Morgan Roadster

You may think that the Porsche 911 (now in its forty-sixth year) is long-lived. If you're into automotive esoterica, you'll know of India's Hindustan Ambassador, resplendent with the clumsy curves established in 1956 by Austin-Morris. But the Ambassador is a mere gawky adolescent compared with the doyen of currently available cars, the Morgan roadster, which came to market seventy-five years ago.

After building tens of thousands of three-wheeled vehicles, founder H. F. S. Morgan succumbed to the newfangled idea of making four-wheeled cars. For the quarter-century-old Morgan Motor Company, it was as radical an innovation as Oldsmobile's Toronado, Toyota's Prius, or Chevrolet's Volt.

Changes since then? Sure, but you'd be surprised at how few. Morgans had an independent front suspension a hundred years ago, so that hasn't changed, nor have the Z-section chassis rails. Bodies were and are still made of carefully shaped wood frames sheathed with metal (steel then, aluminum now). Proportions have changed some, and Morgan now uses spray guns, not brushes, to paint the cars, but there has really been only one styling change of note.

Prince of Darkness Joseph Lucas's company stopped making bullet headlamps sometime in the 1950s, so Morgan was obliged to restyle the front end. Fairing the headlamps into the fender valances meant the traditional flat radiator no longer worked, so simple vertical bars curved farther forward became the new face, unchanged to this day. Morgan fenders were always rather flat across the top, because they were cheaper to build than the rounded, ribbed "wings" of MGs.

Morgans are wonderfully rudimentary, despite the company making use of modern technologies such as super-forming aluminum. When I rented one a few years ago, I noticed that the hood louvers were all the same length but their ends didn't line up. That's traditional British handwork, not particularly careful or accurate but highly characterful. I hope that Morgan never invests in a die to punch perfectly even louvers in one strike.

Morgan really is a family business, with only the third leader in a century now in place. Each generation of Morgans has made one radical change. H. F. S. gave us this car in the 1930s, his son Peter made a graceless fiberglass coupe in the 1960s, and grandson Charles the cross-eyed Aero 8 in the 2000s (which is the only new Morgan for sale today in the States). Morgan lovers, of which I am one, forgive those aberrations en retained and improved steadily. For instance, today's Morgans have catalysts and side-impact beams - requirements of the modern age.

My wife has wanted a Morgan since she first saw one several decades back. If I'd been given a chit that let me take away any car at the Geneva show this year, she'd have her Morgan roadster today instead of having to wait until Christmas. Despite its age, there was no car there that was more desirable.

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