We have just arrived home with our new Morgan Plus 4. Home is on Lake Como and our road trip to return from the factory in Malvern was just under 3,000 km. But our story really commences in October last year when we visited the Morgan factory in Malvern and test drove a Plus 4.
As we drove in the works gate we saw a Plus 4 in exactly the colours we had thought of buying. We both said “look they have our car ready for us!” As it turned out that was the car we were to take for a test drive and in due course we exited the factory gate and headed towards Ledbury. We were lucky with both the weather and the traffic and were able to drive with the hood down in warm sunshine at a reasonably smart pace. Following a short walk around Ledbury we somewhat reluctantly headed back to surrender the car.
After returning to the factory we tagged on to the next factory tour, which we enjoyed enormously. We took the opportunity to ask questions about some of the cars we saw in production. Morgan must have the most enthusiastic staff of any automotive factory in the world and we always received a willing response with a smile.
At the end of the day, after many discussions about colour choices, we decided to order the car for delivery in March: Sports Ivory with Mulberry upholstery and a list of extras that just kept growing all by itself.
The winter months dragged by and I probably drove Mark and Nick at Morgan crazy with various questions and fine adjustments to the order. In Italy, once you have the Certificate of Conformity and have paid import taxes and other fees you can be issued a set of plates and arrange insurance. This saved us the expense of getting temporary plates in the UK. In due course we arrived at Birmingham airport to be met by our new found friend Mike who had very generously offered to collect us and deliver us to our Hotel, the Cotford, in Malvern. On the 20th of March Mike took us to the works to collect the car. It was waiting for us in front of the Visitors Centre as promised and following the necessary paperwork and hand over instructions we were free to take to the roads. That is after we had done some additional shopping in the Morgan shop and collected a full set of leather luggage. We spent the afternoon visiting Worcester and its magnificent cathedral with Mike as our guide and then the following day touring the Worcester area in the company of Mike and his stunning blue 4/4. The weather was beautiful and warm, as it was to be for our entire trip.
It was my first, nervous, experience of driving a left hand drive car on the wrong side of the road but after a few miles I settled down and it seemed quite natural. The new Aero Racing sports exhaust system was everything I had hoped it would be and I felt the car was more responsive than that fitted with the standard exhaust. The silencer has a wonderful note and is not too loud for touring.We visited Heart of England Morgan parts specialist and added a grill mesh and badge bar to our extras. We also had time for a short chat at Mike Duncan’s, the Morgan dealer next door.
On the morning of the 22nd we returned to the works to sort out a couple of final details and then took to the road with Mike leading for the first 50 km to get us around Gloucester and make sure we were on the correct road. We really cannot thank him enough and were very pleased to hear that he has been appointed as a factory tour guide. He is very knowledgeable, kind and enthusiastic and will be a fantastic guide.
Our chosen route took us past Stonehenge and then on to the Moto-Lita and Aviation Leathercraft factory where I ordered a custom jacket. A word of warning about the speedhump on the road into the Moto-Lita: it is designed for trucks and we bottomed out on it. One of the Moto-Lita office staff told us that she always enters on the exit road to avoid the speedhump, and that is in an ordinary car! From there our navigator led us very much astray and we finished up seeing a series of lovely villages but we had a ferry to catch so after a little re-programming we found the motorway.
First we had an appointment in Bournemouth to have dinner with Sally, a relation. This was a welcome break in our first day of driving and we had really expected to take Sally to dinner but she had everything ready for us. A very relaxing evening with good food accompanied by an excellent bottle of red wine. The ferry departure for Caen was scheduled for 23:45 but, never having been to Portsmouth before, we reluctantly decided to leave in good time.
When we arrived at the ferry in Portsmouth we told them that we had very low clearance and they obligingly put us on the main deck. The benefit of this is that after two trucks we were the next to leave the ferry: so different to the usual long wait to get off. My compliments to Brittany Ferries for their excellent and helpful staff.
