Record Sales Mark Triumphant End to Morgan’s Centenary Year
By Andy Bannister
In these rather gloomy economic times it’s pleasing to report that the most quintessentially traditional of sports car makers, Morgan Motor Company, of Malvern, England, achieved all-time record sales in 2009, the firm’s centenary year.
Some 690 of these time-warp, hand-built gems were sold last year. That’s quite a milestone for a company whose products are undoubtedly a luxury, rather than a necessity.
Sales in the UK market remained constant, at some 280 units, meaning growth came from overseas buyers of the quirky little vehicles. Demand was strong in other European Union countries, notably Germany and France.
Once a minnow among British motor manufacturers, family-owned Morgan has seen virtually all of the other great names of the country’s once-vibrant car industry fall by the wayside over the past century, or end up in foreign hands.
It is almost single-handedly keeping the Union Flag flying for those customers who wouldn’t be seen dead in the products of Johnny Foreigner. Its factory utilises some decidedly 1940s manufacturing techniques, with liberal use of English ash, glue, and long-forgotten components like cart springs.
Partly the company’s survival is down to luck – it has had its share of hard times and not every model it has introduced has been a success. In the 1950s it fortunately rejected a tempting-sounding merger with its engine-supplier of the day, Standard-Triumph, the car maker which went on to be the nucleus of the ill-fated British Leyland conglomerate.
Morgan is no ordinary firm, of course. It is an institution steeped in as much tradition as the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
The basic appearance of the open-topped roadster dates back to before the Second World War – back in 1936 it was considered newfangled by Morgan customers used to the company’s then-prevalent three-wheeler. Today the vehicles are still hand-built by craftspeople using mostly locally-made components.
Change for change’s sake is not encouraged at Morgan, and the looks from another age – without the slightly vulgar contotations associated with a replica – are part of the charm.
Most buyers are fiercely loyal, even if nowadays they don’t all fit the stereotype of the retired fighter pilot with goggles and a handlebar moustache.
Behind the scenes, old-fashioned working practices at the company have been updated considerably in the last 20 years, allowing production to grow steadily, although waiting lists still exist for the firm’s products.
Morgan’s big innovation was back in 1969 when it introduced its Plus 8, shoehorning the 3.5-litre Rover (ex-Buick) V8 into its traditional body and creating a new high performance line that have survived to this day.
Today’s range includes the gloriously anachronistic 4/4 and Plus 4 models – with a four-seater derivative also offered – and the rather more civilised mid-range Ford-powered V6-engined Roadster.
More well-heeled customers can go for the slightly controversially-styled Aero 8, using BMW V8 power and an aluminium chassis, although still with the traditional wooden body substructure. Then there’s the stratospherically-priced, limited production AeroMax coupé, with its dramatic, elegant body, and its forthcoming SS convertible version.
For an outfit steeped in the past, Morgan also has a surprisingly healthy attitude to future technology, providing it can be married to that traditional body. They’ve recently been experimenting with the Lifecar, a hybrid 4/4, which aims to deliver CO2 emissions below the magic 100g/km.
All in all, there’s no company anywhere on the globe like Morgan. Long may it continue to prosper.
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