It's hard to believe that The Morgan Motor Company is the last great– great?– English automobile maker. Here we have a company that still builds its cars out of wood, whose 19th century business practices were famously and shamelessly lampooned by an English TV business doctor (and peer), that makes roadsters that look genetically predisposed to leak, fall apart and short-out. And yet, while Rolls Royce, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Bentley all follow marching orders from foreign lands, there's still a British gentleman named Morgan running Morgan. What's more, their throughly modern motor car, the Aero 8, has been firing on all cylinders for six years, and you can buy one in the colonies. So, what say we take the old girl out for a spin…
Like the decadent-darkness of a Guinness Extra Stout, one look says it all: from the classic sports car proportions to the elegant (if non-functional) horseshoe grille, the Aero 8 epitomizes British Neoclassicism. The long, sexy hood blends seamlessly into a curvaceous fender/bumper that passes US crash tests like nobody's business. Long gone are the last generation’s Daihatsu-grade side marker lights. The new MINI-sourced headlights cure the previous gen's strabismus, and blend remarkably well. At the rear, the Aero 8’s a bit, um, odd. Tow-dolly sized taillights disappear into the Morgan's chunky hindquarters, while the prodigious dovetail boot out-Bangles Bavaria's Bimmers. The Aero 8’s strange blend of flat planes and swoopy curves speaks the coarse banter of Zimmer, not the sultry diction of Talbot-Lago.
Lower yourself inside for a mix of old and new school. The Aero 8’s hardware feels like top-drawer brass plumbing, while the wood, leather and engine-turned aluminum appointments transform your meager existence into a wet dream of Great Gatsbian proportions. If the quality trimmings go unnoticed, clock the three mini wiper arms. A soulless steering wheel is a poorly integrated concession to safety, while the Kenwood CD player and mad functional under-dash climate control do a fine job of keeping to themselves within the Aero 8’s retrosphere.
The 8’s inviting chairs provide a fine blend of lateral support and comfort, though their slipcovers are a not-so-subtle throwback to the previous generation BMW 5-series. Ditto the short throw shifter complete with Roundel parts-bin knob. The cabin accommodates broad shouldered, tea-partying Yanks with ease, though the closely spaced, bottom hinged pedals are rather unsettling. But who cares? Those intricately machined levers make for excellent heel-and-toe shifting when racing shoes find their way into one's wardrobe. Go ahead, sport the old-school racing goggles, gloves and leather helmet, since vintage-chic befits the Morgan experience.
Open the Aero 8's old world, center-hinged bonnet and behold something so fresh, so clean: the same 325hp eight-cylinder mill powering today's BMW 5-series. Look deeper and witness a cultural cleansing: the Morgan Aero 8's chassis combines aluminum with ye olde kiln-dried Belgian Ash (wood). Scoff away, but the 14’ long Aero 8 tips the scales at an eminently thrashable 2500 lbs. For purists missing the old days of Lucas electronics, peep that vintage canvas weatherstripping between the hood and the firewall. It’s all good.
New school rules the roost when the Aero 8 tours the tarmac. The stiff upper lip fabric top provides safe haven for dignified conversation (British accent optional) at highway speeds. The modern classic roadster's frame mimics Bob Dole after a pharmacological endorsement gig, with nary a hint of pothole induced cowl shake. From here the Aero 8's race-ready, fully independent suspension takes center stage, delivering an acceptable balance (50/50) of Miracle Mile cruiser and backroads barnstormer. The Aero encourages positively randy maneuvers with its mild body roll, minimal understeer and sticky 18” Pirelli rubber.
Our tester's optional side pipes take the game to the next level: Morgan's German-based soundtrack both invigorates and intoxicates with a muted rumble at part throttle, and a battle cry that sends shivers down a big block '69 Camaro's spine at full twist. While the daddy-longlegs axle ratio keeps the VANOS-timed motor from ripping asphalt in first gear, the Morgan planted me in my seat, refusing to let go after each upshift. Blast the Morgan through a tight corner and feel the vice-like control of an 18th Century colonial government. Quick turn-in keeps the Morgan's Mothership Connection alive, while six-pot front calipers on 13.7” rotors provide Parliamentary-pull without the repercussions of a night with George Clinton.
In this age of globally designed, cost engineered hoopties masquerading in retro design, the Aero 8 is a refreshing breath of not-so-fresh air. Its unabashed British heritage paired with modern dynamics is a tribute to the talented craftsmen and enlightened management of the Morgan Motor Company, making a stellar case study in "keepin’ it real" for Detroit executives. Like Harley-Davidson, Morgan need not address the attributes of its German competition, or cheaper offerings like the Cadillac XLR and Jaguar XK to make a profit. While the competition outperforms, out-coddles and outsells, the Morgan Aero 8 is a charming and satisfying mochachino of past and present automotive greatness. If that's what you want.
[Test drive provided by www.capitolmotorcars.com]