[An episode of the Barn Find TV Show. They find something I think I have seen before!! Cheers, Mark]
[Folks, the Bill Fink Celebration of Life was posted on YouTube a few days ago. Simply click on the link below to watch it. Be advised, it is well over an hour long.
As many of you will remember, Bill was our honored guest at the MOGSouth 40th Anniversary Meet in Aiken, SC a few years ago. Should you want to advance the video to about the 31 minute and 20 second point, you will see and hear Tcherek’s comments. Also, at the 1 hour, 12 minute and 30 second spot, there is a clip of Bill in his shop with a two toned (cream body with burgundy wings) 4/4 in the background. I believe this was originally my 1981 4/4 before I picked it up. At least this is what Tcherek told me. Mark]
(https://www.autocar.co.uk/) 24 Aug 2020
First unwrapped in 2000, the Aero 8 was a modern(ish) take on Morgan’s tried-and-tested olde-worlde formula, and, despite its age, good examples can still be found
For all that the new Plus Six does to take Morgan belatedly into the 21st century, with its all-independent suspension, lightweight aluminium chassis and punchy turbocharged straight six, it doesn’t exactly advance the Malvern brand’s design language beyond, say, 1964.
That’s part of Morgan’s charm, of course, and its steadfast commitment to traditionalism is an integral component in its quiet but sustained success. So when the cross-eyed Aero 8 was unwrapped at the 2000 Geneva motor show, all bets were off.
Here was a genuine, up-to-date sports car, with a BMW V8 giving it a competitive 4.8sec 0-62mph time and promises of engaging dynamics, courtesy of new inboard shock absorbers, double-wishbone suspension and AP Racing performance brakes.
The modernisation didn’t stop there, either: niceties including air conditioning, cruise control and a heated windscreen placed the Aero 8 in another realm entirely to the brand’s existing models. Morgan being Morgan, of course, it was all still assembled around an ash wood frame, and the asymmetrical metal dashboard would look equally at home in the cockpit of a 1960s airliner. If it ain’t broke…
Just over 200 examples of this first-generation car were produced between 2000 and 2004, and they still pop up in the classifieds periodically. Its Series 2 successor, subtly restyled to comply with US safety standards and allow for a roomier cabin, packed a hefty power upgrade but was built for only a year in limited numbers, so most have been retired to private collections.
The closest the Aero 8 came to receiving what you might call a facelift was in 2005, when the Series 3 was launched with Mini headlights in place of the previous New Beetle items, giving it a more conventionally styled visage without compromising on its retro appeal.
Mechanicals were left largely untouched until the roadster entered its final form in 2007 with 362bhp from a 4.8-litre V8 that BMW kindly continued producing on a limited basis for Morgan after retiring it from its own line-up. An automatic gearbox was also made available for the first time, featuring an optional Sport mode and offering improved straight-line performance over the six-speed manual unit.
Later variants include the ultra-exclusive, boat-tailed AeroMax coupé and its Targa-topped Supersports sibling, the traditionally styled Plus 8 and, more recently, the Series 5 – a revived, subtly updated version of the Aero 8, produced from 2016 to 2018. The austentacious Aero GT acted as the car’s swansong, and was made in very limited numbers.
Happily, because improvements and tweaks made to the supercar over its 18-year life cycle were so subtle, choosing which version to go for is simply a matter of deciding your budget: prices for early cars begin at £40,000 (plus shipping costs if you opt to import), but you can expect to pay above £120,000 for low-mileage Series 5 cars and special editions.
How to get one in your garage
An expert’s view
Melvyn Rutter, Melvyn Rutter Ltd: “It’s a very finite market, and not that many come up for sale, because people tend to like them and drive them. Initially, there was a huge rush and Morgan couldn’t make enough. It was only the really determined who stuck with it and waited; they weren’t impulsive buyers. Like the 3 Wheeler, there were people who had never really thought about a Morgan before, and we got new people into the fold.”
Engine: The side-exit sports exhaust is a highly prized option, giving post-2004 cars a bassy growl. Both BMW-derived V8 engines are characteristically durable, but stick to their servicing schedules and shell out for genuine parts.
Body: Series 1 and 2 cars are known to suffer leaky roofs, so keep them garaged. Wooden element of the chassis means crash repairs and restoration work is a specialist job best undertaken by a Morgan dealer. Body panels, especially the bootlid, evolved over the years, so research before replacing them. Low front splitter is prone to stone chips.
