If a wet sheep dog had wheels, it’d be a Morgan
Welcome to Small But Mighty, a short series about boutique British car companies. You may not know much about Ariel, Briggs, Caterham, or Morgan, but you probably see at least one car the way they do: as a crafted thing, meant for enjoying and possessed of its own personality. To read more about the landscape of this cottage automotive industry, click here.
Below the Malvern Hills in far western England, amid the rolling green quilt of pasturelands and farm paddocks of bucolic Worcestershire, is the home of Britain’s most quintessentially British car company. If you could build a car out of wet sheepdog, tea with milk, flowering heath, the Royal Dragoon Guards, and a half-timber pub in the village with a good fire, it would look like a Morgan.
Indeed, were founder H.F.S. Morgan to turn up today at the workshop he opened in the spa town of Malvern in 1910, he would probably know exactly where to find his office and the coffeepot. The factory sheds with their A-frame ceilings and concrete floors stained by a century of car making aren’t all that much different today, being still arrayed sideways down a hill from the gate on 86 Pickersleigh Road, the easier to push unfinished cars to the next assembly stations.
Well, he might not recognize the gift shop, the gastronomic bistro where the furniture was made in-house out of ash (of course), or the buses rolling up with punters willing to pay $34 for a factory tour or $365 to rent a Morgan for the day. The Morgan Works hosts 35,000 visitors a year, making this cottage maker not only the largest of our group and the oldest name in continuous operation, but also the closest thing to Disneyland.
As the tourists look on through their iPhones, new Morgan Plus Fours and Plus Sixes come together (still down the hill), starting where craftspeople painstakingly fit the pressed aluminum fenders, doors, and scuttles to the body’s ash frame. Then on to the paint booths where they are hand-sprayed to the buyer’s specification, and then to final assembly at the bottom where they are united with an aluminum chassis, new last year, featuring an all-independent suspension and either a 255-hp 2.0-liter turbo four or a 335-hp 3.0-liter turbo inline-six, both from BMW. Plus Fours start at the equivalent of $79,000, the Plus Six at $91,000, though it’s easy to let the options swell the bottom line.
Off in a corner, we saw the very first production units of the new $51,000 Super 3 three-wheeler getting final fettling, the car’s design completely overhauled and updated to package a water-cooled Ford Fiesta inline-three instead of the old S&S V-twin thump-a-dumper. Morgan is hoping to grow its output to 1000 cars a year, including 500 Plus models, 400 Super 3s, and possibly 100 units of a new company flagship to replace the retired Aero.
So says Jonathan Wells, the company’s head of design, before acknowledging that supply problems and economic uncertainty may alter the timeline. There is certainty of demand, he says, what with the wait time at six months for a Plus Four and one year for the Super 3, a sleek mashup of retro and modern that has been designed specifically with younger buyers and the U.S. market in mind.
A Morgan has to look like a Morgan, meaning it has to look like the car that retired group captains named Bertie and Albie would buy. But “we have to be careful not to become a pastiche, what we call in Britain ‘a wedding car,’” says Wells. Basically, he means a Ford Focus with a vintage body plopped on it. The new alloy chassis and BMW powertrains moved the ancient Plus into the 21st century, and “the Super 3 gives Morgan an opportunity to explore different design themes, to create a foundation for a broader, more relevant brand,” Wells says.
Along those lines, the company built eight safari-style Morgans with rock-crusher tires and suspensions, capitalizing on the off-road Dakar craze. “They were huge time sinks,” says Wells, and there are no plans to make it a regular product, but they helped introduce Morgan to the Instagram generation. Problems include escalating energy prices, which have hit the aluminum-intensive Morgan hard, and supply chain snarls that have forced the company to order some components as much as 36 months in advance. And, as with everyone else, a forthcoming EV mandate will force Morgan to figure out how to shove a few hundred pounds of battery into a 2200-pound car without turning it into a giant anvil.
On the upside, “We’re seeing a marked decrease in the average age of the buyer,” says Wells. “It is getting younger, and we’re seeing less bias about whether it has to be an IC engine.”
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This article first appeared in Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. Click here to subscribe and join the club.
I visited the Morgan factory in 2018. It was like a car factory theme park, with happy people making new old cars.
A dozen years ago a pal and I were spending the week between Beaulieu and Goodwood riding around southern England. Being an ex-Morgan owner, he directed us to Malvern. We arrived late on a workday, probably close to closing, rode through the open iron gate into the forecourt and parked our bikes. We simply started walking around from building to building observing the wood shop, the paint shop, assembly, etc. Shot several photo, too. Nobody questioned us or even acknowledged our presence. It was truly wonderful. It could have been 100 years earlier save some newfangled electric tools. After wandering around a bit, we stopped at the ubiquitous gift shop to pick up some baubles. Spent the night at a small local hotel and had a great pub dinner. But that’s another story.
I was born and brought up in Malvern, Morgans is steeped in my family history, my father, my uncles, my grandad all worked there at some time. Even now I have goosebumps when I walk around the back sheds, as it brings back memories when my dad took me into work on a Sunday, the only time they could do maintenance on the factory, and I could paly around the yards. Even now I visit the coffee shop every week with childhood friends.
The idea of a heavier battery operated Morgan is a bad idea to me. Lets take a compromised car with personality and kill the personality and make it heavier. I feel for the small volume manufacturers.
Ya gotta love Morgan! I may never own one, but I am so happy that they still exist and are still (mostly) the same. Although I doubt that H.F.S. Morgan looked for the coffee pot. More likely the tea kettle for a cuppa.
In “the one that got away” category: summer 1964. A local dentist, whose office I passed daily on my way to my summer job, had a white Morgan +4 that was parked in the office lot almost every day. Apparently it “only” took him two years to discover that Morgans and the South Florida climate do not play well together, because one day a for sale sign appeared in the windshield. On inquiry I found it was two years old, had under 12,000 miles and could be mine for…$1100, less than half new price. It might as well have been $11,000; my $1.25/hr summer job just barely kept gas in my $300 Renault’s tank. Besides, that Morgan wouldn’t have been any more comfortable as a winter car at my North Carolina college than it was for hot and rainy Florida–never mind the drive up and back. But I still fantasize over what might have been…
I’m on my third, 2 – 3s and presently a Plus 4. I live in Newport Beach, CA. land of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, and Porsche. I get more waves than any of them. Oh, I also have a 1946 Crosley pickup shop truck. Talk about a “Thumbs Up’ car. …………….Jim.
“And, as with everyone else, a forthcoming EV mandate will force Morgan to figure out how to shove a few hundred pounds of battery into a 2200-pound car without turning it into a giant anvil.”
What happened to:
“Low-volume sports car makers exempt from EU’s planned ICE ban
22 February 2023” on Hagerty
Can only dream . . .
I really crave a Morgan Aero coupe, preferably in navy blue or Jaguar racing green, but they’re way thin on the ground in the US, and it doesn’t seem like anyone really wants to sell theirs. I watched drift driver Tanner Foust flog one on English country lanes and top end at an airfield, instant love. Not surprised that the retro styling caused the front to get light at ton+ speeds, don’t care. I wouldn’t treat it in that manner anyway. Imo, the perfect single gentleman’s grand tourer… sigh.