The next requirement was to find breakfast for us and fuel for the car, that sorted we headed for Mont Saint Michel. At Mont Saint Michel we discovered there was a strike and we were unable to visit the abbey but none the less we enjoyed our visit to this amazing place. We were a little unwilling to pay the high prices for a meal at the tourist restaurants so we exited and returned to nearby La Rive where we enjoyed an excellent meal – we highly suggest oysters and local cider – at the Auberge de la Baie. Then on to an overnight stay with friends Fredo and Muriel at Guingamp. We discovered Guingamp is a town that has a very interesting historic centre with many beautiful old buildings. We had little time to explore but noted it down for a future visit. We enjoyed our second excellent meal of the day with king prawns and scallops followed by wonderful crepes and we had the pleasure of meeting again another old Moto Guzzi friend. Alis, who can’t stand beer, has discovered cider. Unfortunately with the car already weighed down by 50 kg of luggage there was only space for one bottle to bring home. Next time we must travel with less luggage!
Our next stage was the longest on the trip and involved nearly 600 km so we had no choice but to travel a good part of it on the Autoroute but at a certain point we decided that it was time to seek a light lunch. The navigator was accordingly reprogrammed to avoid the Autoroute and it promptly led us of into the countryside of the Vendèe on what it took to be the shortest route. Just at the point where I was beginning to wonder where on earth we were, we turned a corner and there was a bridge flanked by an old mill house. We crossed the bridge into Moutiers-sur-le-Lay and parked in front of La Petite Tavern. It was exactly what we had been looking for and after stretching our legs and having a look around we enjoyed a couple of wonderful crepes washed down with a beer for me and a glass of ‘Orangina’ for Alis. We deviated from our planned route to pay a brief visit to La Rochelle and its historically important port. Another place added to the list for a future visit.
The afternoon was quite warm and we took the opportunity to try out the air conditioning. It may seem strange but even with the top down we found that, because of the position of the vents, the cooling effect was such that it was not long before we turned it off. I should mention that our car is probably the first Plus 4 to leave the factory with air conditioning installed. As we live in zone that has very hot and humid summers I really wanted aircon and I have to say I am quite satisfied with the result.
We generally have found the French road system to be very good and in some place the ordinary roads are almost as fast as the Autoroute so we had an excellent drive to our next overnight stop at the Chateau de Puyrigaud near the village of Léoville. The Chateau is in part a work in progress. The current owners, Veronique and Philippe Lassalle, with the help of an uncle have restored one entire wing and have commenced work on the second, now separate, building. The place is an absolute delight and I could not speak highly enough of their enthusiastic hospitality. You had better be hungry when you dine. The food is excellent, the servings abundant, the wine superb and the prices moderate. The rooms are decorated to different classical themes often using antique furniture and there is the possibility of self catering for large families or small groups. We will definitely return.
We were enjoying our stay at the Chateau so much that we threw our timetable to the winds and consequently arrived just on dusk at our next overnight stop at the historic Hotel Abbaye Ecole de Sorèze. This is a huge abbey that was then taken over by the military and turned into a military school in 1776. We enjoyed a stroll around the village and admired its many historic buildings before dinner in a nearby restaurant.
Our real target in that area was Carcassonne and given we had to have the car inside the ancient walled city before 10 am and early start was dictated. It was only some 50 km, making it the shortest daily run of the trip but what with the peak hour traffic and the misleading navigator instructions we arrived right on 10 am but the Hotel de la Cité obligingly sent a car to the external car park to guide us in. The hotel is overlooking the walls of the Cité and has a small and beautifully kept garden and a huge garage. We were then able to relax knowing the Plus 4 was secure for the next 24 hours and set out to explore the Cité, the castle, and the cathedral.
Again we had an early start the next day and just managed to exit the Cité gates in time to avoid the rush of visitors. Even so we were stuck for about 10 minutes waiting for the tourist coaches to clear the road. We then set out to explore some of the Cathar villages. Of particular note are Alet-les-Bains, with its stunningly beautiful ruined abbey, and the mysterious Rennes-le-Château. Our drive took us past several of the important Cathar castles but, given that they must be reached on foot, we did not have time to visit them this trip.
We stopped for a late lunch at Chez la Tchèpe in Bouzigues on the Étang de Thau where we ate the biggest oysters I have ever seen. We also tried some other shell fish and it was a new experience for me as they were all raw. Oysters I like but I think that in future I will have my shell fish cooked thank you. The price for the oysters was so low I nearly went back for another dozen.
