Bahaaaaaah, the French. I mean, the English. Yes, the English have always been celebrated for making the world’s best Fourth Cars. There is an English manufacturer named Morgan, inspired almost exclusively by the desire to make “Fourth Cars.” They’re ash-framed and, like the best English cars, deliver vintage styling, so Morgan —
Wait, what is a Fourth Car, you ask? Allow me to to explain.
[Full disclosure: I own not one but two Morgan 3-wheelers. Whether you believe this makes me more or less inclined to speak objectively about Fourth Cars or Morgans, well, that depends on whether you’ve ever owned a Morgan. Or a TVR. Or a Jensen. Or pre-1985 Jaguar. I’m also friends with Charles Morgan Jr., who, to my dismay, no longer works for Morgan. He was a useful friend to have in Malvern, for reasons that will become clear less than 2000 words from now.]
A Fourth Car doesn’t actually have to be the fourth car in your garage. A Fourth car can be your fourth. It can be your third, or even first. It is in the sacrifices you make to make a Fourth your First that passion burns. It is in its absence, as you sit comfortably behind the wheel of anything else, that a relationship is built. A Fourth Car is more of an abstract concept than anything else.
A wise man whose name I’ve forgotten once told me a Morgan was the best Fourth Car one could buy. I laughed because, of course, I understood exactly what he meant. At least I thought I did. Morgans - like TVRs, Jensens, Austin-Healeys, Fiats, Alfas, MGs and Jaguars - were unreliable. Allegedly. English electrical systems and all. Every child knows this. Because everyone’s dad had a friend (who had a friend) who owned one. Allegedly.
Fourth Cars - as I understood it, as a child - were unreliable. And since I could never imagine needing three cars at one time, I dared only dream of owning a fourth.
But Fourth Cars were cool. Like the ED-209. Who cares if they work or not?
I hadn’t intended to write about Fourth Cars. This was supposed to be the week I, or someone under a pseudonym, published one of the following:
- “Is Richard Rawlings is the Brian Williams of the Automotive World?”
- “Is The Citroen SM The Greatest GT of all Time?”
- “How to Organize a Modern Cannonball Run, And Why it Will Fail.”
- “Top 10 Headlines Tavarish Thought of Before YOU did.”
- “How to Hoax a Cross-Country Record Run.”
- “Who is the Biggest Hack in Automotive Journalism?”
All of which are coming, in rough order. Unless I get better suggestions in the comments.
But then I arrived in Los Angeles. West Hollywood, to be precise. Last Thursday. I have since spent a week shuttling between meetings with my lawyer and agent. Although these meetings have been literal reenactments of Ari Gold’s best scenes from Entourage, the most entertaining part of the trip has been my daily commute.
The thirty minute drive from Hollywood to Century City takes me west on Sunset, past the once-hot-but-still-priced-as-such Mondrian Hotel on the left and the nicest-Pink Dot-in-America on the right. The latter demarcates a zone in which lease payments - whether for real estate or the cars parked in front of the restaurants clustered on both sides - double. Then triple.
Stucco becomes glass, then stone. Seventeens become 18’s, then 19’s. S models become GT’s, then AMG’s. Five minutes in modest traffic brings one to the mirrored tower atop which Soho House is perched, after which any vestigial pretense of manual labor or personal modesty evaporates.
Welcome to Beverly Hills.
The land of the OEM 21-inch wheel. GT-Rs. Black Editions. Mulsannes. Alpinas. Purple Label. Sang Noir.
A brisk pace down Sunset is the norm - day or night - for there is nowhere to stop, let alone park, in front of houses whose ornate roofs peek out above expertly trimmed greenery. The long gentle curves are punctuated by intersections sufficiently distant - and traffic lights so perfectly timed - that the locals’ driving skills have evolved - and stopped - at that of a second week slushbox Mustang GT owner. Of course, the only Mustangs in sight are rentals, and the locals are all 12 months into an AMG lease they can’t wait to trade in.
A left on Rodeo, a right on Santa Monica, and the gleaming towers of Century City - where a quarter of Southern California’s 1 percenters spend their workday - can be seen in the distance. The still-futuristic looking Century City was the location for 1972’s Conquest of the Planet Apes, which was set in 1991.
1991 must have seemed very far away in 1972, but not as far away as Century City seems from where I’m sitting in traffic, 1.7 miles and 25 minutes away, according to Waze.
Nothing can stop the inevitability of hitting traffic in LA. Sometime. Somewhere. Everywhere.
This is what it is to be monied and drive in Los Angeles. Homes cluster here. Offices cluster there. Restaurants, here and there. Traffic is always one undertrained, satisfied-with-run-flats, fender-bending driver away. The elapsed time on any given trip - even if Waze-delineated - may vary up to 500 percent.
Herein lies the paradox of having money in LA. One must drive. One will hit traffic. And, whether or not one actually has money in LA, almost everyone wants to look like they do. Or will. Hence, lease culture, and the migration of AMG/M/S/RS badging downmarket.
There is a perfect car for LA. But no one makes it, yet. (A future article. I promise.)
