The great difficulty in writing about the Plus 4 is that the car spanned so many decades, remaining almost unchanged since 1910 - except for the addition of a fourth wheel, a few minor suspension changes to go with, and a slightly updated engine. Even in the mid 1960's the car was antique, the US government deciding that it was no longer suitable for import, with production finally coming to an end in 1969.
That the Plus 4 was an antique by the mid 60's is rarely disputed by Morgan aficionados, who considered the car perfectly safe, even exciting, as it had been for generations of enthusiasts. The Plus 4 was, however, quite modern when compared to others coming from the Morgan factory. During the reign of the Plus 4, the company continued to build a four-wheeler the founder/father would have admired: a simple, wood-braced, hand-formed artifact that was so much a tribute to Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan it was barely distinguishable from the car he built in the late Thirties when he reluctantly made a square of a triangle and bowed to the fad of the four-wheeler.
The Plus 4 was originally fitted with a 2088 cc engine based on that used in the Standard Vanguard. In 1953 a higher performance version was announced with the 1991 cc L4 engine as used in the Triumph TR3. The radiator grille was now surrounded by a cowl that blended into the bonnet. Front disc brakes became an option in 1959 and were standardised in 1960. From 1962 the engine was the Triumph TR4
unit, which increased displacement to 2138 cc.
Body styles available were a 2 seat sports, 4 seat sports and more luxurious 2 or 4 seat drophead coupé (4 seat coupé 1954-1956 only). One of the interesting quirks of the Plus 4 was that the engine cowling fitted so closely to the engine that there was no room for an air filter. Some owners stretched cheesecloth over the carburetor as a field-expedient.
It took a week to build a Plus 4. In the mid 1960's. Morgan production reached the dizzy heights of around 12 cars a week. After all, the Morgan was basically a hand-built, hand-formed motorcar - put togther by 90 or more automorive artisans. The Plus 4 was exceptionally well built, and while it did not meet the US government's edict, which scorned a quality of workmanship all but forgotten (and celebrated instead the ideal of a machine-spewed plastic cocoon for anyone who ventured on the highway) - the Morgan hard-core knew it was every bit as safe.
Given the US market accounted for over 65% of sales, it was inevitable that the Plus 4 would be discontinued. The faithful could only hope that the marque would not follow the likes of the Invictas, HRGs, Bristols and Squires, to name a few (others are mentioned in our "Lost Marques
Lew Spencer and Baby Doll
And while the Morgan may not have had many high profile sports car drivers able to atest to its many virtues, there were a few. Lew Spencer was one of the great Morgan drivers in the late 1950s when he ran "Baby Doll," at the head of the pack in almost every Class C-production event on the West Coast. He humbled the previously all-conquering Bristols in his dark blue, Weber-carbureted lightweight, and made an enviable reputation that led him to a factory ride with Shelby American. Carl Swanson was the 1966 National Champion in E-production, winning the Riverside race for the title in the only Morgan in a pack of Porsches. Pat Mernone was a familiar (female) figure in a G-production Morgan in the Northeast Division.
When word got out that the classic Morgan would very likely be off the market, there was a run on the cars. It seemed there were still those who preferred to look after their cars, knowing they needed to be tended, coaxed. They didn't mind that the door opened from the inside - and when opened it would sag a little on the hinges. The seat was adjustable, but only by inflation of the seat cushion. And the flat windshield was only inches away from the Bluemels steering wheel, which was, in turn, only inches away from the driver's chest. Some thought the Plus 4 worked best when parked on a country lane, not driven on one - if you ever attempted a rough track you would invariably regret it.
Early Plus 4's came with 2 spare wheels, but later models were fitted with only one, sitting vertically at the back. Aesthetically the Morgan looked the biz; high wheels and genuine fenders. Open the door (from the inside) and sit inside and you would hear the pneumatic cushion sigh as you settled down in the cockpit and stretched to reach the pedals; your right leg, knee and thigh pressed tight against the transmission tunnel. Of course everything was close: the wheel and the wooden dashboard with its big, round simple instruments. The 2.2-liter TR-4 engine fired with a well-known sound. Depress the (very stiff) clutch, crunch the old Jaguar gearbox non-synchro low gear, and you were off. And if it hadn't already made itself apparent, the moment you released the clutch you would realise you were driving something very different.
The Plus Four conveyed EVERYTHING to the driver. You would feel every pebble on the road through the steering wheel, and your feet (via clutch or accelerator) seemed to operate directly on the engine. It would take the uninitiated many miles to master the Morgan, but when they did they would understand what was exciting about sports motoring in the Thirties. Twitch the wheel, and out went the tail of the Morgan. Just as far as you wanted, for just as long as you wanted, for just the result you wanted. Fangio used to set up a slide for each corner - speak to a Morgan enthusiast and they will tell you the Morgan made it easy to emulate the same driving style.
It's been more than 40 years since the original Plus 4's (very slowly) rolled off the Morgan production line.
It was revived in 1985 to fill the gap between the 4/4 and the Plus 8 until 2000.