While other British makes and marques have fallen by the wayside, Morgan continues to flourish and is arguably more popular and desirable today than it has ever been.
While it looks like it hasn't changed over the decades, the Morgan is far from a 'timewarp' car, having constantly evolved and updated componentry, while still maintaining much of that classic and desirable roadster look, a look that has been pivotal to its modern success.
The very latest Morgans take those looks into the 21st Century, but the earliest Morgans were far more basic affairs.
Peugeots, priests...and motorcycles
Born in 1881, Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan (later known as HFS) came from a family of clergymen, with both his father and grandfather serving as vicars in the Herefordshire district of Great Britain.
While some expected he would follow in the family business, 'Harry' as he was known, possessed an entrepreneurial, inquisitive mind, as well as a flair for the mechanical, which his father realised would be better served outside the priesthood.
Fortunately for HFS, his father was wealthy enough to enrol him in the best school of the day, Crystal Palace Engineering College, where the young Morgan soon demonstrated his abilities by setting the college bicycle speed record on a machine of his own design and manufacture.
From there, HFS worked as an apprentice with the Great Western Railway, the late 19th Century equivalent of working for NASA, where he continued his engineering training and developed his skills.
Leaving GWR in 1906, HFS tapped into the growing automobile business, opening his own garage in Malvern Link, where he was an agent for both Darracq and Wolseley cars. At the same time, he set up a bus service and went into partnership in a car hire business, as well.
As successful as these businesses were, they weren't satisfying HFS's engineering desire, so in 1908, he purchased a small 7hp Peugeot v-twin engine with a view to creating his own motorcycle. However, partway through the project and for unknown reasons, HFS decided to build a light single-seater 'cyclecar' instead. The result was the very first Morgan - the 'Runabout' - completed in 1909.
In addition to the front-mounted Peugeot engine, the Runabout was based around a single tubular chassis, which served as a mounting point for the front suspension crossmembers, and also housed the drive shaft to the single rear wheel, which was driven via a pair of dog clutches, which operated two separate chains for the two speed transmission. Braking was by twin bands on the rear wheel only, one each for the hand and foot brake.
The Runabout's front suspension used 'sliding pillars' of HFS's own design over coil springs, which in effect made for independent front suspension (the basic principle is still in use on modern Morgans), with a leaf spring rear.
The throttle was operated by a lever mounted near the driver's left hand, while the right hand took care of the steering via a tiller arm. Bodywork was non-existent, and only the rear wheel wore a mudguard.
What started out as a personal project generated so much interest from friends and associates that in 1910 HFS was encouraged to exhibit an improved Runabout (with basic bodywork, mudguards all round, better lighting, and bigger brakes and petrol tank) at the 'Olympia Motorcycle Show', London's first ever exhibition of motorcycles and related machines, in November, 1910. Sales weren't forthcoming from this show however, despite good press reviews and competition results for HFS's light, powerful cyclecar.
Unperturbed, HFS continued to develop his cyclecar through the following year, adding an 8hp JAP engine, conventional steering wheel and seating for two.
He also regularly placed his cars in trials events to prove their performance and durability. In 1912, HFS himself drove one of his cars to a notch under 60 miles in an hour on the famous Brooklands circuit. Doesn't sound like much of an achievement now, but back then the 'hour record' was one of the most sought after prizes in motoring, one that numerous drivers and marques had been fighting over all year.
With the name becoming well established in Britain, Morgan next took to the continent. Victory in the 1913 Cyclecar Grand Prix drew the attention of French importers, the Darmont Brothers, who would import Morgans into France for the next 20 years and also manufacture their own unique model.
A 30hp MAG-engined version of the French Grand Prix car, specially created for a cyclecar race on the Isle of Man in 1914, never had the opportunity to race following the outbreak of World War One.
The two major changes - in componentry and exposure through competition wins - proved to be a catalyst for the success of the brand. Immediately prior to the outbreak of war, Morgan was building close to 1,000 cars a year, with export markets throughout Europe, as well as India and South America.