Gearbox: Don’t be put off by a noisy manual gearbox. The Aero 8 features far less soundproofing than a contemporary BMW, so a degree of crunchiness and whirring is par for the course. Installing a quick-shift gearstick helps to eliminate some of the clunkiness.
Electrics: Exposed indicator wires can come disconnected, so check under the front wings if they’re playing up, and later Beetle headlights have a tendency to let water in and become misted. Series 1 cars suffered from a sticking starter motor, especially after long periods of non-use. Fit a conditioner to keep specialist gel battery in working order. Power-steering pump is a weak spot, but replacements are easily found.
Interior: Later interiors are more modern but still prone to wear if not maintained properly. Popular modifications include an aluminum steering boss and a Mota Lite steering wheel, while an upgraded stereo is a wise investment.
Also worth knowing
The manufacturer offers a full maintenance and restoration service at its Pickersleigh Road headquarters, with a fixed price servicing structure.
The relaunched classic boasts old-school beauty – and breathtaking speed
When jovial business guru the late John Harvey-Jones visited the Morgan Motor Company in 1990 for the BBC’s Troubleshooter show, he declared the firm “almost automatically doomed” due to its outmoded manufacturing and inability to edge production beyond a quaint nine-and-a-half vehicles per week. The waiting list, often 10 years long, that sometimes resulted in would-be owners being laid to rest long before their cars emerged from the factory really would have to be addressed…
Thirty years later, production has soared to a heady 15-plus cars per week (for contrast, Toyota builds more than 13,000 per day on average) and Harvey-Jones’s recommendation to modernise has finally manifested in the most radical leap forward: a redesign of the resolutely retro Plus Four. It’s a key model in the marque’s offering that has remained largely untouched since its introduction in, er, 1950.
Arriving at the ramshackle brick buildings in Pickersleigh Road, Malvern Link, Worcestershire – Morgan’s home since 1914 – I am pleased to see that things still look much the same as ever. The timber store is well stocked with blocks of ash for making the wooden framework to which bodywork and vintage-style running boards are attached; part-finished cars are still being pushed by hand from one build process to another; and there isn’t a robot in sight.
But when it comes to the finished product, Morgan has modernised – and then some. Instead of the steel chassis that formed the basis of the original Plus Four, the new car sports a “CX-Generation” platform made from bonded aluminium, at the front of which sits a two-litre BMW TwinPower Turbo engine tuned to produce a useful 255hp.
The combination of new underpinnings and lightweight aluminium panels set around the signature ash frame make for a weight of a gossamer 1,009kg in the automatic model, giving the car a power-to-weight ratio of 253hp per ton – which makes for true 21st-century sports-car performance (0-62mph in 4.8s and a top speed of 149mph).
Until recently, the Morgan line-up comprised several four-wheel models with similar looks, plus the more aggressively styled Aero Eight and the quirky Three Wheeler that harks back to the brand’s origins as a maker of lightweight “cyclecars”. Now the range has been distilled to comprise the Three Wheeler, Plus Four and Plus Six (an ultra high-performance model also on the CX-Generation platform but with a six-cylinder BMW engine), with the Plus Four set to become the most popular model.
Outside and in, it looks similar to the old car, with the same slightly fiddly manually folding roof, low-cut doors and a cockpit that, while easier to get into, still demands a fair deal of flexibility. Once ingress is achieved, there’s miles of legroom and a comfortingly low-tech dashboard with just the basics: speedo, rev counter, start button and one knob each to control a blower and heater (nothing too precise – just cold, warm or warmer). The flat windscreen is just the same too – so long and narrow that it requires three short wipers to cover its area. The sound system, however, has had an upgrade, with Bluetooth connectivity and some quality speakers for music streaming.
But it’s only in driving the Plus Four that the difference from its predecessor becomes readily apparent. The rigidity of the aluminium platform completely eliminates all of the old model’s shakes and rattles and, combined with up-to-date suspension and braking systems, it’s far smoother, sharper and more relaxing at both low and higher speeds. When the occasion demands, it really is blisteringly, cartoonishly quick…
And with the waiting list now down to six months, you can even have one delivered in the same lifetime.
While Harvey-Jones might not be too pleased that annual production numbers are only just hovering around the figures he was hoping to see 30 years ago, he would not be sad that Morgan has moved away from its original remit of 1909 to produce cars for everyday motoring (its first model was called the Runabout): the car I drove, with extras including special paint, box weave carpet, sports exhaust and luggage rack (an essential) carried a price tag of £74,949.
