The Morgan race car, aka "Big Blue"
For 1997 the racer would no longer be related in any way to the Morgan Plus 8. Instead, a new chassis was built from scratch, the Rover engine was tuned to its maximum capacity of 5 litres. In retrospect, the racing car carried the first chassis of which was later to be known as Aero 8 chassis. The well known Aero 8 test car in +8 guise, S 76 PAB, and the car which was used for extensive testing in Spain, used the same chassis.
After the Aero 8 went out of production, this shape was revived in the form of the new +8, complete with BMW engine. This makes one wonder whether all the investments for the shape of the Aero 8 had been necessary.
Take a look at this picture. Here's the road going prototype Aero 8, with behind it the caravan in which Chris Lawrence used to live. At its side is a racing bonnet, used on the original GT2 car, as well as a hard top!
Below appears a picture of the 1997 racing car while under construction.
The car had to be ready for its debut at Silverstone during the 9 - 11 May 1997. Much midnight oil was burned prior to that!
Charles Morgan and Bill Wykeham shared the driving between them ,like they had done during 1996. In the Silverstone race they finished in 33rd position, with only two cars behind them.
BIG BLUE, as the 1997 car got known, is quite easy to tell from its 1995/96 counterpart. The early one had a yellow roll cage, whereas on "Big Blue" this is white.
"Big Blue" was the first Works racing Morgan, which was entered into official races in the USA. Previously only private Morgan owners raced Morgans at various levels, from the east coast to the west coast.
The first race of these was at the three-hours race at Sebring, Florida. A professional team of racing drivers had been composed for this occasion, existing of Tony Dron, Mark Hales (the two served as stand in for Charles Morgan, who had reluctantly given up his seat) and Bill Wykeham.
The car now sported a huge 6-litre engine, instead of the 5-litre one, producing no less than 625 bhp!! Yet, to remain within the FIA rules, restrictors were mandatory. In that setup the power was a "mere" 400bhp.
Despite some teething problems, the Morgan finished 27th overall and 13th in class, out of a starting field of 40.
Two weeks later the Laguna Seca 3-Hours Race stood on the programme in California. Much hard work was needed (the engine blew up in practice) and more midnight oil was burned in order to get the car ready.
The race team consisted this time of Mark Hales, Bill Wykeham and David Vegher, a specialist engine builder cum racing driver.
The race came and Hales shot ahead to 29th place, out of 40 starters, and then disaster struck: the rear end gave up! That was the end of the American adventure of the Works racing team. So far it has not been repeated. Many lessons were learned for the development of the Aero 8, so in that sense the car did serve its purpose for the Morgan Motor Company.
Not so long after its return to England, the car was purchased by American Morgan-agent Norbert Bries, who still owns it to this day, but if he finds the right man, he's prepared to let it go. From time to time the car is still used in anger, but no matter how you look at it, this car is a UNIQUE part in Morgan history.