The Full English: On a Road Trip to Basel

The Swiss town of Basel – famous for its annual watch show (you know the one) is approximately 550 miles from London. As has been my custom for the past 16 years, I eschewed the joys of budget airline travel in favour of driving, a journey of approximately nine hours which takes in some of the most boring parts of the French landscape.

Some people – well, almost all people, actually – ask why I drive when it’s “so quick” to fly. Well, I just do, that’s all. Plus, it gives me a chance to properly test some interesting cars which, over the years, have included Mercedes-AMG’s CLS 55, Maserati’s Gran Turismo, Quattroporte and Ghibli, Aston Martin’s Rapide and Jaguar’s XKR and F Type R (in the latter of which I was accompanied by Revolution UK’s editor who, having programmed the GPS as we touched French soil, proved to be excellent company by spending the entire journey snoozing in the passenger seat).

But as the photographs here show, this year’s conveyance was a little less luxurious than those of the past, the retro-look Morgan Roadster not being known for its “magic carpet” ride nor commodious accommodation. It seemed appropriate, however, following the announcement that British-based Christopher Ward has become the official watch partner of the marque, which has been building cars in Malvern, Worcestershire, since 1910 and is the oldest surviving independent British automobile manufacturer.

Embracing the Past

Morgan has remained resolutely traditional in its approach to manufacturing, with the cars featuring aluminium bodywork laid over an ash frame, few concessions to modernity and the sort of connected feel that is now lost in the majority of mainstream, electronically-managed cars. The line-up comprises the three-wheeler (based on the original Morgan cyclecars), the Classic range which is directly descended from the first four-wheeled Morgan of 1936, and the almost futuristic Aero 8, which features sleeker styling and a more modern design.

The car I took to Basel was the Classic Roadster, which combines old world looks with a ridiculously punchy Ford 3.7 litre V6 engine producing 280 horsepower – but which proved to make the Roadster an unexpectedly brilliant long-distance car, its ultra-high top gear providing an effortless 70-80mph cruise at a lowly and relaxing 2,000 rpm, and its low seating position and ample legroom making the experience less crippling than anticipated.

It was not until the car was delivered, however, that I realised just how “intimate” the interior actually was – so much so, in fact, that it was necessary to partially lower the roof in order to cram a small weekend bag (containing a week’s worth of kit) behind the leather-trimmed seats. The other problem was that I had already invited Jonathan Bordell – founder of online watch retailer Page & Cooper – to travel with me.

He is not a diminutive man, but he packed thoughtfully, shoehorned himself in and, I think, thoroughly enjoyed the journey. Although he did choose to fly home.

Before setting off, I dropped by at London Morgan in South Kensington’s quaintly cobbled Astwood Mews in order that Revolution could work some camera magic, pairing a small selection of wristwear with the Roadster to highlight just how the number of English watch brands is burgeoning.

Perfect Partners

The partnership between Morgan and Christopher Ward does, however, seem entirely appropriate and has been well thought out. Complementing the various models in the Morgan range, the watch line-up comprises a rugged, aviation-style piece to go alongside the three-wheeler; an understated dress model to go with the Classics and a slightly more technical-looking piece to echo the contemporary Aero 8. All the watches are powered by chronometer-certified versions of the SH21 mechanical movement and, interestingly, are only available to buy if you’re a past, present or future Morgan owner.

But Christopher Ward isn’t Morgan’s first watch partner. In 2009, it collaborated with Hublot on a limited edition of 500, £12,850 Aero Bang watches inspired by the original Aero 8 coupe, and in 2015, British husband-and-wife team Craig and Rebecca Struthers partnered with the firm to offer highly bespoke, made-to-order Morgan watches costing upwards of £20,000 apiece.

The CW pictured here is not, in fact, one of the specific Morgan watches but an example of the typically good value, £1,950 C8 Power Reserve Chronometer which certainly has the rugged good looks to be entirely at home in an open-topped sports car.

But as our images show, there’s a whole host of other “English” watch brands that might be suitable for the patriotic Morgan owner, not least the Robin from Lincolnshire-based maker Robert Loomes, which contains a re-worked, vintage movement from the once-mighty watch making division of Smiths Industries – and Loomes, of course, has also launched the Stamford model made using components entirely fabricated in the UK.

A New England

Also gracing the Morgan’s curvaceous bodywork is an example of Schofield’s deliciously minimalist new flagship model, the £3,840 Daymark featuring a case made from a single block of vapour-blasted steel that houses a trusty ETA movement. Measuring 44mm in diameter and with that beautifully spare, brightly lumed dial, it should prove entirely practical behind the wheel both day and night.

The four-year-old Pinion brand, meanwhile, provided us with its decidedly appropriate Revival 1969 model which dovetails nicely with the Morgan’s vintage vibe by containing a new-old-stock Valjoux 7734 movement. Pinion’s first chronograph watch, the £4,950 Revival is beautifully finished and a smoked crystal display back allows horophiles to ogle the deliciously tactile hand-wound mechanism. Sadly, the limited supply of old 7734s means just 100 examples of the watch will be available.

Tradition takes centre stage, too, with the excellent Garrick Regulator that offers an interesting take on the traditional regulator theme – instead of the usual, central minute hand, the Garrick’s appears on a largish sub-dial at 3 o’clock with hours being displayed at 6 and running seconds at 12 – with the free-sprung balance on display through an aperture in the dial, providing some interest for the mechanically-minded Morgan man (or woman). The 42mm case can be had in frosted or polished steel, black DLC or various grained finishes, and the watch costs £5,829

But if such four-figure sums make you long for the days when cars cost hundreds of pounds and watches tens of pounds, take a look at young British, Kickstarter-funded brand Marloe’s offerings, especially the remarkably good value Lomond Chronoscope pictured here. Looking decidedly Omega Speedmaster-ish with perhaps hints of Cosmograph Daytona PNs thrown in, it features an (unnamed) Chinese movement which, pleasingly, is hand-wound and surprisingly elaborately decorated. If you can overcome the stigma associated with such an engine – a stigma that is becoming increasingly unjustified – then a Marloe Lomond Chronoscope could be on your wrist for an affordable £449.

Which, incidentally, is approximately twice what the new Morgan four-wheeler cost when it was launched in 1935 – although the ravages of inflation means that today’s version of the 4/4 carries a price tag of £29,995, while the Roadster in our shoot costs £48,000.

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