Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Bloody Morgans!

My wife and I had stayed overnight in Great Malvern in Worcestershire, so that we would be refreshed for our visit to Morgan Cars http://morgan-motor.co.uk/ I was both excited and intrigued by the prospect of visiting the factory, having always had an interest in Morgans but, until recently, had never had the means or the opportunity to purchase one. My only real knowledge of the factory and the company’s unique manufacturing methods was gained from watching the BBC’s ‘Troubleshooter’ programme presented by Sir John Harvey-Jones, the rest was hearsay. I was fascinated by the prospect of seeing the place for myself. We hurriedly consumed our breakfast, booked out of our hotel and with great expectations we made our way to the factory for our 10 o’clock visit. We were not to be disappointed.

The ash frame taking shape
 The tour of the factory was indeed both stimulating and memorable. Watching a highly skilled workforce demonstrating their skills, creating a most beautiful product in a happy, civilised environment, was most refreshing in these days of mass production and perhaps soulless working conditions. It was fascinating to realise that my first car, a 1936 Morris 10/4 fixed head coupe, purchased in the early 60’s for £30 from the Secretary at the bank where I then worked, and which now resides in the Holker Hall Motor Museum in Cumbria (more about this in a later posting), was built in a similar way to the cars whose assembly we were now watching. The only difference it seemed to me was the fact that it was aluminium that was being formed around the ash frames rather than steel. The whole experience was truly inspiring and at a ‘fiver’ each, represented superb value. It is an attraction that I would recommend to any one whether they intended to purchase a car or not. However, as far as we were concerned, that first visit, which was made during September, hardened our resolve to perhaps buy one of those little beauties.

The idea of bringing a Morgan into our lives had formed in my mind following the deaths of my mother and father within two weeks of each other in 2007 after, it has to be said, a very creditable innings. However, this sad event had brought about increased intimations of my own mortality and a heightened awareness that life is for living and their ain’t much of it. How the hell had I reached 64 so quickly anyway? I still felt much the same as I had done in my 30’s! Something had to be done, but what?

Assembly line
Fortunately, when my parents’ estate was finally settled,  there would be some funds available that were ‘surplus’ to everyday needs. Put it this way, it was money that we had never had and we were managing reasonably well on what we had now. Yes, I suppose the sensible thing to have done would have been to salt it away in a building society, but an alternative was proving to be more appealing. It could be used to finance something, an interest, which would allow my wife and me to frolic with some gusto, into even older age.
We retired some four years ago now, from the family business, a large village newsagents, which we had taken over from my parents on their retirement. Although it is an extremely demanding trade, I was able, during the 20 years we were there and in the limited time available, to pursue my lifelong interest in sailing.
During that time I had owned a number of small yachts that I sailed on Windermere and Ullswater, so perhaps another boat would provide a means of enriching our retirement. However the problem with that idea is that my dear wife, alas it seems like many other ladies, does not share my interest in nautical transport and indeed has a strong reluctance to get into anything ‘tippy’ like a boat! The reality was that I would be sailing on my own. Not an undesirable prospect I hear you cry, but for someone like me who does enjoy his wife’s company it was a prospect only to be relished occasionally. Indeed, during the period when we were in business I sailed at most once a week, depending on the weather, and frankly, although I thoroughly enjoyed the days I spent on the lake, I was pleased to get home for a gin and tonic and relate the day’s adventures to a wife who at least pretended to be interested!
Build No. 48/07
No, a boat was not the answer and would clearly not be used fully. To have a boat worth several thousand pounds swinging on a mooring or in a marina and not being used is absolute nonsense, which is a thought that occurs to me every time I see a marina or harbour full of highly expensive boats! It had to be something that we could both enjoy and share.
Over the years both of us had regarded caravans with some amusement and with a measure of annoyance, especially when driving on narrow roads with one in front of us. However, our Volvo did have a tow ball and it was a pursuit that we could both be involved in so we decided to give it a try.
The caravan was purchased and we started to use it mainly for short breaks but occasionally for longer periods. The fact is that we did enjoy it, once we had arrived at our destination. The problem,  and it invariably turned into a minor saga, was getting everything ready and loaded properly. During this process my wife thankfully reminded me about the various departure procedures that I had failed to complete and which could have led to disaster, like raising the steadies or not removing the wheel lock. Then of course there was the tow itself. My wife used to hold on for grim death telling me to slow down (damn it I was only doing 50!), informing me well in advance of approaching hazards, whilst I pretended to be totally relaxed and completely at one with the car and the big white lump that was following closely behind. And that was another concern...would it still be there when we arrived! It was all too stressful, not for the many who started in their younger days, like some of our friends and former customers, but for the two of us, we decided that we’d started too late.
So often, stress levels were high and it was too much like hard work, something that frankly we did not need and could do without. So, after a very brief career as caravanners,  we sold it and considered what other interest might fulfil our requirements.
Then it dawned on me. We had never had a sports car. Why the hell not while we were still able to get into one! The prospect of idyllic picnics filled my mind. Lounging by a babbling stream in the Trough of Bowland, the Lakes, or the Yorkshire Dales, concerts in the park, point to point races, always in glorious sunshine of course, with the National Trust rug spread out, a hamper brimming with fine wine and sophisticated food and that beautiful car in the background. I could see it all, the joy of it, the sheer joy. Driving to the south of France past fields of sunflowers and vineyards, with the wind streaming through our hair, well my wife’s anyway! Yes, oh yes, this was the answer. Something we could do and enjoy together.
Looking good!

