✨ “Take it easy driving – the life you save may be mine.”
― James Dean


Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year 2014!

1953 Austin Healley BN1 100

2013 has been an amazing year filled with some great motoring, club visits, meeting new motoring enthusiasts and checking out some great cars.

Cheers to 2014 and here's wishing you a wonderful and safe motoring 2014!


Monday, 23 December 2013

Season's Greetings 2013

Wishing you and your loved ones a great festive season and happy motoring !

Wednesday, 13 November 2013


1967 MGB GT

The MG is still one of the most numerically successful sports cars ever built, with more than half a million made between 1962 and its demise in 1980. At the height of its popularity, Abingdon was making more than 50,000 a year.

The main difference between the MGB and its forebear, the A, was in construction; gone was the rugged and heavy separate chassis, replaced by a light unit construction shell. The car appeared originally as an open roadster, with a three-bearing version of the venerable B Series 1798 four-cylinder engine. Torque was its main strong point - 110lb/ft (149.6Nm) at 3000rpm - but on twin SU carburettors its 95bhp at 5400rpm was creditable, if unsensational. Suspension, steering and rear axle cam straight from the BMC parts bin to keep costs down, so there were few technical highlights, but the B was a genuine 100mph (150kph) car with safe, if uninspired, handling.

It was joined in 1965 by the Pininfarina-inspired B GT, with its tail-gate rear doors and occasional rear seat - strictly for children. It was 160lb (72.7kg) heavier than the roadster, but had the fie-bearing engine and quieter rear axle from the start.

1967 MGB GT 

In 1974, MG announced the black bumper cars with grotesque plastic bumpers and increased ride height to keep the aging model legal in North America, where most production will went. Performance was in decline - the GT wouldn't even manage 100mph - and the handling was ruined by its new, taller stance, but the car continued to sell because it was one of few open cars available.

1967 MGB GT rear

There were two rather more exciting versions of this evergreen sports car to come.

The MGC of 1967 was a three-litre version of the B, designed to take the place of the "Big" Healey 3000 models. Bigger 15-inchwheels and a bonnet bulge differentiated the C from the B and, underneath, thee was torsion-bar front suspension rather than wishbones. With a 145bhp six-cylinder engine, the C was certainly fast, but nose-heavy weight distribution spoiled the handling.

Four years later, British Leyland answered calls for a more powerful version of the car with the GT V-eight. With its smooth, quiet and very torquey Rover 3.5 V-eight this was a much better prospect, but yet again success eluded this 125mph (201kph) machine. It didn't look different enough from the stock four-cylinder car, and the critics panned its lack of suspension refinement, the wind noise and its relatively high price.

Few wanted the V-eight in its day - only 2,591 were sold between 1973 and 1976 - but today it is a sought-after and entertaining classic, easily the best B of the lot.

MGB - 1962-80
ENGINE - 4-cylinder
CAPACITY - 1798cc
POWER - 95bhp
TRANSMISSION - 4-speed with over-drive
TOP SPEED - 106mph (170kph)
NO. BUILT - 387,259 MGB's 125,621 GT's

1967 MGB GT interior

1967 MGB GT interior

1967 MGB GT interior- rear

1967 MGB GT interior

1967 MGB GT - rear view

An early MGB on rare disc wheels. the styling was influenced by Pininfarina. 


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

1966 Jaguar 3.8 MK.II

About two years ago I heard about a 1966 Jaguar 3.8 MK.II which was for sale in Tzaneen. I phoned the owner and after a short discussion I decided to go and have a look at it. I was astounded at the originality of the car and bought it on the spot. I put in a battery and fuel and even after standing for 20 years, it started immediately and ran like a watch. We drove it onto the truck and headed back to Tarlton.

BEFORE - 1966 Jaguar 3.8 MK.II 

Upon closer inspection at home, I found the original tool kit in the boot in it's original tray situated in the spare wheel well. In the glove box I found the original Jaguar wallet with it's hand-book, Wall Service Chart and the original factory warranty. The licence fees had been paid every year from 1966 by the previous owner. Incredibly, the car has done only 85,000 miles, never been in an accident and the cylinder-head has never been off.

