An article, first published by:
The Motor Cycle
October 5, 1961
by David Wise
Cult of the Moggie
What maintains enthusiasm for the famous three wheeler?
by David Wise
Unlike the Dodo or Queen Marry Anne, the Morgan three-wheeler is far from dead although the last of them left the Malvern works about 10 years ago. You might wonder why. Why, indeed, true enthusiasm for the breed is probably as high as ever it was.
Familiar scene at Brooklands track about 30 years ago.
This picture shows R.T. Horton leading round the turn at Chronograph
Villa during the Light Car Club's meeting in July 1930
Is it because the Moggie is the only three-wheeler to see 40 years of production? Or the fastest-ever of its type (116 m.p.h. by Gwenda Stewart in 1930)? No one can pinpoint the answer in a few words. But there are plenty of reasons which might add up to the explanation.
Morgans set the standard in the early days of the cyclecar, from 1910 to 1914, giving the comfort, sociability and performance of an expensive sporting car for the cost of a sidecar outfit. When most cyclecars were either excessively crude or excessively heavy, the Morgan weighed 3¾ cwt fully equipped with hood and screen; it combined a top speed of about 60 m.p.h. with excellent acceleration and hill-climbing powers. Of the 72 makes of cyclecar on the market in 1914, only the Morgan continued in production through the vintage era. Its very simplicity was its saving grace.
Famous Morgan exponent G.N. Norris at the start of an acceleration test at Brooklands in 1924. His Aero model is fitted with a Blackburne engine.
Take a look at a Morgan two-speeder chassis. Nothing surplus is carried, many parts serve a dual role. The two lower frame tubes are also the exhaust pipes; the prop-shaft runs through the main tube. The bevel box supports the rear suspension, and the sliding-dog, two-speed chain-drive is robust and reliable. The sliding-pillar, front springing was the first independent suspension to be standardized on any British vehicle and is still in use today on four-wheel Morgans.
How many people know that H.F.S. Morgan designed his first four-wheeler back in 1914? A weird machine based substantially on the three-wheeler, it was built in 1915 with a Dorman four-cylinder, side-valve engine. It cannot have been much of success, for it does not seem to have survived the war. In any case, the G.N. light car suddenly sprouted a four-speed chain drive much on the lines of the Morgan gear, which probably dissuaded Mr. Morgan from further experiments in this direction.
The three-wheel Morgan, at any rate, was supreme in its field during the vintage period 1920 to 1930. Unfortunately, the three-speed jobs with Matchless and Ford engines did not carry on the vintage tradition. In the originale design, H.F.S. Morgan showed his belief in "simplicating and adding lightness." The heavier three-speed-and-reverse gear box was added, not in the interest of better acceleration, but because many fringe Morganists had been lured away by Austin Sevens. This was understandable, since those who bought Morgans merely as a mean of cheap transport were not enamoured of having to get out and push every time reverse was called for.
C.N.Taylor with a Blackburne-equipped
Super Aero about to make the best time
of the day in a Cambridge University
Club hillclimb near Newmarket in 1929
The Super Sports Morgan, admirable car though it was, never was the equal of the Super-Aero Morgan, which , with engines such as the J.A.P. 8/55, 8/80 or 10/40, was good for almost 100 m.p.h., with top gear usable from 12 m.p.h.
The finest years of Morganing were between 1919 and 1931 - that is, the years in which the two-speed Aero and Super Aero were available. The Aero had a character all its own and made an indelible mark on the memories of its countless drivers. Handsomest of all the Aeros was the Brooklands model Super-Aero, with its polished copper exhaust pipes and lowered chassis. Later Morgans never had quite the lines of the Aeros; slight alterations to the contours of the bonnet and tail resulted in an unbalanced, tailheavy look.
Many are the tales about the Aeros. In th early thirties, two brothers in the West Country bought one for £2 10s. They tuned the engine and removed the body-work, leaving only two bucket seats. Then they waited on the Bath Road, the engine of this fearsome contrivance ticking over, until an M.G. hove into view. They thumbed their noses at it as it passed, and then gave chase...
This lethal-looking Moggie was raced by the famous W.D. Hawkes in the early 1920s. The engine is an eight-valve 1,100 c.c. M.A.G.
Then there was the noisy Aero, whose silencers the owner had filled with chicken wire in an attempt to deaden the sound. However, the engine would habitually backfire on the over-run, scattering wire to the four winds. The same car suffered a bent chassis when the owner, turning round to wave to some friends, collided with a gatepost. He proceeded to straighten out the chassis using a hockey post as a lever. Ever after, the front wheels of that Mog wobbled alarmingly....
Obviously, not everyone can understand the attitude of mind of a person who is prepared, not only to ride in, but actually to own such a Moggie. For these doubters, of course, there are the weird bubble cars, with their scooter engines hidden under hygenic plastic and chrome, and which appear to offer the refinement of a roller scate powered by an outboard engine. There is none of that desirable "long stride" possessed by the big-twin engine of the old Morgan.
Incidentally, the number of different makes of engine fitted to the Morgan must constitute something of a record - Peugeot, J.A.P., Blackburne, Anzani, M.A.G., Precision, Blunfield, British Vulpine, Matchless, Green-Precision, Ruby, Clerget, Ford 8 and 10 h.p. - all but the last three makes lusty vee-twins of around 1,000 or 1,100 c.c.
The beauty of the Morgan for competitive record-breaking events was the ease with which various sizes and makes of engine could be exchanged. Thus the Morgan was the first three-wheeler to beat 100 m.p.h. in the 1,100, 1,000 and 750 c.c. classes; in 1929 Morgans held 84 per cent of all world's three-wheeler records in classes from 350 to 1,100 c.c. and in 1930 they became the fastest three-wheeler in all capacity classes. Most of the credit for these remarkable achievements must go to a woman - Gwenda Stewart who, as well as being the fastest-ever three-wheeler pilot, broke 71 world's records in 1929 alone.
The machine in which she covered the flying kilometre at 116 m.p.h. is worthy of examination. To a chassis six inches longer than standard was fitted a tailor-made monoposto body. Two 2½-gallon fuel tanks formed the basis of the bucket seat. A battery of hand-pumps was fitted to transfer the fuel to a header tank in the dummy radiator. The engine, specially built by J.A.P.s, was Mrs. Stewart's old 996 c.c. record-breaking engine enlarged to 1,100 c.c.
However, the firm sporting tradition of the 'twenties was replaced by the more touring outlook of the thirties. The introduction of the Austin Seven had been a cruel blow to the entire cyclecar industry. The three-speed Morgan was an attempt to win back those who preferred a reverse gear, albeit coupled to an exceedingly pedestrian performance.
True believers needed no such incentive. It came as a bitter blow to them when lack of suitable engines caused the production of Morgan three-wheelers to cease in 1951. If one is so minded, though, it is still a feasible proposition to build a vintage model from second hand parts.
Probably 40,000 Morgans were built, and about 1,000 are believed to have survived. About 500 of those are owned by members of the Morgan Three-wheeler Club. Among them are such rareties as a 1913 Runabout with only six months' usage in its entire life and the ex-Clive Lones Brooklands job which at one time held 36 world's records.
Promising augury for the future - one member has in hand a special with a Vincent engine....
H.F.S. Morgan with one of the racing models built for the
never-to-be-held Cyclecar T.T. in the Isle of Man in 1914.
It is basically the same three-wheeler as that shown above.
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