Funny how some things stick around in the brain. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had came about when I followed a local Morgan Plus 4 into the hills of Northern California in my ’66 Mustang, transporting me back in time as if it were the 60s and teenage me was playing a cat-and-mouse game with another young gun in his fancy European sports car. But what was it like being the one behind the wheel of the Morgan?
Not too long after the road trip, I had the opportunity to find out for myself.
An impulse buy
My good friend Soizic knew exactly what to do when she spotted the 1967 Morgan Plus 4 on Craigslist — she sent it my way. Of our friend group, I was really the only one dabbling in vintage cars, and so I was the first person she thought of when she spotted the ad.
She wasn’t wrong. It was morning when she sent me the ad. I went to take a look at the car that afternoon. Steve, another friend within our friend group, volunteered to go take a look at the car with me.
I met the seller at Auto Europe, a retailer and repair shop specializing in European sports cars, particularly Lotus. The manager of Auto Europe was the seller of this particular Morgan, and it was being sold private party. The backstory was that he was down in Ohio picking up some other cars when he spotted this Morgan, and decided to bring the Morgan back to Michigan as well. A little bit of work later, and the car was running well and ready for sale.
This particular example was the 4-seater version of the Plus 4. Until I laid eyes on the car, I never knew that 4-seaters ever existed. The 4-seaters had a taller windshield than the 2-seaters, front seats on frames that could be moved fore and aft, and a back seat whose cushion was literally right over the rear differential and axle. This car didn’t have the top, (or hood, if you are British,) but the top bows were all there, and the car came with both a full cockpit cover and rear hood cover. The car was originally royal blue, but at some point in its life, it was repainted red.
Oh yeah, and the car was right hand drive. It was supposedly driven by someone in the US military stationed in the UK who then took the car home with him when he returned to the States.
I had arrived on time for the viewing, but Steve hadn’t arrived yet. I went ahead and hopped in the car with the seller and we took the Morgan for a quick spin.
I was instantly smitten. The cut in the door was perfectly placed for hanging an arm, the shifter felt mechanical in the best way possible, the view of the hood was intoxicating, and the sound — the sound! — of the motor rasping along, the baritone emitted from the exhaust pipes unimpeded by sound deadening or even windows and a roof put me in a state of motoring bliss that overwhelmed what was left of my common sense.
Upon our return to the shop, we made a deal. It was at the near exact moment as I was shaking hands with the seller that Steve arrived.
“Um, aren’t you going to spend some time to think it ov-”
All it took was a 20 minute test drive. I figured that, while the Morgan wasn’t perfect by any means, it was the cheapest example that I had ever seen, and was something that I could really drive. If I had to dump the car later, I wouldn’t be too deep in the hole.
Getting to know the car
The first thing I had to do with the Morgan was show it off to my friends. We had a weekly get together at one of the Royal Oak bars, and so Steve and I drove the Morgan to dinner. I put in what I thought was enough change to last through dinner, but we ultimately hung out a lot longer than I had anticipated.
Naturally, this being Royal Oak, the car was quickly given a parking ticket. However, when I pulled the ticket off the windshield, I had to laugh. The parking cop had no idea what he or she was looking at, and had simply written “Unknown” for both Make and Model. As the car had expired Ohio plates on the car that were due to be chucked as soon as my Michigan plates arrived, I very well could have tossed the ticket aside and not paid it. (But I paid the ticket nonetheless.)
As Soizic was the one who found the car, I offered to let her drive first. I and two others then piled into the car. I took the back seat and got to experience first hand what it was like riding in the back. In short: terrifying at speeds above 35 mph, as the windshield doesn’t do much to block the wind for the back seat passengers, and there were no seat belts in the back. It felt like a good hard bounce would eject me from the car. Then we swapped off and I gave the others a chance to ride along too.
Let me tell you, if you thought a Morgan was slow with just one passenger, it’s super duper slow with four grown men averaging 200 pounds each in the car.
Going to the middle of nowhere
There’s a dark sky spot that I like to visit that’s relatively close by to the Detroit Metro area. I honed my night sky shooting abilities there by shooting my cars and other things under the nebula of the Milky Way. I had just fixed up the brakes on the car — how in the world does a Morgan in the 1960s have advanced disc brakes in the front but cling to old-fashioned, non-self adjusting rear brake drums in the back?! — and had learned where the sweet spot in the choke was such that I could reliably start the car every time, and was feeling like a little mini road trip in the car.
So what better place to go than to a place where there’s almost no cell phone reception, so should I break down, I’m totally hosed until I’m discovered by someone? I had some real good logic there…
I packed the Morgan with my camera bag and set off for my dark sky spot. To make things interesting, it was late fall, and it was going to be cold. I didn’t have a working heater in the car, so I bundled up.
I made it out to my dark sky spot, but couldn’t quite get the shots I wanted. I ended up with this as my “best” shot of the night — kinda unremarkable.
