14 May

Insight: the future of Morgan (www.autocar.co.uk/)

Morgan designer Jon Wells has strong views about the firm’s future. We hears about his plan to evolve nostalgia – and some of his outlandish concepts


This time last year, Jon Wells, head of design at sports car company Morgan, hit the headlines for his design of a V8-engined chop-top special called Mog Rod, a Morgan-based hot rod that never was.

 Always a prolific ideas man, he dashed it off in a few hours of spare time as part of a less than serious project for Mog Mag, the marque’s official organ. But the design proved such a hit on social media that one Morgan dealership found itself having to refuse a deposit from a customer desperate to buy this fantastic new model from Malvern Link.

Over time, and with the blessing of Morgan’s management, Wells penned a whole set of unlikely vehicles: a 4×4, a lakes racer, a tractor, an aeroplane, a sailing junk, a motorcycle and more, all utilising Morgan’s unique design cues. It was amusing for readers, but it also showed how freethinking today’s Morgan company has become. One wonders which other car company would allow its controller of future shapes to propose outlandish vehicles and put them on display for anyone to see.

“Most of the designs were just fun,” says Wells, “and none of them will ever be built. But without identifying which ones, I can say a few have a hint of serious content – not the vehicle itself but a detail or a point of interest we might one day choose to take forward.”

More than that, however, the Mog Mag project showed how design conscious Morgan has become since it began hiring professional designers a dozen years ago and putting their output into production. In the old days, Malvern Link was known for three things: having a 10-year waiting list, always making the same cars and growing slowly older with its customers. Today, mercifully, none of these things is true; the company has the capacity it needs to meet demand, and its cars have embraced new technology so that they appeal to young as well as old.

Surely, I suggest to Wells, the century-old traditions of Morgan must remain a big constraint for anyone seeking to shape the models of the future, mustn’t they? But he argues the other way. “They bring us freedom,” he insists. “Aesthetic design is still relatively new to Morgan. It’s only about a decade since professionals started to change the way the cars look. And now we’ve reached the stage where we can start to evolve the company.”

This is the big issue I’ve been hoping to get to: how can Morgan evolve? Wells acknowledges a stuttering start for past new-era proposals (without actually fingering the controversially cross-eyed Aero 8 of the 2000 Geneva motor show, or the promising but stillborn LIFEcar and EvaGT projects on which he worked in his early Morgan days). Instead, he cites the arrival of new management and new marketing manpower as having brought much more clarity about the future. His own design group, based outside Morgan’s main clump of venerable buildings in “a little shed that leaks”, has lately doubled in size to four.

“We’ve proved we can do technology,” says Wells, “what with our electric powertrains and our Superformed alloy panels and our modern lightweight construction. But I don’t believe our cars should simply become modern, although we did explore that in the recent past. It was fun trying to distill Morgan qualities into a modern car, but we don’t believe that’s the right direction.

“Our business model is based on nostalgia,” he explains. “The look of our cars in the past has been related to influences of the 1940s and ’50s. As time passes, that will become the 1950s and ’60s – and later – and then you’re into beautiful, clean forms with a lot more aerodynamic considerations.

Dare we look at perfect cars of this era, like the Ferrari 250 short wheelbase? In a sense, it’s a shame those cars can’t still exist and be recreated now.

“I’m not suggesting we’d ever copy someone else’s iconic design. We don’t need to. We have coupés of our own, like that one [he indicates the company’s treasured Plus 4 Plus], to help us. And we won’t be constrained by purist classic forms, either. Their job is to inspire, not dictate. We’ll walk the line between old and new, as we’ve started to do with the EV3 electric three-wheeler.

“But I do believe future Morgans have a wonderful opportunity to become beautiful as they move forward. They should be all about proportions and perfectly executed detail, and that’ll make them unique.”

