Morgan Motor Company History

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Morgan Motor Company History



 1909 - present

A Design Philosophy Unlike Any Other

Nothing on the Morgan motor car has ever been changed for the sake of change. This has led many automotive commentators, past and present, to refer to the company as “alive, and well, and living in the 1930s” – a statement that actually does sum up their design philosophy rather well. In all but price, performance, and visual detail, the Morgan of today is much the same sort of vintage-style sports car which was first produced in the 1930s.

Morgan was founded by H.F.S. Morgan, who produced his first crude, but speedy, tricycle in 1910. The resultant “Three-Wheelers” (two front wheels, one driven rear wheel) was continuously developed, and during their evolution they gained great popularity, both for their economy, and their sporting pretensions.

A Reputation Built On The Air Cooled JAP Engine

While a handful of Morgans featured the specially-built Anzani units, the vast majority used the famed “JAP” units, either air-cooled or water-cooled. These motors were a Vee-Twin configuration of around 1000cc. The Super Sports model, with Matchless MX4 engine, had more than 40bhp and this, combined with minimal weight, helped produce a very lively performance.

In fact, fully-tuned 'Grand Prix' Morgans were capable of 115mph, a startling figure considering the time and the fact that you were doing it on three wheels. By the early 1930s Morgan opted for a side-valve Ford engine, and to assist with the extra weight they developed a more solid chassis frame. It was this derivative that would continue to be built until the early 1950s, and more than any other was the model responsible to establishing Morgan’s enviable reputation that endures to this day.

The Switch To Four Wheels

In 1935 H.F.S. Morgan decided that his company should manufacture a four-wheeler car, particularly if it wanted to stay in business and be able to compete with the other marques of the day. The result was the original 4/4, launched at the end of 1935, and using 1.1 litre Coventry-Climax engine, with overhead inlet and side exhaust valves. This engine was good for 34bhp and made the 4/4 capable of a top speed of around 75mph.

The 4/4 featured a simple ladder-style chassis, under-slung at the rear, and with Z-Section side members, a profile quite unique to Morgan and one it has retained to this day. At the front there was the familiar Morgan independent suspension, consisting of vertical sliding pillars, and coil springs - a layout found on the first Morgan. The Meadows four-speed gearbox was separately mounted from the engine, but connected to it by a long input shaft encased in an all alloy tube.

The 4/4 continued in production until 1950, though specially-produced overhead-valve Standard engine of 1267cc was made available from 1939, and standardized from 1945. This in-turn evolved from the Standard Flying Ten unit, which was a side-valve unit. Also from 1939, a Moss gearbox took over from the Meadows item, but still separate from the engine.

Development Of The Plus 4

It was then decided to produce a car with a much bigger-engine, a car that would be faster than anything previously manufactured by Morgan. The result was the Plus 4, which used the Standard Vanguard's 2088cc four cylinder and good for 68bhp at 4300rpm. The Plus 4 had a lengthened wheelbase, and some detail changes were made to the suspension, but in actuality there were really no major modifications. Because the Plus 4 was incredibly light, it was able to out-accelerate all previous Morgan's, although a draw back of the more handsome but less aerodynamicdesign was that it had a lower maximum speed!

As ever, the gearbox was separately mounted from the engine, the ride was hard and uncomfortable, and the road-holding was splendid. As ever, too, there was a choice of body styles on the same chassis two-seater open sports, four-seater open tourer, and two-seater drophead coupe. From 1954 the Plus 4 offered the 90bhp Triumph TR2 engine of 1991cc (the TR2 engine in turn being a modified Vanguard unit) as an option, although this eventually became standard.

It made the car ‘almost’ good for a genuine top speed of 100mph, and the 0 to 60 mph dash could be completed in just over 10 seconds. But most importantly for racers of the day, the Plus 4 was able to be raced in the 2 litre competition class.

Morgan Super Sports 1926
The Morgan Super Sport would prove a very popular racer in the 1920's, and for many decades to come...

Morgan Super Sports 1928
The majority of Morgans featured the famed "JAP" Vee-Twin engine...