Still, I was happy that the Morgan had made the two hour drive out to the dark sky spot. Now I just had to get back home. Thankfully, the car started on the first crank, and away I went.
It was well past midnight at this point. I’m bombing down these dark country roads when I spot a 90s Mustang on the side of the road, hood up. I checked my phone: it was 2am in the morning. I pulled over to investigate.
A young man emerged from the Mustang. He had run out of fuel, and his cell phone was dead. His house was just a little ways away. Could I give him a ride to his house?
Of course, I said, not questioning anything in his story when perhaps I should have been a little bit more wary. I offered him the left (passenger) seat of my car. His face contorted into one of confusion.
He obviously had no idea what to make of my car. “It’s a Morgan Plus 4,” I said. I’m sure the words went through one ear and right out the other.
I gingerly opened the door and told him to hop inside. I reached over and closed the door for him, and told him that lap belts were behind his seat. Once we were all buckled up, I put the car and gear and off we went.
To this day, I still laugh at the memory. A country kid, familiar only with late model Mustangs, gets a ride in an ancient British sports car that he can’t possibly comprehend. I dropped him off at his house, and he offered an awkward thank you before shuffling into his house. I pulled away and continued my drive back home, pulling the Morgan into the garage just before 4am.
The great news was that the Morgan didn’t miss a beat.
Elberta Beach and the Sleeping Bear Dunes
Emboldened by the successful middle-of-the-night going to the middle-of-nowhere trip, I wanted to take the Morgan on an even longer road trip.
For the 4th of July, some friends were hanging out at Elberta Beach on the western shore of Michigan. I decided that the Morgan would be the perfect road trip companion.
The best thing about the 4-seater Morgan is that you effectively have a trunk with the back seat. I threw my camera bag, a duffel bag, and camping gear in the back seat, covering them all with the cockpit cover.
The Morgan did just fine for the drive west. If there was one thing I had to complain about, it’s the throttle “pedal” on the car, which is really just a roller bearing on the end of a stick. Without cruise control, you’ve got your foot pressing against what feels like a medium size rock for hours on end, and if you’ve got soft soled shoes, it becomes extremely uncomfortable.
But the Morgan made it to the Lake Michigan side of the state just fine. I took the Morgan down the beach road as far as I could, parking it next to all the other passenger cars and Jeeps clogging the path. I wonder if any of the Jeep bros came upon the Morgan and wondered what the hell it was doing on a sandy beach, ha!
After camping, I took a quick drive to see the Sleeping Bear Dunes. It started raining, and I had no top, so I donned a rain jacket and pretended I was a motorcyclist. Because of the full cockpit cover, all my gear in the back seat stayed dry, and I stayed pretty dry too as long as I was moving.
Learning how to wheel the car
But one can’t have a sports car and simply tootle around town with it. A sports car should be used for motorsports, right?
Alas, while the Morgan is just fine for cruising the open road, it’s resolutely terrible at going fast.
I decided to see what the car could do at a local Northwest Ohio Region (NWOR) event, and brought the car out. As per the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) rules, a car that is not LHD is bumped to at least Street Modified class. And so, I taped “SSM” to my doors and prepared to do battle with force fed Miatas and and one heavily modified Lotus Elise.
Fortunately, I recorded the very first autocross run I did with the Morgan.
You may have noticed that the revs were hanging as I came off the course for my first run. The car continued to do that for the rest of my runs, until I discovered the issue: the bushing in the firewall where the throttle cable passed through was missing, resulting in the cable fraying. Unfortunately for me, I discovered this when attempting to drive the car home, and the cable snapped, leaving me on the side of the road. A tow truck took the car back home, and I quickly resolved the throttle cable problem.
I eventually figured out how to deal with the car’s floppy handling and extremely slow steering, and continued running the car at local Detroit Region events. At one particular event, I had entered my car into the new Heritage Classic class, and was competing against a MGB roadster and a Porsche 914-4.
As we were gridding up for our runs, I parked the Morgan, hopped out of the car, and exclaimed, “How am I supposed to compete against all of this ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY?!”
My friend driving the MGB broke down laughing. “No one’s ever said anything like that about my car.” But it was true. Their cars didn’t have a suspension that hailed from the age of steam locomotives, and their chassis were like solid blocks of granite compared to the wet noodle that was my chassis.
A fun aside: halfway through the heat, there was a puddle of coolant forming in our section of the grid. All eyes were instantly cast upon me and the Morgan. I checked, but the Morgan wasn’t leaking anything. We eventually discovered that my friend’s ’09 Miata, parked next to my car, was the actual source of the coolant. For once, it wasn’t the British car making the mess! I enjoyed telling all the doubters to go pound sand — my LBC was more reliable than a modern car!
The crowing glory for the Morgan was undoubtedly the Oscoda Pro Solo. As I had more than enough events to qualify for the Pro Finale that year, I decided to take the Morgan to Serious Business competition and have some fun. Once again, the car landed in Street Modified due to it being RHD, which all but assured me of a DFL finish.
