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Jay Leno: The Collector

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Jay talks about how Charles Morgan's dismissal from the family business was a mistake.

To me, Morgan has always been about the family and Charles Morgan. Years ago I was invited to Los Angeles when there was talk of the Morgan three-wheeler possibly being made, and I got a chance to meet a member of the Morgan family. Over the years I had become good friends with Edsel Ford and that connection means something. It’s the same with Morgan. Any time I’ve ever met Charles he never talked about anything but Morgan. It was hard to get him to change the subject and there’s a sense of enthusiasm and excitement that I found infectious.

I like Morgan for the same reason I like wind-up watches. They’re not as accurate or as trouble-free as a battery-powered watch, but there’s something about turning the mainspring that I like. A year or two ago I was in the three-wheeler and they have that big throttle cable that goes up in a big U and comes back and it’s right in your face as you’re driving it. And someone told me they won a British engineering award… That just makes me smile. They don’t pretend to be perfect and what they lack in perfection they make up for in character.

I’ve visited the factory. You can go there and meet the people who built your car. Maybe they’ll sign a panel for you. To a lot of people that means nothing, but luckily there are just enough people in the world to whom that is important. I’m one of those people. The only reason I would buy a three-wheeled Morgan is because it’s a Morgan and I know Charles would sign it and I would be able to say, yeah that’s cool. I saw it being built, I met the owner of the company, he shook my hand. I like that. Are there enough people in the world to keep that alive? Just barely. But it is enough to keep them going.

The fact that Morgan has had its greatest success in the history of the company under Charles’ stewardship has to speak for something. Now they sell over 600 or 700 cars a year; they used to do maybe 15 or 20. I saw Charles at Goodwood, selling hard and shaking hands. Maybe they bought one or maybe they didn’t, but he shook their hand anyway.

In the automotive world there is less and less nationalism. I enjoy early Japanese sports cars because they are so Japanese. They have names like Cedric and Fairlady. I like early Italian cars, Alfa Romeos and early Ferraris, because they have such character and they make all the right noises and are uniquely Italian. There is something innately British about Morgan and that’s the fun part of it. You’re buying a piece of history. I would hate to see it merge with another company and become a subsidiary of Fiat or Mazda or someone. It would lose the uniqueness.

There’s a more efficient way to do it? Yeah, but something gets a little bit lost in that. There are people who like handmade stuff, and it’s probably the last truly individual car company in the world. Nobody can tell them what to do. To see them fighting among themselves – I don’t know what that’s doing to the company.

From what I’ve heard, maybe Charles wanted to open up the company to other markets, China for example. He got Morgan connected with racing, and they won first and second in their class at Le Mans. For a small, independent, tiny car company that’s barely as big as my own garage, that’s pretty impressive. And I think that’s all due to the enthusiasm he brings. People like that personal connection.

I’m convinced that the sales of the modern three-wheeler are due primarily to him. There are other three-wheelers on the market, some arguably better than the Morgan, but they don’t have that personal connection. I’ve driven three or four of these trikes but none is as famous or has sold nearly as well as the Morgan and I think that’s because of Charles and the family. There’s no Bob Jaguar or Larry Land Rover but, if there were, there might be more of a connection.

From what I understand, Charles Morgan’s done more good than bad. I thought he was a great ambassador for the company. So many car manufacturers now are so huge, half-Japanese with an Italian-styled car that the Germans are engineering and the Saudis are paying for. With Morgan, it all comes out of that little place in Malvern.

If Morgan has an opening or a new model, who do they send? I will miss Charles tremendously and I think it it’s a big mistake to let him go. He’s as close to automotive royalty as you get in Britain, or anywhere, really. That line should be passed down and it seems heartbreaking that it stops here.


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