Big Healeys that cost $25,000 in 2000 are selling for $50,000 today; even pristine MG As, TR4s and TR6s cost more than Morgans
In January 2000, a "good, clean example" of a 1966 Morgan Plus 4 sold for $26,620, and the SCM commentator remarked "Sold for quite good money. Is this the signal for an uptick in Plus 4 prices, or is it Barrett-Jackson fever?"
Seven years later, Morgan fans are still waiting for that uptick. At Russo and Steele in August 2007, a 1955 Morgan Plus 4 described as "brightwork and chrome very nice; a clean, open sport-touring car" sold for $24,200.
Meanwhile, at Barrett-Jackson in January 2008, a #3+ quality 1959 school bus yellow Plus 4 sold for $30,800. That's better, you say? Not so fast. This same car actually dropped from $38,500 at B-J's Palm Beach auction in March 2007. To rub salt in the wound, a #2+ quality 1960 Plus 4 crept away for only $17,600 at that same auction (though there might have been a penalty attached to the Union Jack top).
The news is equally grim for the 1968-onward V8-powered Plus 8 models, which generally realize about $25,000, too. However, they rarely appear for sale in the U.S. and were imported intermittently as propane conversions with bizarre bumpers.
Looking at SCM's record of Morgan sales, one could be forgiven for wondering if Morgan owners still exist in a universe where decent sports cars with classic styling can be found for about $25,000-give or take for a nice color scheme or tatty interior trim.
In the Big Healey world, cars that cost $25,000 in 2000 are selling for $50,000 today, and even pristine MG As, TR4s and TR6s are fetching prices higher than Morgans in similar condition.
So how do we explain the existence of these parallel universes without invoking string theory or quantum mechanics? Here are some theories for you to consider.
Theory #1: Used cars and unpopular updates
The Morgan roadster is still being produced, so rather than being collectible and rare, the classic car market thinks of Morgans as just used cars, and Morgan owners like it that way.
In other parts of the world not so burdened with crash tests and smog restrictions on limited-production cars, the Morgan Plus 4 can still be bought directly from the factory, thank you. Guinness recognizes the basic Morgan as the longest continuously produced model ever manufactured.
Want some fun in England? Rent a newer Morgan Plus 4 with a Ford Duratec 2-liter engine and you can have all the fun of quintessential British top-down driving, with leaky side curtains, wind in your face, limited luggage room, inadequate heat, and the squeak of hand-shaped body panels tacked to an ash frame-plus modern reliability.
It's not that the Morgans haven't tried updates. But every time a new generation attempts to modernize the appeal of the marque, the Morgan community throws it off. Witness the mere 26 fiberglass Plus-Four-Plus coupes from Peter Morgan from 1963 to '66, or the rarely seen cross-eyed Aeros from his son Charles in 2000.
Theory #2: They're just old Triumphs for masochists
The 1950s and 1960s Morgans we can buy in the U.S. are nothing more than old Triumphs with quirky styling and even worse suspension.
Through most of the period that Morgans could be legally imported into the United States in any numbers (1948-67), the Plus 4s were equipped with 2-liter 4-cylinder Triumph engines (the English Ford-powered 1.5-liter 4/4 is really too slow). This might make engine rebuilds easier than a Daimler SP250 or Jowett Jupiter, but for many buyers, the body styling is still an acquired taste.
Some might argue that the only reason the Morgan look is iconic is because the company stubbornly refused to update it over the past 60 years. The last major change took place in 1954, when the flat-front radiator was replaced by the slightly curved version that has been used ever since. (The aforementioned Aero V8 and Aeromax coupe attempted to morph it into a six-figure cost bracket with limited success).
The Morgan's handling and ride quality are even more challenging. The styling is modern by comparison with the sliding-pillar independent front suspension designed by former railway engineer (designer, not driver) H.F.S. Morgan in 1909. Morgan purists argue that the design provides better handling, but lesser mortals mostly notice it provides nearly no isolation from potholes.
Theory #3: Dammit, sir, it's not about money!
Morgan owners aren't just some demographic market segment attracted to the focus group-defined features of a car brand; they are a selective fraternity, perhaps even a cult, which isn't interested in making money from their cars.
Voice the criticisms listed above regarding power, style, or ride comfort to any Morgan owner, after he or she has pulled off the flying goggles, leather helmet, and worn sheepskin-lined jacket that seem to be issued with each car, and they will simply smile and nod. These owners take pride in being iconoclastic, not iconic.
For them, the quirks and challenges of Morgan ownership are just proof that their sense of style, tolerance for discomfort, and appreciation for fine old British traditions puts them into a class of their own.
By convincing the rest of the world that owning a Morgan is only for an elite-or benighted-few, Morgan owners have managed to keep their cars out of the investment side of the collector car market altogether.
Actually, I suspect that the prices of Morgans sold at public auctions have little or nothing to do with general values. Skim the auction database, and you'll note how few Morgans cross the block every year. RM can move more Jaguars in one day than there are Morgans sold in a year. The few that do sell are likely to come from unexpected demises or unhappy divorces.
I suspect that if you fancy buying a Morgan, you have to go through some form of arcane ritual and acceptance that makes becoming a member of the Scottish Rite seem straightforward by comparison.
Based on what I can learn from members of the cult, the currency required to purchase a Morgan isn't measured in dollars or euros, but rather in proving you are worthy. Then, when a car becomes available for sale because an owner has been forced, on doctor's orders, to replace it with a wheelchair, you'll be permitted to buy it for a price based on its intrinsic worth, not its trendy desirability.
On a few occasions, I have been permitted to drive one of these throwbacks in the company of Morgan owners. I can attest to the satisfaction that comes from mastering the handling, I admire the performance that still leads certain vintage classes, and I appreciate the tight-knit comradeship.
But from this experience I've learned two things. First, I'm not iconoclastic or masochistic enough to be a Morgan owner. Second, I have to admire how the Malvern Link fraternity has kept dollars and cents out of the ownership equation. More power to them.
Which, in the end, means that if you fit the Morgan mold, you might have the opportunity to buy a true vintage car at an affordable number; the unique nature of the Morgan itself is, oddly enough, being replicated by the unique nature of its flat value curve.