Morgan CX-T Driven – A Ride on the Wild Side

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By Mark Smyth

When Morgan announced it was going to build the CX-T we fell off our seats, then we got back on and read the price and promptly fell off our seats again. £170,000 plus taxes for a Morgan, that seems silly. Even so, we looked at the pics, we watched the promo video and declared how much we want one. We imagined charging through the Sahara searching for an oasis, racing through the outback Mad Max style or going all Porsche 911 on the Dakar. Yes, we know most special cars like this are usually just pulled out of collections on a Sunday morning, but just look at it, it’s like the sped-up footage of 1930s trials rallies, it’s what the Famous Five would drive on grown-up adventures, it’s Gumdrop on the Rally.

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All of this was before we’d even driven it, but now we have, because we like to do that sort of thing. Not only that, but we’ve discovered that not one of the eight CX-Ts being built is going to just sit in a car collection, hoorah. Instead, there are buyers around the world who all have real plans. One car will be right-hand drive, the other seven will have their steering wheels on the left. One is sold to someone in London, another is going to Scotland to be driven along Highland tracks and the other six will have homes across Europe.

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All the buyers have been given the opportunity to sit down with the team behind the CX-T and adapt their cars to suit their needs. One is having surfboard racks fitted, another a rack for mountain bikes. Then there are two brothers, who have ordered one each. They also happen to have their own yachts and are planning a round-the-world-trip, driving their Morgans on the overland bits and putting them on the yachts to cross the oceans. Are we jealous? You bet we are.

The team they will be chatting to include John Wells, head of design at Morgan. He first sketched an overland Morgan back in 2014 but never expected it would happen and left the sketch on the wall of the studio. Then Andrea Bonomi, the chairman of Morgan’s big Italian investor, Investindustrial, saw the sketch during a visit and told the team to build it, just like that.

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Our man Mark (for left) chats with John Wells and Mike Jones

There’s a similarity to the Morgan Plus Four it is based on, although apart from the nose cone, pretty much everything else in the design is different. That includes the owl sticker on each side of the bonnet, a decal which only cars that come direct from the design department get.

Wells explained to us that he has wanted to bring the headlights in closer to the nose for a while, but there were objections. He’s managed it on the CX-T though, so perhaps it could be a design change for future models. That’s one of the hardest things to spot, the rest are fairly easy, and most have come about through the work with a chap called Mike Jones, or BD to those who know him. He’s the boss of Rally Raid UK, a company which makes cars for the Dakar and other rally raid events around the world and what he doesn’t know about off-road cars isn’t worth knowing.

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When Jones was first approached to make the CX-T, he told us some of his early sketches were a bit extreme with wide arches, big wheels, and masses of ground clearance. He was told to rein it in, to make it more classic looking, more Morgan. He did just that, in collaboration with Wells and his team, but then came the really fun stuff.

Jones’ approach was simple: “If I was going to take a Morgan off-road, what would I do to it?” Clearly the answer to that is to fit fully four-way adjustable competition dampers, alter every body panel, raise the bonnet 30mm for better cooling and fit a fibreglass roof. Then add bolts to the roof so you can attach the removable side windows and surround most of the rear of the car with a roll cage that extends down the back of the car to hold the two spare wheels, a toolbox and the coolest sand tracks you’ve ever seen. They use military-grade sand mats, the same as those used to get tanks out of the sand. You don’t come across this stuff easily and that’s all we’re saying.

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The rear cage also holds two waterproof Pelican cases and there are two saddle bags fitted to each front wing, although they aren’t strictly for luggage – one has a Dakar-spec air filter in it and the other a pair of kinetic recovery straps.

Inside the interior is almost stock, which means comfortable leather seats, lots of fine materials and a smattering of tech, like the digital trip computer, but then there are lots of overland adventure additions. These include a cooler pouch that attaches to the seat squab to hold snacks. There’s another for map documents and a small pouch to put the light covers in if you are travelling through countries where those roof-mounted Cibie spots are not allowed. Then there’s an interior cross-brace in case you roll down a Moroccan sand dune and a panel in the dash containing various mounting points for everything from a mobile phone to rally clocks or navigation equipment.

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The powertrain is essentially the same as that in the Plus Four, which means a BMW four-cylinder engine that produces 255bhp and 350Nm. It should hit 62mph in 5.2 seconds and blast on to a top end of 149mph, but what really matters is that it can do this off-road while the passenger sips whisky from a hip flask or tea from a tartan Thermos.

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Tough job for our man Mark, but someone has to do it…

We left the hip flask and the Thermos at home, but we did put the CX-T to the test, although we were fairly well behaved with the customer’s car, the sand-coloured one you see in most of our pics. We were much less well-behaved in the prototype, the CX-T car zero. Jones told us it had been hammered during testing and we could do what we liked with it, so we did, although as much as we wanted to go all Morgan of Arabia and head off in search of adventure, we were confined to the tracks of the Silverstone Rally School.

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We strapped in, hit the start button and took all of about five seconds to get our wicked grin on. Damn the CX-T is fun. You’re sat close to the ground in a car with no windows as the dust swirls behind you and you push down on the heavy clutch to switch between first and second gears. It’s a six-speed manual, there’s no automatic version, with Jones insisting that manual gives better control in off-road situations. There are also two diff switches for the electronic rear diff-lock. Put it in Off-Road mode and it’ll give you 30% lock, go for Extreme Off-Road and and you’ll get full lock, useful to climb over muddy banks. We did too, more successfully in the development car than in the customer car though, probably because we were gentler with the latter.

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There’s 230mm of ground clearance but this is only part of the story. All the major components beneath the car have been given steel covers so that if you need to get over an obstacle you just slide over it. It also helps with wading and the CX-T has a wading depth of up to 500mm. We didn’t take it for a swim.

We did take it for a slide though because the CX-T drifts like a Tokyo champ and is just as controllable. The bodywork sticks out well beyond the cockpit so as you come slightly sideways through a corner it’s useful to be able to place the car exactly where you want it to avoid the rear wings clipping a tree. Every component seems happy to oblige, with the steering responding perfectly, the rear coming straight as soon as you ask it to and the whole suspension package soaking up the bumps. I don’t know how many laps we were officially told we could do but I think I added a few because the CX-T is such a blast.

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Now we’ve made some of you wish you’d ordered one, will Morgan make any more? No decision has been made but it’s unlikely they will throw everything at it like they did the first eight. The competition dampers would be toned down, the hand-finished panels would probably be made differently, and the aerospace-grade electrical trunking would be replaced by something less extreme. That could make any future CX-T versions cheaper and it also means the first eight will retain their exclusivity.

Having now driven the CX-T we have to admit that we’ve fallen for it. If we were going to make an off-road Morgan, it’s exactly what we would build too.

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