Although the Plus 8 GTR’s modern platform proved to be very capable, it was let down numerous times due to the ageing Rover V8 engine that had been in production since 1960. The pushrod V8, although it served the road-going Plus 8 well, could not cope with the strain of running at very high power for the long endurance races. The GTR was bought by Adrian Van der Croft at the end of the 1996 season, which prompted Chris Lawrence to build a new race car with the plan of developing an all-new production model from it.
The new GTR was entered into the 1997 FIA GT Series, which the new McLaren F1 Longtail (ran by BMW Motorsport) immediately began to dominate. After the Nurburgring race on 29th June, the head of BMW Motorsport, Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, approached the Morgan team to congratulate them on their heroic effort in finishing the race. Morgan joked, due to their low finishing position, that their car would be a lot faster with a BMW engine just like the McLaren’s. This immediately sparked a conversation between Kalbfell and Lawrence, which led to his visit to the Malvern-based factory in July 1997. Once at the factory, Kalbfell viewed the designs for the aluminium platform and discussed Morgan’s exciting plans to develop it into a high-performance production car. As the head of BMW Motorsport, Kalbfell had a large input in engine and drivetrain development for his race cars but also in the production of sports and supercars; he concluded that a BMW engine (namely their V8) would be perfect for the new Morgan, and vowed to bring the idea to management at Munich immediately.
BMW were intrigued by Kalbfell’s suggestion, and subsequently sold Morgan two of their new M62 engines for use in prototypes. The M62 was an all-aluminium 4.4 Litre V8 and it had a long stroke, meaning it was low-revving and very torquey with characteristics not too dissimilar to American V8s. The coupling of this type of V8 and a lightweight sports car chassis had been a very successful formula in the past as proven by cars such as the AC Cobra, various TVRs and even the Plus 8. Morgan’s racing programme was shelved at the end of the 1997 season in order for all attention to be focused on the development of the all-new production car, codenamed P8000. The M62 engines were fitted into two new aluminium chassis and coupled with a 6-speed Getrag gearbox; these prototype cars were built with extra-wide Plus 8 bodies and full fibreglass front ends.
It quickly became apparent that BMW’s V8 suited Morgan’s prototype chassis perfectly, and on 6th> May 1998 Morgan met with BMW management in Munich for the first time to discuss future plans. This meeting would turn out to be one of the most important in Morgan’s history and would lead to the great success of the modern Morgan, the Aero. Morgan’s relationship with BMW has grown massively since and led to the production of two other models including today’s flagship, the Plus Six.