Wells cites two “very exciting” stand-alone products his designers are currently working up that will put all these principles into practice. “They’re both huge projects,” he says. “One is extra-special, from the aesthetic point of view.” The previous coupé conversation, and the obvious relish Wells puts into absent-mindedly drawing a rakish coupé as we talk (he also sketches in board meetings), makes me wonder if at least one of these new cars is going to be a large, low, classically styled fixed-head two-seater…

Wells arrived at Morgan full time about nine years ago, having done work experience at Morgan and TVR while studying for a degree in vehicle design at Huddersfield University, where he topped the course. He was hired in 2007 by his predecessor, Matt Humphries, who had arrived at Morgan from Coventry University three years earlier, having impressed then-managing director Charles Morgan with his student proposals for the Aero 8.

“My first job here was a six-week secondment that turned into five months’ work,” says Wells. “I worked on the first Morgan pedal car, a really cool project for a student because it was a full design job, built on a wooden frame with a panel-beaten body. The company eventually sold 250 of them, at £2500 each. Then I went back to college for my last year – and got the call from Matt to come back in 2008. I did bits and pieces, worked on the production Aeromax and the Aero Supersports and it gradually turned into a job. I never signed anything – and I still haven’t.”

Wells, whose grandfather designed key electrical components for Concorde, is the closest thing you’ll ever meet to a design ‘natural’. Like many kids, his early interest was in bicycles and motorbikes, which he drew non-stop. But he soon fell in love with the car design process, particularly the way clay and computer modelling could make sense of your ideas. “Sketches are just lines,” he says. “I found clay and computer modelling could convey much better what was in my head.”

Spend an afternoon with Wells, as I did, and you’ll be amazed at the sheer breadth of his work. Small wonder he feels he doesn’t get enough time for sketching. He talks marketing and customer relations. His team designs brochures, letterheads, logos, show stands, car badges and whatever else needs designing – as well as the cars. He acknowledges the versatility but denies it is anything special at Malvern Link.

“Morgan requires this of everyone,” he says. “So many of the people here are incredibly talented. It’s one of the reasons I love working here. I’ll have an idea for a dashboard or a piece of leatherwork, but it’s not until I’ve shown it to the guys who’ll actually make it that it comes to life. I’m not just saying this; they have as much design input as I do.”


Just for fun, Jon Wells has created a series of vehicles that Morgan would never build, using the firm’s timeless design cues. Here are some highlights.


“This one’s my favourite. I’ve used classic BMW bits, but it’s very spare, with a hand-beaten tank, a wooden surround for the tank and seat and lots of brass detailing.”


“Here’s one we probably won’t be doing. It sails — note the junk rig — but can also go 20 knots with the help of a 3 Wheeler engine. Cockpit is reminiscent of a Morgan classic.”


“I give this one 10 out of 10 for Mog factor. We’ve built cars like this before and it fits the company’s ethos very well. I especially like the GT3 detailing of this one.”


“This was great fun. Having a car like this is an ambition of mine. It also allowed me to involve the fourseater, the only time the Classic Morgan profile has been changed.”


“When you sketch something, you never know how it’ll turn out, but I really like the hooded fighter cockpit of this one, which I have to admit is a bit out of our usual line.”


12 May

I’d Cry if it Wasn’t so Darn Funny!

The Pinehurst, NC  Concours 2017

Andrea and I ventured north to the Pinehurst Concours d’Elegance in North Carolina.  A short few days after the great Greenville, SC caper.   Lots of travel in the Carolinas this year.

Pinehurst is a great venue for a classic car show and going north provided us with the opportunity to visit with a few MOGSouth members in the area whom we really like.  Pat and/or Jack Zimmerman are typically involved in some aspect of the Concours; and, this year, Jack served as chief of all of the Class Attendants. (Den Mothers??)   The Class Attendants are really quite useful as they provide a communications channel between the folks showing cars and the organizers of the event.  There are always questions, like ‘why is it so cold’?? And, ‘where do I get coffee’??  I am sure there are more important questions but this year we got very basic.   We trip north also gave us the opportunity to have dinner with Jack and Pat, Jim and Jeanne Vincent, and Don and Maddie Moodie.  Also, we linked up with an Aero 8 owner in the area who has yet to join MOGSouth.

I was anxiously anticipating our trip to Pinehurst, NC until the day before (Wednesday) the day before (Thursday) the day before (Friday) the show (Saturday).  That was the day I needed to load the 1934 Super Sports Three Wheeler but the car had been problematic.   I had been having troubles with the starter alignment to the ring gear.  Basically, the starter spins the ring gear which spins the engine.

