A Year With A Morgan Plus-Four

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64

On the scorching day of July 2nd, 1951 I took delivery at Malvern Link of the Editorial Morgan Plus-Four two-seater, KAB 303 (bought incidentally, at full list price plus purchase tax), and on the not-much-less-scorching day of July 2nd, 1952, when it attained its first birthday in my hands, the mileage recorder read 15,645 miles.

After 4,000 miles I set down my experiences of the Morgan in these pages, but as so much interest centres on the Plus-Four, until recently the least expensive sports car on the British Market (a price increase shifted this distinction to the TD M.G., by a matter of less than £5) some further remarks may not come amiss.

I have enjoyed using my shiny-blue two-seater very much, even if owners of those vintage cars for which I myself have such a warm affection are apt to refer to the Morgan as my “boy’s racer,” while conceding that it makes an apt background for my pre-war B.A.R.C. badge and blue Bugatti Club pennant. The chief reasons for this enjoyment are the car’s lively performance, its dependable starting, and the pleasure derived from driving “something different” and an open car at that. Taking these qualities in order, by lively performance I mean acceleration, safe quick-cornering, and an easy cruising speed of the 65-m.p.h.-order. I have not timed the true performance but, while a contemporary records 85.7 m.p.h. as the Plus-Four’s maximum speed, the Motor Sport example is reluctant to exceed a speed of 80 m.p.h. lncidentally, as delivered, the throttle did not open fully when the accelerator was on the floor!

Take it then, as a nice compliment to the car’s accelerative ability (I would not willingly change to a car with less), its very good Girling brakes and its pleasantries of gear-change, road-holding and quick steering that I do not object to speeds which seem less than those realised by other scribes—speedometer readings of 40 in 2nd, 60 in 3rd and 80 in top being about as much as the engine can comfortably stand.

Dependable starting? —yes, quick to fire and to open-up from cold without displays of asthma or hay-fever. Not quite so quick now as a year ago, but dependable, which I appreciate and give thanks for to Messrs. Standard, Lucas. Solex and Champion; and none at all to the purveyors of Pool petrol!

Other pleasures–would take too much space to detail, but the acceleration, particularly useful through traffic at the end of a jading day, is amongst the more notable. The screen has been folded-flat but once–at the request of an 18-year-old fanatic— and with both it and the side-screens permanently erect, you sit sufficiently low not to be unduly wind-swept. The hood is excellent (except for visibility-impairment) and useful, too, to drape over the seats when the car is parked. It has worn well, having only recently acquired one slight slit.

The car has not been exactly trouble-free, for after only 1,350 miles a clutch-operating lever broke and at 1,750 miles the off-side steering damper snapped, followed at 1,970 miles by fracture of its fellow. The clutch lever was replaced by Morgan’s and no further trouble has been experienced, although a lot of free-play has developed since. The steering dampers were replaced by their Aldershot agent, but after another 6,000 miles the new near-side damper broke, likewise a suspension rebound spring. To date the off-side damper has held together and absorbs wheel wobble providing its attachment bolts are kept really tight and cobbles and bad pot-holes are avoided. The steering is undoubtedly the weakest feature of the Plus-Four. With both dampers broken it is impossible to control the violent wheel shimmy which occurs below about 40 m.p.h. and with only one damper working this shimmy is liable to return at awkward moments and in any case undue return-motion and steering kick is transmitted, accentuated by a lack of rigidity in the region of the scuttle. Apart from damper failure, the drop-arm has tried to detach itself from the steering box, and after a year’s use there is 5 in. of free-play at the steering-wheel rim. I suspect that when larger wheels and tyres were specified for the Plus-Four, a layout which had sufficed for the 4/4 became unduly stiff and that to counteract this the castor-angle was reduced, placing undue reliance on the essentially-flimsy dampers. These dampers consist of strips of steel depending from the frame side-members and having rivetted to them bronze rings which encircle the steering tubes. The rings rise and fall with the suspension and so the arms have to flex, and eventually break. When my first pair broke I heard that improved dampers were on the way but was disappointed to find that, apart from a step in the arms, they were as before. After his excellent performance in the Evian Mont Blanc Rally Price experienced this trouble but a French garage cured it by cutting new ones from saw-steel. Another solution has been given to me by the Irish competition driver C. S. Porter and as his letter will interest Morgan enthusiasts I reproduce it below–

Sir,

I have owned a Plus-Four Morgan for just over a year, during which time it has covered 19,000 hard miles.

Apart apart from covering over 30 miles per day to and from business, I have competed in practically every speed event in Ireland (and several in Scotland) during the past twelve months, gaining at least one 1st and several places in various races and hill-climbs, and also having some success in trials during the winter. During that time the head has been removed twice for decoking, and “tuning” consisted of removing windscreen and spare wheels and fitting the slightly larger jet recommended by the makers. Lamps and mud-guards were left in position, and in this trim the car was timed at approx., 96 m.p.h. over the measured distance in the Handicap Race at Dundrod, and finished at an average of approx. 68 m.p.h. using pump fuel. Oil consumption is still negligible. Road-holding is all that could be desired, and the car is very comfortable, provided recommended tyre pressure (16/18 lb.) is not exceeded.

