10 Feb

Morgan Plus 4: making them like they used to (www.telegraph.co.uk)

It’s hard to believe that the car I’m driving was only built a few months ago.

To the casual observer I could be in a tidy classic from the Fifties, its round headlamps piercing the soggy mist and the pop-pop of the exhaust crackling around the valley like rifle fire. It feels like a post-war roadster on the inside, too, with chrome dials on a leather dash beneath a narrow, near-vertical windscreen.

The Morgan Plus 4 is a relic, left over from a mass extinction that occurred in the second half of the 20th century.  It’s barely changed since its launch at the Earl’s Court Motor Show in 1950, apart from power train upgrades commensurate with prevailing availability. Morgan doesn’t build its own engines or gearboxes, so my Plus 4 has a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Ford engine coupled to Mazda’s five-speed manual gearbox that’s such a delight in the MX-5.

That’s not to say it’s been modernized. The safety equipment starts and stops with seat belts, and the cabin is on the invasive side of snug.  You don’t steer the Plus 4 so much as turn the wheel and observe the effect. It still has leaf spring rear suspension, now more commonly found on light goods vehicles, and sliding pillar front suspension, now more commonly found on… well, nothing really. No cars, anyway.

So it’s an outdated car on paper, as you’d expect from one launched the same year as the Ford Consul. If it wasn’t for the photograph, you’d probably be wondering why anybody would pay £30,000 for what I’ve just described. So why is there a waiting list?   Essentially, the Morgan is one of a handful of “classic cars” with the benefit of having been built this century.   Buyers get a beautiful, hand-crafted machine, but also access to a dealer network, a ready supply of parts and enough oomph for the motorway. You don’t need to know how to replace a gasket or reassemble a distributor, as you may have done as an owner of an earlier car, but you still get to drive something beautiful.

And yes, old cars do look better. Of course, they were built before modern fripperies such as crumple zones and safety cells became mandatory, but they were also built for leisure rather than for the rat race. A Morgan has always been a treat, whether you’re looking at a parked one or driving it at 70mph with the roof off, unleashing your inner spaniel.   Morgan produces such small numbers of cars that it can continue to make these luxury playthings, far from the five-door drabness of the modern car industry.

Other companies have capitalised on our thirst for historic cars. In 1963, Jaguar built something called the E-type Lightweight, a racing car marketed to Le Mans hopefuls. It planned to make 18 but only 12 of them materialised, leaving a gap known as the “missing six”. It was 51 years until Jaguar got around to building them.

Nobody in 1950 could have predicted that Jaguar and Land Rover would merge and come under Indian ownership, selling models such as the Evoque Convertible and the F-Pace.   But nor could they have predicted that the men and women of Malvern would still be making the same cars in the same ways, using many of the same tools.

Morgan’s crowded order books prove that there’s still that same appetite for beauty in an increasingly plain world.

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