The vintage years of the Morgan 3-wheeler

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1924.—By 1924 the popular four-wheeler was very much established and the 3-wheeler was more than ever forced to base its appeal on sporting performance and low running and first costs. Morgan faced the light car opposition with five basic models, ranging from the a/c. 976-c.c. Popular (£110) to the 1,098-c.c. s.v. Aero (£148), a single-seater o.h.v. racing version of the latter being listed at £160.

The Aero was a truly sporting proposition, with petrol and oil fillers inline along the brief bonnet behind the tall radiator cap. The cockpit, protected by two adjustable aero-screens, was pretty stark. The dashboard had a central oil drip-feed, its exposed pipe running under the scuttle, a Lucas ammeter-cum-switch panel on the left, a speedometer on the right, Bowden levers clipped to the steering wheel, ship’s-type ventilators on the scuttle, and a snake bulb-horn lying along the o/s. mudguard.

Normally, Morgans still had 700 x 80 tyres, a 6-ft. wheelbase (the Family model was a foot longer), two speeds of 4 1/2 and 8 to 1, and the simple chassis was said to weigh 2 3/4 cwt. The chassis backbone ran above the floor and the brake-lever was clipped to it, exposed cables running forward to the front brakes, if fitted, and providing some degree of compensation. Ignition was by M.L. magneto and there was a choice of Amac or B. & B. carburetter. “Omega” of The Auto was still attacking the Morgan, stating at the time of the 1923 Show that he was puzzled “that sensible people, with babies, could ignore the appeal of the 4-wheeler against the 3-wheeler, price for price and running-cost for running-cost.”

Certainly the £165 Austin 7 was now very firmly established, and well publicised by racing successes. (The Trojan 2-stroke cost £1.57 10s., the Rover 8 £160, an A.V. cyclecar £105, a Tamplin £120, the revised 4-cylinder G.N. £250, while amongst 3-wheelers the Brabham cost £145, a Scott-Sociable £135.) There were three vehicles costing less than £100, namely the beltdrive Bleriot-Whippet (£82 19s.), Gibbons (£65), Harper (£80 17s.), and L.A.D. (£60.) The Morgan was to outlive them all. . . .

The Light Car & Cyclecar published a survey of readers’ experiences—shades of Which?—to indicate the comparative cost of running a cyclecar versus a light car. From this it was estimated that running costs over 6,000 miles, including a J.C.C. subscription, would work out at £54 12s. 3d. in a Morgan, £68 15s. 5d. in a Rover 8, £65 18s. in a Jowett and £65 14s. in an Austin 7. (Petrol was 1s. 6 1/2d. a gallon, oil 6s. 9d. per gallon, tax £4 on a 3-wheeler, £9 on the Rover.) The fuel and oil m.p.g. were: Morgan 50/1,540; Rover 43/740; Jowett 42/1,500; Austin 45/1,800. Repairs equalled 3s. a week, a comprehensive Lloyd’s policy £8 5s.! A tiny point in Morgan’s favour— Frank Spouse, who drove a T.B. 3-wheeler in trials, had been appointed sole Morgan Distributor for Scotland!

At the 1924 Scottish Show all the Morgans on view had w/c. Blackburne engines, the new o.h.v. version of which gave approx. 35 b.h.p. and was supplied to the Morgan Co. with the flywheel balanced with the engine. A funnel-like air-intake was used close up behind the radiator.

In the J.C.C. General Efficiency Trial E. B. Ware’s s.v. De Luxe Morgan (ME 4835) again made the best performance, gaining 330 out of a possible 385 marks. A Gwynne 8 was second (321 points), G. N. Norris’ w/c. o.h.v. Aero Morgan Blackburne with oversize tyres third (306 points). Ware recorded the best petrol consumption, speediest acceleration in top speed and won the brake test. Norris made best time on the “Brooklands’ Test Hill, best acceleration “through the gears” (his two speeds!) and fastest lap of the Track. This time the actual figures were not published and there was some controversy as to the validity of the various tests and the manner in which they had been organised. The Light Car & Cyclecar was tactless enough to suggest that the little 269-c.c. tiller-steered Harper Runabout, a 3-wheeler with single front wheel, could have won. This brought long and involved correspondence from H. F. S. Morgan and the Rev. H. G. Morgan, from which I will refrain from quoting at this late date.

