That time the Morgan Motor Company designed a modern coupe, the Aeromax


Enlarge / No, it’s not the Batmobile—it’s the Morgan Aeromax.

Morgan

The Morgan Motor Company has been making new cars that look like old cars since its inception over 100 years ago (of course, its cars looked modern when the company started, but you get my gist). The company has always looked to give buyers a blast of old-school British sporting eccentricity, a different kind of proposition than you’ll find with cars that come with engines that sit behind the driver.

Way back in the noughties, though, the company took a crack at doing something modern with the Aero 8. The initial car was interesting to look at, but it came with a V8 and made fun noises. Its distinctive look wasn’t a surprise, as current Head of Design Jon Wells succinctly summed up for me. “There wasn’t a designer [at Morgan],” he said. When Henry Morgan started making three-wheel runabouts in the 1900s, he wasn’t a designer, just “an industrious fellow.” From there, the company was a family business that built cars that all looked the same. Once the vehicles were in the standard shape, all the engineers needed to do was make sure new versions were up to standard.

Twenty-first-century customers—even ones looking for a Morgan—expect more in the way of ergonomics and practicality, and that has led the company to hire actual designers who are able to whip up a vision of past, present, and future at the drop of a hat. But there wasn’t a single one until a guy named Matthew Humphries sent the company a letter in 2004. Humphries was a student at Coventry University’s world-renowned automotive design course at the time, and, much like any designer, he wanted to make his mark on the world.

Part of his degree meant he’d need a placement to get some real-world experience, and after being knocked back elsewhere, he sent Charles Morgan his work. “I’d sent my folio to Charles after being rejected from BMW and [other] places, and he liked it and said, ‘Why don’t you come and work at the factory over the summer?'” Humphries told me.

Humphries was installed in an office in the depths of the factory. “At the time, there was no designer at all in Morgan. It was literally Charles [Morgan] taking a Beetle headlamp, sticking it in a wing, and going, ‘Right, go and knock a bit of metal around that,'” Humphries recalled.

Humphries recalled that there was just one person manning the computer-aided design workstation. The engineering team was tiny, too.

“They put me in a little office above the woodshop, and it was noisy as hell,” he said. “Every time I walked through the woodshop, I used to get wolf-whistled by all the guys because I had a lot of hair.”

Made of stern stuff, Humphries realized that he was right where he needed to be to create some truly special work. “​​I quickly found out that being there was the best thing because it was one of those places that you see the fantastic skill that the guys had, same as the tin [metalwork] shop,” he said. “Being right in the factory was brilliant because I started to recognize different parts of Morgans that weren’t exposed or visible to the public.”

At the time, Morgan wasn’t a company interested in upsetting the status quo. It made new cars that didn’t look like new cars while competitors raced to create the finest vehicles modern technology could produce. Nothing was broken, so why bother fixing it?

Why bring a designer on-site, then? As it turns out, Charles Morgan had a plan. Classic car collector and Morgan superfan Prince Eric Sturdza was in the market for a hardtop take on the firm’s soft-top-only Aero 8, and Humphries was the man for the job. Few other car companies, even ones as eccentric as Morgan (should they exist), would have given this commission to an intern.



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