MORGAN MOTOR COMPANY | MAKERS OF THE WORLD’S FIRST TRUE SPORTS CAR

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Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones behind the wheel of his yellow Morgan Plus 8 roadster in St. Tropez, France, 9 May 1971.  Photo by  Reg Lancaster/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Morgan owners are a unique bunch, and definitely my kind of people.  Typically, they aren’t your prissy, pretentious bunch of fetishists with pristine, untouchable autos.  They actually enjoy driving their beloved Morgans– and they drive them a lot, smiling all the while.

Much like British MG’s and Triumphs back in the day, Morgans gained popularity as relatively inexpensive and cool  sports cars (nowadays, a Morgan, still handmade, can set you back as much as $300,00 depending on your specifications, and be prepared to wait several years to take delivery) for young auto enthusiasts who would presumably get their kicks out of their ride for a few years, and then grow up and move on.  In fact, A young Ralph Lauren drove an off-white Morgan drop-top back in his early menswear days.  Ralph ended up letting the Morgan go because he could no longer afford to park it in the city– at least that’s how the story goes– but don’t feel sorry for Ralph, he now has one of the most enviably car collections in the world.

Over the years, the Morgan Motor Company”s quality, design, and nostalgic appeal proved to be timeless, right down to it’s Ash (yes, wooden) subframe– and spawned a strong legion of devoted followers.  And, if you know anything about Morgans, then you’re probably up-to-speed that it’s not the most user-friendly ride out there.  If you’re looking for luxury, comfort, and state of the art performance– move along.  This isn’t the car for you.  So why a Morgan?  Well, if you have to ask–

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Classic Morgan Sports Car on Blue Ridge Parkway — Image by © Martyn Goddard/Corbis

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”The real appeal of the Morgan is a sort of anti-appeal,” says Burt Fendelman, a three-time Morgan owner. ”They’re not comfortable. They’re not practical. They’re not even weatherproof. But they’re rugged and a wonderful driving car, very tight in their handling, with no power steering or brakes or anything else. They offer a closeness to the road, a feel that can’t be matched.”

How about the feeling of pulling up next to a Porsche or Ferrari and taking it off the line?  Yep, equipped with a more than capable V-8, a well-tuned Morgan Plus 8 can do that.  I probably wouldn’t dare to test the Morgan’s handling abilities at top speed (125-130 mph), but this is a classic open road cruiser best enjoyed at speeds where you can take in the scenery.

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Nov 27th, 1931, London, England — Two men lift the cover to show the Morgan Three-Wheeler automobile during preparations for the motor cycle show at Olympia in 1931. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

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The Morgan Motor Company History–

The man who who founded and guided the Morgan car for almost fifty years, H.F.S. Morgan, began his career as the 18 year-old pupil of William Dean, Chief Engineer of the GWR Railway Works at Swindon, where he worked as a draughtsman in the drawing office of seven years.  Whilst making a modest contribution to the history of steam, H.F.S.’s loyalties were divided between the locomotive and the motor car.

He left the GWR in 1906 and at the age of 25 years old, and opened a garage and motor works in Malvern Link where he ran a most successful bus service with a special 10 hp Wolseley 15 seater. These ran from Malvern Link to the Wells and later from Malvern to Gloucester. He also became the district agent for Wolseley and Darraq.

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Morgan Motor Company ad for their breakthrough Runabout model.

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Eventually Morgan could afford to purchase a motor vehicle an Eagle Tandem. Previously he had hired his cars including the ill-fated Benz, from a Mr. Marriot, the first motor trader in Hereford. The Eagle was a three-wheeler fitted with an 8 h.p. water-cooled De Dion engine, and it was from his experiences with this machine and a 7 hp. two cylinder car called “The Little Star” that he had the idea of making his own three-wheeler.

He bought a 7 hp Twin-cylinder Peugeot engine and mounted it into a light Three-wheeled tubular chassis. The first Morgan Runabout had been born!

