A Trio of Tricycles
The strange species which Anthony Phelps has, slightly prematurely, christened “enthusiastus extinctus,” is subject to many strange diseases. Of these infections, one of the most virulent is undoubtedly Morganomania, the main symptom being, a tendency to rave about the effects of 30-odd b.h.p. on about 800 lb. of old iron.
Personally, I once thought I was safe, believing that Morganomania was a disease, like measles, which never bites the same victim twice. Well, I know better now.
Early in the present (pardon me, recent) war I had my first taste of tricycling, in a Morgan of the late nineteen twenties. The thing looked quite barbaric and had the strangest effect on Canadian soldiers, but it did get basic rations when cars were not so endowed. It also went surprisingly well, so that long after I had sold it to an enthusiastic naval type I still had a yen to try a hotter example of the genus Morgan.
My downfall came in November, 1944, when an advertisement in “The blue ‘un” (or was it “the green ‘un”? I cannot recall now) caught my eye. Sunday saw me crossing the Big City by public inconvenience; and, by going on chance without awaiting an appointment, I managed to get in first with my deposit. I suppose there are a fair variety of industries in Barkingside, but I will merely record without comment that my Morgan was found in the back premises of a mouse-farm.
Collection of the Morgan presented a problem in the days of no basic, but luckily it proved possible to organise an essential journey into approximately the right district. Norman bravely volunteered to co-operate, and we went off with our rope, to the accompaniment of the thuds which characterised 1944 London. The device was duly secured to the H.R.G.’s spare wheel bracket, and we departed cautiously (at first, anyway) around the North Circular Road.
One of the peculiarities of my Morgan is that to apply the front brakes you push on the handbrake. Maybe it was a momentary triumph of instinct over instructions, but somehow the rope got tangled and broken at the Woodford traffic lights right under the eyes of a fine pair of “bluebottles.” Needless to say, we were far from our “shortest and most direct route.”
Praise be to Allah, even policemen are human. Having commented sarcastically on the feebleness of our towrope, and having offered us a bootlace to replace it, the cops demonstrated the nautical way to tie a knot and sped us on our way. Whew! After that there were no more incidents at my end of the rope, though howls from the tricycle’s under-inflated tyres once suggested that maybe I was a bit too keen to beat up a noisy U.S. Army truck.
Having got my Morgan, I am afraid I simply sat back and waited for basic, merely looking at it occasionally. Frankly, it looked rather good to me, being a well-preserved 1930 or 1931 super sports with low chassis, o.h.v. J.A.P. engine and low, pointed-tail body.
The next chapter is dated General Election day, chosen for no special reason, and certainly not because the gentlemen in blue were too busy to bother motorists. Anyway, I enlisted Charles’s help for the evening, and we took the “Moggy” old for a few trials, which eeemed advisable in advance of the expensive preliminaries to regular motoring.
The performance up a wooded local hill was quite impressive in fact, declining the offer of a turn at the helm, Charles said it was too much like a Shelsley Special newly introduced to alcohol. It certainly did seem rather inclined to go hedging and ditching, adjustment of the rear wheel alignment merely producing slight hesitancy as to which hedge to assault first. Luckily, the cause proved to he nothing more serious than 2 in. of toe-out on the front wheels.
It is the custom of sundry motorcyclists residing along the borders of Surrey and Hampshire to foregather at some hostelry on the first Friday evening in each month. Having hitherto only attended these gatherings on four wheels (very advantageous, too, for rapid travel across Hartford Bridge Flats on a wet and windy evening), the July gathering obviously had to be attended on three wheels instead.
For that evening I had Phillip as passenger, and he had to work his passage. The sad fact was, the sands of time seemed to have entered into the Morgan’s fuel system, and several stops for work with wire and pump proved necessary. But between times, the “Moggy” went well enough to impress Phillip quite appreciably.
The sensation of the evening, however, was provided by Charles, who had shown unheard-of activity since helping with the try-out. To everyone’s astonishment, he and Bob made a belated appearance at the “Phoenix” in quite the starkest Morgan ever. Apart from its fearsome looks, the engine had been hurriedly timed with one cylinder firing about 100 degrees late, resulting in a barrage of sound, beside which the output from my phoney Brooklands’ cans paled into insignificance.
