Our pilgrimage to Malvern with a Morgan 4/4
If you plan to reach paradise one day, doing a pilgrimage is something you should consider. Mecca, Santiago de Compostela, Jerusalem, among many other places: you have the choice!
I’m one of those who believe there will be plenty of race cars in heaven. As a consequence, Morgan factory based in Malvern, England, was certainly the right place to visit. Marcassus Sport, Morgan french dealer based in Bordeaux, organised us a trip to eden. Eventually, this has been probably one of the most fantastic experience in my petrolhead life. At a point that I’m now wondering whether it was paradise.
Travelling on board a Morgan 4/4
Reading this subtitle, some of you may have thought “Why are they so interested in four wheel drive?”. If so, I’m disappointed because it means, firstly, that you forget I hates those vehicles. Secondly, that Morgan too.
The 4/4 (and not 4-4) rather stands for 4 wheels, 4 cylinders. Yes, they considered it was better to precise. In fact, it wasn’t obvious back in 1936 when Morgan launched the 4/4, as they were mostly known for building three wheelers fitted with V-twins.
The production never really stopped until last year. Our particular 4/4 is the very last chassis sold in France, in February 2019. It’s my father’s company car. He recently sold his Mercedes Class-C 350 plug-in that he considered too boring…
The Morgan 4/4 constitutes the entry level. Then comes the Plus 4 with its Ford 2.0L GDI, which is the Mustang engine (also available on the Transit, but it does not sound as sexy). The top of the range is completed with the Plus 6, launched during the last Geneva Motors Show. It enjoys a new aluminium platform and a 3.7L BMW. The Plus 8 is now a collector. A 3 wheeler is also on the catalogue.
Paris to Calais with a bit of rain
It’s 12 O’clock when we leave Paris. Regarding the (English) weather forecasted for the next three days, we decide to install side screens on the doors. They are not really pretty but they do the job when come bad conditions.
After 1 hour, the rain starts to fall so we put the hood on. At 90 km/h, the top inside of the wind screen becomes humid. At 110 km/h, some sever leaks appear. Reaching 130 km/h your trousers are completely wet.
We change our strategy and decide to put the roof off. Hazardous choice but it finally solves our problem: in a Morgan you remain dry provided you keep driving above 40 mph, with no roof. No doubt, the Morgan is much more a classic car than a modern one!
We finally join the Eurotunnel on time. During our trip, we meet John who’s in love with the “romantic lines” of our bolide. To him, driving a Morgan is all about a philosophy and he’s proud to see French endorsing this English way of life.
Calais to Malvern
Leaving the train, road congestion is waiting for us. This is a good opportunity to see how the 4/4 behaves in such circumstances. And I have to say the package gearbox / clutch / engine is doing the job for a daily use.
As we are leaving the London area, the traffic reduces, and we now appreciate the 4/4 on small roads. The Mazda gearbox is really accurate and gears safely locked. The Sigma, (or for old school guys “the Zetec”), provides enough to spend good time, even if it only delivers 110 HP.
This is not powerful. But keep this as a good thing, because you can buy it as a company car. And it is sufficient to have fun on small countryside roads. However, don’t try to climb hill in 5th gear, especially during the engine break-in period, you are gonna feel like driving a couch.
The weight is limited to 800 kilos. Well, with no luggage, no drivers, and even no liquid in it. But the car remains really light and far more balanced than bigger Morgans, especially on sinuous roads. I start to understand why friends had so much fun behind the steering wheel of the classic version, engaged in the Tour Auto.
A night in Malvern
We arrive at our Friend’s located in Malvern. There, we park our ride next to an old BX 16 TRS, with Harris tweed seats. We learn that this Citroen is his daily drive, between two racing week-ends.
He directs us to the Swann Inn, the pub where Morgan’s boss is regular. The argument makes authority, and we follow the advice. There, we are a bit disappointed when we realise that no one cares about our car. But that’s normal, they see sisters every day. However, I guess this is the only place in the world it occurs, as the company production is about 800 cars/year.
After one (few) beer(s) and a traditional but delicious fish and chips, we go to bed.
