At 9:30 Saturday morning the sun was just beginning to burn the fog off the hills around Luray, Va. Down on the awn in front of the Mimslyn Hotel 85 Morgan sports car owners threatened and cajoled their automobiles into position, nervously making last-minute touches with rag and wrench for the show scheduled to begin at 10. Up on the huge tiled porch of the Mimslyn sat Peter Morgan, curiously disinterested in everything down below. As managing director of the factory in Britian's Midlands where 9 handbuilt Morgans roll out every week, he has seen enough Morgans.
The lean, sunburned Morgan was the undisputed star of "Mog 8" (Morgan Owners Group) the annual convention of American owners of the British sports car that bears his name. It has been held for the past three years July 4th weekend at the Mimslyn in Luray - "just seedy enough for us to take over, and the hills are great for our rallies," said Mort Kuff, a Washington graphic designer who has been one of the organizers of the event all three years.
The Morgan is a classic British sports car - low, with the big wheels and efficient engine that have traditionally distinguished British cars. It is a quick car and handles well, but the central thing about the Morgan is that it is unavailable.
No Morgans, except a few radically altered models, have come into this country since 1967, when the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration decided the Morgan's doors and bumpers did not meet impact standards, and the EPA found that the sports car pumped too many hydrocarbons into the air Peter Morgan had vowed not to return "until I could bring a few Morgans with me."
Morgan owners on the field spoke disdainfully all day for "bureaucrats." But also spoke of their pride in owning a rare automobile - if you could order a Morgan tomorrow, you would get it four years from now - and without the restrictions, the cars would be that much less rare.
There are two models of Morgans today - both two-seat convertibles built of metal over a frame of laminated ash, a design that comes from the British Mosquito fighter plane of World War II. The body design has not changed appreciably since 1937, when H.F.S. Morgan introduced a four wheel auto to go along with the three-wheelers he had built his business on. They are speedy, with a top speed of 140 m.p.h. - "We don't like to hang around." Peter Morgan says with a smile. And spartan - no heaters, radios or other frills come from the factory.
"We consider ourselves an antidote to the computer-designed automobile." Morgan said.
Morgan owners are quick to point out the car's handling attributes. Especially the stiff suspension. In a Morgan you sit on the inflatable leather pillow. The car bottoms out in a two-inch pothole. Morgan fanatics call it "keeping in touch with the road."
"The ride is like being dragged naked in a coal cottle backwards over gravel by a cantankerous mule," said Kuff. He glowed.
The thing that distinguishes Morgan owners is their complete, unbridled fanaticism for everthing Morgan. They call it "maintaining the breed." If a Morgan is in boxes in someone's garage, it is rebuilt. John Sheally, a Norfolk photographer who owns five Morgans including two three-wheelers, is this year's national president. "This ain't nothing," Sheally said in his soft Tidewater drawl, "I know a fellow named his kid Morgan."
Of 110 Morgan owners assembled in Luray, some have driven from as far away as Canada and California. One is 63-year-old Mildred Scherer of Del Ray Beach, Fla., who drove her white fiberglass Plus-4 plus, 1,400 miles to Luray alone.
"It's good for someone my age - I can just get in it and go." said Scherer. She looked critically at her car, showing 10 years of Florida salt and the dust of the long drive.
Somebody asked Scherer if the car is fast. "I think so," she replied, "but I really don't know what to do if a rod-bearing snapped or something like that so I keep under 75."
The Mimslyrwas serving box lunchers on the grounds, and the owners and their families - Mog 8 was very much a family affair - sat down with chicken and chips. Still, a crowd remained down at the end of the lawn, beside the blue Morgan that belonged to Bill Fink.
If Peter Morgan was the star of Mog 8, Bill Fink ranked second. Fink's Isis Imports has been the American distributor for Morgans since 1968, and Fink had just driven in from his shop on the San Francisco wharf that morning. He was driving a turbocharged '77 Morgan that runs on propane, one of the very few late-model Morgans that can be run legally here.
Fink was dressed in jeans and a dirty white undershirt: "I haven't been to sleep in 3 1/2 days." he pleaded to the fans asking nonstop questions about doors and bumpers and turbo-chargers on the Morgan with the plates that road ISIS SF.
Fink, 35, holds a degree in English literature from Yale, studied law at Oxford for awile and then got an MBA from Stanford, "For awhile there," he laughs. "I was the most highly-educated used car dealer in the country.
Now I guess I'm the most highly-educated new car dealer."
"I could have done something else, but I like the car - I brought my first Morgan from Mr. Morgan in England in 1962 - and I didn't like to works." He grinned. "Turned out not to be the case. I work all the time."
Fink gestured around at the Morgan owners "These people are here as a tribute to Peter Morgan. I guess. But people shouldn't judge on appearance - the Morgan is designed as a race car. If you want to enjoy the car beyond everyday use, then go out and race it. It's peculiary American, to adopt an expensive inanimate object as a fetish.
"But probably the biggest appeal of the Morgan is that the car is very simple - and since they are hand-built, each has a distinct personlity. And these people." said Fink, again gesturing "are probably not ver mechanically inclined. All their life they've been scared of things that go up and down and round and round and make noise."
Fink laaughed. "They find the car and tinker with it some - its a real rush. Especially for this upper-middle-class group that probably expects support from it's peer group." He stood and stretched. "Which I guess if I was honest, is probably why I got into it in the first place. It's weird but rewarding, I guess." he said.
Late in the afternoon, 38 Morgans lined up for the autocross. The object was to complete the course through three checkpoints in a time closest to what it would take traveling at an average speed, in this case 30 miles per hour.
Peter Morgan was driving Gil Baker's Plus-8, with Baker, his Canadian distributor, in the navigator's seat. "Wish us luck, won't you?" he said. "We'll need it, being foreigners in a way."
It's Dorsk. Jay Dorsk," one man said as an introduction."Now look at this Morgan - two years in a row it's won rattiest of the show. Look at it - it is ratty. But we've also won the autocross two years in a row. Meet my wife Helen.I collect Jaguars, but a Morgan is pretty competitive and so am I." Dorsk said.
In their 1967 Plus-4 four-seater, Peter Dattels, driver, and Steve Beer, navigator, were models of cool. The young Canadians had driven 600 miles from Ontario to Luray for the show and autocross.
"My theory of autocrossing a Morgan is this" said Dattels with gunslinger eyes."You spit every half-hour. If it's blood, you knew you're bleeding internally and we try to get you to a hospital. But we'll be back in Canada before you get off the dailysis machines." They roared off.
"Whoops," said navigator Beer as Page One of the direction sheets blew away. "Well, we don't need it anyway."
They did. It contained the key instructions - left at every bridge over water right when entering a T-intersection from the bottom. An hour and a half later, six Morgans were pulled over in front of Kite's Store, 15 miles south of Luray, all looking for Route 640. None had found the first check-point yet, including Morgan.
"Well, want to go see the caves?" asked Dattels in frustration. "Might as well." said Beer, kicking the dirt, "Which way are they?"
"That way I think - whoops, that's 640."
They finished an unofficial 18th - the checkpoint watchers got tired and went home. Back at the Nimslyn, the Morgan owners were in jacket and evening dress, preparing for their banquet. "Caves tomorrow?" asks Beer.
"Sure." Peter Dattels said.