Mike Monk comes to grips with a pillar of society…
Idiosyncratic is the only word to describe the Morgan Motor Company of Malvern, a spa town situated at the foot of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, England, “a designated area of natural beauty”. The company was founded by Henry Frederick Stanley ‘HFS’ Morgan in 1910 and started with a tubular chassis frame tricycle with a JAP V-twin motorcycle engine mounted transversely at the front. Independent front suspension featured sliding pillars and coil springs, a unique set-up that continues to this day…
At a time when tax and licence benefits were to be had, Morgans became the benchmark three-wheeler because of their good roadholding. The company’s success continued after WW1, but by the late-1920s its popularity was waning thanks to the growing availability of new, cheap sports cars. HFS responded with the introduction in 1936 of the 4-4 (later 4/4), the name standing for 4 wheels, 4-cylinder engine. Light in weight, it retained the sliding pillar suspension so roadholding was well up to scratch. It was powered by a Coventry-Climax overhead-inlet, side exhaust 1 122 cm3 engine delivering 35 hp (26) kW at 4 500 r/min and was capable of 75 mph (120 km/h).
Bespoke, and hand-built, the 4/4 was Morgan’s base model pre- and post-WW2 but when it was re-introduced in 1945 the Climax motor was replaced with a 1 267 cm3 overhead-valve Standard 10 hp four-cylinder that produced 40 hp (30 kW) at 4 300 r/min. Then in 1950 at the Earls Court Motor Show in London, an additional model was launched, the Plus 4 (badged +4), which had nothing to do with baggy knickerbockers reaching four inches below the knee worn by men for hunting and golf… The ‘Plus’ simply means it had a bigger engine, namely the four-cylinder 2 088 cm3 overhead-valve as used in the Standard Vanguard. With a single Solex carburettor and boasting a 6,7:1 compression ratio, it developed 51 kW at 4 200 r/min and 151 N.m of torque at 2 300. Top speed was around 135 km/h and 0-50 mph (80 km/h) took just under 10 seconds. Fuel consumption was given as 25,6 mpg (11 litres/100 km). The Plus 4 was based on a strengthened 4/4 chassis with a lengthened wheelbase and wider track, which made the car longer and wider than its sibling, and around 150 kg heavier. The Plus 4 was the first Morgan to feature hydraulic drum brakes all round. Tyres were 5.25×16.
FMM’s Plus 4 is a 1951 ‘flat-rad’ model, chassis number P2130, engine number V26MC and gearbox number M16, painted in Nile Blue. It was previously owned by two brothers who saw the car advertised in a 1977 issue of Farmer’s Weekly for R500, and bought it sight unseen. It was located in Maseru and the brothers drove a 2,5-ton truck from their home in Pietermaritzburg to collect the car, only to find that “it was completely, but completely, dismantled with not a single stud or bolt left in place and no two parts were joined together. It was also missing a number of parts, including the front hubs, but fortunately replacements were found. The owner had re-cut the entire wood frame but had not assembled any of it”. Once back in PMB, the car was rebuilt over eight months of “blood, sweat and tears, normal for rebuilds”. Once complete, the car passed its roadworthy first time and was put up for auction from where it was finally purchased by FMM.
The Morgan certainly looks the quintessential post-war British sports car. Sweeping bodywork over a treated ash frame has timeless appeal The steel disc wheels are perhaps a bit of a surprise as wire wheels were a popular choice of the time, and it has two spare wheels clamped into an exposed well at the rear of the car behind the fuel tank, which has a central filler cap. There is no boot – luggage has to be carried in the space behind the seats. When lowered, the folded hood acts as a cover and there is a zippered tonneau to cover just the hood, hood and passenger seat or the whole cockpit, as necessary.
Opening the rear-hinged door and the interior oozes a touch of class with leather upholstery and a full-width varnished dashboard. A full set of gauges, including a clock, are housed in a pair of dials flanking all the switchgear in a centrally-mounted cluster. The large, white-rimmed steering wheel has four sprung spokes. The short gear lever is only a hand-width away while the stubby handbrake sits further forward on the transmission tunnel. Cockpit space is tight and there is no seat adjustment, but I was surprised to find that the fixed driving position accommodated my 1,9-metre long-legged frame comfortably enough – something of a cocoon effect.
Firing up the Vanguard mill and it exhibits all the expected mechanical beat of a 70-year-old design. But despite its origins, I found the engine far from feeling agricultural. The gear shift proved to be a ‘snick-snick’ delight and the overall gearing provides some lively performance. The windscreen and side screens provided ample protection from the cold winter air and once the motor had warmed up, engine heat gently wafted through from the bulkhead. The ride was reasonably supple accompanied by the expected odd creak and mild scuttle shake over irregular surfaces. Steering effort proved relatively light, and with a turning circle of 9,75 metres the Plus 4 was easy to manoeuvre. The Morgan ticked all the right boxes for proving a classic British sports car experience.
From 1953 when the more powerful (71 kW) TR2 motor was fitted, the radiator grille was rounded into the bodywork, a styling feature that has continued ever since across the Morgan model range. The Plus 4 model was revived in 1985 and lasted until 2000, then reborn again in 2005 and is still available today.
For so long purely a family company; HFS ran the company until he died at age 77 in 1959, after which his son, Peter, took over until he, too, passed away in 2003. However, since then Morgan has undergone a number of tumultuous managerial changes and is now controlled by a new director and experienced chairman, Dominic Riley. Fortunately, the Morgan mystique has not been harmed, and the company’s products continue to be as endearing as ever.