2006 Morgan Aero 8

Mark Gillies
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Malvern, England It couldn't have happened at any other car factory. The French restaurateur who had ordered a new Morgan Roadster stood with his friends behind their Dodge Ram, eating fresh oysters, drinking champagne, and chatting to the grandson of the car company's founder. Behind them, craftsmen beat aluminum around wood panels, just astheir grandfathers did in the same factory back in the 1920s.

Tradition always used to be the reason for buying a Morgan. The Plus 8 and 4/4 went well and looked great, but their driving manners were a throwback to a different age. That's still part of the charm with the Ford V-6-powered Roadster, but the Aero 8 is entirely different.

Under the controversially updated, cross-eyed styling, the Aero 8 marries superformed and hand-beaten aluminum panels, a wooden body frame, and a sophisticated, bonded and riveted aluminum tub that has an extruded-rail front crash structure. The car has all-around control-arm suspension, while the large ventilated disc brakes have six-piston front and two-piston rear AP Racing calipers. Its 4.4-liter BMW V-8 engine makes 325 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, and the steering now has electric power assistance, one of the many changes made to the Aero 8 since it went into production in 2003.

Other than the headlights, the styling is quite attractive. The interior has bespoke rotary controls and switches to go with high-quality BMW parts-bin items. The dash looks great, the leather smells sublime, and the wood that's on display is real ash-and it's actually there for a structural reason.

Weighing only 2500 pounds, the Aero 8 is very quick in a straight line, with a claimed 0-to-60-mph time of just 4.5 seconds. Midrange acceleration is amazing and is accompanied by a raucous V-8 growl. The six-speed ZF manual transmission and clutch are as fluid as those in a BMW, and the brakes are superb from speed, if a little over-servo'd around town.

The big surprise is the way the car handles. A traditional Moggie leaps from crag to crag, but the Aero 8 is stable and planted, rides decently, turns in crisply, and grips like a Porsche 911. The excellent steering proves that electric power assistance can have fine feel and weight.

The Aero 8 isn't perfect, but it's full of character, mixing traditional craftsmanship with modern road manners and very different looks. At about $120,000 in the States, it's an expensive but compelling alternative to a 911 cabriolet. Morgan wants to sell 200 Aero 8s here next year, and who's to say it can't, especially if the price can be reduced via a more favorable exchange rate to the British pound.

Price: $120,000
Engine: 4.4L V-8, 325 hp, 330 lb-ft
Drive: Rear-wheel

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