At Brooklands, Norris’ Morgan-Blackburne won a 5-lap Passenger Handicap from scratch, at 87.22 m.p.h., during the B.M.C.R.C. Easter Meeting. H. F. S. and G. H. Goodall tied for fastest cyclecar time at Kop Hill (28.6 sec.), and H. F. S., driving a Standard model Morgan, made f.t.d. in the acceleration test in the Midland C.C. Economy Car Trial. But at the Neath & Dist. M.C. Margam Park Speed Trials, Parsons’ Morgan repeatedly gave best to Sgonina’s G.N. In Malay, an Anzani-Morgan made f.t.d. in the passenger class of the speed trials.

Although a busy manufacturer, H. F. S. continued to drive in a variety of events, but the J.C.C. took him to task for not supporting theirs. Harold Beart, the Croydon Morgan agent, had begun his Brooklands career, finishing a good second to Dunfee’s Salmson in a J.C.C. race.

The Morgan was again prominent in the A.C.U. 1,000-Mile Stock Trial (it was barred from the R.A.C. Six Days), being the only competing machines to be driven North to the start, accompanied by an A.C.U. observer—the motorcycles all went by train! This time H. F. S., accompanied by his wife in matronly dress, who helped polish the car before the start, drove a s.v. Aero-J.A.P. (NP 3871), Goodall a s.v. Aero-M.A.G., Carr a Standard-model Morgan-Blackburne (NP 4080). All three won gold medals. All used standard ratios of 10 3/4 and 5 to 1.

In France the Darmont-Morgan was in active production at Courbevoie, and at speed trials in the Forest of Senart near Paris Dhome’s French Morgan, Darmont’s very slim single-seater 750-c.c. Darmont-Morgan and Pierpont’s 750-c.c. 2-seater Morgan set new records over the f.s. kilometre, respectively at 97.23, 125.742 and 119.8 k.p.h.

Indeed, successes continued to come in from all quarters, so that my ambition to quote them all, with Reg. Nos. of the successful Morgans, is defeated by space restrictions. For the Hereford Speed Trials H. F. S. used a Morgan-Blackburne with new, enlarged front brakes, and covered the 1/2-mile, from a f.s. of 50 yards, at 70.2 m.p.h., beating Goodall’s red Morgan and even Harvey’s new racing Alvis. In Tcheco-Slovakia (contemporary spelling) Meyer’s o.h.v. Aero won its class in the Kralon-Pole-Sobesice hill-climb. Beart won at Brooklands from a McEvoy-Anzani to which his Morgan-Blackburne gave 3 sec. start, at 84.7 m.p.h., but in another race had fuel-feed trouble, leaving N. A. Lowe’s similar car to beat Baragwanath’s P. & P. combination, although Spring’s Norton and sidecar was the winner. At the Madresfield Speed Trials H. C. Lones won his class in a stripped o.h.v. Aero and Norris easily won a 50-Mile B.M.C.R.C. Handicap in which an Austin 7 was competing, after Beart had retired with plug trouble. In the Scottish Six Days’ Trial, H. F. S. won a silver cup in his smart blue 8-h.p. Morgan-J.A.P., he and Mrs. Morgan attired in spotless white and the car still carrying Reg. No. CJ 743, Spouse, now Aero-Blackburne mounted, a silver medal, but Carr’s Morgan-Blackburne De Luxe (NP 65) retired after hitting a wall on Tornapress. R. R. Jackson had made an appearance in sprints, in an Aero-Blackburne (NP 3394), Bullough was going well at Southport, R. T. Horton was driving a Morgan in trials. The Morgan Club was holding social runs, as it does today, eleven members rallying to the “Red Lion,” Hatfield, for a run to Bedford, and a 500-c.c., using one twin Blackburne o.h.v. cylinder, ran in the French Cyclecar G.P. Someone had rigged up an Aero with streamline prow, disc wheels, searchlight and Motometer, etc.

