In a small English factory known as The Works, a team of craftspeople hand-shapes traditional materials, like ash wood and leather, into some of the world’s most visceral driving machines
organ Motor Company’s low profile—you’re forgiven if this is the first time you’re hearing of the company—is not for a lack of history. With more than 100 years of continuous (albeit limited) production from the family-owned business and at a time when classic British marques like Jaguar, Aston Martin and Land Rover have all been snapped up by foreign companies, the current chairman, Charles Morgan, grandson of founder H.F.S. Morgan, calls the brand “a national treasure.” This is not hyperbole.
Officially founded in 1912, Morgan Motor Company has been a legend since British racing’s earliest days at the Brooklands circuit, in England, and France’s Cyclecar Grand Prix, and its cars still compete on the FIA GT3 circuit. Speed remains part of the appeal of a modern Morgan: Thanks to its hefty power-to-weight ratio, a V-6-equipped Morgan Roadster can outpace a Porsche Boxster. Yet one look at the company logo’s signature swooped wings and the car’s exposed fasteners, wire wheels and missile-shaped, louvered bonnet and it’s clear that the difference between a Moggie (as they’re sometimes nicknamed) and a Porsche or a Ferrari is deeply philosophical.
Morgan automobiles are built for drivers who really want to experience the road without all of the modern frills
While carmakers in Stuttgart, Germany, and Maranello, Italy, create ruthlessly efficient, high-tech marvels, the crew at The Works, Morgan’s factory in Malvern, England, has retained a cult following by handcrafting small numbers of quirky, idiosyncratic and polarizing automobiles that look to drag a long-lost vision of British motoring into the modern era. (Unlike Porsche and Ferrari, Morgan is also quite egalitarian: While a new Morgan Aero SuperSports can run several hundred thousand dollars, a 1.6-liter Morgan 4/4 Sport can be had for just under $50,000.) Mick Jagger famously piloted a yellow Morgan Plus 8 convertible around St. Tropez, France, in the 1970s; in more recent times, Morgan automobiles, both classic and new, have graced the collections of some of the world’s most eminent automotive enthusiasts, such as Top Gear’s Richard Hammond and, yes, Ralph Lauren.
“These cars exude personality. They’re not antiseptic, like many other sports cars have become,” says Dennis Glavis, managing director of Morgan West, in Santa Monica, California, and owner of H.F.S. Morgan’s original prototype four-seater Drophead, among other Morgan automobiles. These cars are built for driving, not for posting lap times. “Reading your supercar’s graphic charts is bragging rights for some,” Glavis continues, “but that lacks the ‘grin factor’ of sliding through a corner. These are the biggest grin-factor cars man has ever produced.” In other words, while the heart of a Ferrari beats fastest on a track, the soul of a Morgan yearns for the road.
n a sense, Morgan models are indeed born of the road—or at least the trees that line it. In an era when carbon fiber and other space-age materials rule the high-end-sports-car market, most Morgan models are still built from a strengthened ash-wood subframe, crafted by hand at The Works. The outer shell of superplastic-formed aluminum (the process involves creating a bubble in superheated metal then forming the vehicle’s shape out of that mass and is akin to combining glassblowing and sculpting) is mounted, along with the subframe, on a bonded aluminum or galvanized steel chassis. It’s a modern take on the art and craft of coach-building, a mix of old and new in terms of both materials and processes that infuses each model with the unmistakable, irrepressible Morgan DNA.
That character is what makes drivers of classic and modern models alike such devoted members of the de facto Morgan fraternity. The display cases at Morgan West are lined with fist-size metal disks of varying shapes and designs: a collection of badges, each meant to be displayed on a car’s fender, which identify membership in any of the numerous Morgan clubs around the world or commemorate a cross-country drive or other notable event. In fact, vehicle customization is a vital element of the ownership experience. With only a handful of production models—the 4/4, Plus 4, Roadster, 4 Seater, Plus 8, Aero SuperSports (since 2005, the only model exported to the United States) and the 3 Wheeler—customers are encouraged to go to practically any lengths to make their car uniquely theirs. Refitting the modern headlights to create a more retro look (a popular touch), customizing the chrome badges, re-creating vintage paint schemes and swapping in vintage toggles or custom-made, burled-wood dashboard panels are not only possible but applauded. And that’s after a customer has picked from the 50,000 exterior colors and a wide range of interior-detailing options from the factory.
Still, crafting automobiles using wood, let alone sports cars that happen to lack power steering, automatic windows and antilock brakes—at least until the Aero SuperSports model—is hardly the way to attract the average go-fast customer. This is a good thing. A Morgan automobile is the end result of a very particular idea of driving. These cars are for drivers who yearn to experience speed and a connection to the road on a primal level, those for whom no stereo system sounds as sweet as the symphony of a well-tuned exhaust note. As David Tuckerman, a Morgan owner, suggests, the brand is for drivers who appreciate personality more than perfection. “Once you’ve owned a Morgan, you come to accept that every single one of them comes with its own quirks,” he says, before adding, “but it’s worth it—nothing else gives you that kind of ride.”
ndividuality is something that Morgan owners seemingly cherish: The rich sheet metal and luxuriant interiors belie willful, impractical, often temperamental machines. The engines, sourced from manufacturers such as BMW and Ford, bark and gurgle at you. The balance takes getting used to, and the driver is poised directly in front of the rear axle and mere inches from the ground—the embodiment of driving by the seat of your pants. The steering and brakes alike make you work for mastery of each mile of asphalt. Combined with the car’s stomping acceleration, piloting a Morgan is a visceral, emotional, addictive experience.
For all its old-school motoring charm, Morgan Motor Company continues to look forward even as it celebrates the past. Committed to reducing the environmental impact of its vehicles, the firm has produced two concepts: the lightweight and fuel-efficient EvaGT and the LIFECar, originally conceived as a fuel-cell vehicle but now headed to production as a hybrid designed to be easily recyclable at the end of its life cycle.
Some may wonder whether futuristic, technology-heavy vehicles can provide the same punch for which the Morgan name is known, but the answer is simple: Any car that lacks the essential Morgan character won’t make it out of the gate in Malvern. If you happen on any model wearing the Morgan badge out in the world, you can be sure all the wondrous potential is there, waiting. All the car needs is the right kind of driver.
JOSHUA CONDON is the senior editor of Road & Track. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Esquire and Men’s Journal, among other print and online publications. He is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.