And with the waiting list now down to six months, you can even have one delivered in the same lifetime.
This week marks a historic moment for Morgan Motor Company, as the boutique sports car manufacturer has made its last-ever steel chassis.
Introduced in 1936, the steel chassis has been produced continuously ever since, making it the longest-ever running production car architecture. But even a company as traditional as Morgan must keep up with the times, which is why the UK-based firm switched to the CX-Generation bonded aluminum platform last year.
All its current four-wheeled models are underpinned by the modern architecture. Nevertheless, Morgan still had some pending orders for steel chassis cars and this week the last of them was built, putting an end to an 84-year tradition.
Morgan’s steel ladder chassis debuted in 1936 in the Morgan 4-4, the brand’s first car to have four cylinders and four wheels; up until that point, the company had only sold three wheelers.
With many alterations and improvements, the steel chassis went on to underpin a variety of models over the years, including the Plus 4, Plus 4 Plus, first-generation Plus 8, 4 Seater, V6 Roadster, and the 4-4’s eventual successor, the 4/4. Actually, every four-wheeled Morgan produced before 2019 has used a variation of the steel chassis, with two exceptions: the Aero range and the second-generation Plus 8.
The chassis’ famous design elements include its combination of sliding pillar front and leaf spring rear suspension, a setup used by very few other car manufacturers. In total, Morgan has made 35,000 four-wheeled cars with a steel chassis, and they were delivered in 65 countries around the world, with many of these models still being used today.
The final steel chassis car is a Morgan Plus 4 70th Edition, purchased by a loyal Morgan customer who also owns the famous Le Mans-winning Plus 4 ‘TOK 258’. The Plus 4 70th Edition marks 70 years of production of the Plus 4, which began in 1950. It is limited to a run of just 20 individually numbered examples, all of which feature a gold-painted chassis, Platinum Metallic paintwork, and a host of other upgrades.
The all-new Morgan Plus Four, launched in March 2020, has switched to the new bonded aluminum CX-Generation platform. It remains to be seen if it will last as long as its predecessor…
MMC Video https://youtu.be/5q2Q-IQPMlE
(13 June 2020 / https://www.barrons.com/)
The Morgan Motor Company is a fascinating remnant of a once-thriving British car industry. Morgan was founded in 1909 by H.F.S. Morgan, whose first product was the delightfully wacky Morgan Three Wheeler, a car that the company put back into production in 2011 after 50 years away. Morgan has sold more than 2,000 of the model since then, and it also showed an electric version, the EV3, in 2016.
That’s the kind of sports car company Morgan is. Its approach is the very opposite taken by the American automakers in the 1950s and ’60s. The Yanks changed styling every year, but left the mundane mechanicals exactly the same. The Morgans then as now, are constantly evolving mechanically, but wear bodywork that’s basically prewar, right down to the ash wood framing.
Morgan owners are very loyal. Waits of six months or so are normal. Electrical engineer Gerry Willburn is membership director of the Morgan Plus Four club of Southern California, and owns three of the cars, from 1946, 1956, and 1975. His Morgan ownership goes back to 1959, when the family bought a Plus Four Drophead Coupe. Willburn says Morgans are “living antiques.” He adds, “I can’t imagine not owning one.”
Morgans are built in Malvern, England, a spa town in Worcestershire, where the company was founded all those years ago. Some 800 to 900 are sold globally in a good year, and revenue was £33.8 million in 2018.
But Morgan hopes to up the ante to a heady 1,400 annual sales with the launch of the new version of the Plus Four, as a 2021 model. The car was launched in Britain last March with a price of £62,995 ($78,798), but while the American market is very important to the company, there’s no U.S. release date or pricing yet. The name denotes a four-cylinder engine, but not the Triumph power plants of old—instead there’s a two-liter, 255-horsepower BMW turbo, connected to a modern six-speed manual transmission. The car may still look like something P.G. Wodehouse Bertie Wooster would zip around in, but it can reach 62 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds and get near 150 miles per hour.
The new Plus Four shares a new aluminum platform (dubbed CX) with the six-cylinder Plus Six announced at the Geneva Motor Show in 2019. That one also has BMW power, and produces a mighty 335 horsepower. The Plus Four was supposed to debut at the same event this year, but Covid meant that the show didn’t happen.
