Made in the U.S.A (1971-1996)

    by Lorne M. Goldman

Emission and safety control standards developed more rapidly in the United States than in any other industrialized nation. Though the Morgan Motor Company had tried to foresee the more stringent motor vehicle requirements in designing its cars, by 1971 Morgan was forced to drop out of the U.S. market. This was a severe blow considering that in the late 50's almost 85% of Morgan's production had been exported to the United States.

The principle cause of this decision was Rover's (and therefore Morgan's) inability to meet the emission control standards set by the U.S. government at that time. No Morgan's were exported by the company directly to the States from late 1971 to 1976.  The change occurred when Bill Fink, a former Morgan parts dealer, was successfully able to modify the engines to run on propane, a fuel exempt from the U.S. emission control standards.

Mr. Fink, of Isis Imports in San Francisco, heroically waded through the bureaucratic maze from 1973 to 1976 and was finally able to put a high performance Morgan again on the American roads meeting all U.S. standards. These cars have a combination of factory and Isis changes which extend beyond just the propane fuel switch.

The following list is not exhaustive.

1.     Gas to Propane Conversion

The conversion required the addition of some new items to the car. A 18 gallon fuel tank or "cell" with its filler valve mounted under the spare wheel bracket, a propane vaporizer, new sealed fuel lines, new inlet manifolds, new propane carburetors, adjustments to the fuel gauge, alterations to the distributer and a lock valve mechanism
(to shut off the fuel flow when the engine was off) were all added.

2.    The Bumpers

To conform with the 5 mph impact regulation, the factory reinforced the bumpers and installed telescopic gas shock absorbers to hold them.

The bumper was placed higher on the car to meet the 15 inch height the bumper legislation required. This forced the front turn signal lights to be placed on the bumper as the standard placement on the body would have been partially obscured by the higher bumper.
 
 
A curious note; Fink placed the turning signals under the bumper as did Chris Charles, the Canadian dealer. Winn Staples of Cantab placed the turning signals on top of the bumper. This has become an easy way of determining the original dealer of your U.S. Morgan of the period)

3.      The Windshield

A four seater size windshield was installed reinforced by a special hoop bolted to the chassis behind the dashboard.

4.      The Doors

The doors were reinforced with steel beams and hinged into a steel "loop" installed under the dash.

5.        Seat Belts

 Inertia seat belts were made standard with a required warning light.

6.       Sun Visors

Padded sun visors were added to the car.

7.        Flame Retardent

Materiels used in the trim were brought up to U.S. Federal Specification for the Burn rate.

These modifications (Fink had to file forty-five pages of documentation with along with photos and diagrams with the goverment authorities) are extensive enough to notably raise the price of a U.S. Morgan and thereby inhibit their sales. Most Plus 8's "officially" imported to the United States from 1976 to 1991 were converted to propane and the few imported 4's were converted until 1996.

From the 1986, Cantab Motors, the then new east coast Morgan agent, began to bring in Plus 8's without the propane conversion using a U.S. "tamed" and very much subdued Rover V8.
 
 
N.B. Here are some salient points about the gasoline Rover V8's of that era sent to US;

The Rover workshop manual in the mid 1980's states that models sold io the U.S. had the compression of their (gas) V8 engine  reduced from 9.75:1 to 8.15:1 AND the ignition timing be set at TDC rather than than the normal 6 degrees BTDC for a carburetor model or 8 degrees BTDC for a fuel injected model.

The U.S. "low-lift" emissions cam was,  frankly,  less than an happy choice. Not only is it  an impediment to performance but it has a reputation for going flat. The first symptom is a lack of power followed by lifter noise.

The U.S. EFI 3.5s had an oxygen analyzer called a lambda sensor which, with higher performance demands, adjusts the data being fed to the ECU and effectively prioritizes acceptable emissions over power delivery.

These and other modifications significantly affect the power of the engine and  personality of the car unlike the powerful Morgan propane conversions.

With their power drastically cut back, these gasoline Plus 8's could legally qualify for U.S. certification though they can produce as little as 135 bhp which, with the added weight of the other items necessary to US specification (NAS) would give these cars a power-to-weight ratio less performant than a Plus 4 and only slightly better than a 4/4. In contrast, the propane models in their turbo-charged option can put out more horsepower than their British cousins.

Many of the propane Morgans of this period have been re-converted back to gasoline and one wonders why. The re-conversion (especially with the injection models) is a delicate matter that must be performed perfectly or the engine's performance can be prejudiced. After a re-conversion, there is the ongoing problem of acceptable emissions levels in the States that require regular testing. One must assume that the gasoline Plus 8 can only meet these criteria with a significant sacrifice to power (or some surreptitious "fiddling" when testing time rolls around).

At present, a factory Morgan can meet the emission requirements of the U.S. government and the cars are imported without the necessity of a fuel conversion though the power has been "tweaked" a bit on the official Company specifications. However, I must note again that Morgan Motor Company power specifications are just random guesses as they traditionally adopt horsepower claims of the motor's manufacturer without any testing of their own and without adjustment for the effects of Morgan intake and exhaust configurations.

Accordingly the noted 3.3bhp "tweak" (from 188bhp vs.190.3 bhp) might be illusory as the torque is identical to the non-U.S.A. models at 225ft/lb (though the car is heavier at 2250lb). In fact, with its anti-knock sensors,the motor could very well out-match its lighter British cousins in some circumstsances.

A Note on Canada

In Canada, exhaust emission control laws were not as tough as those south of the border and the imports during the same periods came through without any motor modifications from the British standard. However, the other noted structural and safety modifications had to be done upon arrival. Chris Charles, the Canadian Agent at the time and a former engineer and TR3 racer, had to take the same deep wade through red tape. Luckily the Minister of transport during that era was a sports car lover, and leeway was created to allow Charles one year to bring a car up to Canadian governmental par.  He succeeded.

Recently Canada has had other problems. Since the early 1990's, the Canadian Department of Transport has refused to accept British crash test data and wishes to wreck three cars to discover for themselves what happens when you smash a Morgan from the rear end. As the Morgan allotment for Canada is reputably six cars yearly, the company has thus far decided to forego the dubious joys of pleasing the Government of Canada with this sacrifice to their gods. Pleas to the Minister and the Works have produced little as yet but efforts are ongoing.