You exit the Great Malvern train station in western England and as you scan the crowded parking lot for your pick-up, the car that catches your eye is a sleek, silvery coupé. It’s an archetype, exactly what you think of when you imagine a classic sports car. Long, low-slung, sinuous, it looks like it has been driven here straight out of some Retro future city, Gotham, perhaps.
Your mouth drops open. The driver waves. Your heart skips. It’s your ride! Well, of course, it is. You are here to meet the man behind Morgan Motors and this, you realise, is one of his most spectacular creations.
Sex on wheels, the Morgan Aeromax is impossibly glamorous. It strikes you as the kind of car that ought to come with a government health warning: “Caution: Driving This Car May Cause Feelings of Immortality.”
Even if you don’t care for cars, you will be tempted to abandon your bags (and your decorum) and run towards it, arms open like an over-excited six year-old. Believe me. I really don’t care about cars and I very nearly did.
As you strap in (it’s really more cockpit than seat) you linger on the finish; the rich, supple leather interior, the gleaming Ash wood accents, seductive aircraft-style dials and exquisitely hand-machined gear stick and levers but then with a molecule-jiggling rumble that is part panther, part sonic boom, the car kicks into life, gravel flies and you are briefly pinned into your seat by the force of acceleration. When, roughly four seconds later, you are cruising along at 60 mph, you find yourself reflecting that when it comes to making an impression, the folk at Morgan Motors have nothing left to learn.
I clearly do. Almost immediately, I regret the first words to come out of my mouth when I meet Charles Morgan, grandson of H.F.S Morgan, the man who started it all back in 1910.
“I’m Warren, from Bespoke,” I babble. “It’s a funny thing that I’m here because I don’t know much about cars. I can’t even drive.”
Dapper in sporty gray flannel, pocket square and shoes that probably cost more than some South Pacific Island nations make in a year, Mr. Morgan gracefully overlooks my little faux pas and, after offering me a slice of cake and a cup of Earl Gray, launches into a slideshow history of his family’s company.
I learn that H.F.S made his first car - a zippy little three-wheeler – for himself. That one of it’s first race-drivers (all Morgans are sports cars under the hood) was Gwenda Stewart and that some of the records she set at Montlhéry back in 1929 still haven’t been broken. That Mick Jagger drove a Plus 8 and that the three basic models, the Aero, the Classic and the 3-Wheeler come in so many different configurations (2-seater, 4-seater, coupé, open-top), colours an finishes that each is practically unique. Most of all, I learn of the immense pride and affection the Morgan family have for their company and especially the 120-odd highly skilled individuals who handcraft every car that leaves the factory each year.
Next, it’s a tour of the factory. We squeeze past a goggle-eyed tour group (half of whom are women) and wander past mechanics, wood-workers, upholsterers, painters and at one point, a rack of unfinished 3-Wheeler bodies that makes me think, for some reason of a Buster Keaton film, as Mr. Morgan explains how long it takes to finish a car (3 days for a 3-Wheeler, 11 for an Aero), how long the wait-list is (a year) and the advantages of rigid-bonding (impressive durability, fewer welds, fewer rivets, lighter weight). We finish at the museum, where I am left to pore over Morgan history as Mr. Morgan goes to arrange a 3-Wheeler to take for a spin.
Twenty minutes later, I’m done and Mr. Morgan is waiting. So is our 3-Wheeler. As cars go, at least as cars in England go, this open-top may not exactly be weatherproof (but in a sense, anti-practicality is an key part of the Morgan appeal) but it is magnificent to look at. I haven’t even got in and already I’m excited.
Sharp, sporty and priced at around 25,000 Pounds Sterling, it’s the most affordable Morgan and is opening the company up to a new demographic of younger buyers, So utterly unlike anything else on the road and so desirable, production is now running flat-out to keep up with demand.
We squeeze in and Mr. Morgan guns the engine. It’s thrillingly loud. The 1976cc V Twin engine is designed for a car twice this car’s weight. Light and bullet-shaped, as he releases the break, the car springs into action, leaving the factory in its wake.
“Just before we launched, I was driving one of these through Piccadilly on my way to a party,” he tells me a few minutes later, as we roll through a tight corner at light speed. “I was in a dinner jacket and I noticed people pointing when I heard someone shout ‘Look! It’s James Bond!’.”
We aren’t turning (too) many heads today but that’s only because Great Malvern is so used to the sight (and sound) of a Morgan, it’s probably the only place on earth you don’t stop traffic.
Still, as we idle to halt at a set of red lights, the window of the van stopped next to us rolls down and a man sticks his head out, a big grin on his face.
“Rev it up, will you?” he shouts as the lights turn. “Make it loud and I might be able to persuade my wife to let me buy one.”
Consummate showman, Morgan is happy to oblige, gunning the engine so loudly I can feel my marrow rattle and taking off with a cinematic squeal. Though he’s already far behind, I imagine van man is one happy chappy.
We roar through the countryside. It’s exhilarating, sheer, undiluted pleasure. I momentarily wish I was wearing an aviator’s scarf, just to feel it flap, before the wind tears the thought away, filling me with the desire to throw my arms in the air and, to borrow an American phrase, holler.
Slung low, legs out in front, door at armpit level, seat inches above the tarmac, the world registers differently. Freed from the glassed-in confines of an ordinary car, the visceral thrill of driving returns. Neither longer mundane nor tranquil(ised), the 3-Wheeler is a raw, tactile experience. You are instantly more aware, both of your surroundings and of what you are doing. Steeples appear more vertical. Hedgerows bushier. Hills more undulating. Even the fields seem greener. Your appreciation of speed changes too. I could swear we’re doing in excess of 100mp/h but when I look at the dashboard, the needle is just shy of 50.
Your appreciation for the 3-Wheeler’s low centre of gravity and precision engineering grows with every corner. Perfectly balanced, it allows you to do as you please. Corner gently, throw yourself into one, either way this sleek, powerful little package – the Jack Russell of cars - grips the road with the same pleasing tenacity.
We’ve been hampered by a succession of boring, boxy cars for a few miles now but as we overtake the last one, the road ahead is clear. Flashing a grin, Mr. Morgan changes gear and puts his foot to the floor. We hurtle forwards, g-force pushing us back into our seats. The excitement turns the corners of my mouth upwards, twisting it into a cheek-splitting grin. The air is cold. The sun is shining. The road is open. Life is beautiful and I am wildly, giddily, chest-burstingly alive.
Originally published in Bespoke
Photo © Morgan Motors