Morgan - the classic sports car

An Unrequited Love Affair

Originally published in Crème de la Crème, January 2007

Jane Swainson

“A car is a tool, a means to an end, a convenience, a horse that neither kicks nor bites, and you have it towed to a scrap yard when it’s knackered”. Jane Swainson had never considered a car more than a “thing”, and then she saw her first Morgan. It was love.

I learned to drive in King’s Cross in London and held the above entirely unromantic view of the motor-car for some years – my eyes were on the road and my senses were tuned for survival, not aesthetics.

Then I saw my first Morgan. All that was over.

A deliberate anachronism, the Morgan is still made by hand at the rate of about 10 a week, just as it has been for more than 70 years. Its iconic style and shape is one of the few that has a worldwide patent (Coke’s classic wasp-waisted bottle is another), and draws the eye now even more than it did when the standard model was last changed in 1954.

The body is made of hand-hammered steel or aluminium fixed to a framework of ash wood on a steel chassis. The resulting car is stiff, strong and light.

Then in goes the engine. Morgan have never made their own engines, transmissions or brake components, usually preferring to buy these from Ford, although Standard, Triumph and Fiat engines have been used in the past. For many years the range ran to three models. Two based on a 1600 4 cylinder engine: the 4/4 in both two-seater and four-seater versions, and another two-seater based on a Rover 3.5 litre V8. As well as the Plus 8: a street-legal racing car with phenomenal performance.

Then in 2000 the first new model in 32 years, the Aero 8, was unveiled to huge interest from the media at the Geneva Motor Show. A modern and aerodynamic design yet still owing much to the familiar Morgan style, it is built of modern materials using modern methods. The BMW 4.4 litre V8 engine gives it a top speed of 160mph – more than double the top speed limit in Australia.

The current range includes 2 cars at the reasonable end of the price scale – the 4/4 with an 1800 engine and the Plus 4 with a 2 litre 4 cylinder engine. The Plus 8 has been superseded by the lighter, better balanced Roadster with its Jaguar S-type 3 litre V6 engine.

So, three classic Morgans and a neo-classical hybrid, but all built for uncompromising performance and enjoyment.

If the external design is iconic and hard to change (Morgan briefly flirted with a fully-enclosed 2-seater in 1963 but dropped production 2 years later), the internal design has not stayed frozen in post-war austerity.

Morgans coming off the production line now are fully compliant with EEC and US minimum standards of safety, collision resilience and emission. Depending on the model and the market, new Morgans come equipped with ABS, air bags, stereo and even air-conditioning.

At times, the waiting list for one of the Morgan range has run to over five years, with places on the list changing hands on the grey market for thousands of pounds. Morgan themselves have been criticised for not exploiting this pent-up demand by modernising production methods and increasing production – there seems little doubt in anyone’s mind that the firm could sell many more cars than it does now. Who wants to wait 5 years for a car? Nevertheless, the firm has continued very much along its own path, certain that the love affair that all owners enter into when they get their first Morgan will be a life-long affair and that the firm’s future is secure.

Secure enough to remain confident that the Morgan’s place at the pinnacle of classic sports cars is never going to be challenged while they continue to be built to modern standards by the best craftsmen to a design that has genuinely stood the test of time.

Why an unrequited love-affair? I have never owned one. Those who do own a “Mog” have no difficulty in believing that they are a breed apart as much as the cars are a breed apart. Morgan fan clubs have been around since the marque became exclusively 4-wheeler (3-wheelers were still built until 1950), and have spread all over the world. Some are avowedly racing clubs, others are meet clubs, where members drive out to a large open space and admire the sight of a large number of pieces of motoring history assembled together. And an awe-inspiring sight it is.



An Unrequited Love Affair as published in PDF form