Gavin Green


CAR (UK) - - First Drives -

‘If your pri­or­i­ties are wind-in-the-hair fun and a pass­port to a gen­tler era, noth­ing beats a Mor­gan’

SUM­MER IS HERE and when the sun shines a young man’s fancy turns to sports cars. So this (old) man heads to Malvern Link, home of Mor­gan, and to the driver’s seat of a 4/4, the world’s oldest new car, now in its 81st year of pro­duc­tion.

Now of course Porsches and Fer­raris go faster, Mazda MX-5s are sweeter to drive and Cater­hams steer and stop bet­ter. But if your pri­or­i­ties are wind-in-the-hair fun, turn-up-the-vol­ume driv­ing en­gage­ment and a pass­port back to a gen­tler mo­tor­ing era, then noth­ing can beat a Mor­gan.

They are mostly made as they al­ways were: hand-built us­ing mal­lets and files and saws and hu­man sweat, and crafted from tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als. In­deed the frames of the oldest ‘clas­sic’ mod­els, like the 4/4, are still made from ash. They are far more hand-wrought than any Bent­ley or Rolls-Royce, whose bod­ies are in­vari­ably made by ma­chine and whose hand-crafts­man­ship is typ­i­cally con­fined to cabin car­pen­try and trim leather­smith­ery, plus the odd spe­cially com­mis­sioned be­spoke flour­ish.

Lit­tle has changed since the 4/4 was new. Mor­gan is still an in­de­pen­dent fam­ily-owned com­pany. The man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nique is so un­usual and old-fash­ioned that fac­tory tours (£20) are a popular at­trac­tion. Last year, 30,000 peo­ple took the tour and, in typ­i­cal English style, it in­cludes af­ter­noon tea. It gets five stars on Trip Ad­vi­sor.

Our Mor­gan has a mod­ern 110bhp 1.6-litre Ford en­gine and a pre­vi­ous-gen Mazda MX-5 five-speed gear­box but in ev­ery other way it’s about as me­chan­i­cally sim­i­lar to a new sa­loon as a Spit­fire is to a 787.

Take the win­dows. There are none. In­stead, we find side screens that we un­clip and leave be­hind. It is a beau­ti­ful sum­mer’s day, so no need for weather pro­tec­tion. Also, no need to put up the fab­ric roof, coiled be­hind our heads. There are only two seats and en­try is by a tiny shal­low door, opened by a latch. The door has leather pull-straps. It ap­pears to weigh noth­ing.

The steer­ing wheel is wood rimmed and al­loy spoked – forget about an airbag – and it’s large and upright, closer to your chest than a mod­ern car’s. The dash is a plank of var­nished wal­nut. The only dig­i­tal dis­play is to­tal mileage. This is not a dig­i­tal-age car.

Out front there is a lit­tle upright chromeringed wind­screen, and a long bon­net, el­e­gantly sculpted, hand formed and teth­ered by leather straps. Lit­tle lou­vres help the en­gine breathe. We see twin head­lamps stand­ing proud, like frog’s eyes, and el­e­gant sweep­ing round fend­ers.

The (op­tional) side-ex­it­ing ex­haust is just un­der your right shoul­der. It barks into ac­tion when you turn the key – you can smell the fumes on start-up – and the en­gine soon set­tles into an un­even and throaty idle. Its small­ness and all-alu­minium body makes for a light car, just un­der 800kg. There is no power steer­ing, so turn­ing the big wood-rimmed wheel when sta­tion­ary or at low speed re­quires shoul­der and arm heft. Clutch and brake pedal are also heavy.

It feels and sounds fast but isn’t. This is a car that’s all about sen­sa­tion, not mea­sure­ment. Just as cy­cling at 20mph feels faster than driv­ing at 60mph, so the Mor­gan feels fast be­yond the speedo’s num­bers. The ride is firm and eas­ily unset­tled and the han­dling lacks fi­nesse. But what do you ex­pect from an 80-yearold de­sign, whose rear sus­pen­sion owes more to a wheel­bar­row than dou­ble wish­bones? Like all old cars, it needs man­han­dling and heft; an­tic­i­pa­tion and con­cen­tra­tion; and, yes, just a lit­tle love and un­der­stand­ing.

It’s de­signed for the wind­ing nar­row roads of Eng­land of 70 or 80 years ago, which still gently criss­cross much of the coun­try’s rolling green land. They are won­der­ful driv­ing roads. Speed is ir­rel­e­vant. The slower, the bet­ter. You’re al­ways in­ter­act­ing with your en­vi­ron­ment: with the weather, with na­ture and its many scents and sounds, and with the car it­self. It is a dif­fer­ent type of mo­tor­ing, to­tally alien to the her­met­i­cally sealed air-con­di­tioned cab­ins in which we to­day rush hither and thither, iso­lated from ev­ery­thing around us, in a world bull­dozed for speed.

Ev­ery once in a while, it’s good to be trans­ported back to sports cars of yore and to the driv­ing world of yes­ter­year. Only an old clas­sic, or a new Mor­gan, can do this. It helps us to un­der­stand how much cars have im­proved and, just as im­por­tant, how much raw driv­ing en­joy­ment has been di­luted.

Former CAR ed­i­tor Gavin is one of the world’s most re­spected mo­tor­ing com­men­ta­tors. His gaze is of­ten ixed on the fu­ture, but in­formed by a keen ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the past

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