As a brand, Morgan prides itself on its ability to let owners customise any Morgan model to within an inch of its life. And that’s a very good thing, especially when you’re dealing with a car that has, in one form or another, been around for as near as a century. The design of Morgans, for the most part, has remained largely the same over the decades. It’s that heritage, many would argue, that serves as the bedrock of Morgan’s appeal.
However, while there is indeed a profusion of trim, wheel, paint and chrome options, all are based firmly around the cars as they are. There are no significant body options that can be made, except maybe for the hard top seen on some older cars.
For many, to buy a Morgan is to accept it for what it is and personalise it as best they can – care of those paint, trim and wheel options – in a bid to make those familiar lines stand out from the rest. Very few go further than that.
Thankfully for us, John Wharton is one of the few. While many may boast that their custom paint or rare alloy wheels make their car unique, John’s takes the notion to its farthest reaches. It’s not an exercise in cruelly subjecting the word ‘unique’ to unwanted gradation though. John’s 4/4 Sport is unique.
By now your eyes have had more than a moment to drink in the visual of John’s car. The keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed the cheeky decal on the side, which reads ‘AeroMin’. A fitting name given that the 4/4 is at the other end of scale in terms of size, cost and of course, usability. And it’s that last point that brought about the creation of this wonderful car: usability. The AeroMin might be a one off, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was built to be used as a daily driver for John.
Talking to John, it’s clear that he’s a man who likes his cars. German sports cars and even an Aston make up his automotive back catalogue, but through them all there was an interest in the Morgan. “I looked about thirty years ago, but back then there was a waiting list of around seven years, so it simply wasn’t an option,” explains John.
Thirty years is a long time for an itch to remain unscratched, which is exactly what happened. Thankfully though, there came a welcome scratch when John was presented with opportunity to buy the car you see here from Lifes Motors in Southport, which is also England’s longest-serving Morgan dealer, having been operational since 1926. Historical facts aside, the car in question was a 2009 4/4 Sport and it fitted the bill perfectly. The subdued grey coachwork allowed the classic lines to speak for themselves, the (at the time) wire wheels suited the car down to the ground and of course, being a Morgan, the folding roof would make for many a happy top-down mile. Or they would if that had been what John wanted.
“I’ve had my Caterham days” says John, “so having the roof down all the time wasn’t something that I needed. Instead, I found myself leaving the car with various wet patches on my clothes thanks to the drips coming in from the roof!”
Ah yes, we’ve all been there, hoping the roof of our Morgan would do exactly what a roof should do. As we all know, however, they seldom do. A wet lap is as much a part of Morgan ownership as being asked how old it is every time we stop for fuel. The thing is, while it’s always going to be difficult to avoid the interrogation from strangers at the pump, it is possible to do something about the roof. Or at least it is if you’re an architect, much like John, as it happens.
Most architects are keen to fire up some sort of computer-based design software. Not John though, for him there is nothing better for laying out plans than the trusted drawing board, so when he hatched a plan to add more metal to his 4/4, that’s exactly where he went, and let us tell you, the plans alone make for quite a visual.
As soon as we were presented with the A2 plans, it became immediately apparent that there are no half measures on this car. John has put his design skills to fine use and it shows; every curve is considered, every detail has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny and above all else, the function of the roof has been worked out beautifully. It would have been easy to pen a sketch, but John did more than that. In his meticulous plans you can see the rain channels, you can see curves that work to aid the flow of air, the design of the bonded windows has been worked out with millimetre perfection and that flawless rear hatch, well, you can see for yourself just how perfect that is.
With the ink still wet, John set about finding someone to build his vision. In theory it would be simple in that the new roof would clamp onto the existing car once the folding roof and some of the rear bodywork had been removed. So, with that in mind, and given its propensity towards the bespoke, John of course thought Morgan itself would be the ideal company.
Sadly – and given the likes of SP1, somewhat surprisingly – Morgan weren’t keen to take on the build. However, a conversation with Matt Humphries put John in touch with coachbuilder, David Cole. Time-served and with plenty of brilliant work to show for it, it seemed like the ideal solution, though John did have reservations. Paint and trim weren’t part of the business, which would undoubtedly cause delays. The plan in John’s head involved a ‘one stop shop’ affair, so as to ensure momentum throughout the build. Sadly, that wasn’t something David Cole could offer.
Enter stage left, Carrosserie. If you’re not familiar with the work of this Yorkshire-based coachbuilder, you’re in for a treat. On the books you’ll find work on Ferraris, Rolls Royces, Mercedes, Bentleys and more. Here, John’s 4/4 would be in good company. And given that all the trades – paint, trim and metalwork – could be found under one roof, the project wouldn’t go awry.
Carrosserie agreed to take the job on, working to the detailed plans presented to them by John. They started by removing the doors and the original folding roof, after which point they created a plywood buck. Almost instantly the AreoMin, as it had become known, began to take shape – though it would of course take more than some plywood.
From the buck, and by way of a deliberate nod to Superleggera cars of old, the skilled team at Carrosserie created a frame from lightweight steel tube. On top of this, a hand-rolled aluminium body was fitted. Such is the impressive level of craftsmanship, it only required the smallest amount of preparation before paint. Impressive when you consider what a difficult and dark art welding aluminium is.
All the ‘glass’ in the AeroMin is in fact poly-carbonate. Not only does it have positive weight implications, it was also much easier to shape than glass. All the windows are bonded in, too. This meant no need for frames or bespoke trim. We think they look perfectly at home. More importantly than that, they also do a fine job of keeping the weather out!
There is also another addition that you will have spotted by now, namely the Webasto roof. John didn’t want to completely shut everything out. Plus, the taller doors (built by adding framework to the original doors) no longer offered an opening, what with the new windows being bonded in place. As such, the Webasto was a wise addition. Originally destined for an MG, it has been trimmed to suit the AeroMin and now gives John the option of summer sun or snug comfort.
Internally, and again all carried out by Carrosserie, the door cards and headliner are made from a perforated PVC with some leather elements. It might not seem like the most high-end material, but let us tell you, it works here. It’s been lifted way above where it might normally be found. Finding it was a happy coincidence that addressed a not so inconsiderable problem. Discovering that it matched so perfectly was the icing on the case. It looks factory.
As you look at it now, you may think that this new roof has simply been dropped onto the original 4/4. It hasn’t been. Far from it in fact. The whole affair is as ‘at one’ with the car, screwed and bolted in place. Open that Stingray-esque rear hatch and you’ll be presented with a usable boot. To achieve this, the original cross-brace of the car was removed and replaced with a steel bulkhead. After that, the rear bodywork was cut away to match the lines of the new roof and a boot floor was created. This isn’t style over substance; this is a wonderfully usable car.
And that brings us to the very inspiration behind this build: usability. As we mentioned at the very beginning, John wanted to use his car every day, and since 2013 when this car was completed, he has. Many would baulk at the suggestion of using such a beautiful, ultimately bespoke car every day, but those people are missing the point. If John didn’t use it every day the project wouldn’t have made it off – quite literally – the drawing board. Its very creation demands its regular use.
As you can imagine, the reception to this wonderful, if unusual little car has been mixed. Some would argue that John has irreparably altered a classic. Others though, like us and hopefully you, will see it as something special. Not only has John built something unique (and beautiful), he’s also built a car that shows the true potential of what a Morgan can be. You can’t help but wonder if somewhere, in a corner of Pickersleigh Road, there’s mild frustration that they didn’t get there first?