There’s something about a Morgan, something very British. Let’s not forget that the firm is the longest standing British car manufacturer, having recently celebrated its centenary, and is also the oldest privately owned company in the UK. Remarkably, it has been building its first four-wheeled model, the fabled 4/4, for more than 70 years! The car we’re looking at here, though, is a very different animal.
One of the most innovative models in Morgan’s history, the Aero 8 made its debut at the Geneva motor show in 2000. It was something of an odd beast, combining styling from a bygone era with a thoroughly up-to-date engine, transmission and chassis package. It’s a bit like the fighter pilots from TV’s Armstrong and Miller Show – shot in black and white, all flight jackets, Spitfires and wonderful Home Counties accents, but speaking modern street-talk.
Subscribe to evo magazine
Underneath the Aero’s WW2-period swooping wings and running boards was an aluminium chassis, a radical departure for a company famous for its wooden chassis frames. It was the engine that marked the biggest step forward, though. For decades, Morgans used the 3.5-litre Rover V8, but the Aero was fitted with BMW’s 4.4-litre V8, producing 286bhp. This was the same engine that powered numerous big BMW saloons and 4x4s. Hooked up to the robust six-speed Getrag gearbox, it was enough to rush the 1145kg Morgan to face-bending speeds, hitting 60mph from rest in under five seconds.
The only real criticism of the Aero 8 when it was launched was directed at what became known as ‘the squint’ – a by-product of the sloping Volkswagen Beetle headlights that gave the car an odd front aesthetic. Otherwise the car was roundly praised by the press.
Arriving in 2004, the second generation Aero 8, the Series 2, gained a few inches, notably in the width of the passenger compartment and the boot, while the engine was changed to the latest version of the BMW 4.4 V8, upping power to 325bhp. The transmission was also updated to reduce the drivetrain shunt of the earlier model.
The third incarnation received a revised front end, similar to the special edition AeroMax coupe, which largely resolved the squinting issue by fitting Mini headlights instead of the Beetle items. However, some felt it detracted from the Aero 8’s unique character.
The Series 4 got another new BMW engine, now a 4.8-litre V8, bringing power up to 362bhp. There was also, in a first for Morgan, the option of an automatic transmission, a six-speed ‘instant shift’ ZF unit.
Regardless of which version of the Aero you’re looking at, the result is a thoroughly modern take on a classic theme. The aluminium chassis is incredibly stiff and this helps to provide excellent handling and roadholding through the all-independent suspension. The front end is well planted and predictable, though the lively rear, inevitably, requires a degree of readiness from the driver.
Performance is nothing short of staggering. While the numbers tell one story, what they don’t reveal is how the Aero 8 affects the senses. The howl of the BMW motor – especially on cars fitted with the optional side-exit exhausts – gets better and better as the revs rise, and, combined with the added sensations you get from driving without a roof, it provides a superb soundtrack to a truly unique motoring experience.
'I bought one'
‘When I heard an Aero 8 with the side-exit exhausts, I was sold. I originally had an order in for an R35 Nissan GT-R and bought the Aero 8 to tide me over, but after testing the Nissan and driving the Morgan for a few weeks, I cancelled the GT-R order – I didn’t feel it could do as much for me, as a driver.
‘The Morgan generates nothing but love from people as you drive around. I regularly come out of shops to find a crowd of people around it…
‘It took me seven months to find this car, as there are so few in the country – only around 30 Series 2s. I simply love it. I try to drive it as much as possible, even in the rain. I don’t like “garage queen” cars – they’re supposed to be used.
‘I’m actually selling my S2 as I’m looking for an automatic S4, but if I had the money I’d buy an AeroMax and use it as a daily driver, forever…’