I didn’t care. I had a lot of fun, and there were plenty of folks there who were genuinely amazed that a Morgan was in their presence.
The Morgan was literally the slowest car of the entire event. Not only that, the stressors of autocrossing and other exuberant driving had taken their toll on the body, and after the event, I noticed that I had cracked the sheetmetal and the wood just below each door. I had literally twisted the car in half.
I guess that’s why the old timers referred to these cars as “flexible flyers.”
Selling the car
I was having a ton of fun with the car, but it became clear that sooner or later, I’d have to pay for my sins and fix up the damage I had wrought on the poor little Morgan.
However, I had absolutely no time to work on the car. I had my ’66 Mustang up on stands in the garage, and an imminent Alcan 5000 date bearing down on me.
And so as it often goes, I sold the Morgan in order to save it from myself.
I spent a weekend photographing the car and getting it ready for online sale. But before I posted anything to the major online marketplaces, I placed a single post on my Facebook wall asking if any of my friends were interested in rehoming an old Morgan.
A friend and mentor from Central Illinois piped up. It was Barry, the British car guy in Champaign County Sports Car Club (CCSCC) who ran a TVR 2500M back when I first started autocrossing.
He was interested in my Morgan, but he was hemming and hawing on whether or not he could really bring the Morgan home. He had a C4 Corvette and a Cadillac XLR in his fleet that were his reliable runners while his TVRs remained as the needy vintage drivers. Could he really spare the cash and the time to bring home another needy car?
I told Barry that this car had his name on it. He wanted some time to think it through. No problem, I said.
It didn’t take long for him to come back to me and say he wanted the car. He had been talking with his wife, and the conversation was quick and decisive. If Barry wasn’t going to get a Morgan now, then when? And this car was comparatively affordable.
It was during that phone call that I learned just how deep the Morgan connection was to Barry’s life. He and his wife honeymooned in Europe, and they took a tour of the Morgan factory. Their daughter was named Morgan, and it wasn’t a coincidence. And yet, Barry has had many TVRs but not a single Morgan.
But here was a Morgan. And I was offering it to Barry for a very low friend price. How could he pass it up? His wife wouldn’t let him pass this opportunity by.
So we made arrangements for delivery. I personally trailered the car down to his Garage Mahal at my own expense just so I could see him and hang out with him again for a brief while. Barry set about selling his Corvette and his Cadillac to keep the books relatively balanced.
Barry was as happy as a clam when I pulled up to his Garage Mahal with the Morgan in tow. He and a friend were restoring a Model A Ford in the garage at that moment, but as soon as the Ford was done, the Morgan would be next.
Perfect, I said. After all, the skills needed to restore that 30s Ford are exactly the same skills needed to restore this 60s Morgan!
Every now and then, Barry will send me a lengthy email with all the latest and greatest news on the car. The Morgan is in good hands.
A newfound appreciation for the Miata
It was during Morgan ownership that I truly learned to appreciate what an amazing car the Mazda Miata was. Back when I was a college student, I just thought of the NA Mazda Miata as “just an old sports car.”
But now I’ve actually owned “an old sports car,” and driven many others. (MGAs, MGBs, Triumph TR6s, just to name a few.) The Morgan being one of the most old-timey and quaint of the Little British Cars especially thrust the differences in expectations from then and now into plain view.
Because back then, you couldn’t have a sports car that didn’t have significant compromises. But now, you give up almost nothing when owning a sports car outside of size. The Miata is the ultimate British car, and one that I think my generation and younger take for granted. It has a stiff chassis, a small motor that makes 100+ reliable horsepower, has room for luggage, and can be made quick for relatively little money.
To get the Morgan Plus 4 to a point where it could run toe-to-toe with a stock NA Miata would require lots of effort.
And yet. It’s undeniable that the old LBCs carry a charm that the Miata and its descendants and cousins can’t match. Maybe it’s because of the compromises that force one to unconditionally pledge allegiance to the sports car mythos that make the old sports cars so alluring.
I had wanted to title this post “My 1967 Morgan Plus 4, sports car cosplay” as a Morgan really sucks as a competition car, but now I’m reconsidering. As a sports car to go fast in, the Morgan is a terrible choice. But maybe sports cars are just a state of mind. And perhaps the delusional masquerade that this Morgan Plus 4 4-seater could serve as family transportation just throws the whole thing into a tizzy and strengthens the argument as “the exception proving the rule.”
In a world where everything has to be better and faster, the Morgan asks “what would happen if we took the other approach?” And it’s all the better for it.
Going through all the cool things about the Morgan would result in a post that’s a short novella. So instead of doing that, I’m linking to the two videos that I had intended to use in my online ads but never got around to using. All of the remarks were off the cuff, so I misstated some things here and there (like saying that this car is a 2-seater, whoops!), but the general gist of what it’s like to have a Morgan are here.