By now the infection was spreading fast, and before long Phillip also had acquired a Morgan, so that the first Friday in August saw a trio of tricycles bearing down on the “Ely.” That evening was certainly Charles’s picnic, for Phillip was beset by misfiring. I broke iny top gear chain and had to do the 12-mile run home in bottom gear. Morgans being geared kinda high, that only took about 30 minutes, including going quietly (well, fairly quietly, anyway!) through two towns.
Like a sucker, I decided to enter for the 750 Club Gymkhana at Oxted — little dreaming what a rough field they had in mind! Lack of a reverse gear kept us out of most of the stunt events, and oil on the clutch prevented us doing better than average in the hill climb – we were actually beaten by a J2 M.G. Midget! The day’s damage was one punctured rear tyre (heroically fixed before the hill-climb by passenger Bill Arklay), two semi-detached front wings, one much less watertight radiator and one quite used up brake cable. We duly made home under steam (literally), though with no rear brake and by the light of one sidelamp.
Soon after the Oxted damage had been repaired, the local lads decided to do some timing on a rough and sandy hill, so the Morgan took another bashing; this time, with the aid of a push start, it bettered the times of Charles and Bob, though it was soundly trounced by a camshaft Velocette and chair. Anyway, despite clutch slip and a main jet too small for full throttle to be used, it went much too fast for my peace of mind.
After that the car had a spell of use for normal “basic” purposes, and acted as a standby for journeys to work. It seemed to be more prone to shake off such trivial items as lamps, horns, brake rods, etc., than was my previous Morgan. However, the addition of Simmonds nuts or the like to vulnerable points did a lot of good, and for a long while the previous “Moggy’s” reputation for always getting there and back under power was sustained.
With the coming of winter, sensible folk are apt to desert super sports tricycles for more weatherproof vehicles. Far be it from me to blame Charles and Philip for disposing of their Morgans — they got good prices, and what is speed to a civil servant? Personally, when a removal became necessary while my car was being overhauled, I found it necessary to tackle a daily round trip of 30 miles in my hoodless horror.
For quite a spell everything went well, especially after I had found out the two types of long-reach plug suited to the two very different cylinders. A Morgan is certainly the thing in which to make regular journeys to a high place like Hindhead, for a whiff of gas in top gear makes the moderns look awfully silly on long hills. In the other direction, I must admit that a fairly gentle descent was advisable, for the brakes definitely lacked 1939 power.
The debacle came on the night of November 5th. Driving home in the dark, the Morgan suddenly made funny noises and struggled vigorously to get at a solid-looking roadside bank. Having dissuaded it from this course by a combination of brute force and sheer luck, I found that it was supported on two wheels and the frame, the off-side front wheel having assumed a peculiar attitude due to fracture of the bottom front cross-tube! Being rather busy, I endeavoured unsuccessfully to get local garages to retrieve the Morgan for me, the usual excuse being lack of a crane. So I got Bob to come and pick the front end up (yes, literally!), while I got things lashed back into about their correct places, after which Norman towed me home behind his beautiful “Red Label” Bentley. Completely stuck for transport until the broken tube could be sleeved and brazed up, I was driven to acquire a 250-c.c. B.S.A., which does 40 m.p.h. but 100 m.p.g., so if anyone wants a hardly used (very hardly used indeed, I might say) Morgan …
Frankly, Morgans can be the most trying things at times. If it is true that those whom the gods love they first drive made, then Morgan owners must be more beloved of the gods than even vintagents. So often there seems to be just that elusive occasional misfiring, or something just not quite right, about the handling or braking. Yet withal there is performance which, in everything but ultimate maximum speed, will make the average sports car look silly, and there can be quite considerable cornering powers.
The temptation is strong indeed to attempt the fearsome task of producing an ideal Morgan. An old type J.A.P. engine with twin carburetters to give real power all through the range. A low frame (unless trials be contemplated) with wide front track, using modern brakes and detachable wheels, but probably with the old 2-speed, 2-chain transmission. A modern single-plate clutch, but the old super sports body for minimum weight. It would be an ambitious undertaking perhaps, but the results would be far better than are achieved by the expenditure of equivalent cash and toil on the everlasting Austin Seven.
[Quite so, and it is a fascinating prospect. So much so that if anyone with extensive experience of Morgans cares to write an article about his experiences, I shall be very glad to have it. Not forgetting, of course, that excellent contribution on this subject by the late Martin Soames in the early part of the war.—Ed.]