Old school glamour and contemporary tech combine for a raucous ride in Morgan's Aero Coupe
Stand on the cobbles outside London Morgan's mews HQ in Kensington and you're transported back to simpler days - before car dealerships were anonymous glass boxes next to ring roads and before all cars looked as though they were shaped from a similar mould. The brace of contemporary Morgans that fill the tiny showroom are a perfect match for the surroundings, from the traditionally-styled 4/4 through to the outlandish 3 Wheeler.
The Malvern-based company's current range is headed up by the Aero 8, a vehicle that exudes non-conformity. A low, purposeful two-seater, the Aero is cut from an altogether different cloth to most modern sports cars. For a start, there are the looks. Taken as a whole, the Aero 8 is unlike anything on the road, as attested by the sheer amount of attention it receives at every traffic light. But the design, originally created by former Morgan head of design Matt Humphries when he was still a student, is strongly evocative of the lines and proportions of the company's classic models, which themselves have stuck firm to a template established as far back as 1936, with very first 4/4. Throw in the popular misconception that the cars are wooden framed (ash is used as a frame for the bodywork; the chassis below is box-section aluminium, as per many other contemporary sports cars from Aston Martin to Lotus), and the scene is set for glorious automotive anachronism.
Long, swooping running boards frame the tight but beautifully trimmed cockpit. The headlights and front grille have an Art Deco boldness to their form, while the tapering rear is more nautical than automotive. Every Morgan is hand-made, naturally, in a factory that prides itself on an old school approach. Yet for all the talk of bespoke individualism there's a hefty dose of cunning expediency baked into each modern Morgan. Those oval headlights come straight off a BMW-era Mini, while the boomerang-shaped rear lights are culled from the Lancia Thesis.
Humphries' design was given a substantial makeover in 2007, curing the original car's squint and sharpening up some of the details. Since then the company has see-sawed between open and closed versions of the Aero, following a limited edition Aeromax coupe with the Supersport and Coupe models. At this year's Geneva Motor Show, the company overhauled the model yet again, creating a fifth generation car. Jon Wells, the company's Head of Design, has a tiny team, but the link between sketch, final design and factory floor is rarely as close as it is at Morgan, where panel beaters bash out the bodywork in time-honoured fashion.
The processes might be old, but the product is decidedly contemporary. On the road, the current Aero Coupe is a welcome companion, fast, fluent and a pleasure to drive. A big BMW V8 and lightweight construction makes this a swift, agile car, although it's not quite the refined grand tourer Morgan would have you believe. The noise is splendidly raucous, the ride is jarringly hard and the interior is compact, simple but undeniably joyful to sit in. Lengthy cross-country jaunts are more than achievable, but you'll be more likely to arrive fizzing and frazzled, not calm and refreshed. Idiosyncrasy is built in to this kind of car, and if you're not committed to the look and feel, the whole experience is going to disappoint.
Order books will close on the Aero Coupe in a few weeks time and you'll be directed to the new Aero 8 instead. A soft top once more, it's more in keeping with Morgan's history although the company shouldn't worry about keeping one foot in the past. With the 'Classic' range and striking 3 wheeler the Aero range could push itself a little further, but maybe the Morgan driver doesn't like to be too contemporary.
If London Morgan is a perfect location fit for this gentleman's carriage company, Morgan's recent partnership with Balvenie Whisky serves up another suitable combination. The Dufftown-based distillery recently commissioned its own 4-seat Roadster as a mobile brand ambassador, touring the country with its evocative clatter and spreading the name of this acclaimed whisky a bit further than it would usually reach. It's a low-key partnership, one that makes great play of the quiet craft and slow, patient outlook that unites the two companies. Just as whisky is hardly one of life's essentials, the Morgan is a car that makes little rational sense. But if you must be governed by the heart, it's a fine path to be led down.