Austin-Healey 3000 MK III and Morgan Plus 8: open, classic, honest: British roadster (2023)

The Morgan Plus 8 from 1973 is a driving anachronism, an irritating mix of different eras, a marvel of automotive development bordering on madness. This becomes particularly clear when you put this British roadster veteran together with another British roadster veteran, the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III, take a closer look at both and drive a few kilometers with both.

Morgan Plus 8 history dates back to 1935

So much can already be revealed: The cheeky 1930s oldie with the young US V8 under the corrugated hood is at least as much fun as a three-liter Healey that has matured over the years, still has a sporty engine and is unashamedly elegant at the same time. But first things first, and thus straight to the first question: is it even permissible to compare the classic, which was presented in 1952 as the Healey 100 and was thus well established, with a Morgan Plus 8 from the early seventies? In principle yes, since the construction of the Morgan actually goes back to 1935. The series version that followed in 1936 bore the simple name Morgan 4/4 and proudly announced the outstanding qualities of the new sports car: four cylinders and even four wheels. In the competitive environment of the time, however, these two properties corresponded to the minimum standard for an average road car - but not at Morgan.

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The three-wheeler predecessors of the Morgan 4/4 were mostly content with two cylinders and three wheels. The Morgan finally received Rover's 3.5-litre V8 in 1969, a year after the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III stopped production. In this respect, at least these two models come from the same era. Also with regard to the performance of the engines, a comparison between the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III from 1967 with a three-liter straight-six and the Morgan Plus 8 from 1973 with an unchanged V8 is quite valid: 150 Austin hp meets 154 Rover hp.

Both roadsters with decades of history

The first Austin-Healey 3000 Mk I rolled off the assembly line in 1959 and replaced its predecessor 100-Six with a displacement of 2.6 liters. It was the birth of the Big Healey, who achieved numerous long-distance rally successes with Pat Moss, sister of Stirling Moss. The roots of the Morgan go back even further: The company was founded in 1909 - and still builds the Morgan 4/4 today, the ancestors of which were manufactured in 1935. With the Plus, however, a 203hp Ford V6 replaced the Rover V8 in 2004 - due to emissions regulations. From then on, Morgan simply called the Plus 8 successor "Roadster" and positioned the idiosyncratic top model Aero 8 with BMW V8 and 368 hp above it.

And there the two roadsters are now, somehow looking defiant. As is often the case among closest relatives, they want to know very little about each other. They're just too different. It starts with the bodies. Strictly speaking, the Morgan Plus 8 is the much more old-fashioned type compared to the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III. Two pairs of fenders, each connected to a running board and sloping backwards, and thus a relatively narrow cockpit - we already had that before the war: BMW 328 and Jaguar SS 100 say hello.

In addition, the stylistic influences of the 70s are visible in the Morgan Plus 8, the chrome-free cockpit with rocker switches and the modern alloy wheels. Does that match at all? The Austin-Healey 3000, on the other hand, still pleases 16 years after its first presentation and after a few modifications with the ingeniously proportioned, at that time even ultra-modern pontoon body and an overall elegant and sporty appearance. Despite its rich chrome trimmings, the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III looks like a British golf pro in a perfectly fitting club blazer – neither pretentious nor ostentatious.

Even when stationary, Healey and Plus 8 work quickly

What both roadsters have in common optically is the acceleration skilfully composed into their lateral body profiles. Thanks to several lines sloping towards the end of the car - in the case of the Morgan it's the rear and the ends of the fenders - they optically accelerate powerfully, although they don't move an inch. The drivers in the dashing Brits are correspondingly dynamic: Morgan Plus 8 and Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III rejuvenate their male pilots as effectively as a young, blonde companion. Only the correct entry should be practiced. With the Morgan Plus 8, the mean, low door quickly closes by itself. It gives the driver just two seconds to slide down into the flat chair, supported on both hands. Then the feet are to be sorted in the narrow, dark pedal well and the play of the brake and clutch foot is to be checked by a test press. The ignition lock on the steering column and the handbrake lever are also hidden in the upper area of ​​the footwell. The ignition key has to be inserted from the right into the lock mounted transversely to the direction of travel, while the handbrake lever can only be felt with the right hand in order to then lower it forward.

