Cabins are snug and some cars have fixed seats
It won’t make you rich, but a Morgan Plus 4 is a gently appreciating classic that you can really enjoy
Plus 4: it sounds like a pair of baggy trousers, but while older Morgan Plus 4s can feel distinctly loose, with their rotting ash frames, rusty chassis and unassisted brakes, the version made from 1992 and considered here is a very different animal – more Lycra than tweed.
In truth, things for the little roadster had started to improve a few years earlier. In 1986 the ash frame came treated with Cuprinol wood preservative as standard. Two years later, in 1988, the model gained Rover’s punchy, 135bhp M16 16-valve 2.0-litre engine, along with the firm’s five-speed gearbox.
Now the Plus 4 was looking and feeling in better shape for the new decade, an impression borne out by the rush of orders that followed – despite Sir John Harvey Jones’s mauling of Morgan in his Troubleshooter TV series. Development continued apace, at least in Morgan terms. In 1992, the M16 engine was replaced by the more up-to-date Rover T16. Crucially the car also went from the 4/4’s narrow chassis to the Plus 8’s wider type, giving an additional four inches of shoulder room.
In 1995 the company’s engineers turned their attention to the car’s rust-prone steel chassis, which they started galvanising as standard. The car was already available in a choice of two and four-seat configurations, but in late 1997 Morgan added a long-door option, which was easier to get into. It helped, too, that the dashboard was mounted farther back.
The following year, the Plus 4’s steel wings gave way to ones made of aluminium and constructed using the Superform process that produces a longer-lasting and better-fitting wing. Also in 1998 the front bulkhead and valances switched to stainless steel. In fact, in this period the Plus 4 experienced no fewer than 114 changes, many of them driven by new European type approval legislation.
And then in 2000, just as things were looking up, production was brought to a halt in favour of the all-new Aero 8. In 2004, the Plus 4 reappeared, this time with a 145bhp, 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine mated to the company’s five-speed gearbox. Fortunately parts availability for the Rover engine remains excellent.
The same year fixed-back sports seats became standard on two-seat Plus 4s, with reclining seats as an option. Given how snug the car’s cabin is, it’s important to know what your preferred model has. Meanwhile recliners became standard on the four-seaters. At the same time the old nine-stud vinyl roof was replaced by the simpler and more convenient Easy-up hood. In 2012, a Mazda five-speed gearbox replaced the Ford unit.
Today ‘classic’ is a much over-used term suggesting future investment potential, but despite the fact that there are rather more used Plus 4s available than in years gone by, it’s a description that suits the little car perfectly. Buy a sound one, take care of it and it’ll be at least as good as cash in the bank – only more fun.
Did you know?
A Plus 4 driven by Chris Lawrence and Richard Shepherd-Barron won the class for 1601-2000cc cars at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1962. The first person to race a Morgan at Le Mans was Prudence Marjorie Fawcett, who partnered Geoffrey White in a Morgan 4/4 in 1938.
How to get one in your garage:
An expert’s view, Phil Benfield, Allon White sports cars: “Morgans are special. No two are the same, each one has character and soul. There’s a lot of misinformation circulating about the cars, that the chassis is wooden, for example [it’s steel]. Another is that they’re a sure-fire investment that’ll make you a fortune. True, after 10 years a used Plus 4 will be worth more than you paid for it, but don’t expect to clean up overnight. A 1988 E-reg Plus 4 that was £16,000 five years ago costs around £19,500 today.”
ENGINE – Look for oil and rad leaks. Servicing is 5000 miles or 12 months (10,000 miles on post-2010 cars). Lack of use affects perishables like rubber hoses. Ensure any start-up smoke clears quickly.
TRANSMISSION – The Rover gearbox with the Rover T16 engine can be notchy. Listen for noises from the rear diff and check its oil level.
BRAKES AND SUSPENSION – Lack of use can lead to seized brakes and leaky master cylinders. Check the car pulls up quickly in a straight line. Steering should be tight and direct; serious play could be a worn universal joint or bushes, while shaking could be worn kingpins and bushes. Check for sagging rear leaf springs and leaky dampers and for regular servicing of the sliding-pillar front suspension.
CHASSIS – Galvanised chassis from 1995-on don’t rust but can crack at the engine mountings. On earlier cars check for rust by crossmembers and footwells. Post-1998 cars have stainless steel valances and front bulkheads but check for crash damage.
FRAME – Post-1986 cars have Cuprinol-treated ash frames to cure rot, but still check below the doors, sill boards, door hinge posts and rear numberplate mounting.
BODY – Look for even panel gaps, but expect a sizeable one between bonnet and wings. Whether steel or aluminium wings, check for corrosion around the side lights, edges and beading.
INTERIOR – Check seats are fixed-back or reclining. Check fascia and trim for rain damage.
Also worth knowing:
Until 1986 the Plus 4’s wings were sprayed in situ. One giveaway is that the bead between the wing and wing panel is also sprayed, another is the rust developing when the paint flaked as the car moved. Later cars had their wings sprayed separately, so if the bead has overspray, it’s been repainted.
How much to spend:
FROM £17,000 – Can’t afford Plus 4 money? Consider the less powerful 4/4. Prices for clean dealer cars start at £17,000 for a tidy 1992 4/4 Lowline.
£22,000-£33,995 – 1993 to 2005 two and four-seat Plus 4s, short and long doors, with up to 55,000 miles on the clock.
£34,000-£39,995 – High-spec Plus 4s from 2006 to 2015 with around 5000-20,000 miles.
£40,000-£49,995 – Good spread of mint, low-mileage Plus 4s, 2016-on.
£50,000-£56,000 – Nearly new 2018-reg cars.
One we found:
MORGAN PLUS 4, 1997/R, 36,000 MILES, £24,995: Long-door main dealer car with Rover T16 2.0-litre engine in British Racing Green. Has the comfier Suplex front suspension mod, wind deflectors, green wire wheels and cream leather interior with green piping.