AFTER - 1966 Jaguar 3.8 MK.II

Over the next year or so, I re-sprayed the car Windsor Blue, an original Jaguar colour, cleaned up the upholstery and woodwork and fitted a new set of brake pads as well as new silencers.

The windscreen is original, but I renewed the rubbers when I sprayed the car and also put in new rubbers at the rear window. Mechanically the engine, gearbox, over-drive and suspension is original apart from new rubbers and grease boots. the car went through roadworthy the first time and turns heads whenever I drive it.

C'est la vie – happy motoring!
From the pen of the "Ja Broer" (Dave Clarkson)

More than 80 000 MK.II's were sold and the model inspired a whole raft of more expensive variations on the same theme : The S-Type, the 420 and even a Daimler with its own special V8 engine. It is the pure original MK.II, however, that has won the hearts of enthusiasts and collectors.

The sight of a Jaguar MK.II inspires a misty-eyed emotional response like no other 60's saloon. For a decade from 1959, the year of Britain's first motorway, the compact Jaguar was the bread and butter of Browns Lane, Coventry. It was the last proper sports saloon the company ever made.

The MK.II was nothing if not versatile. It was favoured not just by the criminal fraternity (it was no accident that the James Fox character drove a white MK.II in Donald Campbell's superb 1970 film Performance, or Michael Caine's pursuers a red one in the classic Get Carter of 1971) but also by the law itself, because it was so wickedly fast. At the same time, the MK.II was also a very respectable car; a quiet, comfortable and classy businessman's express for the stockbroker belt. It made a fine name for itself on the track as a saloon-car racer, and industry personalities such as Graham Hill and Colin Chapman gave the MK.II the stamp of approval by using them off-duty too.

Technically, the MK.II wasn't vintage Jaguar (though the unitary shell had broken new ground for the company on its 2.4 MK.I progenitor of 1955), but its beautifully-balanced shape had the classic William Lyons touch, as did the interior with its leather seats and wooden dash and door cappings - the fascia packed with dials and switches like a wartime bomber's flight deck.

The MK.II owner could do a legal 125mph (201kph) if he owned the full-house 3.8 manual overdrive car - it was the fastest saloon on the road for a time in the early 60's - or 120 (193) in the 3.4. The leisurely 2.4, on the other hand, couldn't even mange 100 (160) - which was why Jaguar's press department never allowed one out to be tested.

JAGUAR MK.II - 1959 - 1969
Engine - Straight Six
Capacity - 2483/3442/3781cc
Power - 120-220bhp
Transmission - 4-speed manual, 3-speed auto
Top speed - (3.8) 125mph (201kph)
No. built - 83 980

The 1966 MK.II was one of the last to have big bumpers: slim line bumpers were announced for the 240/340 models of 1967. Jaguar gave the MK.II a bigger rear window and different semi-open spats to help brake cooling.

Above : The 3.8-litre engine gave a claimed 220bhp, making the MK.II one of the fastest saloons on the road. 

"The Cat" 

At the Centenary Car Club, Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa

At the Centenary Car Club, Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa 

1966 Jaguar 3.8 MK.II - Car of the Month May 2012 - Centenary Car Club


Friday, 27 September 2013

Evolution of the Classic Car movement

As the 20th Century drew to a close, we seemed to look back as much as forward, pining for what were, as we see it, better times. We can't revisit our Golden Age, but at least we can own and experience the material objects that evoke it : clothes, music, films, furniture and cars - classic cars. Glamorous, kitsch, humble or high bred, these mobile time warps powerfully conjure up a particular period.

The hobby of preserving and collecting cars built after the Second World War began to take shape in the early 1970's. Veteran (pre-1905), Edwardian (pre-1919) and Vintage (pre-1931) cars - as defined by Britain's Vintage Sports Car Club - have always been easy enough to categorise, but, by the end of the 1960's, post-war motor cars of the better kind were coming of age. To call them simply "old cars" no longer seemed appropriate : whether beautiful, fast or technically re-eminent, the post-1945 car had at its best all the gravitas of the pre-war machinery. Slowly, quietly, the "new Vintage" had arrived, filling the gap between Vintage and modern for a new generation of enthusiasts.