Fairly sacrilegious for a Plus Four Morgan buyer is the choice of an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission (with manual shifting capability). The auto is, in fact, the only choice in the Plus Six. The axiom used to be that automatics slowed cars down, but the technology has gotten so much better. In the Morgan’s case, it’s the manual that compromises performance, in part because of added weight.
Owning one of these cars still involves some old-world compromises. There’s Bluetooth stereo connectivity, but the top is manual and securing it involves pop fasteners. The car has side curtains instead of roll-up or power windows. There’s no airbag, traction, or stability control, but ABS brakes are a feature.
The 1950s British sports car was very popular with American buyers, so much so that England became a leading automotive trading partner. But quality problems were rife, the industry was crippled with strikes, and the company’s Lucas electrical systems were dubbed “the Prince of Darkness.” By the time the Mazda Miata (modeled on the very English Lotus Elan) came along in 1989, the British industry was moribund. But Morgan was keeping its candle lit.
Morgan was the last family-owned carmaker in Britain, with the fourth generation involved, but in 2019, a majority stake was sold to the Italian financial group InvestIndustrial. Don’t expect the cars to start looking like Fiats, though. The brand’s whole appeal is the traditional British history and legacy.
[This is a fairly positive report about the new CX Chassis’d Plus 4. The rumor is that this Plus 4 will come to the US as a component car. I am not sure when. Talk to the dealers if you are interested. Cheers, Mark]
Like other UK based car factories, Morgan Motors stopped production back at the end of March to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. This week the company has resumed production at its Malvern Hills based factory on Monday 12th May, bit in a limited fashion, only twenty staff have returned back to work.
“This very small scale reintroduction provides us a good opportunity to prove some of the new social distancing measures we have put in place throughout the factory alongside government guidelines. The welfare of our employees and compliance with social distancing measures remains the number one priority when we’re considering any of our business operations. We will reintroduce more staff back to the factory only when we feel it is safe to do so.”
Morgan in 2020 | Reasons to be cheerful
By Sam Sheehan / April 9, 2020 /www.pistonheads
Morgan is probably one of very few British companies that still has a spring in its step during lockdown. The Malvern firm’s first big international launch for the Plus Four has had to be postponed due to the disruption of the pandemic, but you sense the work done just before it temporarily shut up shop was enough to get over the hill, one it had been climbing since the first digital drawings of its ground-breaking CX platform were produced more than four years ago. Along with the Plus Six, the already-popular Plus Four has put Morgan on a totally new path, one that head of design Jon Wells thinks will enable his team to make some pretty bold moves with subsequent products – both aesthetically and technically.
“It’s no secret that we’ve a space at the top of our line-up for an Aero successor,” Wells, a member of the Morgan Cars family for twelve years, tells PH. “Its successor is being worked on and, without giving too much away, we’re prepared to go further than we’ve done before thanks to the flexibility of the CX platform. There’s no monocoque so we’re certainly not tied to one look, we’ve shown with the Plus Four how different the platform can become, and with the BMW engine partnership, we’ve a great supply of powertrains to choose from.”
How does a turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 two-seater to succeed the AeroMax sound? From the tone of his voice on the phone, it seems Wells is on board with the suggestion, but he refrains from getting into the future halo model’s specifics. Right now “it’s about the Plus Four”, he says. Instead, he leaves the door wide open, stating that the “CX platform had flexibility designed into it from the start, so we could use a higher specification of BMW’s modular engines [including the Plus Six’s 3.0-litre B58] or even go down the alternative fuel route. That’s certainly something we know about thanks to the hydrogen fuel cell LIFEcar and EV3 project from a few years back”.
Ah yes, electric. Something not even a brand as firmly tied to tradition as Morgan has been able to avoid. Not that it’s ever wanted to, as the EV3 showed the firm has plenty of ideas when it comes to zero-emission motoring. He says the shelved 2016 model continues to have an impact to this day, with the response to its reveal demonstrating “that people want to see Morgan doing new things for the future”, while “keeping to [its] heritage and remaining a genuine, authentic coach-built car”. The company trained its dealer network to work on EVs so it’s ready to hit the ground running. And, handily for Wells, the packaging freedom offered by an electric car is self evident.
