SP1: A Legend In The Making

Words: Chris Pollitt

Photos: Jan Sedlacek

Morgan regularly declares itself to be the most personalised carmaker in the world. So, when a long-time customer and Morgan fan threw down the gauntlet and asked the team to create the ultimate bespoke supercar, Morgan leapt on the challenge and has shown the motoring world that they really have got what it takes when it comes to hand-building the ultimate iconic car.

Cars are not, nor ever have been, ‘just’ cars thanks to the passions of people who live and breathe them, and the fact that all cars have, at some stage, been lovingly penned, sculpted, designed and born at the hands of creative and talented designers in search of the motoring equivalent of the holy grail. Even a Nissan Micra has, somewhere about its design, a curve, arc or swirl that a designer toiled over with care and attention.

But what if that’s not enough? What if you want more, a car that is quite literally, like nothing else on the road? Other car builders would scoff at the notion or point you in the direction of the accessories brochure. Not Morgan though, not by a long shot. so, when Brian Voakes, a long-time car fanatic and supporter of the Morgan brand came knocking on the factory door with an idea, he was met with open arms.

 

THE BEGINNING

Brian vented his passion for cars in the early years, owning a myriad of vehicles in a bid to satisfy every automotive itch. he didn’t just enjoy the drive though, he also enjoyed the building and technical side through the construction of various kit cars, including a Westfield and a Cobra, but they never quite hit the spot. “It was a boy hood fantasy of mine to create something one-off,” says Brian. “I have always been an avid Morgan enthusiast, having owned countless Morgans over the years, and have spent many hours walking round the factory.” It was on one fateful visit that an idea was born. “I spotted the body for the Life Car suspended in the rafters of one of the workshops and I told Steve Morris –‘That’s got my name on it!’”

That was the seed of an idea and two years later, after much thought and discussion, it resulted in Brian commissioning his very own bespoke Morgan, based on the body of the life Car.“Steve took the idea to the Morgan Board of directors who agreed to the concept, and the Special Projects department was born,” recalls Brian. since then, a crack team of specialists have spent hundreds of hours designing and creating SP1 (Special Projects 1).

 

THE PLATFORM

The life Car, while sleek and beautiful, is also small, narrow and low. so much so that were it road-going, it would be a tiny shape, dwarfed by the likes of superminis, let alone other vehicles. Both Brian and Morgan wanted SP1 to have size, shape and presence, so the chassis and running gear from a modern 3.7 roadster were imported into the design. Not only because the roadster offers speed and a rewarding drive, but also because the use of such a platform would allow the team behind the build to focus on the aesthetic of the car rather than the intricacies of manufacturing a completely new platform. Furthermore, it would ensure SP1 would boast a tried and tested mechanical setup, ensuring years of trouble free motoring.

“BOTH BRIAN AND MORGAN WANTED SP1 TO HAVE SIZE, SHAPE AND PRESENCE WITH STRONG INSPIRATION COMING FROM MORGAN’S LIFE CAR PROJECT OF 2009”

Though that’s not to say the team at Morgan didn’t make any tweaks. In fact, Mark Reeves and the engineering team designed and developed a completely new rear suspension, which brings Morgan into a more modern era from their current cart sprung setup. it’s also possible to retrofit it to other Morgans that employ the traditional chassis.

THE DESIGN EVOLUTION

With strong inspiration coming from Morgan’s life Car project of 2009, Jon, Brian and the team at Morgan had something to work with. however, the fact that the Life Car was a concept and not a fully resolved, road-going vehicle meant the SP1 project would face a number of design challenges, as Jon Wells, Morgan’s head of design, explains, “With the Life Car as a starting point, there was quite a lot we had to do to get this car ready, have it driving on the road and be fully resolved. The first point of call for me was to have a look at the overall proportion and form. The original car was very narrow and low, as well as being quite long and thin in proportion. I wanted SP1 to have much more presence on the road, so I did this by widening the car. We didn’t just do that by cutting the car in half though, we needed to look at the relationships between the wings and the body, the proportions both across the car width-wise and forward. so, we added some width in the centre of the car, a little more around the wings. We also tried to give the car much more stance and have it look more planted on the road.“

The concept status of the life Car also meant Jon could see closure on aspects that had fallen by the wayside and still remained as a blank canvas. With Jon’s designer’s eye, Brian’s choices for materials and the skills of the craftsmen, much more could be achieved – the interior being a case in point. Jon elaborates, “that’s a design project in its own right! So, using the same lines of the original seats in the Life Car, weadded a lot more depth and detail. The car now has full door cards, a full interior and lots of clever features. But it still exaggerates all the key elements of Morgan manufacture, so the wood is made really apparent, the leather is celebrated and the aluminium is exposed in different areas to make a real point of the wood/aluminium/leather working habits of Morgan.