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With very little facility for machine work in his garage, help was gratefully received from Mr. Stephenson Peach, then Engineering master at Malvern and Repton Colleges and the grandson of the designer of the “Rocket”.

The first design was successful due to its rigid frame, light weight and independent front suspension. Another important factor was the unusual power to weight ratio of 90 brake horsepower per ton, which enabled this little vehicle to accelerate as fast as any car being produced at that time.

Initially, there was no intention of marketing the vehicle. Only after much favorable comment was the decision made to build a few. With capital for some machine tools and an extension to the Malvern Garage provided by his father the rector, H.F. S. Morgan began manufacture in 1910. A patent was granted, the patent drawings being produced by a bright youth who was later to become famous as Sir John Black of the Standard Motor Company.

The Morgan name made its very first public appearance at the Olympia Motor Show in 1910. Two three-wheelers, both single seaters fitted respectively with 8 hp Twin and 4 hp Single cylinder J.A.P. engines, secured some orders, but it soon became apparent that for the vehicles to be universally popular they would have to become two-seaters.

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The 1909 Morgan 7 hp Runabout was powered by a front-mounted Peugeot engine that produced 7 hp. This car established the concept of three-wheeler type vehicles, and by 1912 Morgan was laying claim in advertisements to producing “The Fastest 3-wheeler in the World.” — Image by © Car Culture/Corbis

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The Morgan Motor Company was formed as a private Limited Company in 1912 with the Reverend H.G. Morgan as Chairman and his son as Managing Director. The site of the first factory was on the Worcester road leading into Great Malvern. H.F.S. and his wife Ruth lived next door in a small terraced house.

During this period the Morgan name was heard for the very first time in racing circles when a Mr Henry Martin easily won an International Cyclecar Race at Brooklands. In 1912 H.F.S. Morgan broke the 1100 cc. One-hour Record travelling at a fraction short of 60 mph for one hour at Brooklands. His father the Prebendary H.G Morgan was present and this is probably the only time a top hat has ever been worn at the popular circuit.

From the start it was very much a family business and Mr H.F.S Morgan’s sister, Miss Dorothy Morgan, was a regular entrant in reliability trials gaining many first class awards in a Morgan three-wheeler. In 1913 a Morgan made the fastest time at the celebrated Shelsey Walsh Hill Climb at an average speed of 22 mph. And at the end of the year the Morgan Runabout had gained a greater number of awards for reliability and speed than any other Cyclecar or Light Car.

The driver of the car, Mr. McMinnies was the editor of the “Cyclecar” and his success gave Morgan a great deal of publicity. After the event he christened his particular car “jabberwocky of Picardy”, but the car became officially known as the “Grand Prix” and one contemporary owner, Captain Ball, the First World War flying ace, said to drive this car was the nearest thing to flying on the ground.

During the First World War only a small number of cars were produced and the works manufactured munitions and machinery for the war effort.

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After the outstanding success of 1913 it was unfortunate that in 1914 the Morgan was excluded from the RAC Lightcar and Cyclecar Trial because it had only three wheels instead of four. This was a portent too significant to go unnoticed, A four-wheeler was designed to be fitted with a Diorman four-cylinder engine but the model never went into production. It was to be twenty-two years before the first four wheeler was introduced.

The evolution of the Morgan with a model of family dimensions (designed in 1912) came in 1915 when a four-seater was produced for Mr. Morgan and his family. After the Great War this model was marketed as the Family Runabout and sold in large numbers.

The demand for inexpensive transport was great and a new factory was built at Pickersleigh Road to enable production to reach fifty cars a week. This made Morgan one of the largest British car producers at the time.

Situated on the Madresfield estate, the new factory was opened in 1918 and H.F.S. Morgan’s daughter, Sylvia laid the cornerstone. This is now the site of the present factory, which has traditionally been known as the “Works”.

Mr George Goodall joined the firm in 1925, taking over the position of General Manager from Mr A Hales who had been with H.F.S since 1911. George went on to become Managing Director of the Company, a position from which he retired at the end of 1958 whilst still retaining a seat on the Board.

