In Motion Classic: 1964 Morgan Plus 4 – Dry And Warm Are Overrated

There are many things one might expect to come across on a blustery late winter morning: A 55-year-old Morgan being driven by man in a leather aviator hat is not one of them.  I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t daydreaming, but once pinched I realized that this was, in fact, a genuine Morgan.  This roadster represents the polar opposite of the modern cars and trucks facing it in this picture… but that was also the case in 1964 when it was produced.  Being different is nothing new for Morgan.

For those unfamiliar with the species, Morgan Motor Company has produced cars in Malvern, England since 1910.  At first, the company specialized in three-wheelers, but joined the rest of the automotive world by adding a four-wheeled car (named the 4/4… 4 cylinders and 4 wheels) in 1935.  That car, a roadster with a characteristically 1930s long hood, short deck and ash wood frame, was a relatively contemporary car in the pre-WWII era, though no one could have guessed that Morgan would offer similar products eight decades later (yes, they’re still produced).  The 1935 Morgan became the closest thing to a living time capsule that the automotive world has ever known.

Somehow, Morgan survived the ’70s.

Over the decades, Morgan has brought forth drivetrain improvements and new models, but somewhere along the way, the brand’s lack of fundamental change became a selling point.  Morgan enthusiasts may debate exactly when that happened, but certainly by 1964, when our featured car was made, they were considered living relics.  In that year, Road & Track magazine sardonically noted that the Morgan was:

“…man’s last link with that great and glorious time when people were more interested in sporting qualities than in keeping dry and warm.”

Well, this driver certainly had his priorities grounded in that great and glorious time.  Dry and warm he wasn’t, since this was a 38°F drizzly morning… but I’m sure he was having more fun than anyone else on the road at the time.

Morgans didn’t (and don’t) appeal to everyone.  Only about 400 were hand-produced annually during the 1960s, about 60% of which were Plus 4 models like this one.  There was no rational reason to buy one, other than having an unyielding desire to enjoy Traditional Motoring.

Competition models were built as well.  A Morgan Plus 4 completed the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans, and finished 1st (out of 2 entries) in the GT 2.0-liter Class.  Amusingly, the same owner and driver team who claimed that victory in ’62 were denied a start in the 1961 race because the race’s governing body considered their Morgan too old fashioned to be a legitimate modern racer.

Non-competition Plus 4s came in two configurations – a two-seater (as one would expect a sports car to be), and a four-seater.  Our featured car is one of the latter examples; the period shot above shows how the rear seat fits in just forward of the tonneau cover.  Lest anyone be affronted that a four-seater sports car is an insult to tradition, rest assured that Morgan introduced this body style in 1937.

While Morgan proudly produced its own bodies like no one else in the car business, the firm purchased drivetrains from elsewhere.  In the Plus 4’s case, this was a Triumph-sourced engine; while Ford supplied engines for the 4/4 model.

The Morgan was a living anachronism in the 1960s, and if I had been around at the time, I would have assumed that the company’s days would have been numbered.  After all, a rapidly diminishing cohort of drivers recalled the splendid days of open-air motoring – and whom among succeeding generations would care to remember it?  Quite a few, apparently.  Morgan still makes cars much like they did in the 1960s, and the 1930s.  Modern Morgans have received updated mechanicals, safety features and other necessities, but the overall wood-framed feel of the car has remained remarkably consistent.  And between 2014 and 2018, Morgan has averaged nearly 750 cars produced annually.  This, apparently, is authentic and fun nostalgia that transcends generations.

Sure, Morgan drivers tend to be older, but given the cost of purchase and upkeep, that’s not unexpected.  The driver of this car appeared to be in his 60s, meaning that Morgans were considered retro even when he was young.  Whatever his age, he seemed to be having fun driving his roadster on a cold weekend morning.  That’s what it’s all about – who needs to be dry and warm anyway?


Photographed in March 2019 in Falls Church, Virginia.