Those with means are therefore compelled to address this paradox by acquiring multiple cars. This is far more common that I realized. What other explanation is there for driveways full of high-end cars in the middle of the workday?
My first foray into automotive anthropology began six days ago, when I pulled my 2013 Morgan 3-wheeler up to a Century City valet. Prior arrivals included a Porsche Turbo S, a Cayenne Turbo and a Bentley GT, all waiting to be parked by gentlemen unimpressed as they were handed the keys. I was greeted with clapping, and immediately directed to park where I liked. I immediately saw an opportunity to learn what else was parked on the lower levels.
More Turbos. X5M. S63. SL63. S8. Range Rover.
Logic suggested that for each car here, its mirror waited there, at home. At least, its theoretical mirror. For each person who drives Turbo S, a Range Rover waits at home. And vice versa.
Cruising Beverly Hills’ back streets at night confirmed my suspicions. Virtually every driveway contains the same set of three cars: high-end sedan, high-end coupe/convertible/sports car, and high-end SUV.
This means my undergraduate-level knowledge of philosophy can now finally be put to use. I now posit Alex Roy’s Pyramid of Automotive Actualization. (Heard of Abe Maslow? Skip to the next paragraph.) Never heard of Maslow’s Pyramid? Google it. Put cars in it. Bam! You’ve got Roy’s Pyramid. Too lazy for Google? Then Alex Roy’s Pyramid of Automotive Actualization is a pyramid.
A pyramid of car ownership. On the bottom are vehicles you absolutely need. On top? The vehicles you dream about.
How many cars are required to fulfill one’s automotive needs? In Beverly Hills, the answer is three. But a Fourth Car is the car you want, not the car you need.
Once you’ve acquired a Fourth Car, you are Automotively Actualized. In my book.
I thought of the wise man. I was wrong. He wasn’t trying to be funny. He wasn’t talking about reliability. If, fact, he clearly couldn’t have cared less if Morgans never started at all. He was speaking from a place of understanding. A Zen perspective of simultaneous multi-car ownership. From the top of Roy’s Pyramid. From a time when you needed three but wanted a fourth.
But you no longer need three to have a Fourth. What was once a Fourth car is often a Third, sometimes a Second, and occasionally a First. The 911 is a perfect example. It was the perfect Fourth Car until 1998, although some might argue 1989 was final year. What was once an awkward, uncomfortable car with odd gauges, a car that delivered a uniquely exciting driving experience that required actual skill, has become what the 928 was intended to be. A brand new 911’s real-world functionality overlaps with the Cayenne and Panamera. It sure does in Los Angeles, where the rubber meets the road <90mph, mostly in a straight line, and where Porsche of Beverly Hills doesn’t stock tow hitches.
People who cite the Cayenne as diluting the brand are wrong. Brand dilution doesn’t come from new models. Brand dilution come when individual models do too much. Specifically, when the interiors, features, technology, packaging, options, etc. etc. are almost identical across a single brand’s lineup. When the cheapest car can be optioned out to match 90% of the features of your halo car (skidpad rating notwithstanding, and maybe not even!), when a 911 is too good a daily driver, when G63 AMGs are driven without passengers, then you have brand dilution.
When everything in one set of cars in one Beverly Hills driveway is an AMG, and none of them are used beyond the same fixed set of parameters, and all your neighbors possess the equivalent lineup from a competing brand…
...then Fourth Cars will survive.
And therein lies the clearest explanation as to why Morgan Motor Cars will last forever.
A Fourth Car represents the dream not because of what it can do, but because of what it cannot.
It cannot carry too much. If anything.
It can’t always work, but it’s nice if it does.
It can’t be fixed by just anyone.
It cannot be leased. It must be owned.
One can love cars, but one can only truly be in love with A car.
You must make a commitment, and in return you are rewarded. When you commit to a long-term relationship, you will show - and be shown - a level of respect utterly alien to those who swap out cars every 27 months. It’s one of the reasons LA cars depreciate. It’s why unloved cars remain unloved. It’s why used car dealerships on Lincoln Boulevard are packed full of AMGs - the teen orphans of the car world.
That’s why the Fourth Car matters. At the end of the day, when all other cars are disposable transport, the Fourth Car is a part of your soul.
That Fourth Car is different for each of us. I own four Fourth Cars: a Morgan 3-wheeler. A Citroen SM, an ‘87 Targa and a ‘91 928.
But I dream of others. Not much that’s new. An Alfa 4C, perhaps. A Mercedes 450SEL 6.9, or 500E. or a TVR Cerbera.
What are yours?
Alex Roy is the founder of Team Polizei, a host on /DRIVE, author of The Driver, President of Europe By Car, Producer of The Great Chicken Wing Hunt & 32 Hours 7 Minutes, was Chairman of The Moth from 2002-2007, won The Ultimate Playboy on Sky One, has competed in LeMons & the Baja 1000, and holds a variety of driving records, most notably the 2006 NY-LA Transcontinental Driving Record, accomplished in 31 hours and 4 minutes.