Peter Morgan - East Valley Tribune: Business

Peter Morgan

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Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2007 12:00 am | Updated: 6:06 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

In many ways it made complete sense. Of course the boy born in the house next to the factory would grow up running the place. Of course the boy would take over where the father left off, refusing to bow to conventional wisdom and preferring to stay the course.

In many ways it made complete sense. Of course the boy born in the house next to the factory would grow up running the place. Of course the boy would take over where the father left off, refusing to bow to conventional wisdom and preferring to stay the course.

And of course Peter Henry Geoffrey Morgan, the boy with gasoline in his veins and car designs in his head, would maintain the family’s tradition of hand-crafted workmanship, quality and uniqueness.

It was the Morgan way, even when the way forward in an ever-complex, ever-competitive, ever-changing industry was marginalizing those small-car, niche manufacturers in England.

In the end, it nearly marginalized Morgan, the car company. But it was a testament to Morgan, the man, that it never got the best of him.

To those who didn’t know him, Morgan was an oddity in a business of conformity.

To those who knew him well, Morgan was special.

“PM” to his friends, Morgan was a gentleman’s gentleman, simple and caring for the things that mattered. He collected stamps, drove around town with his dog in the passenger seat next to him and kept a firm limit on the supply of the iconic sports cars he built in his England factory. And those cars were icons in every way.

“There is something uniquely British about a prewar-styled, canvas-topped Morgan sports car,” columnist Bill Wykeham wrote in the London Guardian upon the news of Peter Morgan’s death in 2003 just two weeks before Peter’s 84th birthday.

“It’s anarchic handling and barely adequate creature comforts are outweighed by the excitement and sense of freedom generated behind the wheel, so lacking in modern machinery.”

The appeal was ironic, for sure.

Customers would wait years to buy one and, despite producing less than 1,000 per year, the Morgan Motor Company was renowned around the world.

Peter Morgan helped them get there.

Born in a house next to the company’s factory on Worcester Road in 1919, Morgan’s father, H.F.S. Morgan had established the business in 1909 and built up a niche manufacturing operation from nothing.

Peter Morgan studied at the Chelsea College of Automobile and Aero Engineering from 1937-1940 and then joined the Royal Army Service. Morgan returned from the military seven years later to work at the family company, which his father had built into a very successful three-wheeler market. Peter would be paid nine pounds per week and first worked as a draftsman next to his father.

Peter Morgan’s arrival in the company coincided with the decline of the three-wheel market, so he abruptly shifted the emphasis to four wheels and four cylinders with the development of the Morgan 4/4.

Morgan excelled at many things, but engineering was his true calling and he took an interest in the entire process of building cars.

In 1951, the Morgan Plus 4, a revised version of the 4/4, was launched with Morgan pushing its marketing through rally events and racing trials.

Following his father’s death in 1959, Morgan became chairman of the company and sought to develop more derivatives and grow the business through sales in the export market, particularly Germany and the United States.

Morgan’s Plus 8, launched in 1968, even became the vehicle for the “in” crowd in Britain, including Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger. The Morgan family would produce the car for an astounding 35 years.

Through his slow and steady style, Morgan took a gentlemanly approach to business. Everything was agreed with a handshake and there were few disagreements with the union.

Output at the factory rose only in the 1990s when Morgan agreed to satisfy demand by increasing production to 11 vehicles per week from eight, the highest level since the 1920s.

But Morgan’s business sense kept him from raising prices and production despite a prolific number of orders through his global dealer order bank.

Business grew and Morgan kept its brand intact, despite an onslaught of niche competitors and the rigors of a cut-throat industry.

In 1999, Morgan passed operational control of the company to his son, Charles, who became managing director while Peter Morgan stayed on as chairman. Four years later, Peter passed away, but in the process also passed on a legacy of success to the rest of his family. Morgan, the company, was an institution. Not only was it the oldest manufacturer in history, it also kept its traditions.

During an interview in 1990, a reporter talked to a foreman in the chassis shop to try and understand the secret of the company’s success. The foreman had been with Morgan 30 years. “You must have seen a lot of changes in that time,” the reporter asked. “Not really,” the foreman said with a blank stare.

That was Morgan.

Different. Special. And every bit a part of the man who made it into a tiny giant of the industry.

Jason Stein is a feature writer with Wheelbase Communications. You can drop him a line on the Web at: www.wheelbase.ws/mailbag.html. Wheelbase Communications supplies automotive news and features to newspapers across North America.

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