Interestingly, one of the first UK agents to sell Morgan cars was the famous London department store, Harrods of Knightsbridge.
Another factor in Morgan's success was the cyclecar's price. At a time when many cars were still the domain of the very wealthy, a base model Morgan could be purchased for as little as _65. This made a Morgan not only comparatively affordable, but also a more comfortable alternative to a motorcycle & sidecar outfit.
The high power-to-weight ratio afforded by the lightweight body and powerful engines (usually of 900 to 1,100cc capacity) appealed to sporting drivers, too.
While never prominent
in a team sense in motorsport competition, Morgans proved popular with many privateer drivers in hillclimb and trials competition, HFS himself competing in many trials, sometimes in his original Runabout with wife Ruth in the passenger seat!
Morgan produced munitions throughout the war, but had a special permit to continue producing cars for export only. These overseas orders not only helped keep the company in business, but also allowed the development of new models.
One of Britain's top-scoring flying aces of WWI, Captain Albert Ball, purchased a 1917 model 'Grand Prix' Morgan, while another enterprising Morgan owner converted his car to run on gas as an answer to fuel rationing.
Full-scale production resumed soon after the end of WWI, but some components were difficult to source. Fortunately, the JAP engines fitted to many Morgans were easy to get, thanks in no small part to E.B. Ware, the head of J.A. Prestwich's (JAP) experimental department, who was also a keen Morgan owner and racer.
In the first major post-war motor race held at Brooklands in 1920, Ware won in his own JAP-engined Morgan, with another Morgan finishing second.
With fuel rationing no longer in force, buyers were hungry for new cars. From Morgan, they could choose from the De Luxe, Sporting, longer wheelbase Grand Prix and Aero models, plus a four-seater Family model.
And it seems plenty did choose, as the entire 1921 production run was sold before the end of 1920. Such 'waiting lists' kept demand and interest in Morgans high. With the right amount of capital or a joint venture, HFS could have flooded the market, but chose to keep supply just behind demand, to ensure his cyclecars remained desirable.
At the same time, Morgan moved into a new factory in Malvern, which gave the firm the capacity to produce around 2,500 cars a year. Much of this facility is still in use today.
The post-war boom proved to be short-lived, and car sales dropped throughout 1921, despite a change in motor vehicle taxation that favoured three wheelers. In response to this, HFS reintroduced the basic Runabout, also known as the Standard or 8 (as in 8 horsepower), which at -150 was around -50 below the next cheapest Morgan. The following year, increases in production enabled prices to be dropped across the whole range.
While there were other cyclecar builders during the 1920s, most had gone by the middle of the decade and none were as successful as Morgan, whose production peaked in this period, 2,300 units built in 1923 alone.
This year also saw the release of drum brakes for the front wheels, with E.B. Ware one of the first to take up this _6 option.
While JAP continued to be the most popular engine offered, other options were available, from MAG to Blackburne, British Anzani, Green Precision and, later, Matchless.
Morgan's competition successes in the early 1920s seemed to put a few people's noses out of joint, however, and from 1924 to 1926, they were legislated out of a number of trials events where they had been dominant. With these avenues closed off, some Morgan owners, like Harold Beart, turned to record-setting events instead.
Beart had been a contemporary of Ware and another established Morgan racer, G.N. Norris, when he set 13 speed and distance records in his modified Blackburne-engined Morgan in 1925. Based around an Aero model, Beart had strengthened the chassis in anticipation of the stresses that the record-setting runs would place upon it. The factory leaf-spring rear suspension was replaced with graduated leaves, which themselves were augmented with a shock absorber over the rear wheel. Beart also added shock absorbers to the front wheels, deleted the rear brake, modified steering and gear change system and covered the lot in a tapered, aerodynamic body. In this machine, Beart was able to set a flying kilometre speed of 166 kph, in addition to smashing HFS's old 60 mile hour record by covering 91.48 miles over the hour.
