Audacious under-hood transformations are a time-honoured British tradition. There are uplifting yarns woven around Buick's V8 suddenly appearing in a stately Rover, about Cosworth's BDA pumping up the humble Ford Escort shopping car, and Ford's small-block V8 turning the pretty AC Cobra into a fire-breathing monster. The Morgan Plus 8 is another case in point, of course, but those tweedy tearaways at Malvern Link got into hot-rodding a whole lot earlier than that.
Phrases like 'a recipe that is almost startling' and 'remarkable acceleration and a high cruising speed' (from The Autocar magazine) are not readily identifiable with the earliest four-cylinder, four-wheeled Morgans; they tended to be more about pootle than power. But that was the critical reaction in 1951 to an engine transplant that created a first for Morgan: a potent performance car.
Until this point, small-capacity Coventry-Climax, Ford and Standard engines had provided what HFS Morgan deemed sufficient urge for his sports cars, but the Plus 4 of 1950 had a throaty 68bhp of power on tap thanks to the shoehorning-in of the 2.1-liter engine from the otherwise dreadful Standard Vanguard. It was the old boys' network in action, as HFS and Standard's boss, Sir John Black, had once been apprentices together on the former Great Western Railway.
But here also was a fascinating early example of how a small British company, when cannily run, could outsmart the big guns.
Morgan must have witnessed the export debacle for the Morris Minor, when early cars sent to the USA were found to be too feeble to tackle the hills of San Francisco, irrevocably damaging all sales prospects. If Morgan was going to sell cars in the USA
Published Dec 7th, 2015
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