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There’s nothing quite so British as rain. Weeping from the sky in a fine mist, the day is grey, the road wet and the clouds thick. But still, I have a smile on my face. For my ride down this single-track Yorkshire road is the convertible, congenial Morgan Plus 4 – a car almost as British as this blustery weather.
It was 1950 when the Morgan Motor Company first unveiled the Plus 4 – a larger version of their 4/4 model. Sleeker, sportier and slightly longer than the British brand’s existing offerings, the car was a hit – and is still in production today.
The car’s launch took place 68 years ago, during the Earls Court Motor Show, and – slightly more recently – I picked up this particular Plus 4 from a small street in central London: Astwood Mews, the location of the capital’s Morgan dealership. Tucked just behind Gloucester Road station, it’s a quaint, quintessentially British thoroughfare, and just a stone’s throw from where Earls Court exhibition centre used to stand. This 2-litre, rear wheeled drive apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
"The convertible, congenial Morgan Plus 4 - a car almost as British as this blustery weather..."
But why would it? As I continue my showery spin down this northern road, rain streaming along the swooping front wings, it’s clear that this is not a design to be tampered with. Yes, the engine under the hand-louvred bonnet has hopped from Triumph to Fiat to Rover before settling on the current Ford, disc brakes have been standardised and the cabin has had a leather-clad facelift, but the Plus 4 remains identifiably vintage – a fun, sporty throwback amongst cars preoccupied with trivialities like air bags and crumple zones.
Low-slung, beautiful to behold and peppered with small style quirks – from Union Jack enamel bonnet badges to a chrome-buckled leather bonnet strap – it’s clear that they got it right those 68 years ago. The Plus 4 is even turning the heads of the sheep.
As I nip through the heart of Yorkshire, the engine burbles heartily through the specially-fitted GDI sports exhaust. Winding around the snaking roads, through field and over fell, the car cuts through the rain – and the brilliant trio of small chromed windscreen wipers do their job handsomely. The weather’s not ideal, but this typical British winter’s day is a good test for the Morgan.
It fairs better than you’d expect in inclement weather. The black mohair roof is commendably wind- and waterproof and the heated seats and fans keep things toasty in the cabin. There’s no escaping the sheer noise – hurtling up the A1 yesterday would have been a recipe for aspirin in a less-enjoyable car – but behind the wheel of a Plus 4 you couldn’t care less. If anything, the wind noise takes you back to basics, and the man/machine bond becomes closer than ever. You can take anything that the road throws at you which, in this case, is sheep.
As I take another corner on the drizzly road, I find a small pack of the woolly creatures blocking my way. I pull up, get out and walk a little down the road. After a short time playing shepherd – cheered on by a chorus of chuckling grouse – I clear the way and turn back to the car. It looks almost other-worldly in this bleak landscape, shining silver through the mist, like a bastion of Britishness.
Back in the car – which does require a little acrobatics – and the black wire wheels are soon turning once more, taking me down a curving road to a remote farm. Despite its stature, throw bumps, hills and even cattle grids at the Plus 4 and it takes them in its stride, free from fuss. And that’s quite an achievement for a car sitting on sliding pillar suspension – an antique system that dates back to the first Morgan of 1909.
"The brilliant trio of small chromed windscreen wipers do their job handsomely..."
The whole thing feels like a car from the past – constructed around an ash frame and with hand-beaten steel and aluminium bodywork. But, despite being crafted rather than assembled, everything feels solid and safe. Even as I make an accidental detour into a working farmyard, the car quells my panic with the soothing grumble of the engine and its more-than-capable handling in tight spots.
A farmer approaches the heritage sports car and, fearing I’m about to be thrown off his land, I slide the perspex window open apologetically. Instead, he offers me a route back to the road. It seems no-one can be mad at a Morgan. Even in London, no angry horns honked my way. This is a car that engenders a sense of goodwill, affection, even patriotism in people.
Either that, or the farmer was just too politely embarrassed to chastise me – which, like the Morgan and the mizzle, is just about as British as you can get.
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