An imperfect but infinitely likeable sports car, and a worthy swansong for Morgan's 20-year affinity for BMW V8 engines

At any speed, in any gear, a Morgan Aero doesn’t so much rouse the deceased as haul them out of the ground by their metatarsals. Presumably the good people of Malvern are now accustomed to this kind of ruckus.

Morgan has been hand-building cars in this corner of Worcestershire since 1909, and using a BMW-supplied V8 for its most serious models since the supply from Rover began to dry up around the millennium. It really is devastatingly loud in this application, firing pavement-bound pulses from a pair of side-exhausts and with enough torque to turn fourth gear while trundling along only a whisker quicker than walking pace. You can open the throttle early and wide for a locomotive chug-chug-chug that’s just so addictive.

It really is devastatingly loud, firing pavement-bound pulses from a pair of side-exhausts

And yet this, for all intents and purposes, is the last time those residents will get to enjoy (or decry) such a sound, at least from a freshly constructed car. This year the deal with BMW ends, and though Jaguar’s name has been mentioned, a new supply line of big, juicy engines is yet to be established.

Truth be told, it may never materialise, usurped by a V6, and along with the fact no successor for the flagship Aero 8 is planned, that makes the Morgan you see before you rather special.

It’s called the Aero ‘GT’, this one being number eight of a run of only eight ‘gloves off’ cars, as Morgan puts it. Each costs £144,000 but the sky is limit as goes customisation, with the handful of owners individually invited to the Malvern Link works to meet chief designer Jon Wells and create something unique.

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What makes the Aero GT stand out from other Morgan cars?

Though both are actually Lamborghini hues, the green and gold livery of this example is inspired by the ash-framed Aero Super Sport cars prepared by Jacques Lafitte for FIA GT3 racing a decade ago. Dazzling? Just a bit. An Aventador would struggle to hold the limelight next to one of these; a Huracàn may not as well exist.

Look closer and you’ll clock aggressive aero, which most noticeably differentiates these models and which the GT wears in the manner of Kalashnikov-carrying librarian. Louvres cascading down the hydroformed aluminium wheelarches are redolent of that other brutish Brit, the TVR Sagaris, and there are diveplanes in the front bumper with further pressure-relieving cutouts behind the gold-painted rear wheels.

Then there are the circular vents in the trailing edge of the removable carbon roof - to these eyes a superb historical touch - but the coup de grace is a carbonfibre diffuser cut high into the tapered rear bodywork. Morgan insists the changes are functional, with their roots in the development work done during the 2015 redesign of the standard Aero 8.

What hasn’t changed is the driveline or the mechanical underpinnings. Given Morgan places a £50,000 premium on the GT over the Aero 8, that should raise a few eyebrows, but it remains a mouth-watering setup, so bear with.

That naturally aspirated 4.8-litre N62 BMW engine delivers 367bhp and 370lb ft exclusively to the rear tyres through a six-speed manual ‘box and a mechanical limited-slip differential also of Bavarian origin. All this in an aluminium bonded and riveted chassis weighing a mere 1180kg without fluids? Only Lotus does similar. Meanwhile at each corner you’ll find manually adjustable dampers with AP Racing brakes.

Does the Aero GT perform like a true sports car?

Out on the road, the GT goes about its business as Aeros do. The engine is closer to your kneecaps than it is the front axle, and that axle seems leagues away from your hands, which in this case rest on a low-slung Moto-Lita wheel with a lovely alloy boss and spokes that match the heavy-set gearknob.

This car’s Tillet carbon seats (beloved also by quicker Caterham models) are padded out with quilted leather, and feel as though you could barely slide a deck of cards between their base and the floorpan. Straightaway the GT feels unusually reassuring simply to be in - certainly compared to the aloofness of more sophisticated rivals - and while there’s little scope for flailing elbows, headroom won’t be a problem unless your place of work is a basketball court.

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This last-of-the-line Aero is also beautifully finished. Those who’ve not set backside in a Morgan for some time will be surprised, even if the clock is inexplicably positioned where you’d expect to find the passenger-side air vent and not all of the grain of the wooden trim aligns flawlessly. There’s also no infotainment to speak of but third-party navigation systems and the like can be charged via a USB port in glovebox. 

Morgan claims these cars will hit 62mph in a modest 4.5sec but the fact is speed seems such a trivial matter when you’re at the wheel. The gearing is short, the throw positive and the steering resistive, so there’s plenty of work to do - and satisfaction to be had - even if you’re not out to set records. Likewise, mere tendrils for A-pillars and an abundance of glass always exaggerate one’s sense of progress, so while 467bhp would be welcome, it simply isn’t necessary.

In any case, you could just as easily slot yourself into fourth or even fifth and surf along all day on this engine’s bottomless well of torque. And that’s key. Despite the visual aggression and the busy low speed ride, the Aero GT still feels a longer-legged beast at heart. The ethos remains that of a swashbuckling express than a razor-edged sports car, and on balance Morgan was right to preserve that.

Do roll up your sleeves and you’ll nevertheless discover a car that’s startlingly, thuggishly quick point-to-point, albeit with a few substantial caveats. There’s a resistance to bump steer that’s a galaxy away from Morgans of old, but anybody coming from a 911 or Aston Martin Vantage is going to find the steering not only fussy but indirect and the suspension a touch underdamped. Not, perhaps, to the extent that it saps your confidence, but enough to get in the way of the fun at times.

Peeling that crocodile’s cranium of a snout into tighter corners also requires care so as to avoid overloading the otherwise excellent 225-section Continental SportContact6 front tyres. Contrarily, unless you’re throwing the kitchen sink at it, traction at the rear axle is absolute on the way out of the such bends (okay, so maybe 467bhp would be nice). Medium-quick, flowing direction changes are the best. In fact they can be downright joyful with such a supple, balanced, hip-swingin’ chassis beneath you. 

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Does the Aero GT impress against its major rivals?

All eight are sold, but what does GT mean to its maker? Ultimately this is an imperfect but infinitely likeable sports car, and with it Morgan’s 20-year challenge to Aston Martin, Bentley and Mercedes is put out to pasture.

But this most extreme, extroverted and rare model also points to the marque’s future. In 2018 the factory built fewer cars than during the previous year but turned a more meaty profit.

The answer was customisation, and in this respect the final Aero is proof that a stable future with less numerous but increasingly individual products built to more exacting standards is viable. Not an insignificant legacy for a run-out special, that. Even one as lovely as the Aero GT.

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.