The starter turned fine but it wasn’t properly aligned to the ring gear.  Sometimes it turned the gear, sometimes not.  Rick Frazee and I had played with this a few days earlier.  The culprit is the crazy mount of the starter.  I have to attribute the design of this *&33v)@@g mount to someone, somewhere else.  It is just not good.   After a few trips up and down on the lift, I had it where I thought it would work. It started briefly so I declared success . . . well, it turned out that my declaration of success was a bit premature.

I winched the car into the trailer hoping for another bout of success once in Pinehurst.  It was getting late so I hooked up the trailer to the car and tested the trailer lights and rear view camera.  All was ok.  I was bushed and dragged myself back into the house, knowing we had a drive in the morning.  Thursday morning came (as usual, too early) and we finished packing the car and headed north.  No marathon drives for us anymore.  We just needed to get to Savannah.  We’d finish the trip on Friday morning.  The drive up I-95 was dull.  But with I-95, dull is good.

We arrived at the designated hotel in Savannah late in the afternoon.  Parking out back with the SUV and trailer was a breeze.   Andrea picks hotels and uses the magic of the internet to find us ones with good parking for the car and trailer.  She used Google Maps and looks at the Satellite photos to verify decent parking for car trailer.   Also part of her plan included a bar and grill right next store, so a place for dinner and a beer within walking distance.  Then to bed.  Soon it was Friday morning and we faced cardboard waffles at the Hotel.  Nope, not this time, we opted for the good stuff!  There was a Waffle House just down the road.

We arrived in Pinehurst on Friday just after lunch and the parking for the show car trailers was at the harness racing track just adjacent to the show field (Pinehurst No.2 golf course).  The plan was to unload the car from the trailer and drive it over to the show field.  Putting the car on the show field on Friday afternoon seemed to be better (at least to Andrea) than getting up at the crack of dawn to have the car on the field NLT 8AM.

Well, the car wouldn’t start, even after numerous attempts, so a tow was needed.  After a few grinding noises I got nervous.  I didn’t want to make it worse.  A few youngsters with a diesel powered ATV and a tow strap were soon put to good use and we motored (albeit very quietly) onto the show field and found our designated spot.   Our class was Pre War European Classics.  This could be good or bad.  The only other car there on Friday was a 1935 MG PB.  A lovely two toned red car, well restored and nicely presented.  I wouldn’t be disappointed if I lost to this MG.  If only the MG was the worst of my problems.

1935 MG PB (Photo Courtesy of Andrea Braunstein)

Well, when we arrived Saturday morning it seems that they had brought in the big guns.  The rest of my Class had arrived.  And, I swear they needed harbor pilots and tug boats.  The MG and the Morgan were joined by a very large, BRG leather covered 1927 4.5L Bentley, an equally large 1928 Mercedes Benz S-Type 26 Convertible, a 1935 SS90 (predated the SS100 by a year) with a wicked blue (supposedly Bugatti Blue) paint job and a 1925 US bodied (Piccadilly it was called) Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.   These cars are all massive compared to the Morgan.  Size doesn’t matter.  Andrea said so!

1935 Swallow Sidecar 90 (SS – Evolved into Jaguar) (Photo Courtesy of Andrea Braunstein)

Also in the show was a 1951 Plus 4 Flat Rad Drop Head Coupe (in a post war class) belonging to Harry Gambill, who is also a MOGSouth member.  [Spelling error and typo in previous version – darn autocorrect … Sorry Harry]  His car was beautiful (darn near perfect?) and an exceptional Morgan, with racing provenance, but it didn’t win any awards either.  Morgans seem to be at a disadvantage at any Concours.

1952 Morgan Plus 4 Drop Head Coupe (Photo Courtesy of Andrea Braunstein)

I have come to believe that showing a Morgan at a Concours event, any Concours event, and hoping to win something is sheer madness.  Winning your class is a totally unrealistic expectation.  Morgans are not fancy cars.  And, are hopelessly underwhelming in Pre War Classes.   They don’t have the jewels or bling of the MGs or the elegance of design of the Bugatti, Mercedes, Rolls Royce, [insert just about anything here].   What they do have is personality and character.   And, the Super Sports Three Wheeler just oozes character . . . as well as all sorts of other things, e.g. oil, water, fuel, etc.