This also gave the craftsmen a chance to truly shine, working their magic in ways they hadn’t yet been given chance to on the main Morgan stock – for example, the way in which the woods have been highlighted in the car exaggerates all the jointing techniques and inherent skill that the craftsmen in the wood shop have. So, while this is the embodiment of Brian’s motoring dream, it’s also a showcase of Morgan’s talent as a coachbuilder as well as a carmaker.

“WHILE THIS IS THE EMBODIMENT OF BRIAN’S MOTORING DREAM, IT’S ALSO A SHOWCASE OF MORGAN’S TALENT AS A COACHBUILDER AS WELL AS A CARMAKER”

It was crucial and hugely beneficial to have Brian by Jon’s side throughout the project, as Jon explains, “It was great working with Brian on this, especially when coming up with some of the details around SP1. Essentially, it was like having another designer in the room, someone I could bounce ideas off. Mainly though, his inherent passion for the vehicle and the final outcome was brilliant and enthused myself and the team when coming up with ideas. every detail that we came up with, we could share with Brian and get his feedback and take on it, leading us to evolve each idea as we worked one on one. His enthusiasm and passion for the Morgan brand and what it can achieve just exaggerates the excitement of the process.”

 

THE WOW FACTOR

Having Morgan agree to build you a one-off car is one thing, but then seeing it through to become the automotive embodiment of what resides in your mind’s eye is quite another. That’s why Brian has been an instrumental and welcomed member to the team behind the car. SP1 wasn’t built for Brian, it was built with Brian, as he explains: “SP1 really is the pinnacle of bespoke car manufacturing and I have been heavily involved in the design with Jon Wells and the rest of the team in creating the ultimate special project car.”

At every stage there has been collaboration and there has been an element of “work in progress” as the car has developed. Brian recalls visiting the geneva Motor show with Jon. They were on a mission to find the perfect exhaust and they spent the day scouting around the show until they found a design that matched their vision for the car. That’s just one example of the attention to detail involved in this build.

For the headlamps, Brian was keen to emulate the 1930s lucas P100 headlights whose bulb was held in a tripod. Jon designed the headlight in this style and as the wheels are solid, which could cause the brakes to overheat, he ducted the headlamps to the front brakes for cooling – a genius solution born out of design and discovery!

Inside SP1 is a showcase of bespoke touches. Jon explains, “ The upholstery features a lot of saddle leather detailing – very fine material from a very natural leather – which will stress slowly and change with time. The stitching is elaborate and the shapes and forms are really interesting, too, which not only adds visual excitement, but also shows the capability of the trim shop.”

“HE DUCTED THE HEADLAMPS TO THE FRONT BRAKES FOR COOLING – A GENIUS SOLUTION BORN OUT OF DESIGN AND DISCOVERY!”

The creation of SP1’s innards didn’t stop at wood and leather though, with thoughts of the car being an occasion as much as anything else being firmly at the front of Jon and Brian’s minds. One idea for the interior came from imagining getting in the car and having to undertake a pre-drive ritual. So, on the roof interior you have several toggle switches you have to check before ‘taking off ’ if you like. you have a two-stage ignition to prime the car and then a final, green toggle switch, to ‘launch’ the engine and begin your journey.

There are lots of clever interactions like that around the car, such as the way the door handles are positioned, the way the wood and the distressed leather are, at certain points, in contact. these things help to celebrate the driver’s interaction with the vehicle. It was all of those really unique and exciting ideas that made it through to the final car, which is really rewarding for the team at Morgan.

Many elements of the car are wholly personal to Brian and his life, too. the exotic Bubinga wood used in the interior hails from West africa, a continent where Brian has spent most of his working life. those aviation- inspired, roof-mounted switches are a nod to Brian’s love of the Bristol Fighter, and the wheels hark back to the stripped-down Bonneville salt flats record breaker, which holds a special appeal to Brian.