“But when it comes to EVs, we’re making an electric Morgan, not making a Morgan electric,” he affirms. “And there are things that I’d like to retain even the most forward-thinking designs; like the driver will always sit just behind the car’s centre line, behind an A-pillar on the centre and with a dramatic view down the bonnet. That proportion probably stays but beyond that we’re free to play with the Morgan philosophy, so you can expect something to illustrate that it has performance, but without looking too aggressive. How do you maintain the Morgan identity without an intake? We’re thinking about that, with functional design as priority.”
Wells refers to the EV3’s brass fins, there to keep the batteries cool, as an example of EV functionality that’s aesthetically-pleasing and “adds to the car’s story”. He admits that round headlights are likely to remain a staple feature of the Morgan face no matter the powerplant behind them, although new LED technology does allow for variations of the inner details.
The same goes for the wood that mounts to the CX structure, which Wells expects to remain across the board due to the production freedoms it enables, like “actually changing the shape of the car without affecting the platform beneath”. That’s not to say that Morgan wouldn’t consider other things; Wells points to the EV3’s use of sustainably-sourced carbon as evidence of the changes that could be brought about when relevant. But the company needn’t forget about the technical merits of its unique wood-framed engineering.
It does, however, need to consider the potential wider-reaches of its CX platform cars. With improvements to NVH and refinement provided by the aluminium, CAD structure (so no more “pencil and pad sketches”), Wells isn’t the only one expecting the firm’s present customer base – typically men aged between 45 and 60 – to expand. Retro style is at the height of fashion, after all, and Wells is fully aware of a growing hunger for film cameras and vintage clothes, a trend Morgan is well placed to take advantage of. It seems to be going well, despite the impacts of coronavirus; Morgan received record levels of online exposure with the Plus Four, a car the company reckons could become a driver’s favourite thanks to its manual gearbox and one-tonne kerbweight.
“We’re also at a stage now where we can consider future technological and safety regulations before they’re implemented, rather than always reacting as we used to before CX,” Wells says. “We think about pedestrian impacts, which require clear space between the car’s front and engine, and how to place cameras for driver assistance tech, which normally spoils the A-pillar’s lines. And we’ve already proven that we can effectively cool a hot turbocharged engine in what’s a very tight package, while showing that we can make modern wishbone suspension work with a bespoke wire-wheel design. Our pot of technology available for future cars is really very large.”
2020 might not go down in history as a particularly favourable year, but as far as Morgan’s story is concerned, it’s looking like a turning point. Wells says the Plus Four’s enquiry list exceeded expectation, suggesting that once things return to normal, the brand will expect to hit the ground running. Using his enthusiasm as a guide, it’s what’s to come after that which will really get the marque into its 21st century stride. For now, Morgan’s design boss is “itching to get back out on the road for a drive.” We couldn’t agree more.
By Bob Sorokanich, April 6, 2020, https://www.roadandtrack.com/ Photos by Tony Harmer
On a stunning road trip to the Gamble House, we rediscover the joy of doing things the old way.
The gamble house is the greatest surviving example of American Arts and Crafts-style architecture, and it was saved by an offhand comment. Completed in 1909, the peak of that building style in Southern California, the house was considered passé by the mid-1940s. The owners wanted to sell the place until someone suggested painting all the woodwork white, “so it won’t be so dark in here.” Instead, they took the house off the market, kept it in the family, and in 1966, gifted it to the city of Pasadena. The residence is now a historic landmark, preserved and maintained by the University of Southern California School of Architecture.
Decades later, we’re in an Arts and Crafts resurgence. The forgotten style is now sought after in antique furniture and original buildings. “It’s lasted more than twice as long in its rediscovery as it did in the first place,” Robert Siminger, a docent at the Gamble House, told me.
The Morgan Plus 4 I parked in the driveway shares something with the residence. Each is of a kind, created to remind us of the joy in simplicity. Introduced in 1950, the Plus 4 was discontinued, revived, canceled, and, in 2005, reintroduced again. Built by a small, family-founded firm in England, the car has been in production as a throwback for longer than it existed as a contemporary design. And now, for the first time in years, you can buy one in the United States, brand-new. A few days before our long weekend with the Plus 4, I showed my girlfriend Natalie a picture of the car, all pouncing fenders and pert headlights. Gumballs on the doors, no bumpers. The perfect air of an old race car, despite the fact that the car is neither a race car nor technically old.
“It’s going to ride terribly,” I warned her. “If it rains, we’re screwed. If it gets cold, we’re screwed. There’s no trunk. The body is made mostly of hope, and it’s all comically unsafe.”
