History of Morgan
“A Most Interesting Business” (HFS Morgan)
Since its inception in a small Malvern garage in 1909, the Morgan Motor Company has been powered by the passion of the Morgan family. Started by Henry Fredrick Stanley Morgan (HFS) in 1909, it all began on three wheels.
With motoring in its infancy, HFS’ first foray into vehicle manufacture was with The Morgan Runabout, launched at Olympia in 1910. This was a new type of vehicle, commonly known as a Cyclecar and combined a light weight tubular chassis with a 8 hp twin-cylinder motorcyle engine and basic transmission. The first models were single seaters and steered by a tiller, which attracted interest but few sales.
Quickly adapting the model, 1911 saw the advent of a two seater Runabout with modifications that included a hood and a steering wheel. With just two transmissions and no reverse gear, it was usually fitted with JAP V-twins engines. Such was its impact, that Harrods featured it in it shop window – the only car it's ever displayed – and became Morgan's first dealer.
Other variations followed later in the year, including the first Morgan four-seater or Family Runabout.
The Runabouts impressed and between their launch and the start of the First World War the various models notched up 10 British and World Records and won 24 gold medals in major reliability trials.
Their popularity necessitated the purchase of a new plot of land in Pickersleigh Road, Malvern Link. Two new workshops were built there in 1914 and by 1931, there were seven rows of workshops. To this day, this remains the site of Morgan’s factory.
Three-Wheelers and the Morgan Aero
Tax advantages meant that the early Morgans were three-wheelers and they quickly became very fashionable. 1920 saw the development of the first Aero, named in honour of the famous aviator Captain Albert Ball. Captain Ball described the exhilaration of a Morgan as the closest thing he had found to flying.
It was followed by the Super Aero in 1927. Still with two gears but it was no slouch. It's 10hp engine allowed it to achieve over 70 mph on the flat and up to 40mph up hll. On the hills trials it won more than any comparable vehicle, and at Brooklands its speed earned it a one lap handicap, behind the four wheeled cars in its class.
So good was the design that the 3-wheeler remained in production – relatively unchanged - until the 1930s. During this period, modifications included front wheel brakes, overhead valve V-twin engines, electric lights and starters.
The three-wheeler chassis did not limit what went “on top”. Models ranged from the standard to the deluxe and included a 4-seater Family model and even a Delivery Van. Popularity peaked in 1933 with the development of the F-type, which came with a Ford engine as either a two-seater (F2) or four-seater (F4).
Four Wheel Motoring
The abolition of the Road Tax Fund in 1936, removed the tax advantage of a 3-wheeler vehicle and Morgan adjusted accordingly. 1936 saw the production of the Morgan 4-4, so named because of its four cylinders and four wheels. With a Z section steel chassis and what was to become the trademark ash framed body, it combined light weight with strength and became an instant success.
World War Two caused the cessation of car production, and the Morgan factory’s activity was curtailed to servicing and spares. When business resumed in 1945, it spelt the end for the three-wheelers. Most vehicles were produced for export but as the 3-wheelers were not popular abroad, production dwindled and the last 3-wheeler left the factory in 1953. This was no deterrent to their fans who had formed the Morgan Three-Wheeler Club in 1945. It was followed in 1951 by the Morgan Sports Car Club – this time for four-wheelers – and both clubs are still going strong.
The move to the 2088cc Vanguard engine gave rise to what was to become another Morgan classic, the Plus Four. Production started in 1950 and it became available as a 2-seater, a 4 seater and a Drop Head Coupe. 1954 saw the design updated to improve aerodynamics and Plus Fours zoomed ahead, winning many sports car races. Another Morgan icon, it’s still in production today, its appearance barely altered.
Achieving a similar longevity, 1955 saw the arrival of the Morgan 4/4 Series Two. Less powerful than the Plus 4, with a smaller 10 hp Ford side valve engine and integral gear box, it extended the Morgan market with its smaller price tag.
1962 saw one of Morgan’s proudest achievements as Chris Lawrence and Richard Sheppard-Baron showed just what a Plus Four Super Sports could achieve. Winning their 2 litre class in the 24 hours endurance race at Le Mans, they covered an astonishing 2261 miles at an average speed of 97 mph.
In 1968 the Morgan Plus Eight joined the fold of iconic Morgans, with a Rover V8 engine and a reign that was to continue until 2004. Like its predecessors, success followed it onto the racing track as it won Production Sports Car Championships in the UK and the US.
The start of the new millennium was accompanied by a whole new look for Morgan with the development of the Aero 8. Eighty years separated it from the first, 3-wheeler Aero, not to mention the 21st century styling and performance. Still built around the wooden frame but now with a bonded aluminium chassis and aluminium body panels, to decrease its weight and increase its aero dynamics. Its light weight, coupled with the BMW 4.4 litre V8 engine gave it a ferocious power that whipped it from 0-60 mph in under 5 seconds, and into the category of Supercar.
Another instant success, refinements continued, resulting in the limited edition AeroMax, a Fixed Head coupe (produced between 2008-09), the introduction of the Aero SuperSports in 2010, and the Eva GT, a “Family” version which is expected to go into production in 2014.
Morgan Roadster and new Plus 8
If these new designs raised doubts about the future of the traditional styled Morgans, the increased production figures answered them. The demand for the traditional range is higher than ever, as testified by the Roadster V6, which replaced the Plus 8 in 2004 after 38 years.
However, any mourning for the Plus 8 was short lived and it was reinstated into the range in 2012. The traditional Plus 8 bodywork was wrapped around the mechanics of the Aero 8, with the 4.8 litre, 362 hp BMW engine moving the vehicle between 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds, and to a blistering top speed of 155mph.
Back on 3 wheels
The final Morgan that must be mentioned is more than an echo from its past. The new Morgan three-wheeler, launched in 2011 has delighted critics and reinjected a vial of fun into motoring. With its bullet shaped torso and padded leather interior, its truly reminiscent of an early cockpit.
You can’t help but think that Captain Albert Ball would have approved. One hundred years on, and Morgan cars are still capturing the thrill of flying.