Then there’s the colour – this will be the third Morgan that Brian has owned in rocket red, a rich russet that has become his signature colour. “even though the paint manufacturers have now stopped making this colour, I have an agreement with the MMC that mine will be the only Special Projects car that will have this paint nish,” says Brian. Design, paint and trim are all going to echo the flavours and styles of Morgan, but it won’t be completely traditional in approach, thanks to some swish technology being featured in the build. For example, with the exception of the rev counter, all the instruments are displayed on an iPad. “it was important to me to showcase Morgan’s ability to embrace the latest technology on their cars. Most people think of the traditional Morgans with their classic looks and classic instruments to match. But, Morgan has so much more talent to offer when it comes to modern design and styling. it was important to me to allow the younger generation of Morgan specialists to display their skills to the rest of the world through this iconic car,” he adds. Oh, and of course we can’t forget that this entire car has been hand-beaten and rolled with an English Wheel by a small team of fabricators, just showing how talented the metal sheet- workers are here. Talk about a vehicular showcase.

THE BUILD

The creation of a car like this brings with it an array of challenges and compromises to be overcome. As mentioned previously, SP1 has seen the craftsmen at the factory work in a way many of them found to be new and different from what they’d previously done, despite utilising the same core skills to reach a conclusion. Jon explains some of the challenges faced with such a unique project.

“In any company the designer/engineer relationship is a fruitful one! a lot of compromises have to be made. however, I think the relationship between the team members was enhanced, rather than stressed. We all worked very closely, we had to do a lot of problem solving, a lot of which was very last minute and off the cuff. There have certainly been some challenges along the way, but i don’t feel any part of the design has been compromised as a result of those. Actually, I think we’ve managed to achieve a vehicle that performs fully and also has all the excitement that was originally envisaged.”

The duration of the build also saw Brian becoming a regular face at the factory’s secret workshop, not just beside Jon’s desk! SP1 took a permanent spot on the shop floor for a great many months, with Brian making regular visits to see the progress.

Though this wasn’t in the capacity of checking up on the build, it was so Brian could be a part of it, so he could see the changes – be they major or minor – and as such, fully understand the evolution of SP1. it also meant he was on hand should problems or challenges arise, allowing the team to work through them with ease.

The build itself, while labour intensive, was also a considered and methodical affair. With each panel being a bespoke, hand- rolled part, the mantra of “measure twice, cut once” was firmly taken on board. Though in reality, it was more a case of measure 25 times, cut once! As with any artisan trade, crafting a car from scratch takes a great deal of time and to build any Morgan is a long process. This car multiplies that tenfold due to the level of detail and how each one of the design elements has been celebrated in such exact detail. it’s been a challenge, pushing the craftsmen to the limits of their skills along the way. But it was all worth it, coming to fruition in the form of the rocket red revelation you see splashed over these pages.

 

THE POWER OF SP1

SP1 literally does what it says on the tin: it is Morgan’s first special project, and while that doesn’t mean the company will be making one-off cars on a regular basis, it does mean the door is open to the possibility of more vehicles of this kind. More than that, it’s also enthused and excited all who have been involved in its creation. That’s something that was key for Brian. as well as getting his dream car, he also wanted to bring about a project that would grab the imaginations of the younger members of the Morgan factory family as Brian explains. “ There is an excellent spirit in the business, and that’s especially pleasing to see in the younger generation that are coming through. There are a lot of bright, young people at the factory who are making some really positive contributions to the future of the company. I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of working with Morgan and the team – it has been a real pleasure. seeing our ideas come to reality has been an amazing experience. The car is the real star.”

Now complete, the car will be subject to a whirlwind tour of exposure starting at the coveted salon Privé. Of course, Brian can now enjoy SP1 to its fullest, though he claims not to have given too much thought to how he will use this most iconic of Morgans. “I will use it for sure, but i don’t intend to put a high mileage on it, although whenever I’ve said that about previous cars, it’s never worked out quite like that!” He laughs.

It’s been a long, detailed and exhaustive journey to bring SP1 from the drawing board to the road, but one that’s been worth it for all involved, something Jon is happy to reflect on, “on a personal level, returning to a project that was started five years ago as a concept vehicle and see those ideas and designs come to fruition as a complete car with the right proportions and details and stance was real closure for me. It’s inspired me to look to the next Morgan project.”

As for Brian, what advice does he have to offer to anyone who’s taken inspiration from his unique build? “Leave plenty of time and make sure your pockets are deep. Oh, and either don’t tell the wife the cost or be prepared to buy her plenty of gifts!”