Then, in the J.Q.C. 200-Mile Race a most unfortunate blow befell Morgans, and, indeed, the whole sporting 3-wheeler world. The Morgan had never been particularly fortunate in this long-distance Brooklands race. For 1924 three cars, outwardly like Aero models, but with the big (external) silencers now demanded by the Track authorities, were entered, the “works” cars with Blackburne engines, for Norris and Beart, Ware’s naturally J.A.P.-powered. Although these 2-seater Morgans were reported as capable of lapping at around 90 m.p.h., they had much trouble in practice, Ware’s engine blowing gaskets, the driving chains breaking, and one car having a narrow escape when a steering arm broke. In the race Ware’s engine refused to pick-up, and when it did get going, a top-gear dog broke and had to be changed. Norris, however, was duelling with Zborowski’s Salmson, which it passed, only to coast in, the top-gear chain having broken. Beart was delayed long at his pit while a flat rear tyre was changed, after which his engine resolutely refused to start.

Then it happened! Ware had got going again, lapping probably at over 85 m.p.h., but on his 33rd lap his rear wheel appeared to be wobbling. (Parry Thomas, having troubles of his own in the Marlborough-Thomas, had reported a smell of scorching rubber when he overtook Ware.) Two more laps, and the Morgan suddenly swerved as it was crackling across the Fork, hit the fence and spun round, flinging out the occupants before it overturned. Ware and his mechanic, AlIchin, eventually recovered, but Ware died some years ago.

The race went on, the Salmsons victorious in spite of overheating. Beart, understandably, stopped to increase the clearance between the tail of his Morgan and the tyre! This accident caused the J.C.C. to ban 3-wheelers not only from the 1925 200-Mile Race (which incorporated artificial corners) but from their High Efficiency Trial (also over a “road” course) which replaced the General Efficiency Trial and which Morgan was naturally anxious to win for the third time in succession. The B.A.R.C. was firmly behind the ban.

Meanwhile, H. Beart beat Norris in the B.M.C.R.C. 3-wheeler Championship race, averaging 83.99 m.p.h. for three laps and later he broke Class H2 records in his o.h.v. Aero-Blackburne, at speeds of 96.33 m.p.h. for the f.s. kilometre to 89.88 m.p.h. for so miles. Commercially, the year ended well for the Morgan Motor Co. Correspondence in The Light Car & Cyclecar from owners who purported to have been held up in their 40/50 Mercedes and 50-h.p. Daimlers “by those beastly 3-wheelers” resulted in a lively response in favour of the Morgan (could H. F. S. or his father have compiled both sides of the argument?), and for 1925 improvements were made and prices drastically reduced—in time for competition from the 4-cylinder D’Yrsan tricars, the chassis of which was very like that of the Morgan, but used a conventional gearbox with reverse gear. At the Motorcycle Show on Stand No. 53 a canary-yellow Grand Prix Morgan with spotlamp between its aero-screens attracted attention. Spiral-bevels running on double-row ball-bearings a higher bonnet forming a straight-line to the scuttle, and the latest J.A.P. engines and bodywork improvements were adopted. 20 in. x 3 1/2 in. Dunlop S.S. balloon tyres with flared front mudguards, and metalliclustre paintwork were available on the Aero model, in which flexible exhaust pipes ran into external silencers, this arrangement costing £1 extra.

The Standard model now cost £95, or £105 with Lucas dynamo lighting set, the w/c. Grand Prix-J.A.P. with electric lighting £128, the De Luxe £120 or £130 in w/c. form, the Family £3 more than the De Luxe, and the Aero was priced at £135 with J.A.P., £140 with o.h.v. Anzani, and £147 with racing Blackburne engine. All the Aeros would exceed 70 m.p.h. and you could get a hood for them for £3. Front brakes cost £6, wheel discs £2 10s., hood covers 15s., a speedometer £4, special colours £2, and the oversize Dunlops £2 per wheel extra. The Standard model was supplied only in grey at normal cost, but, like the Family, had slightly raised body sides (as had the G.P.), the other models being in a choice of grey, red, blue, purple or green. Incidentally, the 1925 Austin 7 cost £155, the Carden £90.

By the end of 1924 Morgans held all the British Class H1 and H2 records, the fastest being Beart’s one-way f.s. mile, at 97.32 m.p.h. (mean = 94.21 m.p.h.), and the year closed with H. F. S. in the chair at the Morgan Club dinner at Ye Olde Cock Tavern, Fleet Street, which 70 people attended.

1925.—For some time controversy raged about the J.C.C. ban, but the Club remained adamant and it was not until four years hence, with the formation of the New Cyclecar Club, that 3-wheelers were to race against 4-wheelers at Brooklands, and only last month that the V.S.C.C. relented sufficiently to allow Morgans to race, on their own, at one of their meetings. . . .

