THE POWER OF A MORGAN PLUS 8: FACTS AND FICTION
by Lorne M. Goldman January 1997

Suggestions for More Power

History

By 1965, The Morgan Company was aware that the power output of its four cylinder engine was too small for the demands of many customers. The Company's waiting list had shrunk to two years.

The problem was to find just the right power plant. Triumph's solution had been to fit a great straight-six into the TR-5 but this engine was too high to fit into a Morgan. Lotus's twin-cam was too fragile and the Ford V-6 was too heavy.

In 1966, as a by-product of an unsuccessful take-over feeler from Rover, Peter Morgan was offered a crack at a new Rover purchase from Buick, a lightweight aluminium V8 called the 215 or  the Jetfire which (in 1961-62) had been standard in the Buick Skylark and Oldsmobile F-85 (though each had different heads, intakes and exhaust arrangements).

Maurice Owen, a race engineer, was engaged to experiment with the engine's possibilities for Morgan and worked with drawings until he found an old Buick engine to fiddle with. The engine was literally jammed into a Plus 4 and was rolling in early 1967. After some Leyland/Rover problems, the Plus 8 went into production in 1968 with 20 cars delivered. As a reference point for power, an unmodified 4/4 of that time created about 75bhp. The first Plus 8's (1968 to 1972) put out an unmodified 160.5bhp or 170hp on the American standard, a significant boost of power.

N.B. BHP is a measurement of the actual usable power (not calculated power) measured at the output shaft (usually the crankshaft) rather than at the drive shaft or the wheels. Thus none of the auxiliaries (gearbox, generator, alternator, differential, water pump, etc.) are attached. It is called the brake horsepower because the shaft power is usually measured by an absorption dynamometer or "brake." This is not the brake on the vehicle's wheels but a testing device applied to the shaft. This instrument is applied to stop or absorb the rotation of the output shaft and returns a value.  This standard is considered a far more reliable indication of effective horsepower than the US HP.

In January of 1974, the compression was reduced in stages to meet the first early European emissions requirements and the power dropped to 143 bhp. At the end of 1976, the successor engine to first the Rover V8 was introduced called the SD1 (Specialist Division 1) and power increased again (12bhp) and reliability increased mightily.

In 1982 Stromberg carburettors replaced the SU's as Rover again struggled to meet European emissions standards (calling for automatic chokes controlled by water temperature) while still maintaining the power. The Strombergs did the trick and horsepower held at 155bhp.

In 1984, Morgan offered a few new fuel-injected version of the high performance "Vitesse" SD1 engine as an option. The Vitesse engine, fitted with a new gearbox,  was designed by Rover to be a competition n motor.  Power jumped dramatically on the first delivered Morgan Vitesse EFI model produced without any compromise to the car saving a cut away of the bonnet hinge to accommodate the plenum chamber of the engine. This Plus 8, smaller and significantly lighter than today's version, with the tubular manifolds and twin exhaust of the day (and Morgan's new and first rack and pinion steering a standard), left the factory unmodified with an amazing 205bhp and an estimated 248lbft. of torque at 4000 rpm.. It was capable of  0 to 60mph in 5.15 seconds. A limited number of these optional Vitesse EFIs were produced in the period from September 1984 to early 1985 before the weight when up, the exhaust system became a single pipe and engines were altered.

All Plus 8's were fuel- injected after January, 1987.

The power of the Plus 8's began to drop again in 1985 (190.4 bhp) and the torque tumbled to 198 lbft. with the introduction of more emission safeguards embodied in the addition of catalytic converters, the return to a single from dual exhaust. Structural changes gradually increased the weight from 1884lbs to 2068lbs. Power fell slowly but continually to 162bhp until the production in June of 1990 of a re-bored version of the V8 increasing capacity from 3538cc to 3946cc. The horsepower climbed back up to near 1985 standards and the torque was even better at lower revolutions such that Autocar (May 1991) observed that the 1991 Plus 8 (0-60 in 6.1 sec.) showed its rump to a Porsche Turbo at any speed up to 80mph.

Presently, the Morgan website still lists its 3.9 litre engine as producing 185bhp though this figure is dated and 190.3 bhp is  a more accurate figure. (The U.S 4.0 Plus 8 produces about 186.7bhp.) The site also shows the 4.6 litre version but does not indicate performance specifications or details but the Morgan dealers list the 4.6's power at 194.4bhp with 260ft/lb of torque. This too is probably inaccurate and an appeal to Land Rover directly gives more plausible figures of 218bhp and 300 ft/lb.s of torque.
N.B. I have written a supplement to this article including a power-to-weight analysis in response to questions on this article.

N.B. Please note this article does not apply to Plus 8's made for the U.S. market during the
period from 1976 to 1996. Please refer to an analysis entitled  Made in the U.S.A (1971 to 1996).

J.E. Engineering, an advance British group specializing in the Rover V8 performance engine has recently produced a 4.5 litre based on the same engine block that reputably produces the better part of 300 horsepower and Rpi sells a 5.2 litre model that can be camshaft adjusted to produce greater torque or horsepower according to your needs. The dyno claims that the engine produces 334 bhp at 5500 rpm.

