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BusinessWeek Lifestyle: Autos
A Nice Cuppa Tea, and a Bespoke Car (int'l edition)
There's a four-year wait for the Morgan roadster
It's barely three hours' drive northwest of London to Morgan Motor Co. in the Worcestershire village of Malvern Link. But walking into the factory is like entering a time warp. In a room redolent of wood and glue, workers painstakingly assemble the frames of Morgan sports cars from strips of 100-year-old seasoned ash, topping them with hand-tooled aluminum panels. It takes 17 days to build each car, using 19th-century coachbuilding techniques and a body design that hasn't changed since the 1930s.
Compared with today's smooth-handling sports cars, a Morgan's ride is like a trip back in time, too. You have to wrestle with the steering wheel, and the stiff suspension rattles your kidneys. The windows don't even roll down; they have to be clipped in place. But every one of the 580 cars Morgan will make this year has already been sold. In fact, there's a four-year waiting list in Britain for the classic roadsters, which sell for $35,000 to $78,600. More than half of the buyers are purchasing their second or third Morgan.
What keeps them coming? "In a Morgan, every drive is an adventure" because of the way the car handles, says Yorkshire enthusiast John Coxon, a 44-year-old marketing professional who took delivery of his second Morgan in January. Although owners include actors, rock stars, and members of European royalty, the Morgan is considered classy but not ostentatious. "The cars are admired but not envied. They're rarely stolen or vandalized," says Bill Wykeham, a Morgan distributor in London.NEW MODEL. Buying a Morgan is as quintessentially English an experience as ordering a Savile Row suit. Customers are encouraged to visit the factory, where they can choose from 30,000 paint colors and 40 styles of leather trim. Since 50% of Morgans are exported, the company builds both right- and left-hand-drive models. "What I like doing is discussing with customers what they want, and building the car with their name on it," says Chief Executive Charles Morgan, 48, whose grandfather founded the company in 1909.
A former TV cameraman who took over the business in 1985, Morgan has introduced some important changes. He has cut assembly time in half, for example, by introducing innovations such as an automatic process for building the car's aluminum fenders. All of the models currently produced meet European and U.S. crash-test regulations and incorporate features such as air bags.
Perhaps the biggest recent change was unveiled at the Geneva International Auto Show on Feb. 29. It's the new Morgan Aero 8, the first major redesign of the car in 32 years. It features a light aluminum chassis, modern suspension for a smoother ride, and luxuries such as air conditioning. "It certainly bends the rules a bit," says Morgan. But the body design remains largely unchanged, and the car will still have a wooden frame, lovingly built by hand at Malvern Link. Some things, after all, are sacred.By Angus MackenzieReturn to top
More on the Morgan
20 distributors in Britain, and others in 18 countries, including the U.S. and most European countries. For locations, call 44-1684-573-104.PRICE
Ranges from about $35,000 for the basic Morgan 4/4 two-seat model to $78,600 for the Morgan Aero 8 model.OPTIONS
For details on color, trim, and optional accessories, visit www.morgan-motor.co.uk.
DATA: BUSINESS WEEKReturn to top