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posted Nov 15, 2010, 4:04 PM by Tony McLaughlin
Tony McLaughlin, November 5, 2003
Peter Morgan

Sports car enthusiast whose gentlemanly style kept his family firm at the forefront of a niche market

Bill Wykeham Wednesday November 5, 2003 The Guardian

There is something uniquely British about a prewar-styled, canvas-topped Morgan sports car. Its anarchic handling and barely adequate creature comforts are outweighed by the excitement and sense of freedom generated behind the wheel, so lacking in much modern machinery. Customers wait years to buy one and, extraordinarily for a producer of fewer than 1,000 cars a year, the Morgan Motor Company is renowned around the world.

Presiding over this eccentric marque for more than half a century was Peter Morgan - "PM" to everyone he knew - who has died aged 83.

It was somehow fitting that he was born in a house next to the company's factory in Worcester Road, Malvern, where his father, HFS Morgan, had established the business 10 years earlier. After the Link school, Malvern, and Oundle, he studied at the Chelsea College of Automobile and Aero Engineering (1937-40), and joined the Royal Army Service Corps. From the motor shop, he was posted to Freetown, and later Nairobi, where he was put in charge of army workshops.

Demobbed with the rank of captain, and following a brief period with the United Africa Company, Peter joined the family firm in February 1947. Under his father, it had been successful in the three-wheeler market that the tax policies of the day encouraged. Peter's arrival coincided with its decline, and so he focused on the development of the Morgan 4/4 - four wheels and four cylinders.

A skilled draughtsman and engineer, he took an interest in all aspects of the motor manufacturing process, which, on a Morgan, still involves many craft techniques. The postwar years were difficult times for car manufacturers, with exporting a priority; even today half the firm's output goes abroad.

In 1951, the Morgan Plus 4, a two-litre development of the 4/4, was launched, eventually adopting the more streamlined bodywork produced today. Peter campaigned relentlessly for the new model in trials and rallies, achieving a premier award in the Exeter trial and team prize in both the 1951 and 1952 RAC rallies. His enthusiasm for motor sport later led to the involvement of Chris Lawrence, whose class win at Le Mans in 1962, driving a Plus 4 Super Sports, was factory-backed.

Following his father's death in 1959, Peter became chairman of the company, by which time the world of car manufacturing was going through fundamental change. Manufacturing efficiencies and improvements were producing major competition for Morgan; both MG Sports Cars' MGB and the Triumph TR4, for instance, offered similar performance and more comfort, with wind-up windows and quick-release hoods. One of Morgan's attempts at a solution, the Plus 4 Plus, a closed coupe with fibreglass body, was not a success. On the other hand, the Plus 8, launched in 1968, became the "in" car of the moment; it was bought by the likes of Mick Jagger, and enjoyed 35 years in production.

Peter took a gentlemanly approach to management, concluding deals with handshakes or murmured agreement. During the industry's most turbulent period of labour relations, in the 1970s, the Morgan workforce soldiered on, content in their attractive Malvern environment; they felt part of the family business.

Peter's love of the simple life - operating his garden railway, collecting stamps, driving with his dog in the passenger seat or campaigning for the RSPCA, particularly against the live export of animals - moderated any desire to increase car production or profits. Whether by accident or design, this meant that demand for Morgans always exceeded supply, making their ownership a financially attractive prospect.

When asked at motor shows why he had not produced more user-friendly models, better protected from the elements, Peter maintained that there were only ever going to be a small number of people who would be happy owning a Morgan, which, in any case, was more comfortable than a motorbike.

Always putting charm ahead of litigation, Peter built a worldwide network of dealers, who served him loyally, often preferring not to process warranty claims they had fulfilled for fear of offending him. However, he was also a shrewd negotiator, notably with Rover in obtaining the use of their coveted all-aluminium V8 engine to make the Plus 8 so special.

In a celebrated television programme in 1990, the BBC's small-business trouble-shooter, Sir John Harvey-Jones, for once found no welcome for his recommendations for improvements at Morgan, in this case that the company try to double its production and raise prices by a third. But while Peter had no interest in seeing how sales would fare in an open market, in subsequent years output per week rose from eight to 11, the highest level since the 1920s, with each vehicle produced in 17 days rather than 48. Ironically, the attention generated by the programme boosted the order book still further, and, three years ago, Harvey-Jones himself saluted the new, all-aluminium Aero 8 model in a follow-up series.

In 1999, Peter passed operational control of Morgan to his son Charles, who became managing director, while he stayed on as chairman. As well as Charles, Peter is survived by Sonya and Jill, the two other children of his marriage to Jane Christie, who died last July; and by his second wife, Heather Williams, whom he married in 1983.

· Peter Henry Geoffrey Morgan, sports car manufacturer, born November 3 1919; died October 20 2003
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