Our next overnight stop was at a friend’s place on the outskirts of Nimes, a town that we did not even see. Instead, after an ample aperitif, Bjorn took us to visit the nearby town of Uzès, another town with a wonderfully preserved medieval centre. We learned that the next morning was market day so we returned to make several purchases of small gifts and some wonderful goat’s milk cheeses that we managed to carry home safe and sound. We then continued past Avignon then cross country past the famous fields of lavander ( and truffles) and on to the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie where we joined the Route de la Corniche Sublime to go through the Canyon du Verdon, which Bjorn had recommended to us as . We finished up making a wrong turn and took the northern road above the canyon. Do not take this route if you suffer from vertigo. The road is great and the views are spectacular but Alis did not find it enjoyable and was pleased when we finally left it behind and arrived at Castellane and from there through to Grasse and past Nice on the Autoroute.
After our wrong turn we were running behind schedule again and managed to arrive at our small hotel on the Corniche above Villefranche just on dusk. We had no fixed plan on exactly where to stay that night except we wanted to be close to the Italian border. At a certain point we chose a hotel that was on our route from the navigator. L’Oasis Hotel and Méditerrané’o Restaurant turned out to be a happy choice as it was really a restaurant with a few small rooms underneath. The cost was economical and the food excellent but the view was priceless. The next morning we watched the sun rise over the point as we prepared for breakfast.
On the home run now. We slipped down the coast road to Menton where we filled up with fuel before crossing in to Italy. Going in to the service station there was a nasty little speed hump and we clipped it with a metallic squawk from under the car. After filling and paying I drove out very slowly whilst Alis walked out. A few curves later and a bit of heavy braking at a confusing intersection and then we were in Italy. Unfortunately the quality of the road surface was not as good as in France and we bumped along as we navigated through Ventimiglia. Once out the other side we stopped for a coffee. Alis, first to get out of the car, saw that I had left the fuel cap open. Immediate panic on my part: the inner fuel cap with its key plus the door key would be impossible to find on the road, but no, there is was, still propped against the spare tyre where I had left it a good 15 km away. The key fob and keys had dropped into the gap between the tyre and the bodywork and stopped it from sliding off. Obviously our lucky day.
We had decided that if the weather was fine we would take the road over the Colle di Tenda. Strangely this means passing back in to France as the French Italian border is at the top of the pass. The road is an absolute pleasure as it passes through the spectacular Roja river gorge for several kilometres before climbing past several villages to arrive at a series of hairpins for the final climb to the 3,182 metre long one-lane tunnel that passes through the peak. We had about a ten minute wait for the traffic light to change and then we were back off into Italy. I have just discovered there is an interesting ruined fort, Forte Centrale established in 1881, not far from the peak and I have noted it for a future visit.
We paused briefly for an enjoyable lunch and a bit of shopping at the Venchi Chocolate factory. Some of the factory workers were on their lunch break and were quite amazed that the car was new. If we, and they, had had more time I am sure the afternoon would have been spent giving rides to the enthusiastic “girls”. From that point we wasted no time to head for home and as soon as we could join the Autostrada we did.
We arrived home, tired but happy, at about four in the afternoon to be greeted by Alis’s daughter Francesca and the dachshund Erba, who on examining the car, gave it her seal of approval and made herself at home in the passenger footwell.
The car performed flawlessly on the trip and not only kept us smiling but constantly brought smiles and salutes from pedestrians and passing cars. We travelled a mixture of country roads, highways and high speed toll roads and motorways. We found a cruising speed of 110 kph quite comfortable but at times cruised at over 120 kph. On the country roads, travelling at speeds of about 80 kph it was quite possible to enjoy the radio/CD player and we listened to a mixture of jazz, classic pop, and the Rolling Stones. We felt the fuel economy was quite good (considering my sometimes enthusiastic driving) and for the trip we averaged just under 13 km per litre or 7.75 litres per 100 km, or in imperial measure, just under 36 miles per gallon. Not bad for a car running in and not yet having had it’s first service and tune.
Thank you Morgan and all at the factory for creating such a fabulous car for us.
I will add some links and captions for the photos over the next couple of days.