ABOVE : Classics so evocative as these - the AC Ace, Ferrari 166 and C-Type Jaguar - have always been in strong demand and are priced at a premium. 

One-marque clubs for well-bred sporting marques such as Aston and Bentley had been around for years, but as enthusiasts for the less exalted makes felt the need to huddle together around a common banner, many new guilds and registers sprouted. Traditionalists had long complained that modern cars all looked the same:, but in the 70's there was a gut feeling that the motor car had seen its best years as safety and pollution regulations made inroads into designers' freedom. Styling, particularly in Britain, seemed to be losing its way.

No wonder older cars began to look increasingly attractive. They were plentiful, cheap, easy to work on and still very usable on increasingly busy roads. Drive an old car and you made a statement about your individualism: you weren't prepared to become just another faceless, sterile tin can on the bypass to oblivion or obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses in the yearly new-model scrum. It all came together in 1973, when a UK magazine, Classic Cars, was launched.

The new "classic" stuck, a useful catch-all term for a sprawling, ill-defined genre that, in just 20 years or so, has blossomed from an eccentric past-time into a multi-million-pound industry.

Not much happened for about ten years, until about 1982-83, when the nature of the hobby began to change dramatically. Slowly, under the noses of true enthusiasts, market forces took hold as it dawned on investors that really prime machinery could prove a fine hedge against inflation or an appreciating asset. Suddenly, the market hardened as Americans came to Europe seeking prime collectables.

At first, gilt-edged pre-war hardware - Bentley, Bugatti, etc. - set the pace in auction rooms, but by mid-decade, super cars of the 50's, 60's and 70's were hyped on their coat tails. Once-affordable Ferraris, Astons and Jaguar XK's and E-types became "investor" cars, commodities too expense and precious to be driven (which was rather missing the point).

As the auction houses pulled even bigger numbers, hype went into over-drive. Banks and finance companies offered loans to buy classics. The increasing ranks of classic car magazines bulged with advertising. Enthusiasts' gentle hobby was turned into an ugly, cut-throat brawl driven by greed. Many found themselves with cars that were worth more than their houses, machinery they were now too nervous to use. The boom couldn't last, fortunately. the recession hit in 1989 and demand quickly fell.

Today the market is stable again and most cars are where they could be - with enthusiasts and enthusiastic investors. Rare and high-calibre thoroughbred cars - especially those with a racing pedigree or an interesting history - will always be in strong demand. Fashion still has its part to play in the lower echelons of the market, but those who bought Citroëns and Jaguars have learnt about the dedication required to run an old car - some went back to their moderns, others caught a life-long bug!


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Spring news

Winter is at an end and, hopefully, mild blissful summer days lying ahead. Time to pull out the 'ol' lady' and give her a good debriefing for the outings ahead. I'm not saying that nobody ventured out during the winter, but summer always brings visions of lazy days in the country and more comfortable clothing (getting in and out of an E-Type or Healey with all the winter woolies can be quite an experience!).

During one such winter outing, the Jaguar Club met at Leopard's Lodge near Hartebeespoort Dam, and my E-type (among others) appeared in Volume 8 of 'Jaguar Magazine'. The day was glorious with Vultures soaring over-head, the cars being dwarfed by the majestic cliffs behind the Lodge. Here are some of the pics taken that day.

This picture of Dave Clarkson’s 1966 Jaguar E-type 4.2 Series I appeared in Volume 8 of ‘Jaguar Magazine' during a club visit to Leopard Lodge at Hartebeespoort Dam.

 Leopard Lodge

The view


Interior of the 1966 Jaguar E-type 4.2

The Jaguar E-type was an instant classic, an exercise in cool aerodynamic theory and unashamed showmanship, producing probably the most beautiful sports car of the 60s. It had the ability to live up to the looks, too. The 150mph (241kph) that Jaguar claimed for the E-type was devastatingly quick in 1961 (in reality only the tweaked-up press cars could achieve it, and 140 (225kph) was nearer the truth), making the new Jaguar Britain's fastest production car. Better still, it was probably Britain's greatest bargain price-wise, undercutting its nearest rival, the Aston Martin DB4, by a third.

