Nothing is more retro than a Morgan, and its first car for the American market continues to set the standard.
Over the last decade, you've likely seen enough PT Cruisers and New Beetles to convince you that "retro" is just an automaker's synonym for "cute." But what about cars that take a much more serious approach to retro? These are the cars where an effort has been made to make them as much as possible like older models. These cars tend not to have mass appeal, whether by design or due to poor planning, and this series will explore the less-common retro-mobiles.
When it comes to deliberate niche retro cars, Morgan is the undisputed king. This made it difficult to pick which model to write about, but the +4 fits in nicely with the rest as a model which was killed off decades ago and has since been reintroduced, virtually unchanged from the original. The +4 even gets bonus points for already being a sort of retro when it was first introduced in 1950.
The +4 represents Morgan's weird idea of what it is to remain relevant in the market. Morgan had a good deal of success with the 4/4, their first four-wheeled model, introduced in 1936.
This model has remained in production, nearly uninterrupted since that year, and you'd have a hard time telling the new models from the old just by looking at them. But by the early Fifties, British roadsters were becoming increasingly popular with American buyers, and Morgan decided to build a sort of "deluxe" roadster for our market. Thus was born the +4, a car based on the 4/4 and styled to look very similar, but equipped to be more competitive with the offerings from the likes of MG and Austin. It stayed in production until 1969, was reintroduced from 1985 to 2000, and has been in production again since 2005.
It is maddeningly difficult to tell the difference between the old cars and new ones, but one way to tell without lifting the engine cowl is to look at the side mirrors. On older cars, these are located just behind the headlights, whereas the new cars have them affixed to the doors. Strange though it might sound, this is actually the easiest way to tell the difference between a 2012 Morgan and one made sixty years ago.
Even taking the styling into account, there is still one more thing which makes the +4 the most staggeringly old-fashioned car in this series; it has a frame made of ash. Yes, wood, they made the frame out of wood.
This sounds worse than it is, the ash frame is strong and actually works quite well, but Morgan is definitely the only car company which still does this, and it's difficult to get over just how unbelievably old-fashioned it is. Thankfully, the engine is a thoroughly modern one, although one sometimes gets the impression that Morgan would gladly use something ancient if only emissions regulations allowed for it. The current model uses a 2.0-liter Ford four-cylinder which produces 145 horsepower. This isn't much, but the car is extremely light, and that power goes a long way.
In fact, there is even some motorsport pedigree in the +4, as it took a GT class win in the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans. For almost any other car this would be an irrelevant fact, but this being a Morgan, little has changed since it took this win. That is to say, little has changed at Morgan. The rest of the world has moved on, and for the same price as a +4, you could get a much less absurd convertible, such as an Audi A4 Cabriolet. The +4 is also quite small. In fact, it is so small that early models didn't even have enough space under the cowl for an air filter and many owners would reportedly stretch cheese cloth over the carburetor as a means of protecting it.
The interior was no better, and obviously still isn't. Should you be carrying a passenger, it would be best if the two of you were very good friends, since you will be rubbing up against them for pretty much the entire journey. There is no trunk either, although at this point that should be obvious. The +4 is not a serious form of transportation, but rather a toy. Of course, this is the whole point. Not only of the +4, but of Morgans in general. They're niche cars and truthfully, there are a lot of cars which are just as impractical and will cost you quite a lot more money. Morgan makes cars for a specific niche in the market.
You might not be one of those who are into their cars, but Morgan has been building niche cars for more than 100 years, and is doing just fine. So if you don't like them, they aren't likely to care.