Natalie eyed the Plus 4 the way she looks at Christian Bale. I might as well have been warning her about sunburn while booking tickets for Waikiki. “We’ll be fine,” she scoffed.
We picked the car up at Morgan West, a dealership in Santa Monica, and spent the rest of the day roaming Southern California. Los Angeles is car-blind. Monotonously good weather and an obsession with image make six-figure supercars as common as mailboxes. You go wailing down Sepulveda Boulevard in some carbon-fiber drop-top, nobody bothers to look up from their phone. Not so with the Plus 4. Not since 1968 has the model been an official U.S. import, but it now crosses our border as a “component car,” with a drivetrain in a separate crate and installed upon delivery. Other similarly shaped Morgans (the Plus 8, the 4/4) came to the U.S. in small quantities in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, but any car from the marque’s small village of Malvern is a rare sight in the States.
So people stop and gawk. They snap photos and shout questions. The Plus 4 doesn’t project wealth or power. It’s approachable, and it extends that grace to anyone sitting inside. Nobody could be scowly or standoffish in a car with such a wide-eyed, pleasant face.
Or such a small footprint. Photos don’t do justice to the car’s scale. Those sweeping fenders are based on a design Morgan first put into production in the Thirties. They evoke huge, stately coupes á la Cruella De Vil, but the Plus 4 is nine inches shorter and more than a foot narrower than today’s Miata. You sit in the thing like a kayaker, bodywork barely reaching your elbow, looking like you’ve wrapped the hood around outstretched legs. And you drive it with your heels together. The steering wheel and windshield are both about a foot closer than in modern cars, coaxing you into the bent-elbow driving position of prewar racing heroes. The seat snuggles up to the rear axle, inches behind your spine and way behind the car’s longitudinal center. You turn the wheel and watch that long, tapered nose swing into the corner as if you were sitting in the back of a bus.
The ride is… taxing. Morgan founder Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan designed his signature sliding-pillar front suspension back in 1909, and the company has since seen little reason to mess with it. Our car, on sport springs, informed us of every dip, sway, and imperfection in the road. On certain stretches of freeway, the Morgan picked up a strong front-to-back seesaw motion. You nod along helplessly, looking like you’re vigorously jamming out to the eighth notes of a hot jazz number.
Bless all of it in its glorious imperfection. It is impossible to drive a Morgan distracted. The manual steering tells you how much weight is on the front axle down to the pound. The firm brake pedal will lock up all four tires on a panic stop. The exhaust thrums like the getaway car in a black-and-white movie. The drivetrain is deeply plebian—2.0-liter, direct-injected, Ford four-cylinder, and a five-speed manual borrowed from an early Miata, 180 horsepower to the leaf-sprung solid rear axle—but sitting down there, low enough to palm the pavement, wind trying to steal your sunglasses, it’s all exhilarating. And unmistakably a product of the nation that birthed Luddites, that launched the Arts and Crafts movement. A sense of keeping the old ways alive with ancient dedication. Writing about the history of the movement in 2002, British architecture historian Alan Crawford said, “Unlike their counterparts in the United States, most Arts and Crafts practitioners in Britain had strong, slightly incoherent, negative feelings about machinery.”
No wonder no other nation produces brand-new cars with structural components made from wood.
In an essay explaining Arts and Crafts at its beginning, the English artist Walter Crane in 1893 described “a protest against the turning of men into machines.” The movement began in Scotland, at the end of the 19th century, as people left their farms and villages to live in cities and work in factories. The labor was often dangerous and always dull, and the products felt cheap and artificial, designed for profitability over functional utility or enjoyment. “The concern that the Arts and Crafts movement was trying to address was that people were becoming ‘alienated from their work,’” Jennifer Trotoux, interim director and curator at the Gamble House, says. “If you were doing just one repetitive thing all day long, you didn’t see the big picture of what you were creating. That was considered an unhealthy mode of work.”
“The whole point of the movement was to go back to a simpler life,” Siminger says. “The house itself was as much a part of the art as the objects within the house.”
Every visible surface of the Gamble House has thus been shaped and styled by human hands. Huge timbers span the structure, traversing every upstairs room and making the home feel like an upturned wooden ship. The details draw your eye closer until you’re fully consumed by items you wouldn’t give a passing glance anywhere else—the metal straps cinching two joists, the joinery of a picture frame, the way every corner of every brick in a fireplace has been hand-filed to make it friendlier, more approachable. There are no finish nails covered by putty, no joints painted over. Artisans capped every fastener with a contrasting piece of wood. “The house is telling you about itself: ‘This is how I’m held together. This is what I’m made of,’” Trotoux says.