That curvy shell, inspired by the Le Mans-winning D-Type racer, was immensely stiff - all the better to take advantage of its new wishbone and coil-spring independent rear suspension.

Combining near-limousine ride comfort with vice-like grip, even on the slender cross-ply tyres that looked like something off a bike to modern eyes, the new Jaguar handled superbly.

Providing the power was the 3.8-litre XK engine, already 13 years old but still well worthy of the new chassis.

JAGUAR E-TYPE (1961-75) 
Engine: Straight six/V-twelve
Capacity: 3781/4235/5343cc
Power: 265bhp
Transmission: 4-speed manual - 3-speed auto
Top Speed : Up to 150mph (241kph)
No. Built : All models - 72,507

A woman and a man are involved in a car accident; it's a bad one. Both of their cars are totally demolished, but amazingly, neither of them are hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the woman says, "So you're a man. That's interesting. I'm a woman. Wow, just look at our cars! there's nothing left, but we're unhurt. this must be a sign from God that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace for the rest of our days."

Flattered, the man replies' "Oh yes, I agree with you completely, this must be a sign from God!"

The woman continues, "and look at this, here's another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of wine didn't break. Surely god wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune."

Then she hands the bottle to the man.

The man nods his head in agreement, opens it and drinks half the bottle and then hands it back to the woman. The woman takes the bottle and immediately puts the cap back on and hands it back to the man.

The man asks, "Aren't you having any?"

The woman replies,

"No, I think I'll just wait for the police..."

Go well everybody!


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Classic Engines

Above : The 16-cylinder powerplant used in the racing BRM: fantastically powerful

Once the classic is in motion, the engine does more than any other feature to give it character.. The 1945-75 period started with almost universal use of side-valve power, except on the most costly and exotic cars, and ended with multiple camshafts and valves, fuel injection and unusual materials becoming the norm. Most of these advances were first developed for racing, then refined for road use as they showed the way to efficiency.

Above : The fearsome V-twelve of the racing Sunbeam Tiger. Aero engines were a convenient route to high power. 

Progress had meant more performance. Where 1940's power outputs were small, by the 70's, engines in better sports cars were up to 80bhp per litre. Efficiency came from ideally-shaped combustion chambers, usually hemispherical, for which a more complex valve arrangement is usually needed. The simplest way to operate these is by overhead cams, first seen on a Clément of 1902 and used by Alfa Romeo, Bentley and Bugatti in the 20's, MG in the 30's and Jaguar since the 50's, but not used on non-classic until the 80's. It's costly to develop, but usually leads to better breathing. 

Above : Alfa Romeo's 2.9-litre engine of the 1930's used a twin double-overhead-camshaft, straight-eight layout. 

 Further advances included fuel injection, which did away with compromises forced by carburettors. it was first used on production cars, in rather basic form, by Chevrolet on it's Corvette in 1954 and by Mercedes-Benz on its technical tour de force 300SL in 1955. In the early 70's, Bosch's Jetronic systems began to appear on performance classics such as the Porsche 911. Since 1903, with universal fitment of catalytic convertors, fuel injection has become a necessity, along with electronic ignition, which began to appear at the end of the 60's. For convenience, the hydraulic tappet was designed by Bollée in 1910. General Motors began to fit them in the 30's, leading to extra mechanical refinement and less servicing. Hydraulic tappets were universal in America by the 60's; now almost all cars use them. 

Above : Classic Italian - the Maserati 250F V12 racing engine with twin camshafts and a separate carburetor choke for each cylinder. 

