More than any other car maker, Morgan is about tradition. It has been run by the same family since day one, the cars’ styling has remained largely unchanged for over 50 years, the bodies still sit on ash frames and, since 1968, the Plus 8 has been powered by the Buick-derived Rover V8 engine.
The all-alloy V8 started as a 3.5-litre with 150bhp, and by the end of production last May it had risen to 3.9 litres and 190bhp.
But now it’s gone. For its replacement, Morgan follows fellow low-volume Brits Noble and Marcos by opting for Ford V6 power, in this case the Mondeo ST220’s 3.0-litre.
From the outside, you’d never guess that there’s a new heart throbbing beneath the louvered two-piece bonnet, because dimensions and styling are unchanged from the old car’s. Which is exactly how it should be.
The olde-worlde feel continues inside. Firm chairs beautifully trimmed in red leather are bolted to the floor yet sit curiously high. Ahead there’s a slab of wood punctured by cream-faced Smiths instruments and fronted by the obligatory Moto-Lita wood-and-aluminium wheel.
Just don’t look down. Let your eyes stray beneath the dash and you’ll get a shock: there’s a nasty control for the heater, the stereo is ridiculously inaccessible (though at least its hidden position means it doesn’t spoil the traditional look) and there is a galvanised steel bar, inexplicably left uncarpeted, running across the middle of the floor.
Getting the one-piece roof off is a hassle, with clips to undo and some careful folding required, but once down it stows neatly, and when up it remains commendably watertight.
Wind-buffeting is well suppressed with side screens in place, and when you unscrew them you have an open-car experience like few available today. The deeply cut-down doors mean you can almost rest your elbow on the road.
The cabin will accommodate six-footers with relative ease. The new, smaller Ford gearbox frees up some footwell space, but there’s still nowhere to rest your left foot.
The only storage space is a shelf behind the seats – so you’ll need the optional luggage rack fitted over the rear-mounted spare if you want to go touring. Should you do so, Morgan’s impressive fuel-economy claim of 28.9mpg means you will get around 340 miles from each 55-litre tank of unleaded.
It would take a masochistic leaning to drive your Morgan every day, but nevertheless the Roadster is a surprisingly docile companion. The engine will idle in traffic without complaint, tickover is quiet, the gearbox light and positive and only the strong springing of the clutch proves tiring.
But the Roadster was never intended as a commuter car. Think Morgan and you think open roads, country lanes, picnics in fields. In that environment the Roadster makes sense. For one, it’s very quick: for the money only cars such as the Caterham Superlight and Vauxhall VX220 Turbo can live with its pace.
Then there’s the sound. It’s as if someone has taken a 12-inch recording of the Plus 8’s soundtrack and speeded it up to 45rpm. Get near the 6700rpm cut-out and the 24-valve V6 emits a glorious howl. It doesn’t have the same torque as the old car – 206lb ft at 4900rpm as opposed to 225lb ft at 3500rpm – but Plus 8 fans will be pleased to know that the old car’s extraordinary fifth-gear flexibility remains. It will pull from as little as 1200rpm (30mph) without complaint.
Find a road that’s smooth enough – you don’t want to be surprised by mid-corner bumps in this car – and you’ll find a neutral chassis with loads of grip, helped by the Yokohama A539 tyres that wrap around the optional 17in chrome wire wheels. Moving the lighter, shorter engine back in the chassis has really boosted the Roadster’s balance over the old car’s and it feels more nimble than most traditional Morgans.
There’s enough power to push the car into oversteer, but lots of traction as well, and the steering discourages tail-out antics. Heavy around town, it lightens up at speed, but retains an irritating vagueness around the straight-ahead. On-lock it gets sharper, but also weights up quickly, and any imperfections in the road surface are transmitted through the wheel’s narrow wooden rim in harsh kicks.
This gives a hint at what lies beneath, because it’s not just the looks that are carried over from the Plus 8. The archaic sliding pillar front suspension and cart-spring rear have come along, too. So if you were expecting Aero 8-like suspension compliance to match the Roadster’s performance, you’ll be disappointed.
It isn’t as uncomfortable as the Plus 8, but it’s still far from compliant, and the broken Tarmac, potholes and camber changes British B-roads throw at it cause the Roadster to crash and rattle violently when you drive with any vigour. The brakes, too, lack feel, and though the new car is 100kg lighter than the old one, its solid disc front and drum rear set-up seems inadequate.
But criticisms are irrelevant. If you want a Roadster, you’ll buy one, because this is a proper Morgan.