The Car’s the Star – War of the Roses

1989's War of the Roses was not a film about love and happiness, it was about a bitter divorce in which a certain Morgan got entangled.

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By Chris Pollitt

1989’s War of the Roses was not the tale of the battle between Lancashire and Yorkshire. Instead, it was Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner essentially trying to kill each other. Oh, and there was some car-content too, as we discover here by looking at the ill-fated Morgan Plus 4.

Barbara (Kathleen Turner) and Oliver Rose (Michael Douglas) have been married for seventeen happy years. They’ve built an exquisite life for themselves, the crowning glory of which is their impressive mansion home. But there’s the thing, Barbara, faced with an empty house now the kids have left home, has lost her sense of purpose. She ponders a new life, one without Oliver, and as she does, she comes to like the picture her mind’s eye paints. And with that, she asks for a divorce.

Now, you may be wondering just what this has to do with cars. This is Car & Classic after all. Well, the characters in this film have built, as we mentioned, an exquisite life. Part of that life is Oliver’s beloved 1960 Morgan Plus 4, a car bought for him as a birthday present. However, as the bitter separation of the couple unfolds, the hand-built British icon soon becomes collateral damage. But this being a film, there’s always more to the story. So with that in mind, here are ten things you might not know about the ill-fated Morgan.

1) It was the real deal

In the world of Hollywood, it’s not uncommon for production companies to make replicas of expensive cars, especially if they were going to be destroyed. A case in point would be the Ferrari 250GT California for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. However, in the case of The War of the Roses, the Morgan you see getting crushed by a GMC Jimmy was very much a real, hand-built Morgan.

War of the Roses, Michael Douglas, Morgan, Morgan Plus 4

2) Screen magic belied the real condition

While it is indeed sad to know that the car destroyed was a real Morgan, there is perhaps some comfort in knowing that the car was in a bad way. According to sources close to the production, the Plus 4 was a bit of a wreck. The chassis was rotten, as was the frame. In fact, it only looked so good because the production crew gave the car a lick of paint.

War of the Roses, Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas, Morgan, Morgan Plus 4

3) Handled like it was on rails

To ensure the Morgan went exactly where the crew wanted it to, they ran it on a pair of custom-built rails which the Morgan followed thanks to castors being welded to the car’s underside. This stopped the Morgan from spinning or skewing off as it was pushed by the GMC Jimmy.

4) The owner knew its fate

When the production crew sourced the Morgan, they were forthright with the car’s future. Despite the inevitable demise of the car, the owner loaned it (for a fee) to the production. Apparently, he knew the car was in a bad way and already had a new chassis on order for the car, so figured the filming couldn’t make it any worse!

War of the Roses, Michael Douglas, Morgan, Morgan Plus 4, Aero screens

5) Interior wasn’t the exterior

At one point we see Oliver ducking down in the car as the GMC Jimmy drives over it. This scene wasn’t shot in the Morgan, as there simply wouldn’t have been space for Michael Douglas to lay down. You can tell it’s a mock up by the absence of a transmission tunnel. Plus, the aero screens aren’t present as the Jimmy drives over.

War of the Roses, Michael Douglas, Morgan, Morgan Plus 4, Morgan crushed

6) Ramping things up

Despite being a bit of a wreck, the Morgan still put up a fight, not that you can blame it! It turned out the front of the Morgan was too slippery for the GMC to grip. As such, the production crew had to build a small ramp in front of the Morgan, allowing the GMC to climb up onto it.

War of the Roses, Michael Douglas, Morgan, Morgan Plus 4, Morgan crushed

7) Restoring a wreck

Most cars wrecked in the name of cinema this extensively only have one future, and that involves a crusher. The Morgan was different though, as it lived on despite being crushed. With a new chassis and a selection of new panels from the Malvern factory, the Plus 4 was restored fully within two years of the film’s release.

8) From the silver screen to the small screen

Not content with being in one of 1989’s biggest films, the Morgan would go on to feature on television in 2008 as part of Chasing Classic Cars with Wayne Carini. He purchased the car from the wife of the post-film owner, Bill Caruso.

War of the Roses, Michael Douglas, Morgan, Morgan Plus 4, Morgan crushed

9) From wreck to racer

Bill Caruso, who bought the car after filming wrapped, wasn’t set on simply restoring the car. He also wanted to race it, so as he restored the car, he did so to Super Sport specification. Sadly, Bill passed away mere days before realising his racing dream. Instead, Wayne Carini, a friend of the family, bought the car and took it out on the track.

War of the Roses, Michael Douglas, Morgan, Morgan Plus 4, Chasing Classic cars

Photo ©Jason Fogelson/The Review Garage

10) Green and to the left

When originally restored, the Morgan was finished in red and black. However, since then the car has been restored again and is now finished in a very fitting shade of British Racing Green. Also, the once right-hand drive Morgan has now been converted to much more America-friendly left-hand drive.

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