These are some of the milestone power units : 

The XK was designed in the Second World War by the nick-named "Firewatchers" Walter Hassan, Harry Mundy and Bill Heynes, when they were on evening fire duty. It is the epitome of the classic in-line twin-cam engine and was sorely needed as an alternative to the pedestrian Standard engines Jaguar was forced to use before an immediately after the war. Launched in the XK120 of 1948, displacing 3.4 litres and producing 160bhp, it enjoyed its finest moment in a road car as the 265bhp 3.8, which propelled the 1962 E-Type coupé to 150mph (241 kph). In 3.0- and 3.4-litre dry-sumped form, it took D-Types to Le Mans wins and powered Jaguar saloons right up to 1987.

a CAST-OFF FROM Buick (the Americans had found themselves good at thin-wall iron casting so there was no need for fancy light-alloy stuff), this 3528cc engine was discovered by Maurice Wilks on a visit to America in 1966. Realising this compact unit would be perfect for powering Rover's big P5 saloon, he quickly acquired the rights. It was a good move: the staid, heavy saloon was transformed into one with a top speed of 110mph (177kph) and 0-60 (96) in 10 seconds.

Above : The light-alloy 3.5-litre Rover V8, beloved of specialist sports car makers, is derived from an unwanted Buick unit of the 1960's 


Saturday, 17 August 2013

What is a Classic Car?

1965 Jaguar 3.8 MK.II - British Racing Green

Over the past six months or so there has been a debate in the UK about what constitutes a classic car. This debate is re-visited from time to time, normally either for tax or legal reasons.

It is difficult to know when our cars started to be called classics and some people have it coinciding with the publication of Classic Cars or Classic & SportsCar Magazines. For some people in the UK it relates to the rules on paying Road Tax (Road Fund Licence or Vehicle Excise Duty) – just one of the many ways that our chancellor has of extracting tax revenues from the UK motorist. In what now seems to be the dim and distant past, one of our more enlightened chancellors decided to exempt cars over 25 years old from paying road tax. Interestingly the cars were then classified as ‘Historic’ for tax exemption purposes, rather than classic, but the 25 year rule sort of stuck with many people.

Having said that, the MSA, who organise our own favourite run, the Euroclassic, and used to run a number of other classic car events, including the once famous ‘Norwich Union’, always used 20 years as their cut off point.

Then in 1997 the government changed the 25 year rule for road tax exemption. They obviously calculated that using a rolling 25 year rule, the number of cars that were exempt from road tax would keep increasing and they froze the date, changing the rule to only exempt cars that are ‘pre 1973’.

Every few years some of the car clubs get together and try to get the tax rule changed back to a rolling 25 years, but now that road tax is based on CO2 emissions the government has a ‘green ‘ reason for not changing it as well as a fiscal one, so I don’t think it will ever happen.

So what has kicked off the latest round of the debate? This time it is some proposed changes to the rules governing MOT tests on our vehicles. Currently all UK cars have to be tested once they are 3 years old and then annually (the so called 3-1-1 rule). Across most of Europe the testing regimes are 4 years, then every 2 (4-2-2). For many reasons it makes economic sense for many of our rules to be in line with the rest of Europe, although there is a large xenophobic tendency in the UK that don’t want anything that they perceive to be ‘imposed on us by Brussels’.

Studies have been done to calculate the cost (or savings) of changing the testing rules. Magically some prove that owners will save money, some prove it will cost us money. Other studies predict catastrophe across the motor industry for whom the MOT test, and subsequent repair work are a good source of income.

One suggestion is to exempt cars of a certain age from the MOT test in its entirety, on the basis that our classics are always well looked after, polished and maintained regularly and statistically have been proved to be involved in fewer accident that newer cars. So what date do we pick for classic car MOT exemption: 1960, 1940 or maybe 1920?

When I was young and poor, I regarded the annual MOT as a real pain as it normally found things wrong on the car that I couldn’t afford to fix. Now older, wiser, and not so poor, I believe the MOT is actually an extremely effective way of carrying out a thorough test on a car, for not a lot of money. We have our whole fleet of classic hire cars serviced each year. As they are working cars we never skimp on the maintenance and I tell the garage to replace things that are starting to wear, instead of waiting for them to fail. I have used the same garage for 30 years, so know them, trust them, they are thorough and wouldn’t rip us off.

However, occasionally even after a service, the MOT test has spotted a couple of small things that need fixing that weren’t picked up on the service. Maybe a classic car owner that only drives a few hundred miles a year, may think the MOT is unnecessary or excessive. But road use isn’t the only cause of deterioration. Some components degrade with time. Electrical contacts can oxidise or corrode, rubber deteriorates, brake and clutch fluid absorb water. The reason that England is a ‘green and pleasant land’, is that it rains a lot and not even government bureaucracy can halt the march of the tin worm. So overall I am not keen on changing the frequency of the MOT tests.