Decision made, and for us the only sports car to fulfil all those desires was a Morgan, an icon and so quintessentially English. We visited our local dealer in Southport http://lifesmotors.com/, had a trial drive, talked about the possibility of finding a good used example, visited the factory for the first time and I started to plan our garden to accommodate a second garage. Hours were spent, digging, demolishing part of the garden pond and rockery, transferring loads of topsoil to other parts of the garden, trips to the tip, moving a mountain of hardcore in preparation for the arrival of the concrete for the base. Was it going to be worth it, I asked myself. At least I’d lost a few pounds which meant that my planned New Year resolution to cut down on beer was now not such an imperative!
At this point and before the garage was erected I phoned the dealer as arranged to ask him to start looking for a nice used 4/4, which I felt would be quite sprightly enough for a Volvo driver of advancing years!
“I’m glad you’ve called , said he, I’ve got a building slot for a new 4/4. I’ve had to give them a specification and if you were interested we’d have to move fast to change it because they’re starting to build it next week and once they’ve started they won’t be able to change it. I’ve asked for Le Mans green paintwork, stone leather trim with green piping, green carpets with stone piping, stainless wires, mesh grill, walnut dash.....”
In the showroom awaiting collection.
I began to get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was it adrenalin? I must fight it, I must not allow myself to be distracted by the conflicting thoughts that were now pervading my whole being. Get thee behind me Satan! My wife was hovering in the background (they’re good hoverers especially at times like these!), decisions, decisions. It was the classic car buying scenario and one where I know you should stand back and stick to your guns or at least give yourself time. Don’t rush in, use your head and keep cool. Damn it, I didn’t want to spend all that money, we’re not rolling in it. I only wanted a good second hand one. Oh bugger, I could feel myself falling for it. The car sounded great. The prospect of our car being hand- built for us. It was something that happened to other more fortunate people. But I was taking the bait and I knew it and what is more I didn’t care. Oh sod it, sod it. Surely my father would be delighted at the thought that I was spending some of his legacy on such a glorious thing. Don’t kid yourself lad, my alter ego said, no he bloody wouldn’t!
“You were saying that we would have to act fast if we wanted to change the spec. How would it be if we came this afternoon and then we can talk some more? That would be fine said he”. Oh bugger, thought I!
As we walked up the road to the dealers some two hours later, I could once again see those cars in the showroom. They were there beckoning to us like sirens. Those bloody Morgans!
We walked in like lambs to the slaughter. We had fallen hook, line and sinker for the charms of these little beasts and we left with the specification for ‘Build No 48/07 in our hot little hands. Which is why some three weeks later we found ourselves once again in the trim shop at the Morgan factory looking at our new acquisition in all it’s glory. What a beauty!
Yes indeed, what a beauty!

By the way we’ve called her ‘Nellie’ after my mother, who, along with father made a major contribution to our future enjoyment! At least that may go some way to assuaging him!
Although the car was delivered to the showroom on 19th December 2007, we are not taking delivery until March 1st 2008 as the new garage is being finished to a standard appropriate for a lady of her quality and we are escaping the British climate for most of February.
Roll on Spring!

Article first published in 'Miscellany' May 2008

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