Morgan 4/4: For sale - one classic car
As seen in gossip columns and at party conferences
Tuesday 16 May 2006
Twenty years ago, I drove out of the mews showroom of Wykehams, the Morgan dealer in South Kensington, at the wheel of a royal ivory two-seater Morgan 4/4, with a mixture of pride and trepidation. I had dreamt for years of owning one, but had never been behind such a long, beautiful bonnet before and the London buses seemed huge beside it.
Over the years, I got used to every quirk of that glorious wooden frame and lovely leather interior. The car made small boys cheer and, I was surprised to find, young women melt.
Jeremy Clarkson gave the Morgan his "bad car" verdict a few weeks ago, saying typical Morgan drivers had facial hair and were "diehard nostalgia fans who believe it harks back to a better era of motoring", sort of motoring Fred Dibnahs.
But I would put my ivory Morgan on his "cool wall" any day. What he failed to grasp is that this is no car for petrol-heads or turbo monkeys. True, it was hopeless on motorways. It had the aerodynamics of a garden shed, and the 1.6-litre Ford XR3 engine (it used to power Escorts) was no match for the Euro-buses hogging the fast lane. It was sometimes embarrassing when a driver ahead spotted the Morgan in his rear view mirror, and pulled over thinking this was the Plus 8 - identical to the untrained eye - and ready to overtake in a blinding flash of white lightning. No, it was my Morgan, rumbling along happily at 70 mph.
However, take the car on to country lanes of Kent and it was sheer romance, poetry in motion. It brought to mind the swooping Spitfires dogfighting overhead 60 years ago. OK, that is a bit of nostalgia, but it fitted like a bespoke shoe. I swear you could feel its ash frame gently bending as it cornered as sharp as a knife.
I drove it to work at the House of Commons, and it became a familiar sight to police and politicians leaving the big gates at the Palace of Westminster. It was great fun to drive out of the great gates with tourists' cameras snapping; they probably thought I was one of those "rich Tory bastards" living it up in a luxury car at the taxpayers' expense. This was surely the car that Alan B'Stard would have driven in his Tory years. I often wonder how many votes the Morgan lost Margaret Thatcher after I bought it in 1987.
It had one previous owner and about 7,000 miles on the clock. I took it on the road for the political tours each year around the conference circuit, and it rolled along the proms at Blackpool and Brighton as I followed Thatcher and Kinnock to their events.
The car became known in the family as The Throbber and I took it on holiday to the Isle of Wight, where it seemed perfectly at home. It got into the gossip columns when I gave Patrick Wintour of The Guardian a lift around a by-election in Vauxhall; the "two chaps in the white sports car" followed Kate Hoey's campaign bus around the constituency. It turned a few heads. That was one of the joys of The Throbber. It always made people smile. I suggested to one Transport Secretary that the answer to the mortality rate on the road was to introduce a law banning all cars except Morgans. Locked up in their Euro-boxes, drivers have no sense of the speed they are going. That would soon change if they drove a Morgan with the side flaps off.
Unfortunately, when I was returning from a party conference in Bournemouth in driving rain, I had a shunt on the Great West Road near Chiswick. A white van pulled out, smashed into another, collided with the central reservation, blocked the road - and I had nowhere to go except to slide gently into the back of one of the vans. I got out to find minor dents to the nose cone. The car was painstakingly restored by the Morgan dealer for £7,000, on the insurance of the other driver. I made a few cosmetic improvements - a line of piping, steel wings replaced with lighter aluminium. The wooden coachwork was not damaged, and so was put back onto the new frame.
After the workshop had finished, I drove out of their showrooms again behind the wheel of a virtually new car. I continued to run the Morgan down to the coast most weekends to go sailing at Whitstable Yacht Club where it became a popular attraction by the dockside. I recently added walnut dashboard and walnut steering wheel with matching gear knob. I think the Morgan deserved it.
Now, we've bought a holiday home in Cyprus. I toyed with shipping The Throbber to the island, but have decided the beach roads would not treat her kindly. It's time to find a new home for C722 JGP. It is now with a dealer and I should get roughly what I paid for it 20 years ago ( www.allonwhite.co.uk). Now that is something Clarkson should stuff in his clipboard.
Colin Brown is the deputy political editor of 'The Independent'
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