N.B. As a side note here, there has been much said about the frightening mysteries of fuel injection. It is bunk. Fuel injection systems were clouded with rumours by the manufacturers wishing you to service at their dealers. The Plus 8 standard ECU (Electronic Control Unit) has an inbuilt adjustment factor of 25%.

The Rover Vitesse / Buick Jetfire are amazing lumps. With mild attention, they easily produce the magic one-for-one solution or one horsepower per pound weight. For this  reason, they are a popular engine swap choice among hot rodders and kitcar builders. They collect myths and fancy like few others. I will try to distinguish some from fact from fiction.

INSTALLING A NEW EXHAUST SYSTEM

There is no argument that an improved exhaust system is good for the car. The engine will breathe better and engine temperatures will drop. As the factory system installed is very restrictive, a free flowing change is a fine adjunct to other major alterations to the engine. A stainless or treated system is also   prettier and maintenance free.

However, exhaust is exhaust. It is not a prime ingredient to combustion and happens after rather than before that fact. Aside from mild adjustments to back pressure, the horsepower claims of exhaust system sellers are simply ridiculous. You will be lucky to obtain an extra 2-3% power from any exhaust system only but it will allow you to effect other changes that will produce much more power than that. A twin big bore system (2 diameter) is a start and will go well with flow-thru silencers (1976 style). The sound is simply incredible.

N.B. Remove your resonators. They are too far away from the heat to properly clean themselves so they rust quickly, block the airflow, reduce power and sound lousy. Please beware of the local emission requirements if you choose to throw away your catalytic converters and CHANGE THE RESISTOR (check out the Plus 8 page on "Cats").

Considering the price of a good full exhaust system from manifolds to tailpipe, assume you will pay about $800.00 per horsepower with the aesthetics unconsidered.

There is one codicil to this section that is the difference between a single and dual exhaust system. For those of you unfortunate to have a Morgan with a single exhaust system. Cars tested before and after a switch from a small bore single system with manifolds to a dual large bore system with tubular heddars have shown remarkable power increases far beyond the minor percentages indicated above.

IMPROVING THE AIR FILTER

This is the best bargain for your horsepower dollar. The standard paper filters or worse foam filters restrict airflow and thusly the engine. They dirty up over time causing further prejudice to your power.

K&N produce high-capacity, low restriction washable filters that fit without any modification . Part No E-2350 for later Morgan has dimensions of 5 5/16"od x 3 1/2"id x 6 1/2" h. and Part E-2330 for earlier Plus 8s and is 5 3/8"od x 3 1/2" id x 2  9/16" h . Buy the full kit with cleaner and oil spray) The cost is about $65.00Can and they can be ordered through Canadian Tire or any auto supply specialist. You can find K&N's contact particulars on the GoMoG General Parts Directory. You can assume a 4-6% power increase for three minutes of work. That works out to approximately $6.00 a horsepower.
 
Please note that the Hotwire engine can be very sensitive to greater airflow. The stock fuel map is "lean" enough as is and more air can make that worse. For that reason, any imporvement with a Hotwire must begin with better fueling. (new chip)

ADVANCING THE IGNITION TIMING

Another goodie! But you have to be careful. Dyno tests have shown a 7-11bhp boost is possible by advancing the engine timing up to four degrees. The care comes in for three reasons.

A) You might have trouble with this timing with consistently hot weather ie. 95F+. So time will tell you the best advance.

B) You have to use premium gas or better still octane boosted premium gas;

C) Your emissions will increase which may cause a problem in annual testing jurisdictions.

The best way to try this is to increase the timing one point at a time and test drive the machine up a familar mild long slope in a higher gear (i.e.4th) after each adjustment. When the car starts to "ping" reduce one point and there you are!

Costs per horsepower are 0...only time and optionally the ongoing factor of premium gas and/or octane boosters.

PERFORMANCE CHIP

Your ECU can be reprogrammed with a performance chip, a new fluel map. We have had great success with Mark Adams Optimax and Tornado chips for the 3.9 and his chips for the GEMS plus 8s are a life saver. These specialist chips deal with the mid-range power slump of the hotwire Plus 8s and improve gas mileage. For the GEMs, they solve a slew of issues. Power gains here are from 20-30  horsepower and costs of the performance chip are approximately $600.00 or $20-$30 per horsepower.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES

There are scores of other improvements to performance that are possible with this marvellous engine. There is, however, a Law of Diminishing Returns. Each extra horsepower costs more and presupposes other modifications or compromises. One should assume the maximum hp one can coax from and injected 3.5 or 3.9, while still being able to smoothly drive it to the pharmacy, is in the neighbourhood of 265 hp. A carburetted version can go as high 215 hp without sacrifice of a smooth idle.

There are three facts to consider. Firstly, full performance engines run well at mid and high revolutions and poorly at low. That type of power will not help you unless you are a racer. Secondly, most power adjustments are concurrent applications not cumulative. In other words, many power increasing modifications presume others will also be done so that you can assume a power gain from each but only in concert. Lastly, each improvement puts a strain on the whole system and a previously unnoticed weak area can "pop" up to give you headaches.