This did not deter Morgan drivers from competing in any events open to them. Goodall, for instance, drove a Standard model (NP 636) sans bonnet, to take a “silver” in the Victory Cup Trial, in which H. F. S. gained a “gold” and Chippendale’s Morgan overturned without damage in the brake test. And in the last of the public road speed trials, Goodall’s Morgan “Jim” won its class at Hereford, being 1.4 sec. faster than Taylor’s Brescia Bugatti, the fastest 4-wheeler, and in those near Tavistock on the same day, H. Dobbs’ Morgan Blackburne beat Grogan’s Frazer Nash.

As ever, the “Land’s End” attracted Morgan exponents, Maskell running a stripped Aero (XR 11), the trilby-hatted Marshall a Standard (CJ 5649), a dozen Morgans winning between them four “golds, three “silvers” and a “bronze.” The rest retired, as did a lone D’Yrsan. In the 1925 A.C.U. Stock Trial Carr drove a s.v. w/c. Standard (AB 9602), Goodall a w/c. Aero-Anzani (AB 16); both taking gold medals.

About this time experiences of readers and professional testers began to be published. Gordon Oxenham wrote of his 1925 w/c. Grand Prix-J.A.P., which would do 60 m.p.h. when the engine was clean, 56 when it was “full of carbon and pulling a load of 20-stone.” It gave 60 m.p.g., climbed Brockley Hill at about 35 m.p.h., Kop Hill at 20-25 m.p.h. The Light Car & Cyclecar reported on the latest Aero-Blackburne (XX 8647), which weighed 7 cwt. I qtr. 21 lb. and developed over 40 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. This gave an easy 70 m.p.h. “on reasonably smooth roads. The tester decided that “the anticipation of a skid (on tramlines) was more terrifying than its reality” but that “getting away in low gear on a greasy road tends to throw the rear of the car sideways until the back wheel can obtain sufficient grip to drive the machine.” The hood was criticised for cutting off all visibility to sides and rear and making hand-signalling impossible, the fabric-lined cone clutch was fierce until treated with engine oil, and overall fuel consumption was about 45 m.p.g., while roughly 2,000 m.p.g. of oil was obtained, at about 20 drips per minute from the Best & Lloyd drip-feed. (The handbook recommended 30, but owners used anything from 15 to 90 d.p.m.) The direct steering was disliked and it was thought that a simple form of reduction gear would be a distinct advantage. (From driving my 1927 Family Model I couldn’t agree more, but it was many years before the Morgan Co. relented and fitted a reduction box, or a reverse gear!) As tested, the Morgan cost £167.

Up at Southport, Bullough in what I suspect was the ex-Hughes Morgan, A. Moss (Stirling’s dad?), Ron Horton (in GM 4000) and S. Keary were successfully mixing it with the G.N.s, which tended to be superior. Morgans were out in force in the “Edinburgh,” even to Hall’s 1952 model (CB 88) bought for £12 a few days beforehand. It did not gain an award, but neither did H. F. S. However, the other Morgans collected six “golds” and two “silvers.” In the International Six Days’ Trial Carr’s lone Morgan (NP 15, with spare wheel carried in a well in the n/s. running-board), teamed with an Ariel and a Humber motorcycle, won the B.M.C.R.C. Championship, and 13 Morgans took part in the Morgan Club’s own trial, in the Hatfield area, for two cups presented by H. F. S. (where are they now?)—why doesn’t the present Morgan 3-Wheeler Club repeat it? The Motor Cycle, commenting on Carr’s performance in the Six Days’, remarked that he lost one time mark only and climbed all the hills splendidly, adding “His passenger deserves special praise.”

Meanwhile, Harold Beart had evolved a very special racing Morgan at his Croydon works. The frame was strengthened and each rear spring had seven graduated leaves, a single Hartford shock-absorber being mounted over the rear wheel on a bracket above the bevel box and a stirrup secured to the fork-ends. At the front east-steel sliding axles replaced the normal bronze ones, so that forward-projecting brackets could take Hartford shock-absorbers anchored at the bottom to steel brackets, and swivelling with the wheels. The axles slid on hardened and ground Ubas-steel pins screwed-in and grease-gun lubricated. Springloaded ball-joints on the track-rod, and a Ford epicyclic reduction gear on the top of the steering column, further improved control. A 4-to-1 ratio was achieved, with a forged-steel drop-arm slightly longer than standard.