Morgan 1935
By 1935 the Morgan's were starting to look a little more conventional...

Morgan 4/4
The 4/4 featured a simple ladder-style chassis ...

Morgan Plus Four Plus
The 1963 release of the fibreglass Plus-Four-Plus coupe was not welcomed by many Morgan fans, in the end only 26 would be sold...

Morgan 4/4
In the aftermath of the Plus-Four-Plus, many contest that Morgan choose to stick to their known formula, which makes dating a 4/4 extremely difficult. The example above is a 1972 model...

Morgan Plus 8
The Plus 8 used the wonderful 3.5 litre Rover V8...

Morgan Plus 8
The waiting list for the Plus 8 was like that for the Trabant, but in the Morgan's case this was for all the right reasons...

Morgan Aero 8
The Aero 8 proves that while things change, they also stay the same...

Peter Morgan Becomes A Star Driver

From this point on the Plus 4 became a successful club racing and rally car, particularly in the UK. H.F.S. Morgan's son Peter soon became a star driver in rallies and long-distance trials, and by 1956 the Plus 4 was good for a more than adequate 100bhp – formidable but a little old-fashioned looking. In 1953 and 1954, however, the looks were changed twice, first to provide a sloping, though flat, radiator style, then to provide the more familiar cowled style – a style that has remained a hallmark of Morgan to this day.

At the rear, one of the two spare wheels was discontinued, and the remaining spare was sloped forward, and partially recessed into the tail panels. In the course of this change the headlamps were partially recessed into the panel between bonnet and wings. In 1955 Morgan re-introduce the 4/4, this time using the same wheel base frame as the Plus 4, but being fitted with the Ford 1172cc side-valve four cylinder engine, and its own three-speed gearbox.

“Four Wheeler” to have a gearbox integral with the engine. As Ford changed their models, the Morgan 4/4 in-turn inherited their new motors, and thus in 1960 the 4/4 featured a new overhead valve 997cc engine.

A Giant Leap Backwards

1963 is a year best forgotten by Morgan fans. That year the company introduced their least successful car of all time, the rather extraordinary-looking “Plus Four Plus”. This new model was a closed two-seater coupe, the body being all-enveloping and built of fibreglass. Most Morgan fans considered this a giant leap backwards, and in four years they were only able to sell 26. Many however consider this to be an important watershed in the evolution of the marque, claiming it as the point where the company abandoned any idea of rapid modernization – so obviously adhered to.

The design of the plus 4 stagnated somewhat during the 1960’s after the introduction of front wheel disc brakes and the new 2138cc Triumph TR4 engine. There were a handful of special “Lawrencetune” 116bhp engines offered, and the 4/4 gradually matured with the 997cc engine being dropped in favour of a 1340cc unit, then a 1499cc unit to Cortina GT tune, and finally in 1968 a 1599cc engine with the latest bowl-in-piston Ford 'Kent' engine – for the first time making the 4/4 a genuine 100mph car.

The Plus 8

From 1968 the 4/4 was somewhat overshadowed by the release of the Plus 8. This latter model was released after Triumph discontinued the manufacture of the TR4 engine, Morgan this time opting to utilize the silky smooth Rover 3528cc light-weight V8. Accommodating this larger engine necessitated the wheelbase be lengthened by ten inches, while the body was widened to allow more under-bonnet space.

At first the Plus 8 retained the separate Moss gearbox, but from the spring of 1972 this was dropped, and the cars were built with the Rover 3500S type of four speed all-synchro gearbox in unit with the 151bhp engine. From the beginning of 1977 this box was in-turn replaced by the new five-speed transmission as fitted to the big Rover 3500 hatchback, and at the same time the latest 155bhp engine was fitted.

In that form, the Plus 8 was a very fast car indeed, with a top speed of 123mph, and very rapid 0-60mph acceleration capability of around 6.5 seconds. But what became of the 4/4? This car was to again emerge from the beginning of 1982, when the old 'Kent' engine was dropped, and a choice of engines was offered – the purchaser could choose from a 1.6-liter single-overhead-cam Escort XR3 engine or a 1.6 litre twin-overhead-cam Fiat twin-cam model, each featuring their own appropriate integral gearboxes, and for 1985 there was also the possibility of a 2.0 1itre Fiat twin-cam also being fitted.