1934 Morgan ‘Matchless’ Supers Sports Three Wheeler (Photo Courtesy of Andrea Braunstein)

These little cars do attract crowds of folks and certainly the kids.  They are enthralled as the Morgans are not so huge and imposing.  The diminutive size of the Morgans makes them just that much more approachable.  Lately, following Rick Frazee’s lead, I have been having the parents put the kids into the car for photos.   They can’t hurt anything and if we want some younger folks to get excited by the cars we need to accommodate them in some way, other than the usual ‘don’t touch’, ‘don’t get too close’ . . .

The weather wasn’t too warm, quite the opposite, overcast, windy, cool and spitting.  It was freezing cold the first time we went to this Concours in 2013.  The locals all swear it is always nice, warm and sunny in Pinehurst, except when we come up.  They started blaming the weather on us.   Ok, so Pinehurst is cold when we come up.  Not sure what that means?

At one point Jack Zimmerman had to shuttle Andrea to the club house in his golf cart so she could get warm.  I waited in the rain for the judges and amused myself with my Morgan’s impressive array of tools.  The SS90 (Jaguar) owner displayed a fine collection of tools, laid out in rows on his tonneau.   He had numerous hand books and operators manuals, even a large air pump to inflate tires.   On the other side of the Morgan was the MG PB.   The MG owner had followed the SS90’s lead and laid out his car’s tools.  A period jack, with wooden jack handles, a full supply of Whitworth spanners (wrenches), and several MG special tools, all emblazoned with MG logos.  Quite impressive.

Not one to be outdone, I laid out my Morgan’s tools neatly behind the car – the hand crank and the wooden dowel used as a fuel gauge.  Well, at least I got a chuckle out of it, even if the judges didn’t notice.

Interestingly enough, the Judges weren’t the usual Morgan neophytes.   They actually seemed interested and had some ancillary knowledge of the marque.  I was chastised however for not mentioning that the engine was a ‘Matchless’ one as opposed to a J.A.P. engine in my description of the car.  Still not sure why that mattered?  And, I guess the large ‘M’ on each of the rocker boxes gave that detail away.   The good news was that the lights and horn worked, when they had to.  Simple things. Yeah!

The weather actually lightened up a bit as the day evolved. There were a few patches of blue sky and sun but not many.  The show itself was well run, organized and executed.  Again, they used the local high school students as junior judges and entered the judges’ scores into the computer, in real time.  No sooner was the judging over, all the deductions were tallied and the winners known.  No waiting or heated discussions about dust or unnecessary chrome.  Pretty cool!!

Then the show was over and a Sara Evans (Country Singer) concert began.  We moved the car back to the trailer in lieu of listening to the concert, and then headed back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.

Oh, and that US Piccadilly bodied Rolls Royce? It not only won Best of Class (my class), it also won Best of Show.  It turns out that it was a ‘barn find’ of a very rare Piccadilly Rolls Royce whose original owner was none other than Howard Hughes. And, to pile it on more, its restoration was completed just 3 weeks ago.   [So, do you want to see my hand crank and fuel gauge?]

1925 Silver Ghost Rolls Royce (Photo Courtesy of SC Digest)

Jack and Pat picked us up at our hotel and transported us to dinner, where we joined Jim and Jeanne, and Don and Maddie.  Dinner was superb and the company even better!

After Saturday dinner, it was back to the hotel and early to bed.

Another travel day in the morning.  This time we headed west to Augusta, GA to see Graeme and Jenny Addie. It was Sunday and pretty quiet on the highways.   Once in Augusta we dropped our trailer with the car inside, at Jenny’s dog park.  Jenny has Agility and Herding dogs and exercises them, with all the necessary equipment, in her own dedicated dog park a few miles from their home.  The trailer and car will stay there until our next great Morgan adventure, the North American Morgan Three Wheeler Convention, 18-22 May, there in Augusta.   It seemed silly to drag the trailer all the way home, just to turn around and drag it back to Augusta.