Once in motion, however, the Morgan Plus 8 no longer poses any puzzles to the driver. At first he enjoys the relaxed sitting position with his arms comfortably stretched out and casually keeps his left elbow out as a treacherous flytrap, which makes being in the narrow Morgan interior, which is fortunately open from chest height, extremely bearable. The Rover four-speed gearbox can be switched pithy honestly, and the car rolls on with little gas and full V8 tubes.

The Austin-Healey is more comfortable than the Plus 8

At a little more than moped speed, the Morgan Plus 8 already goes into second gear - and you quickly find pleasure in the direct, but not nervous steering and especially in the performance characteristics of the engine, which is already so greedy between 2,000 and 4,000 rpm jumps like a tiger jumping for prey. Here you can clearly feel that the V8 has to move less than a ton of Morgan Plus 8, even with a driver. Fenders, headlights and bonnet show the driver the way together. When driving briskly, they happily seesaw up and down in conjunction with the front end.

Hot air with a musty, sweet smell of petrol escapes from the slits in the hood of the Morgan Plus 8 and provides a little warmth in the wind-swept cockpit. And from behind you can hear the sovereign exhaust rumble of the powerful V8.

At first glance, the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III interior looks more refined and luxurious than in the Morgan Plus 8: wood and chrome, including the ashtray, dominate the massive, rounded center console. And then there's the classic toggle switch panel with the ignition key in the middle. Despite the narrow door, getting into the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III is more comfortable than in the Morgan Plus 8, but the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III is a little more cramped and steeper on the two leather-upholstered bucket seats.

The large steering wheel, which is placed relatively close to the driver and has an integrated turn signal lever on the hub, needs to be operated with strongly bent, freely swinging elbows. As with the Morgan Plus 8, the shift lever is conveniently placed near the steering wheel. Despite the short shifting distances, the driver has to grip firmly and yet sensitively in order to move the lever through the H without scratching. The in-line six-cylinder of the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III starts spontaneously and sounds similarly pithy as the Morgan Plus 8, but not quite as thirsty for action. In the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III, too, the driver can quickly switch to higher gears after driving off, and if necessary even engage overdrive in third and fourth gear.

Also good for fast motorway stages

This means that motorway driving at 150km/h and more does not pose any problems for the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III, which according to the factory can run at a whopping 192km/h with overdrive. But the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III feels right at home on winding country roads, where in fast corners driven with a lot of gas the rear end pushing outwards forces the tires to make a dull scraping groaning noise. It springs more laterally than the stoically cheeky Morgan Plus 8, which scurries around corners so quickly as if not only the body frame but also the spring elements were made of wood. Nice that there are these differences. It's just as nice that the two vintage car owners have different preferences - and that's why they get along so well.

Healey driver Horst-Dieter Grosse, qualified engineer and former racing driver who organizes sports driver courses for the Scuderia Hanseat at the Nürburgring, appreciates his light blue roadster because of the "incredible lines of the dreamlike bodywork" and the noble appearance. At the same time, the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk III is "a tough sports car without driving aids", which no modern car would offer anymore. Says Grosse, who drove current Porsche models on the slopes and also as a private person for many years.

Morgan Plus 8 owner Klaus-Hinrich Schwab, a specialist in voice training at the Musikhochschule in Stuttgart, now retired, sees his Morgan Plus 8 more as a functional getaway vehicle that has been loyal to him for 33 years: “My Morgan might look good not that long ago, but I still enjoyed driving the brisk, open-top roadster from day one.” And what was the most important experience with the roadster? "Since I stopped racing like that," Schwab replies, "nothing breaks anymore."

Technical data

Austin-Healey 3000 2.9
external dimensions4000 x 1540 x 1240 mm
displacement / engine2912 cm³ / 6-Zylinder
top speed200 km/h

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