A quick overview of other changes;

1. UPGRADE THE DISTRIBUTOR, COIL, IGNITION AMPLIFIER AND LEADS
Options here include a Mallory Unilite (NOT a Mallory Dual Point) with Vacuum Advance. See other parts of this Manual for full instructions. ALL Rover distributors deliver a degraded, inferior spark. A Mallory cures that.

DISTRIBUTOR ISSUE
The configuration of the Morgan front  end and the placement of the distributor make for water access into the distributor. Inevitably, this leads to rust within the distributor, a poorer spark, poorer combustion and trouble during damp conditions. All this leads people to believe that the Lucas distributor is the culprit. The solution is quite simple. Clean your distributor thoroughly and regularly. Be careful, as more than one RR owner has found the rotor arm stuck fast to the distributor shaft when trying to replace it during routine maintenance. Pulling up too hard on the rotor can break the plastic C-clip that holds the upper and lower parts of the distributor drive shaft together. If it is stuck, try hammering DOWN with a screwdriver or chisel and break it into pieces to get it off the shaft.

IGNITION LEADS
The stock leads are not great. Change them to Magnecor "Blues" or "Blacks" will serve the purpose well.

IGNITION AMPLIFIER
On all distributors from 1976 to 1982 and from 1986 on,  the ignition amplifier module (on the outside of the distributor) can give trouble. This item converts the magnetic impulses from the distributor into a larger signal to fire the primary circuit in the ignition coil. Often, the heat build-up under the hood will eventually cause this amplifier module to fail intermittently, stalling the engine. The faulty unit can become so sensitive to temperature that even a minute or two of cooler air provided by opening the hood can get it working again.

2. INSTALL AN ADJUSTABLE RISING RATE FUEL REGULATOR
This cute little item increases your fuel pressure when you are accelerating at a faster curve than stock and is adjustable as well..thereby effectively "reprogramming" the fueling on Flapper engines. With Hot Wire Sytsems , one still gets the acceleration boost and one can trim the pressure to correct parameters. As well, Hotfire systems are only closed loop until 3000 rpm. That means that after this point, the lambdas will not null out increased fueling. Set the pressure to 40-41lbs and see the difference.

3. INSTALL A WEBER CARBURETTOR
For carb'ed models, try the Weber/Edelbrock 4 barrelled 500 CFM. This carb will fit into a Morgan using an Offenhauser "low rider" intake manifold. Some Plus 8s can fit the Edelbrock Performer intake. The Weber is easy to set up and easy to maintain, rejet and rebalance unlike the commonly used 4 barrelled Holly 390 CFM.
 
(The Holly venturi size is too small for a heavy breathing engine resulting in additional vacuum, which in turn confuses the vac secondary. Its design also forces you to spend too much time assembling and disassembling the thing to get it right. All to no end or a sacrifice in power in comparison to the better designed Weber.)

4. INSTALL PERFORMANCE INLET MANIFOLD,
see the Offenhauser from Edelbrock above. All intake manifolds can also have the ports widened and polished for better airflow. See manual for that.

5. INSTALL A PERFORMANCE CAMSHAFT
There are many made for this engine and each have advantages and disadvantages depending what you expect from your motor. Check out the lines of Oselli, Kent, Piper, Crane, J.E. Motors and Crower. (The writer prefers the Piper 270-272). Calculate 0-25 bhp depending on which of the "reasonable" camshafts you choose.

It is wise to be very careful with the choice you make here. It is not simply of decision of how much power you want but "where" you want it. A cam developing large amounts of power at high rev's are good for those of us who specialize in Autobahn  racing in a straight line with hands clutching the wheel and a crazed grin frozen on one's face for hours. On small country roads this same camshaft will perform poorly.

6. UPGRADE THE TIMING CHAIN
Install a duplex venier timing chain. (This is an eventual must anyway as the standard Rover chain stretches very badly over time.)

7. STROKE THE ENGINE
This can be done with seasoned 3.5 or the 3.9 all the way up 5.2 litres. However, if  you are going this far.. why not buy a new lower engine block at a much cheaper price? New 4.6 blocks, with their structural improvements and better oilways, can be had for 1500 USD  making stroking a less than ideal solution. The parts of the engines remain  interchangeable. The 4.6 can itself be modified to a capacity of 5.5L

8. INTAKE TRUMPETS
The intake can be modified to take larger trumpets or one can use carbon fiber Super Flares trumpets.
 

There are many other possibilities. For those of you with a fascination for power or a yen for the "fastest" Morgan, I strongly suggest that you adopt a "buyer beware" attitude.  A good automobile is a well harmonized compromise of many parts. Also, never believe the claims of your "expert". No one knows the true performance of an engine without a proper dyno testing. If you have not done this,  your claims to horsepower are most likely wishful thinking.

Come to think of it though, there is nothing wrong with  wishful thinking.  Costs are nothing, installation time is negligible and horsepower gains are unlimited.

Should you wish further information, I would suggest you join the eMog Pub or email me .