British independent sports car company Morgan is preparing to open a showroom in the Middle East. We take a look around the UK factory to find out more about this highly regarded and somewhat eccentric brand.
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. This particular tale began at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, when I passed by the Morgan stand and managed to grab a few words with Charles Morgan, the company’s chairman. As we chatted, he casually let it slip that the British independent sports car company is preparing to open its first showroom in the Middle East. And so began the movement of various cogs.
You see, Morgan’s headquarters and sole factory is in the very pretty town of Malvern in Worcestershire, England. A town that happens to be where I was raised for more than 20 years. I even worked for the local paper. I know the surrounding area extremely well, and yet for one reason or another, I’d never visited the Morgan factory. It was just one of those things that your town is famous for that you never do. It was for tourists. Later, when I became a motoring journalist I initially focused mainly on business motoring, and there aren’t too many executives whizzing around in Plus 8s, so I didn’t really have a good excuse to go and poke around.
Then when I moved to the Middle East, a small carmaker thousands of kilometres away from the GCC didn’t seem too relevant. And so I still hadn’t looked around the facility that stood just five minutes’ drive away from my childhood home.
But now, sat in a large exhibition hall in Switzerland, my chance had presented itself. By the end of 2013, Morgan and Al Futtaim Motors plan to open a showroom in Dubai Festival City, selling the full range of British sports cars that pride themselves on both heritage and traditional craftsmanship as well as cutting edge technology. Morgan sees the region as one of several with plenty of potential for new customers.
As luck would have it, I was planning to head back to Malvern just weeks after the Geneva show, as I’m planning my UK wedding and wanted to spend some time with my parents. And now I had the opportunity to tell you guys all about Morgan, take my Dad on a trip around the factory, take my fiancee out in some fancy cars and have a proper chat with Charles Morgan about what the future for the brand is in the Middle East.
And so, on a beautiful May morning, my father and I take a road I’ve travelled many times before, up from Barnard’s Green to Pickersleigh Road, where the Morgan factory has stood for decades. My dad used to pass it every day – he ran an opticians just down the road in Malvern Link. The business still bears the Tromans name.
From the road the red brick buildings don’t look that large, but they stretch down the hill away from public view. The reception is in a building around the corner, which when I lived in the town was a social club. It’s a sign of Morgan’s success that as other small carmakers are folding or selling to larger corporations, the Malvern has retained its independence and expanded its operations.
Next to reception is a large room filled with model cars, posters, a small cafe and a surprisingly large number of people, all of whom it turns out are waiting for a tour. I didn’t expect to see so many visitors early on a weekday morning, but apparently this is common. They’re made up of a mixture of Morgan owners, tourists and members of a German classic car club on a British tour.
Notably, by the entrance is a model dhow; a gift from Al Futtaim representatives who visited Malvern from Dubai the week before I did. It seems this will actually happen.
An enthusiastic guide appears and plays us a short video, welcoming us to the strains of Elgar (another local alumni) and giving us a bit of history about the company. It was founded by Henry FS Morgan, a local man who’d opened a garage to sell and service other cars in Malvern. By 1909, he’d got so involved with the industry that he’d designed the three-wheeled Morgan Runabout – a lightweight chassis powered by a Peugeot V-twin motorbike engine. It was a considerably more affordable car than others of the time, and spawned a production version, available with either 4 or 8bhp Prestwich V-twins.
Initially, public reaction was muted, so Morgan started entering the runabout in hill climbs and other motor sport competitions – with some success. It caught the eye of notable people, and even appeared in the window of London’s famous Harrods department store. Success followed and by 1914, demand was such that the company moved to the factory in which it remains today.
It wasn’t until 1936 that a four-wheeled Morgan was introduced. The 4/4 – named for its number of wheels and number of engine cylinders – consisted of a steel chassis topped with a wooden framed, steel-panelled body. This set the blueprint for the four-wheel cars Morgan continues to make today.
The modern line up can be divided into three families. The first follows the classic format set out by the 4/4 and includes… well, the 4/4, still in production today. These days it features a 1.6-litre Ford engine, and can also specified with a 2.0-litre Ford unit. In this form, it’s known as the Plus 4. There’s a four-seater version available too, called, originally enough, the 4 Seater, while the Roadster has a wider front end to accommodate a 3.7-litre Ford V6.
The second family is decidedly more modern in its construction. A bonded aluminium chassis is used for the Plus 8, which takes the classic looks of the 4/4 but adds a 4.4-litre BMW V8 to its modern underpinnings. With 367hp and a weight of just 1100kg, it seriously shifts. For more modern looks with the same modern underpinnings, check out the Aero Supersport or Aero Coupe – evolutions of the Aero 8, which was introduced in 2001.