As the rapidly moving plume of dust approaches, I make out the familiar frog-eye headlights, flowing fenders and long louvered hood. But what is it ? All-terrain tires, a beefy external roll bar and a luggage rack loaded with spare wheels and survival kit? This monstrous Morgan appears to be from beyond Thunderdome and should have Mad Max himself behind the wheel.
In full tune, the car throws mud and gravel as it spins sideways, its exhaust pipe letting out a volley of air-splitting pops. I involuntarily take a step back. Then it stops: the Morgan Plus Four CX-T comes to a smooth stop and its driver jumps. “Your turn,” he said with a smile.
The idea of a land vehicle from England Morgan Motor Company is less wacky than it looks. From the 1920s, the automaker’s now classic 4/4 and three-wheel models were regular contenders in off-road durability tests, relying on simplicity and skinny tires to travel where most SUVs d today would be afraid to walk. It was these rugged pioneers and their exploits that inspired the Plus Four CX-T.
The project started with nothing more than a playful sketch. “One of our investors walked into the office, saw the design and immediately decided to build it,” says Jonathan Wells, design manager at Morgan. “We imagined what a modern off-road Morgan would look like.”
The result is somewhere between an Ariel Nomad and what Singer has developed as the ACS: a road-legal roadster that can explore far beyond the beaten path. Only seven customer cars will be built, each priced at $233,000 plus tax. This includes an invitation to an exclusive CX-T driving event in Morocco which had been postponed due to the pandemic, but is now scheduled for this year.
To be clear, the Morgan is not an FIA homologated competition car. Wells describes it as “an experiential all-terrain adventure vehicle”. Nonetheless, many of the parts that turned his sketch into reality – from the shock absorbers to the wiring harness – are motorsport grade and sourced from Rally Raid UK, a team specializing in desert racing. It was at Rally Raid UK that the manager, known as Beady and a veteran of 30 Dakar rallies, told me about the car.
“The four-cylinder BMW engine, six-speed manual gearbox and aluminum ‘CX’ chassis are identical to those of a factory Plus Four,” he explains, “but every panel, except for the nose cone, is new. Even so, we wanted it to look like a Morgan, not a monster truck. The huge military air filter, for example, is hidden in one of the leather side bags. The other contains a tow rope.
Behind its two-seater cab, the CX-T is loaded with a fuel canister, wheel brace, tool boxes, traction mats and the all-important spade. “We have a one-layer approach,” notes Beady, “which means everything should be easily within reach. Otherwise, you just lose things or cut corners. And if things can go wrong in the desert, they will. Wells says CX-T buyers have also customized their cars with bike racks, kangaroo bars and even tie-down points to be craned onto a yacht.
I set off on a muddy, rutted road that replicates the test courses used by the CX-T’s ancestors (and still popular in the UK today). It’s the kind of technical track that a Land Rover Defender could navigate quite happily, but the rear-drive Morgan needs a bit more gas to maintain its momentum. Driving a sports car up steep drops and deep ditches seems weird at first, and I can’t help but laugh at the craziness of it all.
However, there’s a sense of toughness about the CX-T that speaks to Beady’s ingenuity and many late nights. Its 9.1 inches of ground clearance isn’t enough to prevent spine contact with a few rocks, but the full-length underbody, which also covers the relocated side-exit exhaust, wards them off. The car’s approach and departure angles are also truly impressive. Plus, as Wells points out, “If you dent the aluminum fenders, you can just get them back into shape.”
After a few laps, it’s time for high-speed action on the gravel course used by Silverstone Rally School. With 259 hp and around 2,800 pounds to displace, the Morgan feels surprisingly fast (the regular Plus Four hits 62 mph in 5.2 seconds). The feeling of speed is accentuated by a recumbent driving position, a shallow windshield and scalloped doors. “You can remove the doors and lock them on the roof,” says Beady. “You’ll get dusty anyway, though.
Again, this feels incongruous on such rough roads, but the long-travel Exe-TC suspension feels softer the faster you go. Staying mostly in second gear, I quickly gain confidence, pointing the long nose at every peak, then controlling the angle of the car with the throttle. Despite the extra weight on the rear wheels, the car feels balanced and extremely resilient while proving extremely fun to drive. The idea of driving a Morgan through the Moroccan dunes suddenly seems entirely plausible.
However, the Plus Four CX-T is already sold out, so hope for this adventure will have to remain a dream for me. But we can expect to see more special projects from Morgan in the future. Whatever they are, they certainly won’t be boring.