Unlike most of the other classic car owners featured in this series, La Jolla resident Jack Bass is the original owner of his vintage vehicle. He bought his 1958 drophead Morgan as a graduation present to himself upon completing college and kept it — in various states of assemblage — ever since. For some of that time, the car was taken apart, and boxes filled with parts were scattered throughout his home. But a little under 10 years ago, he put the car back together and it is now back to its former glory.
“I wanted a different car and when I saw this, I fell in love with it,” he said. “I was going to school in Berkeley to become a mechanical engineer and there was a Morgan dealer nearby (the car is predominantly produced in England), so when I graduated in 1958, I bought this car.”
Wife Ernie added, “It was our first child, we had a lot of fun with it. That car has meant a lot to us. Our daughter drove it for a while when she was a teenager and our son thought he was going to get it, but he’s still waiting.”
The Bass family moved to La Jolla in 1965 and brought the Morgan with them. The two regularly drove the car, taking it for the good and the bad.
Jack explained, “It’s very fast, but not great for driving on freeways. It’s just geared for different types of roads (in England). So I’ll be driving on the freeway at 3500 RPM and only going about 70 miles per hour. In a truck, I would be going 85 or 90 miles per hour with that much power.
“It’s also a very stiff, firm riding car because of the front end … it’s the only car in the world with a front end like this (with the entire engine and suspension system) that keeps the front wheels exactly lined up. There is a joke about Morgans that if you stop on a dime you can tell whether its heads or tails.”
In 1983, Ernie was driving up Via Capri and blew a head gasket, which Jack set out to repair. “I took it apart to look at the head gasket. I had long thought about rebuilding it, it was a little scruffy by that time … so I took it 100 percent apart. I worked on it for a little bit, but then I got really busy at work, and I had to stop working on it. The parts were spread all over the house, in boxes in our closets,” he said.
The car remained in its disassembled state until about 2010, when Jack retired and he resumed his project.
Ernie quipped, “We didn’t realize how much closet space we had until (the parts came out of the closet and) he put the car back together again. We didn’t realize it was such a big job when we took it apart. But I don’t think anyone else could have put it back together like he did.”
To collect the parts needed for the task, Jack went to England, where the Morgan Motor Company factory is located, three times. He fondly keeps photos from his visits. He learned the company started producing the car in 1909, and because of their unique design, could only make about 350 per year (or less than one per day). With “more carpenters than mechanics” at the factory, the cars were built with wooden frames with metal overlays. Morgan continued to make cars, except during war times, and still manufactures cars today. “You could still buy a Morgan, just not this one,” he joked.
Over the course of the informative trips, Jack gathered the parts needed to put the car back together.
Having worked on cars his entire life, he was prepared. The only thing he left to the pros was the paint job, “The color is original and I had to take it to shop so I could be sure the color matched exactly,” he said.
Now in its original condition, Jack drives the car around about once a week to keep the parts working, but he said at 87 years old, can’t drive it much more than that. “I’ve had two replaced knees and my feet are bigger, so while I can get into the car, I can’t drive it much anymore. It’s difficult for me now.” With a chuckle, he said when he does take the car for a spin, people often look at him, wave and smile. “I think people are interested because it’s so different. You meet interesting people when you have a unique car.”
Added Ernie: “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to drive it. So we enjoy it while we have it.”
Editor’s Note: In response to an invitation to classic car owners to share their vehicle love stories, more than a dozen car buffs contacted La Jolla Light to be interviewed about their prize possessions. In this series, we present their delightful roadster experiences.
ON THE WEB: See previous stories and photos from La Jolla Light’s “One for the Road” series at bit.ly/lajollacars