The bans imposed on three-wheelers in UK competition in 1924 & 26 were addressed in 1927, with the formation of the 'Cyclecar Club', who would run their own races open to all cyclecar owners, as well as four wheel vehicles under 1,100cc engine capacity. Beart was a driving force behind the formation and running of the new club.
Super Sports sets the trend
Late in 1927, Morgan debuted their 1928 models at the annual Olympia Motorcycle Show, most of which were slightly modified versions of the existing range, with the exception of two new models: a delivery van version built on the Family body (which endured through to 1935, but was only built in small numbers); and a new 'Super Sports' version of the Aero, which would set the pattern for future Morgan design and development.
The Super Sports Aero had a chassis 6 inches longer and 2 1/2 inches lower than the standard Aero, with a new 1,096cc JAP LT series water-cooled V-twin providing the power.
The bodywork was modified to create a smoother, more rounded shape, and the partial engine shrouding seen on other models was abandoned, creating the totally exposed motor that would became a Morgan trademark through the next decade. At _150, the Super Sports Aero was the top-of-the-range Morgan available for the closing years of the 1920s.
The popularity of these sporting models, coupled with the arrival of true 'economy cars' like the Austin 7 meant the writing was on the wall for the more basic commuter model Morgans. With their limited space and comfort, lack of real weather protection and somewhat harsh ride, they simply couldn't compete with the increasingly sophisticated four-wheel offerings from other manufacturers, which was reflected in gradually decreasing sales of Morgan three-wheelers through the late 1920s and 30s. The Grand Prix model had already been dropped in 1926, and it was followed by the Standard runabout in 1929. This made the De Luxe the new Standard model, which retailed for - 92 in 1929.
Races run by the Cyclecar Club kept three-wheelers - and consequently Morgans - in the public eye for the next couple of years, but it was the exploits of a female racer, Gwenda Stewart, that really turned heads.
Stewart had been a record-setting motorcyclist in the early 1920s before heading overseas. When she returned in 1925, women had been banned from competing in motorcycle races at the Brooklands circuit, so Stewart did most of her record-setting on the continent, switching to three-wheelers in 1927.
At France's Montlhéry circuit in 1929, Stewart used a 994cc JAP-powered Morgan Super Sports to set a number of class records, which she followed up with 44 separate records in 750 and 1,100cc classes throughout 1930, including a 100.64mph top speed in the 750cc-powered Morgan.
The onset of the Great Depression impacted three-wheeler sales, like everything else, despite a price reduction across the range. Times were so bad that the annual Olympia Motorcycle Show, that Morgan used to preview upcoming models, was cancelled for 1932.
The range remained largely unchanged over this period, the exception being the introduction of a 'Sports' two-seater in 1932.
The Sports replaced the Aero, and featured styling similar to the popular Super Sports, along with mechanical upgrades in the form of single dry-plate clutch and modified gearbox. Later that year, the dry-plate clutch was added to the entire range, as were removable Dunlop 'Magna' wheels, which made puncture repair significantly easier. This made the addition of a spare wheel (fixed to the rear) viable, altering the traditional 'beetleback' styling to what became known as the 'barrelback'
There were more changes to come over the next coupe of years, including the most significant in the company's history.
Three wheel taxation
On January 21, 1921, the Motor Taxation Act was enacted in the UK, which changed the taxation structure for private vehicles.
Previously, motor vehicles were taxed on horsepower alone, at roughly one guinea for every 4hp of power. The new act taxed private cars at -1 per horsepower, using a new, complicated formula to determine the power. Three wheelers, however, were taxed at a flat rate of only - 4 per year, irrespective of horsepower, providing the total weight of the vehicle was under 8cwt (around 400kg).
By contrast, a light four wheeler like the Austin 7, would be taxed at -8 per annum, double the rate of a Morgan three-wheeler.
Factoring in a three-wheeler's lower running costs, it was estimated the Morgan owner could save - 12 or more each year.