A Morgan Saga

I think it goes back to my childhood! My uncle had left a one-year old MG TF 1500 at my home for three weeks while on his honeymoon, and I was in my early teens, too young to do anything with it other than sit in its red leather seats, move the gearshift and levers back and forth, and dream... He sold that car in 1961 for $150 with a cracked block, and I've never let him forget it!

In 1968, I did a three-month fellowship in London, and saw a beautiful 1960ish Plus 4 at a tennis match there. While taking several pictures (some girl kept getting in the way!), I noticed its classic lines (the car's) belied its performance. I never had the opportunity to sit or drive it, however.

While serving in the Army, I found myself in the grand and glorious reaches of western Louisiana, with nothing to do in my spare time but read. Suddenly, the December 1969 issue of Road & Track came across my desk, and hit me like a ton of bricks! There, in all of its pristine glory, was THE car that I had to have! The Plus 8 had just begun to be manufactured, and the idea of owning a car with a shape like that and a V-8 was too much to pass over. I wrote a letter to the factory and received a very properly British reply from a Mr. Day, who was Peter Morgan's vice-president. He had been with the company since Mr. Morgan's father was in charge, even before the first 4-wheel model was produced in 1936. Alas, he is no longer with them. I sent him an order, stating what I wanted on the car, which included almost everything available as an option: bonnet strap, two-tone paint, luggage rack, spare tyre cover, and a rear bumper. I also asked Mr. Day to please install an AM/FM radio. Incidentally, I asked, how much would the total package be? There could be no dickering with this one! By return mail, he replied that they would be happy to supply me with the car as ordered, with the exception of the radio. He said that Mr. Morgan felt that a true sports car driver should be listening to the music of the engine and not of a radio, and thus made no provision for one in the car! After that, I have never once considered putting one in!

I ordered every option that they offered at that time, and the total cost of them came to $150! Then came the anxious waiting period - I was told it would be a five month wait before the car would be finished, and then another six weeks shipping. I received the good news that it was shipped in May, 1971, and then heard that it was being sent to the port of New Orleans instead of Mobile, and thus would take two extra weeks.... I was finally notified of its arrival in Mobile on a freighter loaded with pipe! I could see my Morgan coming in delicately balanced on the top of a vast pyramid of drain pipes! On a Monday morning, I was able to finally take possession with very minimal red tape. However, driving it home would be something else - The windshield, top, and both seats were all packed in the back, so my first drive entailed my sitting on a cardboard box in the driver's compartment and attempting to get the car out of first gear, where it had frozen during the trip overseas. Fortunately, there was a Fiat dealership a few blocks away who was able to help me. In fact, they drove it around the block a few extra times "just to make sure it was all right". I drove it to my uncle's house and assembled the pieces.

After returning to Louisiana to show everyone at the base what I had been talking about for a year, I then put my entire worldly belongings, including all my uniforms, two suitcases, a color TV, blankets, etc., into the car ( with the top up, it was packed completely to shoulder level all around, with only a small cubbyhole for me to sit and drive). It is quite an experience to drive 1500 miles on the front edge of a hurricane that was wearing itself out in a vehicle that is guaranteed to make one claustrophobic! Needless to say, rear-view vision was a luxury that was unobtainable...

I spent a very enjoyable year in Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, but the weather was so cold that I never got to take the top off once until the spring thaw in May. The Morgan went through eight inches of snow, and weeks of bitter cold, slush, and rain. One hasn't lived until they have tried driving on an ice-slick road with no weight on the rear wheels! It was also something to be remembered to go to a drive-in movie when the temperature was 18 degrees outside ( and maybe 20 degrees inside!).

Disaster struck one night in Aberdeen -- Stopped at a traffic light one night, a drunk in a 1960 Oldsmobile 88 slammed into the Dart behind me, and the Dart then proceeded to try shoving my rear bumper up under the front seat. As luck would have it, the Morgan was low enough that he overrode my bumper and frame and crushed the wooden frame around the spare tire. The repair shop had quite a time learning to fabricate it again. I was afraid that I would have to pick splinters out of my back end for the next six months. It was unfortunate that the Morgan was in the repair shop for six weeks. Even more unfortunate was the car that I was given to drive in the meantime - a 1970 Gremlin...

