Generation Why: ICONs And Morgans
Previous editions of Generation Why have explored one of the last glimmers of automotive affection that the “carless generation” still holds on to- the love of classic cars.
Modern cars are better than they’ve ever been in every qualitative aspect, but they have embraced a stifling homogeneity as a result. Consolidation will only exacerbate that – who would have thought that one day, Mazda would be doing the legwork for the next Alfa Romeo Spider. Personally, I think the marriage of Italian aesthetics with Japanese guts is the perfect union, but it’s also indicative of the epoch we live in; there is little room for sentimentality, romance and narrative if you are a mainstream manufacturer, because it’s very easy for the lights to be turned off and your dinner to be snatched away.
On the fringes, free from pedestrian crash test regulations, expectations of 432 airbags and Facebook integration, creativity and originality still exists. Somewhere in my piles of EVO back issues, there is a quote from an unnamed Honda executive stating “In the end, there will be three car companies. One of them will be Morgan.”
Morgan, as well all know, uses wood as a key construction element for their cars, and recently launched a new 3-Wheeler that uses a motorcycle-style V-Twin engine. Car and Driver’s Justin Berkowitz recently interviewed company head Charles Morgan (yes, it’s a family business), and Morgan’s eloquent dissection of the modern sports car, his realistic outlook on the industry (“…everybody has to have collaboration if they’re going to build a viable car…” and most importantly, his recognition of the desire for as he calls it “quality and individualism”. Morgan’s small size and overflowing order books often translate into wait lists, which helps the brand’s exclusitivity factor. While they do about 750 cars per year, the 3-Wheeler has apparently generated in excess of 1200 orders alone. According to those more familiar with the business than I am, that will take Morgan years to complete.
On our side of the world, ICON announced plans to expand beyond their lineup of Land Cruisers and Broncos with an Aston Martin DB4 Zagato-esque car called the “ Reformer“. The Reformer will no doubt be an expensive, exclusive proposition – just like the Morgan cars are (though the 3-wheeler will apparently retail for around $45,000 in the U.S.). But the beauty of aiming for the top of the market is that even in tough times, the really rich people interested in wacky, bespoke 4-wheeled toys tend to hang on to their fortunes and can still afford to buy these kinds of products. No surprise that Lotus is a victim of being stuck in the middle – rotgut and cognac always sell in tough times, to both polar extremes of the market. Everything else suffers.
Are we ever going to see these sorts of boutique companies spring up and offer classic-looking vehicles, modern powertrains and more importantly, a breath of fresh air from the current crop of numbers-obsessed isolation chambers that masquerade as sports cars? Probably not. But the love affair with classic cars, their designs, powertrains and their elemental purity will continue to burn bright as cars march further and further down that path. The motorcycle market in North America has been suffering from a big gap in the marketplace between 250cc and 600cc bikes that are affordable and desirable for new riders. Enter Cleveland CycleWerks, a Cleveland-based motorcycle company that is bringing to market some low-end, affordable bikes that look like they came straight of a Hunter S. Thompson-era desert race. The catch? They’re made in China. That seems to be the only way these things get down nowadays.
Drawing parallels between an upstart motorcycle company and the auto industry as a whole isn’t completely fair. But there’s no denying that there’s something about those older vehicles, whether they’re FJ40s or 427 Cobras, that keeps us longing for them to the point where we insist on restoring them and building replicas of them with new and improved underpinnings. Right now, your choices for an affordable, ICON-esque vehicle seem to be emulating this gentleman’s project of mating a Healey Sprite body to Miata running gear. I still hold out hope that some brave entrepreneur or trust fund recipient will take up something like Cleveland Cyclewerks for automobiles. Or an OEM doing “factory refreshes” of iconic models. If not, I’ll be in the garage…
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Derek.... Great article. Very well written. There is yet one other little car company that evokes memories of things past and keeps life simple and unique, like Morgan. Yes, it too is current and active. It is Allard Motor Cars. Please see link: http://www.allardj2x.com/ --------
Putting classic car shapes over modern mechanicals appeals little to me. You are missing out on the heart of what old car motoring is about. Sure it maybe unreliable and Camry's can out accelerate you, but it's just not as much fun.