Anyway in its infinite wisdom our government has come up with the ideal solution to the problem. They have decided not to do anything at all. So apart from keeping civil servants gainfully employed looking at the pros and cons, and whipping up a storm across the industry and classic car fraternity – nothing will change.

This still leaves us with the question - what is a classic car? Is it 20 years old, 25 years, pre 1973, pre 1960, pre 1940 or what? Is a Morgan a classic whether it was built in 1960 or yesterday?

I have my own favoured definition which comes from our experiences of running The Open Road Classic Car Hire since 1997. We keep having this debate with customers about what they like, why they favour a particular car etc. And it generally comes back to one thing:

A classic car is whatever was around, and you aspired to, envied, or planned to buy, while you were growing up.

This means that it changes from year to year and with each generation of motorists. My favourites are the cars from 1960s and 70s (I was born in 1953). Older customers want cars from the 1950s. Younger customers want cars from the 1980s. I admit that my definition is not ideal for writing Europe wide legislation.

The challenge we all face for the future is keeping the interest of the next generation. The current clutch of 20 and 30 somethings have grown up in a period when the British motor industry no longer makes affordable sports cars (I rule out Jaguars and Astons as not being affordable). Sadly their idea of a classic could encompass anything from a Mazda MX5, Mitsubishi Evo, Subaru, Toyota MR2 or a VW Golf or Scirocco. Not a British Marque in sight.

This article was Tony Merrygold's "Letter from England" published in the May 2012 edition of the American classic car magazine "British Marque". 
- Info from Open Road Classic Car

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The passion for classics

 1953 Austin Healey BN1

There are few, if any, pieces of hardware as emotive as the car. With the birth of car designers rather than pure engineers, the door was open for them to express their visions for the future. These cars are celebrated here as we look back at what fired the imaginations of yesterday's creative minds.

The story of classic and dream cars charts the progress of our own history and experience and these pages are a celebration of that progression and a recognition of the value and importance of these cars in our lives.

AsonMartin O.I. V8

But have you ever thought about owning a TRUE classic? Something that makes your heart race and pumps adrenalin through your body? There is nothing quite like the feeling of owning a one-of-a-kind, hand-built, prestigious, super-car. AND having the added advantage of investing your money in a Solid, ever growing-in-value item.

Like antiques, classic and vintage cars have escalated in value through the decades—like old wine (and women!) they only improve with age. Even a neglected old lady picked up in an old barn somewhere, will reward you with her golden patina during a loving restoration undertaking.

Jaguar XK

Proof of the popularity of these beauties is the number of Classic and Vintage Car Clubs that are in operation in South Africa and throughout the world. These clubs are promoting the on-going interest in these old classics and also offer technical and general knowledge sharing, great get-togethers and outings, not to mention all the ‘noggins’!

If you’ve ever been on a ‘vintage rally’, you will know all about the camaraderie, fun and great experiences that happen on these get-togethers - the helping hands extended when you break down (even if it means them losing their place in the race!), the memories shared over a beer/glass of wine at the picnic tables, great food and great friendships forged.

1954 MG TD

1953 Austin Healey BN1

Of course there’s the downside (but not many classic collectors even recognise this as a downside!) of owning an almost 50 year old piece of history, and that’s the constant ‘tinkering’ that takes place—oil leaks, electrical problems, carb settings (most of the modern cars don’t even have carburettors anymore), constant polishing and general pfaffing with all the little items that makes your ‘ol’ lady’ so special!

 from this ... 

and this... 

 and this... 

to this!-Austin Healey BJ8


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Morgan Plus 8 - 1968-2004 and Morgan Plus 4 1954

1954 Morgan 

As government regulations threaten to engineer much of the character out of modern cars, as our roads become more congested and dangerous and the air we breathe gets more contaminated, we can look back to the "classic" era of the 1950's and 1960's as the romantic Golden Age of the motor car. In Europe, more and better mass-produced cars were seen as a liberating force for families previously restricted to public transport.