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Morgan threewheelers sold well abroad. In France a Monsieur Darmont bought a patent from H.F.S. Morgan to manufacture the car as the Darmont Morgan.

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So advanced had been H.F.S. Morgan’s first designs that little alteration, apart from bodywork modifications, were required for some years. Electric lamps and starters were added and as a result of Trials experience front wheel brakes were installed. The Morgan car became one of the first in the field to enjoy this innovation.  They continued to have success after success in racing and was so fast that at Brooklands it was required to start a lap behind fourwheeled cars in the same class.

In 1930, Mrs. Gwenda Stewart broke the one hour Record at Monthlery at a speed of over 100 mph. She was later to achieve 117 mp.h. in a single seater Morgan on the long straight at Arpajon nearby.  1931 brought a new model with three forward speeds and a reverse, a single chain and detachable wheels. The rugged strength of the Morgan and its excellent traction meant that it performed well on muddy hills when taking part in reliability trials.

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Circa 1930s Morgan Motor Company 3/4, three wheel racer.

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1933 was a banner year for Morgan, bringing in its train a large number of world records and the advent of a new model fitted with a Ford engine. With its flat radiator this was the most popular three-wheeler ever produced and encouraged a number of firms to copy the idea.

In 1936, after a prototype had been tested in trials and on the track, a four-wheeler was exhibited at the London and Paris Exhibitions. The new model was called the Morgan Four Four to differentiate it from the three-wheeler, indicating four cylinders and four wheels. The car had a Z section full width steel chassis with boxed cross members and the body was an ash frame panelled in aluminium. The combination provided the durability of a coachbuilt car with the lightness required for a sports car. The car was an immediate success.

In 1937 H.F.S’s father Prebendary George Morgan died peacefully at home. Mr H.F.S. Morgan became Chairman and Governing Director and his board included Mrs H.F.S. Morgan. Mr George Goodall and Mr T.H. Jones who had been with the firm since 1912.

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1939– Morgan Motor Company dominated at Le Mans.

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Also in 1937, a few special sports models were built for racing fitted with 1098 c.c. Coventry Climax engines developing 42 b.h.p. with balanced crankshafts. Prudence Fawcett competed at Le Mans in 1938 and qualified for the Biennial Cup. White and Anthony again came first in class at Le Mans in 1939 and one of these cars was very successful after the war in the hands of Geoff Sparrowe in club racing.

The old association formed at the very beginning of the Morgan story was revived with the introduction of a Standard engine in 1938. This power unit developed from the 9 h.p. side valve engine, was specially built for Morgan at the express wish of Sir John Black. The new engine was linked to a Moss gearbox mounted centrally in the chassis and connected to the 5-1 rear axle by a short propeller shaft. The chassis were fitted with rod and cable 8″ diameter Girling brakes. Morgan continued to produce three-wheelers (mainly the F4 four-seater and F Super two-seater models) as well as four-wheelers.

During the 1940s, some interesting experiments were made. A Ford 22 horsepower V8 Pilot engine was fitted to the Morgan chassis, which gave a most vivid performance. Due to a taxation increase from 15 shillings to 25 shillings per horsepower, this project was abandoned at the prototype stage. This second experiment was to fit a car with A Anott supercharger. This vehicle, although only 1000 cc. was capable of over 80 mph.

During World War II auto production ceased, and only two departments were retained by the Morgan Motor Company for repairs. These were the Service shop and the Spares department. The remainder of the factory manufactured a variety of components for the war effort, which included parts for the Oerlikon anti-Aircraft gun, aircraft undercarriage and other precision engineering work.

Half way through the war, the wood shop and mill was leased to the team developing in-flight refuelling. Sir Alan Cobham, who invented the process, modified a Handley Page “Hereford” Bomber at the factory to take on fuel whilst airborne.

In 1945, many skilled employees came back from the Forces and rejoined the Morgan factory. Access to steel was difficult but the fact that the cars could easily be coachbuilt from aluminum on Ash subframes helped Morgan become one of the first British car factories to resume building cars.

