The Morgan Aero 8 is an incredibly rare sight in South Africa. Only a handful more than 200 of these Series 3 cars were manufactured, and out of those, fewer than five came to South Africa. So, you hardly ever see one for sale, and even more rarely get the opportunity to take one for a test drive.
Words and Images: Hannes Oosthuizen
- Year, Make and Model: 2007 Morgan Aero 8 (Series 3)
- Engine: 4.4 V8 petrol
- Power/Torque: 248kW/450Nm
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- 0-100kph: 4.7 sec (claimed)
- Top speed: 256 kph (claimed)
- Fuel economy: 11L/100km (estimated)
- Mileage: 18 900 km (as tested)
- Price: R1 495 000 (view listing here)
Willfully quirky, stubbornly traditional or just plain bizarre, the appeal of storied British marque Morgan's cars leaves many perplexed. Then again, there is also a mystique about the brand that inevitably draws the attention of those petrolheads seeking something different.
When the Morgan Aero 8 arrived on the market in 2000 with its cross-eyed face, it caused a sensation. After all, it was (then) Morgan's first all-new car since the mid-60s! It was also positioned as Morgan's first supercar, and was the first of the brand's cars to step away from the wooden-body-tub-on-top-of-a-steel-chassis construction, using a bonded aluminium chassis instead.
Morgan worked closely with BMW on the project, including lots of testing at Miramas. And so you'll find a lot of BMW DNA in this odd-looking machine. Under the centre-hinged bonnet flaps is a BMW-sourced 4.4L V8 that pumps out 248kW and 450Nm of torque (not 210kW and 430Nm as stated in the video). Power goes to the rear wheels via a BMW 6-speed manual transmission.
Weighing in at only 1 100kg, the Aero 8 delivers stonking performance, with a 0-100kph time of around 4.7 seconds and a top speed of just over 250kph. And while its quirky looks may recall the past, it was a very up-to-date offering at the time of its launch, with dual front airbags, ABS, climate control, electric windows and so on.
As I edge the Aero 8's long nose through early-morning traffic, the stiff clutch is initially quite intimidating. It also takes quite high, so you have to keep your wits about you when pottering around. It's also very clear, judging by all the finger-pointing and rubber-necking, that the car is as inconspicuous as Miley Cyrus literally crashing through a wall on a wrecking ball. You will be noticed.
Interestingly, when onlookers approach me to talk about the car, they either know exactly what it is (usually older gentlemen), or not at all. Either way, it is clear the car has massive presence.
Parked next to the ocean for the photoshoot, I drink in the details. With the Series 3 they fixed the squinty look front-end by again dipping into the BMW parts-bin and emerging with Mini Cooper headlights. I love the ribbed vents on the long nose and when viewed from the rear three-quarter, there is something truly retro-futuristic about it. This colour (also borrowed from BMW) really pops, too.
The cabin has good space for the two occupants (including impressive headroom) and there is some storage space behind the seats. The boot isn't too big, but you should get three large soft bags in there for longer trips. The cabin is a wonderfully "traditional" place to be, with superb craftsmanship on display - the turned aluminium dashboard, light wood finishes and cream-faced VDO dials mark the Aero 8 out as something truly unique. Wish the steering wheel was a bit prettier, though...
With in-board shock absorbers, rose-jointed suspension and a chassis that is obviously very rigid, the Aero 8 feels very stiff. In fact, on bumpy roads, it can feel too stiff, so I had my concerns when I arrived at my preferred dynamic test route, which is quite bumpy in parts. Somehow, however, the Aero 8 manages retain traction very well and the suspension seems to "come alive" when you really start hustling the car.
There is no nannying stability control, and so while there is a limited-slip differential at the rear and ABS brakes, you are very much in control of your own destiny with this car. It also takes time to get used to turning in that long nose, but once you've acclimatised, the Aero 8 is a blast. The engine punches hard out of the corners and the gearbox is wonderfully slick. And, surprisingly, the handling is actually quite benign, with any loss of traction at the rear occurring quite gradually, giving the driver time to correct without having a heart attack first.
This particular car
It is believed that fewer than five of these Series 3 Aero 8s came to South Africa, and this example is a 2007 model with less than 19 000km on the odo. It has also very obviously been lovingly cared for these past 15 years, as the body is blemish-free and the forged alloys without any scratches. Clear vinyl has been applied to parts of the body that are most likely to get chipped or scuffed - for example the very wide sills next to the doors. Inside, the car looks spotless - even the BMW-sourced gearlever appears to be completely new.
I arrived at Road & Race's warehouse on this particular day not knowing what to expect. In fact, I was prepared to test drive a Jaguar Mk8 and had done all my research on that, but the plans were changed and so I stepped into the Aero 8 with only my preconceptions, vague memories of British reviews from the early noughties, and what was detailed on the car's sales listing as a reference. Quite frankly, I half expected it would be similar to my TVR experience - a car built up in my mind as something great, but ultimately disappointing.
Thankfully, the Aero 8 far surpassed my expectations. In fact, it's a fantastic car to drive hard, the build integrity is obvious and the way it stops traffic simply stupendous. It is by no means a cheap car, but it is something truly special and would make a fantastic, interesting addition to a varied car collection. Plus... you'll actually enjoy driving it!