1967 Morgan Plus 4
1967 Morgan Plus 4. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan was born in 1884, the son of a vicar. But, HFS, as he became known, didn’t follow his father’s profession; he chose engineering. After attending London’s Crystal Palace Engineering College he began an engineering apprenticeship with the Great Western Railway.

In 1906 HFS and a partner opened a garage and automobile dealership near his home in Malvern, Worcestershire. Another soon followed, and HFS became prosperous enough to pursue his dream of building his own car.

HFS had bought a three-wheel Eagle car, which may have influenced him to make his car a three-wheeler. He welded up a light, sturdy, steel-tube chassis and mounted a Peugeot V-2 air-cooled engine between the front wheels. Power went to the rear via a driveshaft that passed through the central frame member, and then to the single rear wheel through two chains.

Steering was by a side-mounted tiller. Independent front suspension, then a rarity, was achieved by an ingenious sliding-pillar-and-coil-spring arrangement adapted by HFS from a French Decauville design. It proved so simple, effective and durable that it was used on all Morgans for some 90 years. The body was limited to a seat, hood and front fenders.

Morgan showed two of his cars at London’s Olympia motorcycle show in 1910. The single seat limited the Morgan’s appeal, but a few orders were received. HFS tried to find someone to produce the cars for him but was unsuccessful, so he formed the Morgan Motor Co. in 1910. A few years later he moved it to the series of adjoining red brick buildings it still occupies in the town of Malvern Link.

The motor show made HFS realize two things: that he needed a two-passenger car; and that he had to establish a reputation by proving his cars in competition. Morgan entered his single seater in the London to Exeter trial on Boxing Day 1910, and won a gold medal. Thanks to a Morgan trait of a high power-to-weight ratio, a long line of successes would follow. He exhibited a two-seater prototype at the 1911 show, and the combination of Morgan’s competition record, and the two seats, brought many orders.

The company prospered building a variety of three-wheelers, including competition and four-seater family models. Several air and water cooled engines, including Anzani, JAP, Blackburn and Ford would be used.

Although three-wheelers were taxed at about half that of such cars as the four-wheel Austin Seven, by the 1930s HFS recognized that four wheels was the way of the future. Thus in 1936 a four-wheel Morgan, the 4-4 (4 wheels, 4 cylinders), was added, built in both two- and four-passenger forms. The three-wheeler continued in dwindling numbers until it petered out in 1952.

North America was introduced to Morgans following the Second World War. The models were the 4/4 (now, for some unexplained reason, with a slash [/] instead of a dash [-]), and beginning in 1951, the Plus 4 with a Standard Vanguard engine. As with the three-wheelers, Morgan four-wheelers would use a variety of engines, including Ford, Standard Vanguard, and Triumph TR2 and TR3, TR4 and TR4A.

In a brief flirtation with modern styling, Morgan introduced the Plus 4 Plus in 1964, an aerodynamic coupe with a fibreglass body. It was not well received by Morgan enthusiasts, and was discontinued three years later after only 50 had been built.

To keep the Morgan’s performance contemporary, a new Plus 8 model was introduced in 1968. It was fitted with the Rover (previously Buick-Oldsmobile), 3.5-litre, overhead valve aluminum V8. Its performance was certainly contemporary. Road & Track magazine recorded zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 8.5 seconds, and top speed of 169 km/h (105 mph), certainly respectable considering the Plus 8’s barn door aerodynamics.

HFS’s son Peter became chairman of the company in 1958, and HFS died in 1959. Peter died in 2003, and his son Charles is now the company’s strategy director.

Traditionally styled Morgans are still being built by artisans skilled in wood, steel and fabric, much the way they were in 1910, and have been up to the present. Aluminum or steel sheeting is shaped over hand-built oak body frames.

As a nod to the 21st century, a new more modern Morgan, the Aero 8 powered by a BMW 4.4-litre V8 engine, was recently added, its first new model since the 1968 Plus 8. It was styled by Charles Morgan, and blends traditional Morgan styling with modern aerodynamics, although the slanting headlamps give it a kind of cross-eyed look.

The sliding pillar front suspension has been replaced by a modern control-arm-and-coil-spring system on the Aero 8, and there is even independent suspension at the rear. It carries on Morgan’s tradition of an excellent power-to-weight ratio, with the resulting outstanding performance. Car and Driver reported a blistering zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time of 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph).

The Aero 8 has been sold in the U.S. market since 2004. For safety reasons new Morgans have not been sold in Canada for many years. And in spite of the Aero 8 receiving approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for sale in the U.S., as of 2006 Transport Canada had not approved it. The traditional Morgans still being built are also banned from Canada.

Morgan production is still pretty much a cottage industry. There are no assembly lines at Malvern Link. Until spray painting was inaugurated in the 1960s, Harold Jauncey painted every Morgan by hand – with a brush. Brush painting, clamshell fenders, wooden body frames, sliding pillar suspension – you get the idea that change comes slowly at Morgan. But Morganistis love it, and are willing to wait the months or years it takes to get a new Morgan.

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