The UK has a rich car manufacturing history, starting at the very beginning of car production to current companies like Jaguar, Aston Martin and Rolls Royce. One company unique among the current flock of producers is Morgan. A relatively unfamiliar name in the USA, Morgan is the oldest family owned motor company in the world, with continuous production since 1912.
They also have the longest running production vehicle in the world, the Morgan 4/4, having been conceived in the 1930s and still produced at the small factory in Malvern to this day. They have updated the car over the decades (small changes to the interior, better electronics), but the hand built quality and the ash wood frames (yes, the body frame is still made out of wood) remain the same, as do the fact that the car lacks airbags – those pesky things.
Last week, I visited the Morgan factory with my parents and rented (or hired as you would say in the UK) a Morgan 4 Seater, my belated Christmas gift to my father.My father has always been a car guy. Even fresh out of university, his first car was a brand new 1967 Ford Mustang. There was always room in the budget for some nice wheels. About ten years later, in the late 1970s, and my dad stumbled upon the Morgan Motor Company and a new US dealer based in San Francisco, my family’s home city and my eventual birthplace.
The beauty of Morgan is that each one is hand built to the buyer’s specs. and the options are almost endless, with thousands of colours and hundreds of leather interiors. My dad ordered a fully customised Morgan Plus 4, a tan and brown two toned beauty (though a very 1970’s colour selection if I must say so myself). He drove it as his everyday car, commuting from Marin County across the Golden Gate each day.
The car had basically no suspension, was impossible to drive in the rain and incredibly unsafe for children. Yet my dad looked past the faults and drove it for almost six years, selling it before our family’s move back east, where the colder conditions would not have been kind to the Morgan. My dad was always fond of that Morgan though, as our house was littered with Morgan posters and photos of the car, a lasting memory from my childhood.
Fast forward thirty years and I am living in the UK. This past Christmas, I was hunting for English-themed Christmas gifts, a challenging endeavour, especially for my father who is notoriously difficult to shop for. The thought of something Morgan related popped into my head. I thought about a Morgan t-shirt or sweatshirt, but had no luck in my search around London. I even stopped by the Morgan dealer in West London, but again no luck.
I went to the company’s website to order something from their online store. But of course with the time it would take to ship the gift to me and then for me to turn around and ship it to the USA, it would have arrived well past the New Year. While scouring the website, I noticed that they offered daily car hires. You could hire a Morgan for a day directly from the factory in Malvern and drive it for up to eight hours. This was perfect. My parents were planning a trip to the UK in the spring to visit, so I sent my dad a card for Christmas, detailing his impending Morgan experience.
My parents finally arrived for their visit last week. They rented a cottage in the Cotswolds for a few days, a short drive from the Morgan Motor Company. We arrived at the factory and within a few minutes (and after signing some binding insurance documents) we were on our way in a dark blue Morgan 4 Seater, shooting through the Malvern Hills.
The car itself was certainly not perfect. The ride was, putting it nicely, stiff. You really “felt the road,” meaning any slight imperfection in the road surface was quite noticeable. I had a sense of terror when applying the brakes for the first time, noticing the car was not slowing down, at least not until I basically put my foot through the pedal. Again, putting it nicely, the brakes could be described as “soft.” However, the throaty exhaust, the clear, crisp weather and the windy back roads of the English countryside rendered those imperfections irrelevant.
I am sure that when my father sold his Morgan, he figured he may never drive one again. They only make about a thousand cars a year, and very few make it to the USA, with only two dealers in the entire country. When his Morgan left his possession, my dad definitely didn’t foresee a day of driving one with his ‘car guy’ son in the English countryside. He couldn’t have imagined driving a Morgan where it was meant to be driven, arguably, on the left hand side of a tiny road going nowhere. And it’s the best gift I’ve ever had the pleasure of giving him.