Having acquired a taste for “rorty racers” when testing Ken Rudd’s 185-b.h.p. Austin Healey 3000, we quickly accepted the opportunity to try a Kieft-modified Morgan Plus-Four. The Kieft Sports Car Co., Ltd., is now situated in Princip Street, Birmingham, and is in the process of rejuvenation. At the moment conversions are being manufactured for the Triumph Herald and TR3-engined cars, while a Formula Junior car is in the prototype stage and will be racing next season, and the eyes of Lionel Mayman, who is well known in the racing world, are firmly set upon the new 1-1/2-litre Formula 1.
Meanwhile the Morgan conversion can be obtained in various stages according to the state of tune desired. Stage 1 is an exchange cylinder head which is machined for higher compression and gas flowed, while valves are ground in and fitted with stronger springs; the head is supplied complete with gaskets for £29 5s. The next stage (1A) consists of having the engine capacity increased to 2.2-litres and the fitting of larger pistons, which costs £51 2s. 6d. This results in a quite considerable increase in power. Alternatively, if one wishes to keep within the 2-litre limit for racing or rally purposes, an exchange cylinder block is available at £47 10s., together with a set of high-compression pistons costing £26 10s., which comprises Stage 2.
The test car, which is a veteran of many races and rallies, was fitted with Stage 1 head, Stage 2 block and pistons, an improved exhaust manifold and silencer with twin pipes emerging from under the driver’s door, and an oil cooler which is fitted beneath the radiator. The S. U. carburetters are fitted with polished ram tubes, the inlet pipes are lagged with asbestos, and a heat shield is fitted between carburetters and exhaust pipes. The bodywork is modified at the rear so that the spare wheel (shod with a Dunlop R5 racing tyre) is fully enclosed, and a light alloy undertray is also fitted. There are bodywork modifications of another kind which were caused at Becketts Corner, Silverstone, during a race, the details of which are recorded in writing on the still unpainted wing.
The only other modification to the Morgan is the use of the optional low axle ratio, which is most suitable for circuit racing and hill-climbs, etc. Otherwise the car is a perfectly standard model having the 11-in. Girling disc brakes on the front wheels.
Collecting the “Moggie” from Birmingham, we soon discovered that everything said and written about Morgans was true: the ride is hard, the steering heavy and, added to this, the exhaust note is fruity, to say the least. With well over 100 b.h.p. to cope with 16-1/2 cwt. of Morgan the performance is brisk, and if the throttle is depressed in the vicinity of other motorists or pedestrians they cannot fail to be aware of its presence. Fortunately the car is perfectly flexible and early engagement of top gear reduces the noise level to manageable proportions, so that policemen do not immediately reach for their notebooks.
As the October afternoon was sunny we ventured onto the A45 Coventry road with the hood down, and such is the design of the Morgan that one could easily imagine that the year was 1930. The long, tapering, heavily louvred bonnet, the high-set ungainly wings with lamps perched either side of the radiator grille, all combined to take one back to the days when cars were cars and sports-car drivers were strong men. The stiff blast of cold air, somewhat alleviated by the heat from the engine, was refreshing at first but numbing after a few miles of 80-m.p.h. cruising, and when the Motorway was reached we stopped at a filling station to fill one of the two 7-gallon tanks and to shamefacedly erect the hood, while the attendant remarked that “They were grand old motors.” We didn’t have the heart to tell him that the car wasn’t a year old.
On the open road the Kieft-Morgan is exhilarating to drive. The ride only becomes objectionable on really bad surfaces, when the car does its best to knock the breath from the occupants’ bodies and the steering wheel has to be gripped hard if the driver wishes to avoid having it snatched from his hands. The axle ratio does not allow tremendous speeds to be reached, but 5,000 r.p.m. in top gear, which represents 96.5 m.p.h., is reached with ridiculous ease and 6,000 r.p.m. can be held if necessary. The TR engine, which seems sluggish and reluctant to rev, in its standard form, really howls like a 1100 Climax with the Kieft mods, and consequently becomes more pleasant to use. One peculiar factor which manifests itself with the low axle ratio is the inability of the engine to settle for a particular cruising speed as the revs, will go straight off the clock in top gear if allowed.
Road-holding with the Dunlop R5 tyres is good in the dry but they tend to accentuate the hard ride. In the wet, which predominated for almost the entire duration of our tests and which precluded the taking of acceleration figures, the Morgan was definitely “twitchy” and required careful handling. Having recently driven another Morgan in a similar state of tune at Goodwood we can vouch for the fantastic road-holding of this car, which would make an ideal beginner’s racing car. There seems little likelihood of any major changes to the Morgan specification in the foreseeable future and, indeed, Lionel Mayman assures us that they sell well in the U.S. (where 90% of the production goes) because of the design and not in spite of it. With the expenditure of something over £1,000 the Morgan buyer will receive from Kieft a very accelerative sports car of distinctive lines which will be capable of winning its class in races, sprints and hill-climbs without the expenditure of a great deal more money – what more could the enthusiast ask? – M.L.T.
[The Arden Racing and Sports Cars Ltd. point out that Kieft Sports Car Co. Ltd. is not the sole distributor for Arden conversions as mentioned in our November issue, but only the concessionaires for Formula Junior engines and five-speed gearboxes.]
Triumph Roadster Club
Following the announcement in our columns some months ago, this Club is now fully organised and membership forms are now available from Barry Cutter, 26, Ravensbourne Avenue, Bromley, Kent.