From tragedy, triumph can emerge. As it’s said of the legendary Phoenix, sometimes from the ashes of a tragedy rises something more revered, more desired and much more sought after than the original. And while a 1956 Morgan +4 would be a welcome addition to nearly any collection, a hand-built, one-off, fiberglass bodied Morgan with styling cues borrowed from Enzo’s friends at Pinanfarina would certainly hold a special place in any enthusiast’s heart.
This particular Morgan’s history and status as a true one-off adds that even rarer trait, missing from so many automobiles in the market today, of a soul. That feeling that it’s as if it knows once you step in over the curved fiberglass – there are no doors – and settle into the cockpit. Grip the wood grained steering wheel, peer out over the long nose and turn the ignition, and whatever was on your mind becomes a faded memory, a distant worry lost in the abyss of the asphalt in front of you.
Yes, that’s a Morgan you see here, if you found yourself scratching your head or looking for less subtle clues as to its origin. In its original form, the Morgan was purchased new in 1956 at Fergus motors in New York. It changed hands to its second owner, Cecil Rhodes, in 1958 who tragically wrecked the rare British roadster, damaging the front fenders, grille and cowl.
Although repairs were completed on the car, the work was subpar and Rhodes soon lost interest in the Morgan. So he tucked it away in his garage for a few years with plans to craft a new body and style for it at a later date.
Fast forward to 1963. During the 4 year hiatus, Rhodes developed an affinity for another beautiful car: the Scaglietti Mondial. Given nearly every car collector in the world’s desire for one as well, Rhodes chances of owning one fell somewhere between slim and none.
Undeterred, Rhodes had a another plan – pull the rigid, sharp lined body of the Morgan +4 he had parked in the garage 4 years prior, and put his design and fiberglass building skills to the test by creating a one-off, Italian inspired body for the roadster. Just over a year later, the Morgan was back on the road. The finished product must have kept chiropractors busy from all the injuries suffered as necks snapped trying to catch a glimpse as the curvy beauty sped by. Rhodes owned the Morgan until 1978, and over the next 25 years it changed hands several times, passing through some well-known collections.
Rhodes’ fiberglass skills and meticulous design process are the car’s saving grace; they’re how the roadster’s body has remained intact and in remarkable condition. However, in its current form, the Morgan is an example of beauty only being skin deep. While its exterior remains nearly flawless,what lies beneath is the result of the 60-year-old technology’s exposure to the elements, as well as neglect from previous owners.
Where a modern design would incorporate aluminum and composite materials, the selection of wood and fiberglass significantly shortened the vehicle’s life expectancy while adding severe complexity to the project. Not surprisingly, the choice of materials succumbed to even limited exposure to the elements, and pieces of the undercarriage literally crumble under the slightest pressure.
It wasn’t until it landed in the hands of its current owner that it began getting the attention it deserved, both on and off the road. Purchased at a Barrett Jackson auction in 2004, the Morgan +4 quickly became a favorite in a collection with some very distinguished company.
After enjoying it for nearly ten years and taking it on countless trips throughout the scenic Pacific Northwest, the deterioration to the Morgan’s underpinning finally became a safety concern. An inevitable frame-off restoration lie ahead, but not to the standard of simply replacing worn out factory parts with new or refurbished models.
For the caliber of this one-off Morgan, a completely re-engineered chassis, suspension and braking components are in order for this restoration. Re-engineering the fragile underpinning will prove to be an exercise in engineering, patience and precision, one that will require state-of-the-art design and machining tools.
Fortunately for the owner, through a few previous restorations, he developed a long term friendship and trust with the talented team at P4 by Norwood in Dallas, Texas.
Despite their involvement in the R&D and build of their flagship, the P4 by Norwood team always makes room behind their high bay doors for special automotive marvels such as this one-off Morgan Special.
Estimated to be a year long revamp and modernization of the 60-year-old Morgan, we will follow along as the prized roadster is returned to its former glory. The shots here were taken just before the tear down began, and we will continue to document the process and progression of reconstructing automotive history.
(Photos by Trent Sherrill)