Hello Morgan Motor Factory
As we arrive on the parking lot of Morgan, we understand that we are not the sole visitors. A tour is organized. In fact, 4.000 people attend it per year and you don’t even need to own a Morgan to live this amazing experience. Two hours visit is 10£ and it worth your time and money.
Of course, you can visit Ferrari. But you will never see as much as at Morgan. Here you can discover each stages of the manufacture except R&D services (for obvious reasons, or just because it doesn’t exist? I’m kidding). 100 employees are working on the cars, which represents half of the total staff, the others have support and development functions.
After a quick presentation of the range, the visit starts with a showroom where some mythic models are exposed. Then you walk through the delivering room where owners receive their new acquisition (provided you pay for it, even at Morgan business is business).
Morgan Factory Tour
The proper tour of the factory starts with the room where are incorporated engines and suspensions to the chassis.
For the Plus 4, a good old tubular basis, nearly identical to the original chassis from 1936, is used. For the Plus 6, a modern platform in aluminium has been selected in order to reduce weight and gain in term of rigidity, but also to comply with crash test norms…
You wanted to see wood chassis? I’m afraid it never existed. Only the body support is in wood. And it is still the case, even on Plus 6.
You wanted to see engine assembly room? I’m afraid to inform you that they are directly delivered assembled by Ford and BMW.
However, this does not mean there is nothing to see in the workshops. The most impressive part of the construction is done by Morgan. The place where bodywork are hand made with big machinery and finished with small hammers, is something that you don’t find elsewhere. It made the Morgan’s reputation which is one of the last constructor to proceed like this.
A kind of special atmosphere…
I’m surprised by the noisy atmosphere. It’s something that you don’t find anymore in other factories. Morgan is a pure craftsmanship company. Despite the fact they still try to convince you they are a modern firm using “computers”. Ok, to be fair, we can say they use the best of both: old and modern technologies.
Then comes the time to discover the wood fabric. Ash tree must be at least 10 years old and do not present significant trouble or disease. It is cut and curved by the employees of Morgan with an amazing precision, especially considering they are not assisted by technology. They use unstandardized tools, like in an authentic workshop. I didn’t know it still existed.
I could describe every single desk we saw, every single task realized, but I would fear to bore you, as you cannot understand the emotions I felt without coming there. You have to see it to believe it, so I guess my pictures will do the job more than a few sentences.
Meeting with Morgan ‘s communication staff
At the end of the tour, we take the opportunity to meet James Gilbert and discuss about the future of Morgan. He’s responsible for the press and media. An Italian investment found recently bought the company. According to James, it was vital for Morgan which needed fresh money in order to comply with new regulations and penetrate huge markets such as Asia. He ensures us that the philosophy will remains as it is now.
Despite they try to develop an electric model, the EV3, in collaboration with Frazer Nash, they will keep petrol models. Despite they use an aluminium platform for their Plus 6, they keep momentarily the Plus 4 with the original chassis and original suspension. Even if they will not participate to Le Mans in the upcoming years, they remain active on track days and Morgan championship, as well as in competition via AR Motorsport team.
We hope that Morgan will do enough to remain on the game, but no more than needed. We leave the factory with amazing pictures in head (and on the camera, we hope). But this is not the end of our trip in England, as we planned a bonus.
Richard Thorne’s Morgan garage
In fact, we decide to finish our journey with a quick visit of Richard Thorne’s garage. Richard is a classic and modern Morgan dealer based in Reading (West of London). He partly made his reputation thanks to his presence on tracks across Europe, especially in historic racing events, were we met him.
The welcome is warm and he offers us the tea in his showroom. His first sentence is “I beg your pardon but we’ve been racing during 4 week-ends, and we did not have the time to tidy up the place”. That’s what we like. Richard shows us his workshop full of Morgan race cars team before presenting the models he has for sale.
Our eyes are attracted by a splendid yellow Plus 8 which shines like the sun. This car has an amazing curriculum vitae in historic racing such as Peter Auto or Milano cento ore. This is the race version of the model which saved Morgan in 1968 from bankruptcy.
After one hour spent there, this is already the time to leave the garage and go back to France with our 4/4. With its modern engine and gearbox, she perfectly represents Morgan: evolving with its time but keeping the classic atmosphere.
God save the queen, Morgan and Marcassus !