Chris Lawrence, Morgan’s chief development engineer, set about creating the Aero 8 GTN competition car in 1997. Having driven a 2-litre Morgan Plus 4 to a class victory at the 1962 Le Mans 24 Hours, Lawrence’s ultimate aim was to build a car that could compete in the famous race. He hoped that developing the Aero 8 GTN, with a 4.8 litre BMW V8 engine, would be a fitting climax to his long engineering career.
An attempt to complete the race in a different GTN in 2002 failed after 17 and a half hours. But in 2004, the dream came true, when the car raced in Le Mans 24 Hours, driven by Adam Sharpe, Neil Cunningham and Steve Hyde.
The first six hours of the race went well, with Neil Cunningham consistently lapping at 4 minutes 23 seconds, but then the first in a series of disasters struck. The GTN stopped on the far side of the circuit, having seemingly run out of fuel two laps early. It remained there for two hours, before Cunningham was able to get it into the Morgan pit.
Once the fuel pump had been replaced, things went smoothly for a few more hours, until a broken accelerator cable had to be replaced. Then the radiator failed three hours later and, with the car consuming oil at an alarming rate, the team feared it was headed for a total engine failure. The drivers were recommended to ease off on their driving and aim to complete the full 24 hours.
Just two and a half hours before the end of the race, the replacement radiator failed due to stone damage and was quickly replaced. With the car repeatedly going into the pit for oil and water, it seemed the race was hanging on by a thread for the GTN. Every finger in the Morgan pit was crossed that it would make it to the end.
And with Adam Sharpe at the wheel, the Aero 8 finished the race. It may have been in last position, but Sharpe crossed the line with a final burst of acceleration to cheers from crowds and mechanics alike.
The four leading mechanics on the team were awarded trophies for best technical crew in the race, not just for the presentation of the car and the pit garage, but for the way they had worked so hard throughout the 24 hours.
It may not have tasted victory, but the Aero 8 GTN had created a little piece of Le Mans history, and to complete the 24 hours was a real achievement for Morgan and its dedicated team.
Following the drama of Le Mans, the car went into retirement and is now a static display model. With just 11 Aero 8 GTNs produced, it is a pleasure to be able to share such a rare model with visitors to the Hill Climb.
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