Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – video review

Morgan Roadster comes with Mustang power. An acquired taste, but absolute bliss at the right time and place

By Shahzad Sheikh

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

Our introduction to the Morgan Roadster was at the hottest part of the day and we headed straight out into rush-hour Dubai traffic. We had the roof up and the plastic windows installed. The supposed ‘A/C’ this thing has was infrequently blowing puffs of lukecold air at our thighs from the under-dash vents.

With two of us in the tiny cabin it was stuffy and claustrophobic, visibility was severely hampered by the canvas roof, clouded plastic and a passenger side wing mirror that was intent on showing us the tip of the Burj Khalifa and not much else.

On top of that was the rather alarming realisation that not many SUV drivers are even aware of the small low-slung green sports car mingling with the big boys on Sheikh Zayed Road and that we were in a car with safety considerations circa post World War 1. Meanwhile the clutch was getting heavier.

Frankly, driving the Morgan Roadster with the roof up is like vigorously hiking up hill on a spectacularly glorious day, but as the back end of a pantomime horse – extremely awkward, very uncomfortable, utterly blinding, potentially smelly and with no real payoff at all.

But this is a truly classic British Roadster – and roadsters are meant to be driven with the roof down. Always.

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

I hate it. No, I love it

So it’s a 4:30am start the next morning in a concerted effort to get reacquainted with this devil of a machine. Windows out, roof down, attitude readjusted; I twist the Ford key that barely fits into the cavity within which you have to line up and insert it into the ignition barrel ( this is the largest of the three that come with the car – the other two keys are for the doors and fuel filler lock). This instantly awakens the Mustang V6 napping under that long louvered split opening bonnet, which wraps itself around an arrowhead that points this car towards the elusive future that persistently evades a Morgan.

Modern Ford engine and transmission notwithstanding, this is a motorcar (and it seems only right to address it fully and formally so) firmly anchored in the gung ho bonhomie, bullish bravado and devil-may-care swagger of early 20th Century fighter pilots, who always promised to be back in time for kippers (a promise sadly not kept by most of them).

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

As I head out towards my favourite roads up in them thar hills, I wonder if I should have donned a leather helmet, strapped on a pair of goggles and grown a magnificent handlebar moustache for this morning’s adventure – it later dawns on me as the sun arises (see what I did there? Oh never mind) that I should have indeed followed through on these thoughts, with the exception of sprouting the extraordinary facial hair perhaps.

So let’s get straight to the good stuff. And it is simply this – given the marvellous roads, the stirring awakening of a desert day and the dew-fresh atmosphere, the cantankerous bastard from yesterday’s drive that left me dishevelled, dispirited and debilitated is gone.

In its place is a charming fellow of stout standing, keen spirit and boasting a caddish twinkle in the antiquated headlight. There’s a conspiratorial air that telegraphs several messages, some of the most prominent of which are: life is best lived at full throttle and that traction control is for wimps. Okay the modern Moggie concedes power steering for that beautiful three-spoke old-fashioned metal and wood-rimmed helm, but that’s about all you get in terms of driver’s aids.

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

Giving it some wellie!

That 3.7-litre V6 delivers 280bhp and 260lb ft of torque directly to the rear wheels in a car that weights 950kg, plus me. Anything other than damn pussyfooting will see you light up the rear wheels and with chocks-away, you’ll Tally-Ho towards the horizon with a ferocity unbecoming of a grand lady that’s nearly 80 years old but looks the same as she did in the 1950s!

That is until you snatch second and the rears light up again and your arse squirms all over the tarmac seemingly forever, or until the torque lets-up and grip is reengaged. But don’t rest easy chap, because if you rifle in the next change you can have the same experience all over again but at even higher speeds! In fact it’s still possible to elicit a chirp from the tyres even into fourth gear.

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

And you have to time these upshifts right because the flywheel on this thing seems to want to just fly on forever – even at moderate speeds you’ll feel the Moggie lunge forward sometimes unexpectedly as the clutch engages (slightly disconcerting if there’s any kind of traffic in the vicinity!).

Sadly the throttle pedal is buried too deep within the cramped footwell (wear tight shoes and have small to regular sized feet or you’re buggered) to execute heel-and-toe downshifts. Which is shame because the drivetrain responds well to that sort of thing, as I found by briefly getting off the brakes altogether to blip the loud pedal whilst slowing.

When it all comes together, by Jove this thing is splendidly rapid. It’ll arrive at 100kph in just 5.5 seconds, and supposedly will do 225kph – though I suspect you really would need the goggles and leather helmet to prove that, as the buffeting is absolutely horrendous. At higher speeds my eyes are watering and my vision is blurring, I’ve long discarded my cap knowing it will blow off, but start to get equally fearful of the fate of my spectacles, and losing them would be very inconvenient indeed.

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

Holding on for dear life

And you do need to be able to see where you’re going, because braking in this car requires a little more anticipation than demanded by modern machinery. Yes of course the brakes are slightly better than they were in 1954, but whilst there are disc brakes at the front, it still has drum brakes at the rear. And whilst we’re talking brakes, the fly-off handbrake under the dash tucked up against the transmission tunnel can be a bitch to engage and release sometimes.