The Plus 8 however remained the favourite of Australians, with the car continuing to evolve, not the least of which was the introduction of rack-and-pinion steering. Like the Trabant, there has always been a long waiting list for Morgan's, however in the case of the latter marque this has been for all the right reasons.

Morgan Aero 8

In 2000, the Morgan Aero 8 was introduced and, as always, the wooden body substructure was ash. (Contrary to popular myth, however, the chassis is metal; aluminium for the Aero 8). The Aero 8, with a BMW V8 engine in a car weighing less than a BMW Z4 and considerably less than a BMW M3, (though more than traditional Morgans) is even faster than the Plus 8, delivering what Autoweek magazine termed supercar performance.

The newest Aero 8 (Ser. IV) puts out 367 hp (274 kW) at 6100 rpm giving it a top speed of over 170 mph (270 km/h). Due to the Aero 8's light weight it can do 0–62 mph (100 km/h) in 4.5 seconds. During its customer production lifetime (2002–2009), the Aero was configured in five official versions, (I,II, III, IV and the Aero America) with variations in styling, engines, transmissions, braking and suspension. The Company canceled its production in 2009. It was followed by the Aeromax, a limited coupe edition of 100 units produced between 2008 and early 2010. The year of highest production was 2002.

Three Wheels Are Enough

by Ken W. Purdy - published 1954.

There have been some strange and wonderful automobiles unleashed on the world's roads - the French have one that folds up like a collapsible baby carriage, and a visit to the James Melton Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut, will show you America's only remaining example of the two-wheeled motorcar - but most of these departures from the orthodox don't stay with us long. Four wheels, engine in front, drive to the rear: that's the standard prescription and few of the designs departing from it have lasted.

There are rear-engine designs of fairly long term, it's true, and the front-wheel-drive Citroen is a youngster when set beside the most successful unorthodox automobile of all time: the Morgan Three-Wheeler. For the Morgan has been built steadily since 1911 and is still going strong. So is the man who built the first one and is still at it: Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan of Malvern Link, Worchestershire, England.

The virtues of the Morgan, the "Mog" to its devotees, are soon stated: it weighs next to nothing (896 pounds) so that its 40 or 50 horsepower can accelerate it in a very convincingly lively fashion; it's small and nimble, and in its homeland is rated as a motorcycle and licensed as one, an important advantage in view of the severity of British taxes. Disadvantages: Well, it's likely to rattle a bit, and the brakes won't really pitch you through the windshield. Aside from those trifles and the fact that it steers like a truck, there's nothing much to worry about. Nothing at all, in the view of most Morgan owners - a singularly devoted lot - nothing even to think about.

Some 40,000 Morgan three-wheelers have been built since 1911, and of this impressive total there are at the moment only four known to be in this country, a proportion that almost certainly qualifies them as the rarest cars in America. They are unlikely to become more common: the secondhand market for Morgans in England is strong, and the 1952 three-wheel production will not exceed twenty, most of the small factory's output being the Morgan Plus-Four, a standard four-wheel sports car comparable with the MG.

The Morgan came into being strictly by accident - or as the result of an accident. In 1908, Mr. Morgan bought a V-twin Peugeot engine in France with the intention of making a motorcycle for himself. But his father, the Reverend Prebendary H. G. Morgan-, was a stern man. and because Morgan Jr.'s previous motorcycle had somewhat bent both itself and rider as a result of a bit too much speed down-hill, he forbade the project. His son therefore announced a change in plan: he would make a tricycle, than which nothing could be safer. The finished product weighed 386 pounds and went like mad.

