Morgan Cars, Sales, Imports, Isis Imports Ltd.
San Francisco, California
Established 1968
Oldest Factory Authorized Importers of Morgan Cars in the USA | Phone: 415-433-1344 | FAX: 415-778-1850 |
This article is reprinted from and copyrighted by the Wall Street Journal,
October 6, 2000.


The New Traffic Stoppers

A Ferrari Is Faster, Porsche Pricier, But Boutique Cars Are Now The Rage; A One-Year Wait


KENNETH FAX'S black Mercedes coupe as fast, flashy and well-built, but in the end., it just couldn't deliver what the network engineer really wanted: dropped jaws and covetous stares from passersby.

That's why Mr. Fax is now driving an $85,000 Mangusta, a weird Italian roadster that looks like a cross between a bullet and an iMac. His is in green. "Everyone wants to know what it is," says Mr. Fax, adding he couldn't feel hipper cruising down Lombard Street in San Francisco. "I've had people literally running behind the car."

Stopping traffic just ain't what it used to be. Now that every soccer mom seems to be ferrying her brood around in a BMW, die-hard auto aficionados are racing to buy a new generation of boutique convertibles for one simple reason: No one else has them. These fancy wheels aren't the fastest on the road, they're not the best constructed, and they're not even the most expensive. But because the eye-catching models are being produced in such limited numbers, they are suddenly the automotive equivalent of PlayStation 2, the hotly awaited video-game system that already has long waiting lists.

Want an $80,000 Esperante? Forget about it. Though they're not expected to come out for another month, there's already a yearlong wait from Panoz Automotive Development, a Hoscbton, Ga., car maker.
red plus 8
Quirky cars like this Morgan Plus 8 are becoming
a must for image-concious drivers.


How about a $65,000 Morgan Plus 8? This Britisb-made number is oddly angular, has spoke wheels and looks like it comes from the 1930s; but only about 50 lucky buyers get one each year. The $175,000 Shelby Series 1-a masculine, American-made roadster that can go from zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds-is also a tough buy. Of the 500 to be built, half are already spoken for.

Are there downsides? Let us count the ways. While many of these boutique cars certainly turn heads, they're not the most driver-friendly of cars. Many lack creature comforts such as automatic climate control and navigation systems. All require special parts and there are few certified mechanics who can repair them. David Hill, a Gainesville, Fla., Home Depot manager, found this out the hard way. After tracking down and ordering a Shelby Series 1, Mr. Hill inundated the factory with calls to make sure it was delivered as soon as possible. When the Shelby finally arrived, it didn't have a roof, and Mr. Hill had to wait for the company to dispatch a special team of technicians to install it.

Indeed, Tom Mueller bought his 1999 Morgan Plus 8 specifically because the auto require the same greasing, bolt-tightening and special care that was common 70 years ago. He doesn't even mind that the convertible top is difficult to put up and douses the driver with rainwater when the door is opened. "There's just something about driving a car that's the last of an era," says Mr.Mueller, a San Jose musician and restaurant owner.

Sexy roadsters, of course, have long had a special place in America's car culture- especially for drivers who hope their "wheels" will express who they are. Back in the late 1940s, custom-built roadsters were hugely popular. In 1989, fun-starved consumers flocked to Mazda showrooms when the plucky Miata, with its rounded fenders and smiling front grille, appeared; it is still the best-selling two-seater in the U.S. The low-slung Boxster convertible, reminiscent of a 1950s racer, has been a best seller for Porsche since 1997. And BMW's Z8 roadster has made a splash this year not only because actor Pierce Brosnan drives one as British spy James Bond, but because its irresistibly curvy body looks like a sports car should.
Panoz Esperante
Shelby Series 1

Cheaper Status

Aside from the Shelby, most of these boutique cars, oddly enough, aren't that expensive at least in comparison to the better-known status rides like the Porsche 911 Turbo ($111,000) or the BMW Z8 ($128,000). That's largely because most of the cars-which range from $60,000 to $85,000-are put together with components produced by other manufacturers. The Esperante and Mangusta, for example, both use Ford engines. The Shelby uses a modified Oldsmobile engine, while Morgan uses engines from English car maker Rover.

Flash Factor

Still, for consumers, cost seems to be less of a factor than flash. Chip Howes, for one, saved at least $56,000 when he decided to go with an Esperante instead of the Ferrari 60 Modena. The deciding factor: the Esperante's curves. "I'm always looking something you don't see every day," says Mr. Howes, a Roswell, Ga., Internet executive. Likewise, Mr. Hill, the Florida Home Depot manager, fell in love with the Shelby's funky lines and wide tires. The price seems almost, secondary with him. "They'll never see another Shelby in this town," he boasts. "Especially not one with racing stripes in Home Depot orange."

Of course, all that head-turning attention can actually make patience grow thin. Virgil Di Biase, a Valparaiso, Ind., neurologist, is crazy about his dark green Mangusta, but he's had it with rubberneckers. At a recent racing event in Elkhart Lake, Wis., he was hemmed in by onlookers asking dozens of questions and he almost lost his patience. "It gets to the point where it's almost annoying," he admits.

Fancy Wheels

These boutique cars are known for their unusual looks and limited availiability. Here's how they stack up against the Corvette:
Esperante Panoz Automotive
(Hoschton, Ga.)
$80,000 -
This retro convertible won't be rolled out untill next month, but it's already got a waiting list that's a year long.
Series 1
Shelby American
(Las Vegas)
$100,000 -
Production delays have caused a three year backlog for this quintessential sports car, availiable only in silver.
Mangusta Qvale Automotive
(San Francisco)
$82,000 -
The perfect complement for that Armani suit, this wedge-shaped car was also designed by an Italian.
Morgan Plus 8 Morgan Motor
(Malvern Link, England)
$61,000 -
A true roadster, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" style, with spoke wheels and running boards. Radio and external door handles are optional: Wait time: up to eight months.
Chevrolet (Detroit) $46,600 -
May be tacky but sports-car junkies love it. A relative bargain that is frighteningly fast and can be found at most Chevy dealerships.

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