In north America, cars simply got bigger, reflecting the wealth and confidence of the most powerful nation on earth. Traffic was yet to reach its often grid-locked state of today, petrol was much cheaper and, in Britain at least, there were no speed restrictions on the newly-opened motorways.

1954 Morgan 

Before the mergers and close-downs of the 1970's, buyers could choose from a far wider range of makes reflecting national identities. The Japanese motor industry, later so dominant, was not even a speck on the horizon in the 1950's and 60's. In engineering and styling, too, cars tended to be more varied and individual - you could tell an Austin from a Morris, a Vauxhall from a Volvo, without having to look at the badge. Safety was optional: it was speed, glamour and style that sold cars, and in the 50's and early 60's nobody had even begun to think of the exhaust-emission regulations that would strangle power outputs in the 70's. Back then, the motor car was our servant. Now, through its very proliferation, it has become our master. 

Dave Clarkson in his 1954 Morgan 

The Wooden-framed Plus 8 was in continuous production for 36 years, always powered by the venerable lightweight alloy Rover V8 engine. It's also one of the only cars in which the passenger compartment actually gets bigger in a frontal impact. Not that you'd want to find that out...!

1954 Morgan interior

With a 150bhp high-compression V8 (Rover P5B spec), it's an astonishingly accelerative device, as fast to 90mph as a contemporary Porsche 911. Only 850kg to shift, and brilliant handling, at least on smooth roads, the tail gives about half an hour's warning before it breaks free.

1954 Morgan rear view

Yes, it's made using antique methods, with steel and/or aluminium panels wrapped around an ash frame. This means Mogs don't last as well as all-steel cars; like a thatched roof, they need 'doing' every couple of decades, especially if wet and rot have penetrated.

1954 Morgan at the Centenary Car Club show

When supplies of the 2138cc Triumph four-cylinder engine dried up in the late 60's, Morgan were left without a high-performance engine for their flagship Plus 4 model. Help was on the horizon, in the form of Rover's all-alloy 3.5-litre V-eight derived from a discarded Buick design of the early 60's and recently introduced in the big P5B saloon and coupé. Light, compact and powerful (165bhp) it was ideal for the job and transformed the Morgan into a real road-burner: top speed leapt to more than 120mph (193kph) with stunning rapid acceleration matched by very few road cars. Renamed the Plus 8, it looked at first glance identical it its predecessor, but in fact, had a slightly longer wheelbase and wheel track and subtly difference body contours. The most obvious change was the light alloy wheels but, underneath, the sliding pillar front suspension and leaf-sprung live rear axle remained - along with the rock-hard vintage-style ride.

1954 Morgan at the Centenary Car Club show 

It was an immediate success, with more than 4000 built to date, though never at a rate of more that 15 per week. Steel bodywork was standard - with ash framing, of course - but there was an optional sports light-weight version from 1975. Early cars used the noisy, old-fashioned Moss gearbox familiar on Jaguar saloons, but from 1972, the Rover-four-speed transmission was used.

Fuel injection was introduced in 1984 and rack-and-pinion steering in 1986. The latest cars have a 3.0litre version of the Rover engine, giving 190bhp.

As with the 4/4, demand for this anachronistic car remains healthy, with a waiting list of several years.

But if you want the best of British and the deep-chested appeal loved by Bentley Boys and Spitfire pilots, it's the only choice.

There's a lively owners' club and the factory that originally built all 6233 Plus 8's is still going strong.

Morgan 1968-2004 Specifications 
Engine : 3528cc V8
Power : 160-190bhp
Top Speed : 124mph 0-60mph : 6.7sec
Fuel Consumption : 21mpg
Transmission : 4-5 speed
No. built : 4,000 plus

Morgan Plus 4 (1954) Specifications
ENGINE :4-Cyl CAPACITY : 1172-1599cc
POWER : 36-96bhp
TRANSMISSION : 3/4/5-speed
TOP SPEED : 75-110mph (120-177kph)
NO BUILT : 6,803 up to 1991

- Info from 'The World Encyclopedia of Cars' by Martin Buckley and Chris Rees 

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