At last I was able to enjoy my car in the Spring. Once, while driving up to Pennsylvania to visit a friend, the engine suddenly quit out in the countryside at 7 PM on a Friday night (typical!). I managed to be pulled back to a service station where we determined that my fuel pump was acting up. We finally figured out that a well-placed blow to the back of the stowage compartment whenever it would quit ticking would start it again. So for the next year I would drive down the road and suddenly reach back and strike the back of the car with my fist. This always caused a raised eyebrow with any passenger that I had.

After receiving my discharge papers in June, I prepared to pack my total possessions back into each cubic centimeter that it came up in. No one told me about the hurricane moving up the East coast that I would be facing going home. I had a sense of deja vu as my three wipers tried valiantly to peel three inches of rain off my windscreen for the next three days.

Following my arrival in Mobile in 1972, the Morgan served as my primary transportation for the next year. It was assisted by the ever-faithful 1965 Corvair Corsa that I still have, but that is another story. It has been in a well-deserved semi-retirement since then, coming out on days that would do justice to it -- beautiful, partly cloudy Spring or Fall days with just a touch of nip in the air, enough to wear a sweater but not enough to raise the top. It developed some wood rot in 1977, and I entrusted it to Pierre Fontana to repair. He has been its confidant ever since. We entered it in the Custom and Sports Car Show in 1980 where it won first place in the Import Division. I have never entered it in other shows, preferring to enjoy it as a driving car, rather than as a museum piece. To date I have 27,000 miles on the Morgan, 18,000 put on it in the first 20 months. It is truly a part of the family, and has occupied a very significant part of my life. Thanks, Peter. You have enriched my life immensely.

Since this was written, I have joined the South Alabama British Car Club, and have begun restoring and spiffing up the Morgan. Bob Mason has been instrumental in harassing me into improving the detail appearrances of it, and I spent the summer of 1992 underneath it, cleaning 21 years of dirt and corrosion from crevices that hadn't seen the light of day since it was originally built! Over 9 pounds of black rust-preservative paint were applied with a brush (along with an unknown amount applied to me!). The Morgan was entered in the first show of the club in October, 1991, and surprisingly came in first in its class. As it was still on blocks in 1992, I wasn't able to return the following year. In 1993, there was actually a Morgan class of cars, with three in competition! It placed a close second to a beautiful 4 + 4 from Birmingham. However, it came through with the overall Mayor's Choice Award covering all 136 entries. The Morgan accomplished a third overall in 1994, but wasn't able to participate in 1995. I'm looking forward to this year's meet, especially to renew some old friendships with people (and cars) whom I haven't seen since last year.

The best thing about Morgans is driving one - There's no experience like it, cruising down a country road with the roar of the engine reverberating in your ears, and your hand resting on the gear shift, ready for the next down shift to go around the car in front of you.

In August, 1996, I visited Isis Imports in San Francisco. Tucked way back in the back of one of the piers was one of the neatest gatherings of cars seen in a long time! There were two 1996 Plus 8s for sale, but even more interesting was the presence of the first prototype Plus 8, a converted Plus 4 from 1968. The only visible difference was two small bubbles in the bonnet to accommodate the carbouretters for the V8. It still looked mighty potent, that is, until I saw the next car which was under wraps. It was one of only three SLR racing Morgans built around 1962, and probably the only one still in existence! Needless to say, my camera was working overtime!

September, 1996 brought the annual British Car Day to Fairhope again, and I, or rather the Morgan, placed a close second to a flat-rad from Pensacola. I've continued slowly refurbishing the car, and replaced the leather interior in December. I also redyed the top and tonneau (which look almost new!!) In January, I finally broke down and blasted the wheels and clear-coated them the natural finish aluminum. My next major step will be to completely repaint the exterior, if I can leave it that long!! Mike Darby consented to retuning the car, and found out that it had been running on only one SU carburettor for an unknown number of years, so now it's double the fun! Pat Ponder and I made the trip with the club over to Pensacola to the Naval Air Museum in January, and the car was outstanding (even with the bonnet up!). Thanks to Bob's persistance in encouraging me to improve the car, I think it will wind up pretty decent in the near future.

The time has come for painting -- I have begun to strip my car of all embelishments, and the poor thing looks like an empty egg shell now! I have seen worse looking racers, though! Hopefully I will be able to get it over to Mike Darby's place for him to paint soon, because I don't know how long I can drive this thing without any lights, both in the front and back!