To be continued…

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13 thoughts on “MORGAN MOTOR COMPANY | MAKERS OF THE WORLD’S FIRST TRUE SPORTS CAR

  1. Another wonderful post, and thanks.

    Morgans are icons of individuality and true class, and the image of a woman named Prudence Fawcett competing at Le Mans has made my day.

  2. Amazing post…and a real classic in the true, unpretentious sense of the word. That’s, I think, what makes your blog so great. There used to be a column (maybe there still is, but I doubt it) in Esquire Magazine that taught men things they needed to know. From how to make a martini to the relationship between the width of one’s tie to his lapel, you could use the information or ignore it, but you needed to know it.

    The same is true with every single thing I read in this blog. If you know the value of Playboy magazine culturally, you should also know who the hell Sonny Barger is. And as far as the Morgan goes…it is just more of exactly the same. You don’t need to drive one, or own one or even want one…but you do need to know what they are, who drove them and why. I remember growing up a single mom in our carpool had one. She used her VW for the carpool, but on off days she drove the Morgan. I was going to write and say that she was just a mom and this was the car she drove…and then I realized that I think Kate Hudson played her when her life was eventually made into a movie. So, yeah, maybe Morgan drivers were living in a slightly different world. And while we don’t need to live there, it’s important to know about it. Not because we’re putting on airs, but just because there is no real innovation without passion, and no passion without specificity.

    So know your Morgans, know that sometimes “Nuthin’ is a real cool hand” and for God sakes don’t even answer if a bartender asks you if you want your Martini with Vodka or Gin. I think it’s overstating the point to say that this blog is saving the world, but I think it’s fair to say for those of us who care about culture, you’re doing a great thing here.

  3. One of the items on my “list of things before I die” is to visit the Morgan pits during Le Mans and toast the incoming driver with champagne. I don’t know if they still do this, but your post has renewed my drive to check this one off.

    Thanks for the great post!

  4. Fantastic write up. Kudos.

    While a tow head mindless student at Appalachian State University, I brightened every day when I walked past staff parking. A well worn, but daily driven Morgan was always parked under the big oak tree.

    That was back in the early 80′s… I would like to think it’s still there.

    • The ACE is a bit pricey (but not when compared to a Morgan), and is argueably the most professionally assembled reverse-trike being made. The front metal cowel (would house radiator if watercooled) is Thick hydroformed stainless steel. Fit and finish are awesome. Most sold to date have gone to advanced collections.

  5. My ’51 MG TD was as close to Morganhood as I ever came. My interest in hot sedans trumped the joys of top-down motoring and I flogged the TD to buy an Abarth 850 Nurburgring Corsa engine and a trembling FIAT 600 sedan in which to install it.
    Decades later, a neighbor took me for a ride in his Morgan +4. I concluded that I may have taken the wrong path.

  6. I’ve been driving my Morgan Plus 4 for 42 years! My wife and I are in Thessalon, Ontario, returning to our home in Southwestern Ontario from an almost six week holiday that took us right across North America to California and British Columbia.

    After a good rest, say five years, I think we’ll be ready to load up the Morgan and do it all over again.

    Absolutely the greatest little car!

    Cheers!

  7. what a wonderful story of achievement by a dedicated family and work force, what a great pity the rest of the british automobile industry with the exception of caterham couldn’t match morgan, I am too old to have aspirations for a morgan but at least I can write about proper cars rather than the electronic wizards that last not much longer than 10 years and then disappear, thank you morgan fans, by the way I do drive a 65 Volvo amazon regards ted

  8. Great post. Finally someone writing about Morgans.

    I come from a massive Morgan household. We’ve had at least 8 and my dad currently owns 2 +4 Supersports* circa 1966, both of which are fully race prepared and racing in such events as classic le mans.

    *The supersports is the famous styled car that one its class in 1962 (TOK) at le man’s which is still being raced by Chris Lawrence to this day.

    P.S. if you want help on finding any more Morgan info send me an email, my dad is a walking encyclopedia of Morgans and has many contacts with Morgan itself.

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