by the fact that a random thumbs-upper knew the car.
Eventually entering Beverly Hills, we braked in parallel for a third time and came to a stop together once more, and this time I mentioned my job as a photographer and that I’d always wanted to add a modern Morgan to my portfolio. We pulled off Sunset onto a side street and exchanged information, and about a month later I wound my way up towards the Beverly Hills side of Mulholland Drive to spend the evening shooting photos and chatting with the owner, Brian Foster.
Have you always been interested in Morgan cars?
I’ve been into Morgans since the late ’70s when a friend of mine acquired a Morgan Plus 8—I vowed that this was the car I would drive if I could ever afford one. I had a Triumph TR6 at the time that I enjoyed, but the Morgan had a certain character unique amongst British roadsters. The rarity factor was certainly part of that character, seeing as the factory was only producing three or four Plus 8s a week back then, and if I recall, there was a roughly two-year waiting list to get one.
Should I assume this Aero 8 isn’t your first Morgan?
In 1982 I was working in the oil industry and I had saved up enough to buy a 1980 Plus 8 with only 10,000 miles on it. It had Royal Ivory coachwork, with an ivory-colored leather interior. The engine was a Range Rover-sourced 3.5-liter with Stromberg carburetors that limited the power output to around 150bhp. However, I had the car worked on by a well-known Morgan tuner and racing enthusiast, Colin Musgrove, and he boosted the horsepower to 225 by way of an Offenhauser inlet manifold, a four-barrel Holley carburetor, and a straight-through exhaust, among some other tweaks. Colin maintained that it was probably the quickest road-going Morgan Plus 8 at the time, with a 0-60 time of right around five seconds.
That sounds like a fun car; what led you to this one?
Unfortunately I was unable to bring that Plus 8 to the US, as the engine simply would not have passed the emission regulations. I would have had to convert the car to run on propane gas or something. But then one day in 2007 I passed by the Morgan distributor in Santa Monica and I spotted a green second series Morgan Aero 8 on the forecourt. It just so happened that it was the very same Aero 8 that I had seen two years previously at the LA Auto Show, which had been purchased by one of the early engineers at Microsoft. He had only put 4800 miles on the car, so it was still in pristine condition. It was expensive mainly because of the pound to dollar exchange rate at the time, which was at its highest level in those days, but it was the car I wanted so I made it work.
What’s been your favorite experience with this car so far?
My favorite thing to do in this car is my typically weekly early Sunday morning drive up the PCH to the Malibu canyons. The roads are perfectly suited to the Morgan’s chassis and there are enough straight shots to provide more than a few opportunities to really open up the throttle and explore the incredible performance from the tuned 4.4-liter BMW V8. I also make sure to have the top down regardless of where I go, as I think that’s really the only way to drive a Morgan.
What are your favorite aspects of the performance of this car?
I have had the engine management chip remapped to generate around 375bhp, which is an improvement of about 50bhp. In a car that weighs only a few hundred pounds over a ton—thanks to the all-aluminum body over ash wood frame—this delivers a very appetizing power-to-weight ratio that I’ve calculated to be more than most Porsche 911 Turbos. As a result, the car achieves a 0-60 time of around four seconds. The power is put through a six-speed BMW-sourced ZF gearbox, which like most BMW manuals, is a joy to use. A few of the later fourth series Aero 8s with the larger 4.8-liter engines were delivered to the US with an automatic gearbox and those were even quicker, with a 0 to 60 of just 3.8 seconds, but I’m perfectly content with mine.
How do other people react to this car?
The Aero 8 has very unique, but also very traditional styling, and the sound of the big V8’s exhaust through the pair of side pipes attracts the curiosity of a lot of motorists who question you at stoplights. There were only 350 second series Morgan Aero 8s built, and only 60 were delivered to the US, so it is a pretty rare car here even amongst the enthusiast crowd. People in the know understand what it is and I love meeting them, but most people have understandably never seen one. One day I was driving along Sunset and a yellow Aventador passed me on the inside as a hand reached out with a video camera recording my Morgan. As I drew level with the driver down the road, I saw that it was Jamie Foxx of all people, who yelled out over the din of the exhausts, “What the heck is that thing?”
Do you ever track it? Or have you considered it?
I have not. One side of me would like to explore its limits as it has a potentially competitive chassis. A highly modified Morgan Aero 8 competed in and finished the 24 Hour Le Mans in both 2002 and 2004, so I’m curious to see what the road-going car can do on a proper circuit, however there’s the other side of me doesn’t want to put too much unnecessary wear and tear on a car that is still pretty mint.
The only modification I have made to the car is to remap the engine management, as I mentioned. Beyond some really out-there work, there is nothing reasonably affordable nor simple that can be done to this BMW M62 engine to extract any more material horsepower. It is already in a high state of tune from Morgan, as it is not just a direct swap from a bone stock BMW 540i.
How does this car make you feel?
I think that I’m pretty traditionalist in terms of my taste in cars. The Morgan is a hand-built sports car and though it’s pretty modern in a lot of ways, everything about its character represents the halcyon days of the British car industry that created such greats as the Aston Martin DB5, Jaguar 120, the Bentley Continentals, the Triumph TR2, Austin Healey 3000, MGA, what have you. Almost all of these manufacturers now create modern cars on a volume basis or else have disappeared altogether. Founded 110 years ago, Morgan survives as the sole remaining British car company still making cars with timeless yet nostalgic styling while delivering a very satisfying level of contemporary performance. To me this car is an heirloom to be cherished.