The rear wheel was brakeless, the foot-brake having been dispensed with, and was shod with a 27 x 4.20 Dunlop. The front tyres were 26 x 3.75 Dunlops, on wellbase rims.

This Beart Morgan had ratios of 5.95 and 3.33 to 1, a magneto button on the top of the external gear-lever facilitating gearchanging without the need to slip the clutch or ease the throttle. A spring-loaded selector mechanism prevented the dogs coming out of mesh. Chains and bevels were oiled, via a drip-feed and copper pipes, from a pressure-fed tank. The engine was a 1924 w/c. o.h.v. 85 x 96.8 mm. (1,096 c.c.) Blackburne with racing cams, c.r. increased by machining the heads, a B. & B. “mousetrap” carburetter controlled by a foot accelerator, and M.L. magneto. A bowl behind the air intake, fed by two projecting pipes, maintained atmosphere pressure to the carburetter irrespective of speed. Fuel was carried in a tank under the frame, supplemented when required by a tank in the body, giving a combined capacity of approx. 14-gallons. The large oil tank fed two drip-feeds, adjustable by the riding mechanic, and the radiator was special. No attempt was made to reduce weight but the body, which cowled-in the engine, weighed only 43 lb.

This fascinating Morgan could do over 60 m.p.h. in low speed, and 100 m.p.h. in top at about 4,300 r.p.m. on the tachometer, which was driven from the bevel-box countershaft. Yet in a season’s Track work, it averaged 24 to 25 m.p.g. Beart brought it out in July at Brooklands and set Class H2 records for 5 miles and to miles and the equivalent kilometre records, the 5-kilometre record being at fractionally over 100 m.p.h., the first time a 3-wheeler had been timed at this speed, officially or unofficially. A one-way kilometre was clocked at 104.63 m.p.h. and the f.s. 5-mile record fell at 99.67 m.p.h. In August Beart took the f.s. kilometre and mile records at 103.37 and 102.65 m.p.h., respectively, and the following month captured the 50-kilometre, 100-kilometre and one-hour records, his speed for the hour being 91.48 m.p.h. In October Robin Jackson filled in, as it were, with the s.s. kilometre and mile records in his Morgan-Blackburne, at 64.04 and 71.03 m.p.h., respectively. Beart also raced Horton for the B.M.C.R.C. Cyclecar Championship, starting slowly but winning by six yards, at 83 m.p.h.

“Shacklepin,” who wrote “Cyclecar Comments” in The Light car & Cyclecar, bought an Aero-Blackburne in April and, giving his experiences after 7,000 miles, complained of clutch slip oil running down the tappet rods, and an inadequate dynamo output, but generally praised the car, which had been fitted with Bentley & Draper shock-absorbers to the back wheel. Morgans met 4-wheeled cars again in the M.C.C. High-Speed Trial at Brooklands and, required to average one m.p.h. more than a 1 1/2-litre car to get a “gold,” nine Morgans started and eight won gold medals.

The only alterations for 1926 were better bodywork on some of the touring models, the De Luxe model having 1-in. higher body sides and, in company with the Family model, a better hood and 2-pane screen. The latest 1,086-c.c. J.A.P. engine with big valves was available for the Aero and the new Blackburne engine had stronger valve gear with the cups in the top of the push-rods instead of in the rockers. All models now had dynamo lighting sets, and an electric horn was fitted to all except the 980-c.c. Standard model. Front brakes, now only kit extra, were by no means universal. The 1926 prices were £115 for the a/c. De Luxe, or £125 in w/c. form, £123 for the w/c. Grand Prix-Anzani, the Family costing £116 with a/c., £126 with w/c. J.A.P. engine. The Aero cost £130 with s.v. w/c. J.A.P., 135 with Blackburne and £142 with Anzani engine. The Standard still sold for £95. Thus the Morgan challenged the Austin 7, now down to £149, while interest in 3-wheelers was by no means waning, for the famous Malvern make was joined at the 1925 Motorcycle Show, where it occupied Stand No. 32, by the flat-twin w/c. Coventry-Victor and the Omega-J.A.P.

(To be continued)

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