We joined Graeme, Jenny, Emma and Brian (Graeme’s daughter and her husband) and the grand kids for a quick Sunday dinner and then headed back to our hotel.  We hated to leave, but wanted to get an early start in the morning and make the trip from Augusta to Sanford, FL in one day.

We made it home without too much drama.  A good thing.  Our Mercury Mountaineer SUV, the tow vehicle, is showing its age.  The bushings affixing the torsion bars are worn and the SUV wobbles down the road with an occasional clank or clunk.  It also has a noisy exhaust leak, and the hood and rear window won’t stay up (aging hydraulic props, I guess) and a host of other age related failings. I will have to get it to the local dealer very soon.  It is way too modern for me to work on.  I only understand archaic engineering . . . like Morgans.


10 May

MOGSouth’s own Speed Racer?? Bill Stelcher!! (http://www.yourobserver.com/)


Braden Woods Resident has Drive to Continue Racing Antique Automobiles.

Shortly after he started collecting and racing antique cars in 1965, William Stelcher contracted a rare disease.

“I told myself I had polymorganitis,” said Stelcher, who now is 73. “It was a word I invented because I had a crazy collection of six, three-wheeled Morgan cars.”

He eventually recovered from his love of three-wheelers, but there was no antidote for his love of collecting and racing.

Stelcher’s current classic cars:

1929 Model A Speedster: Purchased in 2007. Stelcher says, “I love this race car because it is just exhilarating, and racing an old car is a real adrenaline rush.”

1965 Morgan Plus 4: Purchased in 2002. Stelcher says, “It has an openness to it. It’s a perfect car to go on just a ride in the country.”

Stelcher, who lives in Braden Woods, still has a Morgan, only this one is a 1965 Morgan Plus 4. It’s not his racing vehicle, though, for he spends more time just riding around town with it.

His racing car now is a 1929 Model A Speedster that he uses as a member of the Daytona Antique Automobile Racing Association.

“We are just a bunch of old guys driving very old cars,” Stelcher said of the group. “Our goal is to drive them as fast as we can, while simultaneously trying to make sure that our parts don’t fall off.”

The parts aren’t likely to fall off since Stelcher not only races and washes his cars, but he builds them as well.

“I’m pretty well-known with pre-war cars,” said Stelcher, who owned Kinetronics Corp., a manufacturing business that sold photo lab equipment, before retiring eight years ago. “I’ve raced on tracks all across the country, and I am considered one of the sport’s senior members.”

Since purchasing the Speedster, which can reach 90 mph, in 2007, Stelcher has raced it around the United States at tracks such as Watkins Glen (New York); Road America (Wisconsin), Lime Rock Park (Connecticut) and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Ohio).

Races for Stelcher are typically four-day events that include a day of practice, a day of technical inspections, then qualifying races followed by the final day of the features.

Braden Woods’ William Stelcher’s Ford Speedster sits in his auto shop that he had built on his property.

It is not a grind for Stelcher, who has no plans to retire from racing. “It is just too fun,” he said.

Of course, the racing events are just part of the hobby. Stelcher spends countless hours in his auto shop, cleaning and fixing his cars. “I spend more time out here in my shop than I probably should,” Stelcher said. “My wife (Carol Stelcher), thinks I’m hiding from her sometimes.”

His wife is a big part of his hobby as well. Carol cheers him on as they travel around the country and she has made many friends, too.

“The ladies trade recipes, just like the old times,” Carol Stelcher said. “And it is a wonderful hobby for him. Between his dog, Willy, and the cars, he is very active, and I think that’s good.”

Those around Lakewood Ranch should be seeing him driving his Speedster for quite some time.

“I would not sell the race car if someone offered me $50,000 because it is a huge part of racing history and it is really special to me,” Stelcher said of his Speedster. “I love my Morgan, too, though. I bought it from a retired school principal in Memphis, Tenn. It is a wonderful car to drive, it’s sporty and it handles beautifully.”

Driving his Morgan around town keeps Stelcher young, and he said it makes him feel like the cool kid on the block.

“Everybody gives me the thumbs up when they see me in the car,” he said.