This is a car, then, that wants to focus your combined faculties to the task at hand at all times – the act of actually driving. And if you realise that, and fully embrace it, there’s very little this side of a Lotus or Caterham that is as immersive, intense and entertaining to pedal as this car.

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

Numbed slightly by the assistance, there is still more steering feel than contemporary cars, even if the slippery thin-rimmed steering wheel is something you wish you wore stringback driving gloves for (add that to the leather helmet and goggles list).

When you get on it, you find yourself hunched forward to try to get in out of the slipstream and holding onto that wheel for dear life, chopping away like the equally courageous and death-wish insane GP racers of the 1920s.

Work with the steering and concentrate on your power application and you can hustle through corners surprisingly quickly, plus of course with the excellent all-round visibility sans-roof you can place the front fenders right on the apex.

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

There’s a whole heap of signals coming from your backside which is pretty much sitting on the back axle, and you’ll know if the rear is about to let go, even before it does. But at speed the grip and roadholding improve and the leaf-sprung live rear axle does a decent job of keeping you on the blacktop – perhaps with a dab of opp-lock required on occasion when the tail gets a little frisky.

Bizarrely there’s an ancient and quite rare system of front suspension dubbed ‘sliding pillar’ which essentially means the front independent suspension slides up and down vertical struts. This can lead to a slightly uncomfortable pogoing effect on uneven roads – annoying on longer journeys. There’s a lot of vibration in the cabin, but overall the ride, particularly at the back is really rather pleasant given a decent surface.

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

Verdict and epiphany

Sadly this is just not a car you could live with as a daily driver in our region particular when it gets hot – it’s not that the car struggles with the heat, it doesn’t, it’s the human element that has the problem. The A/C is only able to freshen up an evening cruise, but is hopeless during the day.

Plus the roof can be fiddly to lock-in and release, the whole pram-like canopy is a confusing mess of hinges and titch buttons, and you need training in how to cover up the lowered roof with the supplied tonneau.

There’s a stereo, supposedly with Bluetooth buried deep under the dashboard for some reason – which means you cannot adjust it on the go of course or you’ll simply die (it’s not advisable to take your eyes off the road for even a split second in this car), and whilst you can hear it at city speeds, out of town you might as well not bother.

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

The steering adjusts for rake believe it or not, but only drops further into your lap by doing so, and the surprisingly comfy seats do slide and tilt. Getting in and out with the roof up is hard work if you have a large frame, but with roof off you can simple step in and out of the Moggie with elevated grace.

There’s no luggage space really, just a cavity beneath the pram-top, usually filled with the windows and covers.

And then there’s the er… slight feeling of fragility that comes with an 80-year-old design and its eccentric foibles, such as on this particular car, the passenger door randomly choosing whether to open or just become hopelessly jammed of its own accord, and then changing its mind equally randomly without rhyme or reason. At night the dashboard dials – also Mustang-sourced and a little out of place (the dials in the Plus 4 are much nicer) occasionally flash brightly for no apparent reason.

But the more I drove it – and I would have driven it a LOT more if the weather had been more tolerable – the more I overlooked its idiosyncrasies and embraced its charisma, its camaraderie, its coolness.

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

It’s an absolute hoot and a blast to drive, but it’s also a fantastic statement of unorthodox unconventionality with a heavy dose of whimsicality. You’re a celebrity and a superstar, people wave, smile, thumbs-up and instagram you, some talk to you, others actually give way in traffic. It’s a very sociable car – fun for you AND everyone else.

It’s not cheap – a four-cylinder 1.6 Ford-engined Plus 4 will start from AED230k and prices go right the way up to AED490,000 for a Plus 8 with a stonking BMW 4.8-litre V8. Not having driven the others, I’d still say, on paper at least, this V6 is the pick of the pack though at AED300k (you can get a four-seat for AED328k and stick your kids in the back too!).

Morgan Roadster with Mustang power – review

But you do not buy this car because you need to. You get one because you want to, because you’re a maverick and because there’s more than a bit of old-skool in you. The justification for the price of this car came to me on the last day with the Moggie as I once again sat in traffic with it – having by now adapted and become used to it, and not actually minding so much anymore. I was staring at the temp needle at the time.

You see, throughout my time with the car, I found I had been subconsciously listening out for any telltale sounds of impending catastrophic mechanical unreliability, and had constantly been keeping an eye on the temperature gauge and revs. But what I came to realise was that I needn’t have bothered doing either. The drivetrain was the strongest part of this odd Frankenstein package.

What you actually have here is not just a new-old car, and whilst judging it in contemporary terms is foolish, you learn that the modern Morgan is effectively a freshly assembled restomod directly from the factory. All the style and fun of owning/driving a thoroughbred classic car, but all the mechanical peace of mind of driving a new motor with a warranty. Most delightfully of all, far less mechanical sympathy needs to be applied to this motorcar than would be necessary on an actual car from the 1950s.

What an absolutely blooming marvellous thing this is! When the weather cools – I’m borrowing it again.

Morgan Roadster – The Specs

Prices: AED299,790 ($83k)
Engine: 3.7-litre V6, 280bhp, 260lb ft
Performance: 5.5secs 0-100kph, 225kph, 9.8L/100km
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Weight: 950kg

Would you Moggie it? Tell us below!

Thanks to Eras Customs & Classics for providing this car for testing

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