Needless to say, there were one or two “snags,” but how many new models are free from them? I broke three steering dampers (and after all, it, is asking a lot from thin sheet steel to expect it to bend indefinitely without breaking) before curing the trouble by drilling four holes in the broken portion, and joining it to the chassis bracket between two pieces of “Balata” flat belting. No trouble since (I find one damper quite sufficient) and if any “sufferer” wants further details, I shall be glad to oblige. The other alteration I made concerned the engine mountings, which allowed the unit to wobble like a jelly, especially at low speeds. After being deprived of a place in one of the Irish races, due to excessive engine movement cutting the top radiator hose, I decided that the mountings would have to be altered, and am now using Jeep front mountings, and Morris Commercial rears. Engine movement is now negligible, so much so that I can use a steel pipe from manifold to silencer, instead of flexible tubing (a constant source of exhaust leaks). In my opinion, the “wobbly engine” is just another Americanism which has (unfortunately) established itself in most British cars. Surely a well-designed engine does not require large lumps of rubber to insulate it from the chassis?

Altogether a most satisfactory little car, and the best value for money in its class.

I am, Yours, etc., C. S. Porter   Killineby. 

The fact remains that the steering does not feel exactly taut, the flimsy track-rod, wear at the various joints and movement of the steering box on the chassis contributing to this state of affairs. The car might pass a race-scrutineer, but certainly the amount of play which has developed will have to be seen to. The transmission, too, gives evidence ef some “wear and tear.”

Peter Morgan told me that tyres last about 12,000 miles and after 15,645 miles I am in possession of two bald spares, about to be Blue Peter retreaded, one well-worn and one not-too-bad back tyres, and two fair tyres on the front wheels—which is where motor traders and those who respect mobile coppers put their better covers! To Mr. Dunlop’s credit there has been only one puncture, an unlucky nail quite early on. Oh, and the comic jack folded over and jammed up, just as a correspondent told us it would! The Girling brakes have already received honourable mention but I do so again, for they remain powerful, if squeaky, yet have been bled only once and adjusted only once over the entire mileage. Likewise, the Girling dampers have never been serviced nor the Solex carburetter dismantled.

The Standard Vanguard engine blew its head gasket for no apparent reason after 9,800 miles. I say “for no apparent reason” but the aforesaid steering shimmy caused chassis flexion and that resulted in a radiator leak at 3,165 miles and constant topping-up of a steaming header tank with cold water probably took its toll. I changed the gasket myself on Christmas Eve, rather cowed by the present price of gasket sets, getting the local garage to grind-in the valves at the same time. The 10,000th mile showed up crossing Staines Bridge on New Year’s Day. The carbon wasn’t excessive but suggested odd mixture distribution. The Champion L10s were cleaned at the time and are still in use. The engine certainly wobbles alarmingly on its rubbers, as Mr. Porter says, but the only ill-effect has been to slide its flexible exhaust piping off, which a garage replaced without needing new piping. It uses very little oil, being topped-up with Castrol XL when I think of it; the chassis is regularly greased and the gearbox and back-axle topped-up with Castrol lubricants. The engine functions as well as ever but runs too cool and its early promise of economical running has deteriorated to around 20/23 m.p.g. The fuel pump seems to be getting it bit weary, for it now needs more than a gallon to prime it if the tank runs dry; and the hand-primer doesn’t help.

Some people say that a 2-litre engine in a 16½-cwt. car calls for a higher back-axle ratio than 4.1 to 1 and it would be an interesting experiment, particularly as a Plus-Four has been known to give nearly 39 m.p.g. with the economy carburetter setting and restrained driving. On the other hand, the present arrangement endows the Morgan with “30/98” top-gear-pulling characteristics (which seems to have led Mr. Laurence Pomeroy into believing that there are only three forward speeds!) pleasant to experience, notwithstanding the excellent gear-change of the Moss four-speed box. Black mark, however, to Mr. Moss for providing an oil dip-stick requiring pliers for its removal! Which reminds me, the fly-off hand-brake is too apt to fly-off and a wing-stay came adrift after 4,800 miles.

No electrical failures have been experienced bar early demise of the dashlight and stop-lamp bulbs, the original fan-belt is in use, all the instruments work well although the Smith’s clock believes that tempus fugit, and generally, the Morgan has stood up staunchly to hard work at the hands of an impulsive driver, and still looks smart, especially when given a Lifeguard polish.

Remember that at £535 this is one of the least expensive sports cars, that it really can find its way through traffic and cover the ground, and that essentially it is for those who enjoy servicing a car as much as driving it and any criticisms I have aired will, I hope, be seen in a proper perspective. Certainly I enjoy the Plus-Four, regard it as practical fast transport as well as a means of relaxation after long-duration pen-pushing, and am not changing it for anything else at present.

I could write much more about, it but this seems to cover most of the impressions I have of the car, read in conjunction with an earlier article which appeared in Motor Sport last October. Let me conclude, therefore, by saying that I have always liked the idea of a sizable power unit in a lightweight car and that the Morgan Plus-Four fully bears out the enjoyment to be derived from such a formula.

W. B.