Eric Fernihough's singular success

Morgans have had a long, successful and often excitingly impressive competition history, carried on now in VSCC and other events. They normally used and use V-twin engines. But not always so.

In 1925, Eric Fernihough, who was to become one of the very greatest racing motorcyclists in the world, decided to use a single-cylinder engine of under 500cc in a Morgan, so as to attack 500cc records. A special frame was brazed-up at Morgan’s Malvern Link factory and a single-port, pushrodand-rocker inclined-valve JAP air-cooled engine of 85.7x85mm (494cc) installed.

A special clutch thrust bearing was found necessary to protect the bike engine and a bevel-drive was contrived for the magneto. The steering-arm and stub-axles were solid steel forgings. Morgan’s diminutive front-wheel brakes were retained, but the contracting-band rear-wheel brake was deleted. The direct steering was used for a while until its ratio was reduced with the aid of an epicyclic box from a Model T Ford. A trackrod of Ubas steel with spring-loaded ball-joint was fitted, as also to the steering draglink.

At first, occupants sat on a plank, with another for their feet. In this form the single-cylinder Fernihough Morgan was tested over 200 miles of snow-covered roads. A 2.5-gallon fuel tank was slung under the chassis, fed by an ex-aeroplane pump and large filter to the twin-float chambers. The weight was 6151bs.

At the time Perth’ was at Cambridge studying engineering, his rooms shared with Robin Jackson. The skeletal Morgan was run at the February 1926 Inter-Varsity speed trials at Wimpole Hall. With a passenger it won the up-to-600cc and unlimited sidecar classes by over six seconds. It had been towed there behind an old Swift two-seater.

In the return ‘Varsity match at Henley Park, the unusual Morgan obliged again: finishing second in the unlimited sidecar class to Jackson’s 1098cc racing Aero Morgan and first in the 600cc class, helping Cambridge to an overall victory.

Fernihough then took it to Brooklands, a drive of 180 miles out and back. An aluminium body had been made, detachable “to keep an eye on the more sheddable parts”. A large Hartford shockabsorber subdued the back wheel and was found to increase speed by a useful margin. Avon Speedster 26×3 beaded-edge tyres were used at the front, a straight-sided Avon Tricord 26×3.5 at the back. A 4.5-gallon tank was now placed on the tail and oil dripfeeds fed the bevel-box and chains. The countershaft sprockets could be easily changed to give the ratios required (two speeds of course).

Kathleen Butler, `Ferni’s’ fiancee, rode and drove with him at Brooklands. In 1926, they took 14 Class H2 (three-wheeler cydecars up to 500cc, with passenger) records, the flying-start 5km at 73.12mph, to six-hours at 49.51mph, after which a tyre burst. `Ferni’ yelled to Kathleen to jump out as he did; they were only bruised. In 1927, they increased the two-hour record to 62.37mph, taking the engine up to 5700rpm.

`Ferni’ saw a future for a production ‘one-pot’ Morgan, with the then-annual tax at £4, selling for about £70. He did not proceed with this, but half-litre Morgans were raced by Jackson, with a 60x88mm (497cc) V-twin Blackburne engine, which did a flying-start kilo at 72.44mph.

In 1929, Mrs Gwenda Stewart used a one-pot 70x90mm Morgan-JAP to set 350cc-class records of up to 74.07mph. She also took 500cc records, the fastest at 80.59mph. Her Morgan was the first 750cc car (unless you prefer cyclecar) to exceed 100mph, in 1930, before the MG claim.

With today’s scarcity of V-twin engines, I am surprised some Morgan men have not resorted to ‘one-pot’ motorbike power, which wouldn’t be historically incorrect.