An entire generation of California bungalows have Arts and Crafts touches, but Gamble House luxuriates in the style. Architect brothers Charles and Henry Greene had an unlimited budget to create both the structure and nearly everything inside it. They finished each room in its own exotic wood—mahogany, teak, cedar, fir—with intricate custom furniture to match, all chosen to evoke a particular mood. Aunt Julia’s bedroom, upstairs in the southwest corner, is warm and hushed. The flooring and furniture are made of blond ash—the same flexible, resilient stock found in the Morgan’s wooden framework.
Gamble House cost around $50,000 to build in 1908—roughly $1.4 million in 2019. To recreate it now would take far more. Old-growth exotic woods in these sizes and quantities are basically impossible to come by. Even at the turn of the last century, amassing such a timber collection was virtually unheard of.
And that gets us to an irony. Maybe you recognize the Gamble name—as in Procter & Gamble, the giant industrial manufacturer founded in Cincinnati in 1837, still one of the world’s largest corporations. Ivory soap, and a contract to supply it to the Union Army during the Civil War, made millionaires of P&G’s founders. David Berry Gamble, second-generation, commissioned the California house as a retirement retreat. An architectural movement launched as a rebuke against industrialization came to comfort a man whose name is synonymous with America’s industrial revolution.
There’s some symmetry here. The Morgan is far from our standard definition of luxury, but with no options, a Plus 4 will run you $70,000. Our test car, loaded, commands $90,000. Door check straps are optional. The Plus 4, like every modern Mog, is clearly meant for occasional use, a plaything for those wealthy enough to spend BMW M4 money on a car built like a shed, and tenacious enough to snag one of the 50 to 100 examples Morgan says it will ship to the U.S. annually.
The car has seen updates, concessions to modernity, but Malvern has been smart enough to keep most of them buried. It took us two days to discover the stereo, a detachable-faceplate head unit tucked under the dash and against the firewall. Reaching the volume knob is like grasping for your shoelace with your seatbelt on. No matter: Wind noise completely drowns out the speakers above 30 mph. And even in sunny Southern California, the car can seem underdressed for the weather. Erecting the mohair top requires two people and a week of steady practice. Still, with the roof closed, the side curtains jabbed into place, and heat blowing from the two swivel vents hidden in the footwells, the Plus 4 is delightfully cozy. The gauges give off the warm sans-serif glow of an old console radio. A cool breeze sneaks in at the rear edge of the door and whispers at your elbow.
Every good convertible feels like a secret, special place with the roof up—an intimate, slightly clandestine hideout for two people who enjoy each other’s company. The Morgan, its side windows rising only about as high as your nose, reminds you of the joy of being hidden from the world while traveling through it. Somewhere in the middle of the crossover explosion, we forgot that we don’t need acres of glass to operate a motor vehicle. We can simply duck to a low window to check in with the rest of society.
Twenty-first-century luxury yearns to disappear, smooth and seamless, and from a certain perspective, the idea is noble. It banishes ornery design, anticipating every desire. We like to think this frees us to put our minds to greater problems. But the result is domestic amnesia, when you walk into a room and don’t know why you’re there, or when you get to your destination and recall nothing about the drive. Worry behaves like a gas; it expands to fill the space we give it. Short of giving everyone a Gamble House to hide out in, psychologists should prescribe Morgans as therapy.
These are modern problems, of course. To have too much stuff, so cheap and ubiquitous as to be sickening. To be so catered to and comforted as to be anxious. It’s hard to acknowledge these ills without sounding like a spoiled child, surrounded by toys but still not having fun.
Somehow, the auto industry manages to embody both of these diverging traits, cranking out charmless, disposable cars that do most of the thinking for us. And here, we find our brethren. Gamble House docent Robert Siminger drives a wicked little Ford Model A hot rod to give tours of the residence. I chatted with a master carpenter in the driveway as he loaded tools into a small-window 1967 GMC pickup. Several Gamble House volunteers, when they’re not in Pasadena, donate time to the Petersen Automotive Museum, just a half hour away.
Nice to know there are folks like us out there, people who aren’t satisfied by cheap consumerism or cosseting luxury. Artisans keeping the old craftsman ways alive— at home and on the road.