Three years later a production model was exhibited at the annual motorqxle show in London. It had an 8-horsepower engine, one seat, and was tiller-steered. About thirty were sold - no vast number even by the standards prevailing in those days, when the horse was still supreme - but enough to put the Morgan works in business. By 1912 the Morgan had a passenger seat, wheel steering and independent front suspension - a couple of decades before Buick announced to a startled world that this arrangement had at last been made possible. It was not original with Morgan, by the way. The French Decau-ville had had it in 1899.

Morgan's placement of the V-twin engine was unique: he hung it out in front of the front axle, connecting it to the drive-line with a leather-faced cone clutch. Final transmission, then as now, was by chain, with two speeds forward and the single rear wheel was suspended in a pivoting fork with quarter-elliptic leaf springs to keep it on the ground a certain percentage of the time. The steering was direct, and was a notable muscle-builder.

The accelerator was a lever mounted on a spoke of the steering wheel, and it was just as well that the wheel had a limited movement, because to accelerate the lever was moved up, to decelerate it was moved down. This worked splendidly as long as the wheel moved through a small arc, but had the steering ratio been normal, say four turns lock to lock, the accident would have been over and the streets strewn with cadavers before the driver could make up his mind which way to push the lever in a crisis.

From the beginning, the Morgan's success was built on success in racing competitions. It was a quick little car. Mr. H.F.S. himself entered one for the 1912 London-to-Exeter Trail and took the highest award put up. No wonder - the car weighed 550 pounds and had a big hairy V-twin motorcycle engine banging it along. Oddly enough, it had not been the maker's intention to evolve a particularly fast car. He had intended to get great economy (and did, on the order of 90 miles to the gallon!) but of course terrific performance came with it. In 1912, Morgan put fractionally less than 60 miles into one hour on Brooklands Track, then a record, and in 1913, W.G. McMinnies won the cyclecar International Grand Prix at Amiens, France, in a hot Morgan. From that point on, until the last of the big V-twin engined cars were produced in 1948, the Malvern-made three-wheeler was a serious factor in competitions from one end of Europe to the other.

Like most British manufacturers, the Morgan people have not indulged in frequent model changes. There were three basic models in the 1911-1948 outdoor-engine line: the Grand Prix, the Aero and the Super Sports. They were all dash-ing-looking buckets, although purists have decried the placement of the spare wheel on the Super Sports: it plugs up the hole made by cutting the boat-tail icar end oft square. It still lives there in (he current F Four and F Super models, the fust, as the name indicates, a four-seater. These cars are powered by the British Ford lour-cylinder engine, and although they lack the punch produced by the old twins, they make up for it in tractability. The J.A.P., Blackburne, Anzani and Matchless engines required a bit more attention than most contemporary motorists care to provide their power-plants.

Morgan got around to three-wheel brakes in 1926. Up to that time, both hand and foot brake worked on the single rear wheel, and there were no crash-stops provided from, say, 80 miles an hour, which any stock Morgan in good shape would do. The braking system never was hooked up so that all three wheels could be held on one application: the pedal applied the front-wheel binders and the hand-lever the single rear. The steering ratio was changed, as well, giving about 100 degrees of movement at the rim. It is brutally quick steering, of course, but great for sudden maneuvers once you're used to it.

If the driver stopped worrying about the brakes and stuck his foot well into a thoroughly prepared hot Morgan Three, he could do some astonishing things with it. Clive Lones, who won more than 500 events in Morgans, lapped the Brook-lands track at 103.2 miles, an hour, getting 110 oil the one short straightaway, and carrying a passenger to boot. Gwenda Stewart, one of the all-time great woman drivers, put 101 miles into the hour with a Morgan at Montlhery in France, and held 72 miles an hour for twelve consecutive hours. Even the softer contemporary Morgans, with their 1,172 c.c. engines worked up a bit according to standard U.S. speed shop practice, would turn out some pretty fantastic speeds, and of course the Morgan has always been just the thing for fun and games qn getaway from traffic lights.

"Next to a Morgan," he likes to say, "a Rolls-Royce is as good a car as you can buy."

Also see:
Morgan Car Reviews
Morgan - Hand Built Masterpieces Even If There Was One Wheel Missing (USA Site)
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