Morris & Welford Bring European Excellence To The Collector Car Market In America
Photography by Alex Sobran
Last week Petrolicious was invited to attend the opening of Morris & Welford’s new showroom in Newport Beach, CA, and while the idea of a classic sports and racing car dealer in Southern California isn’t all that novel—I pass two on my way to work—there really aren’t many like this one. This is no high-volume, low-quality conduit for subpar machines to get spruced up and churned out the door. This is where you come for the best, for the European standard of quality. Here is where you get the big stack of documents, the racing provenance, the meticulous restorations and paragons of preservation alike. It’s the kind of place to visit if you want an ex-Scheckter Ferrari 312, but aren’t opposed to looking at a Jaguar C-Type too.
In the former Rolls Royce dealership that the Morris & Welford showroom now occupies, one is met with millions of dollars’ worth of metal and lightweight composites for sale, but that’s not what makes it unique, for it’s not hard to spend large sums of money on cars. It is rare however to find the right people to do such business with. Miles Morris and Malcolm Welford had been working together as a brokership years before this latest venture, but the two Brits have just recently moved into the realm of dealers thanks to a partnership with their countrymen across the Atlantic at J.D. Classics. The men behind both have been good friends since the 1980s, and now they are bringing their experience in the classic market to a new location in the ‘States.
The space itself is a fitting home for the machines as they await their next owners, a clean and bright series of rooms and hallways that keeps the focus on the cars while possessing an austere beauty of its own, and inside it feels like you’re perusing a top auction catalog in person. It’s an interesting display of contrast too, the flat lines and right angles of the building, all white and silver and straight against the hand-formed panels and curved bodies and color.
Among the opening night crowd were J.D. Classics ambassadors Jenson Button (the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion), and the epitome of the gentleman racer and vintage racing enthusiast, Chris Ward (who can often be found leading the pack at Goodwood in J.D.’s GT40), as well as the founders of Morris & Welford of course, and I had a few minutes to speak with Miles Morris about the new venture with J.D. Classics.
Alex Sobran: How did this partnership come to be?
Miles Morris: Malcolm’s known Derek longer than I have, probably since the mid-‘80s. I’ve known Derek since the late-’80s myself. We are all English, and about 10 years ago Malcolm worked for an auction house back there, and Derek was a customer of his; he used to by himself cars before he started J.D. Classics.
Then, a little bit by happenstance, Derek was over in the ‘States at the end of last year, looking to make a footprint over here in America, to break in, and Malcolm says at lunch one day, “Actually, there’s a building I know occupied by Rolls Royce right now, but they’re about to leave. Maybe you should think about that space.”
That’s where we are today of course.
AS: So it’s an expansion for J.D., but what does this mean for Morris & Welford—how will this pairing allow you to grow?
MW: Obviously, there are two things. First of all, we’ve now changed from being a vintage broker without any physical premises, to now having a full-blown showroom in the heart of Southern California. We’re now licensed dealers.
J.D. has their own great reputation, having dealt with high-caliber cars for years and years now, building a strong, loyal customer base in England and abroad, and I think we will have great synergy. We bring our own decades’ worth of experience in financing and finding these cars with the added ability to buy them, consign them, hold onto them…
AS: On the topic of consignment versus brokering, do you think there’s a markedly different strategy in terms of what cars you look for? Is there a different set of cars that are now palatable with a longer time horizon?
MW: Totally. Obviously if you own the car, you have so much more control at the end of the day. It’s not a short going, necessarily. Sometimes things take a while to sell, definitely, and now we have more flexibility.
AS: What do you think about entering the current market with more of your own capital being invested in the cars now?
MW: I mean, it’s a very interesting time to be doing this. The market has corrected itself a little bit in the last two or three years, and I actually think it’s a good opportunity for us to enter at a slightly lower price bracket than some of these cars were living at a few years ago. The timing is good.
AS: How do you feel about modernizing vintage car markets? What is the purpose of a brick and mortar space, the importance of having an aesthetically nice place to shop?
MW: I think the beauty is, again, who are you buying from. You can come here. We can put the car on the ramp for you. You can bring a mechanic. You can check it out in person. You have the time to do your due diligence, and you know where to come for the next one. I think we have that kind of reputation here and in England. People should have confidence because we don’t hide anything. Frankly, there’s a couple of very good dealers in America, don’t get me wrong, but there’s not many people doing it on this scale, at this level.
AS: That’s what I to finish with before you go: how will Morris & Welford separate itself from the rest of the high-quality dealers not just in the area, but in the country?
MW: Malcolm and I are already well known in the industry in this country—we’re both ex-Christie’s for instance, where we worked for a long time together. We’ve also been brokers for quite a while now, and though we’re becoming dealers for the first time, we know what we’re doing. It’s the same industry. I think our unique offering will be based on this: We know collector markets, we’ve lived in them for decades, and you can only do that for so long if you earn a certain reputation. We literally have our names backing what we do, and I’m confident in our services. I’d like people to come and inspect the cars, pour over them, scrutinize to their heart’s content, and hopefully become customers with us.
AS: I won’t keep you from that any longer then! Thank you very much for your time Miles, and thank you for having us.
MW: You’re welcome!