Morgan musings

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 [Many enthusiasts are interested in the Morgan three-wheeler, and especially so now that we have to contend with the heavy h.p. tax and strict rationing of fuel. The Morgan can be taxed for £5 per annum, against £10-£15 for a small sports-car, while possessing extreme performance and a fuel consumption around 40 m.p.g. Consequently, these remarks, by that well-known motoring sportsman, Martin Soames, will be of considerable value to prospective owners, as well as of great satisfaction to present Morgan “fans.” M. S. Soames is better known as a skilful trials and rally competitor with special Ford V8 and Allard Special cars, and for his Brooklands successes with Harmer’s old Type 37 Bugatti. However, he has owned three Morgans, and while apprenticed to Leyland Motors Ltd., where he was closely in touch with the Arab car as well as with Leyland vehicles, he modified his 1931 8/55 J.A.P. engined Morgan for racing. In this article he contributes his experiences of this Morgan in particular and comments on this fascinating animal in general.—Ed.]

A WISH to learn about the ways of fast motor cars and insufficient money to gratify it provided my introduction to Morgans. My regard for them increased with ownership and, although in part the appeal was to the pioneer spirit, which rejoices in difficulties overcome en route, one could not but respect their business like appearance, lively performance and original, accessible design.

The 1931 Morgan to which the following remarks chiefly apply was my third of this make and one of the few which left the works with an 8/55 J.A.P. engine. The only one, I think, with this motor and the then new “M” chassis. The engine was air-cooled, of 996 c.c. (80 x 99 mm.), and basically similar to those in the late E. C. Fernihough’s World’s Record Brough-Superior [incidentally, Fernihough started his career with a one-cylinder racing Morgan—Ed.] and Mrs. Stewart’s Morgan which did 115.6 m.p.h. over the mile and. 101.5 miles in the hour in 1929. These engines are generally considered to be the best racing twins ever made by J. A. Prestwich & Co. The “M” chassis had an entirely new “rear end” with an improved bevel box, forged girder-section forks, underslung springs, an 8 inch internal expanding brake (instead of a contracting band), and a knock-out spindle which permitted the back wheel to be removed in five minutes. The wheelbase was 6 ft. and the front track about 4ft. 4 ins. Power was transmitted by cone clutch and two-speed gear (chains, countershaft and dogs) as always on the “works” racing machines.

I bought it from the original owner early in 1933. He had used it a little on the road and had competed at some B.M.C.R.C. meetings. When seeking first-hand racing knowledge from this gentleman, I remember being awestruck by his lurid account of the difficulties and dangers of speed on the Brooklands outer circuit. His contention that the chums became red-hot in a few laps particularly appalled me.

For two years this vehicle gave me many miles of most enjoyable road motoring. Speeds were around eighty in top, and forty-five in bottom. The acceleration excelled that of the average sports 500 c.c. motor-cycle. Performance figures were never taken, as the speedometer was unreliable. Petrol consumption was over 30 m.p.g. although the engine was not in good tune at this time. The brakes, or rather lack of them, were an exciting feature and acute or bumpy corners merited respect. When the limit was reached on the former a front wheel would leave the ground. This source of embarrassment was later removed by lowering the back of the chassis by 1½ ins. I did feel, however, that the poor brakes and lack of margin for errors in cornering were helpful in developing judgment. Road-holding on straights was good considering the short wheelbase, and the three-track layout with which the back wheel encounters its own set of road inequalities

An ambition was to cover in six hours the 260 miles between the Lancashire works where I was apprenticed and my home on the South Coast. This was never realised, for, although successful in reaching the half-way mark from each end in under three hours, the necessity of stopping for an adjustment or to tie something on would invariably intervene. Those who have driven through Wigan and Warrington will sympathise with me in these efforts. During this period, I had no major mechanical troubles, but certain small parts needed frequent renewal and attention. Once the cockpit had to be hurriedly evacuated in deference to a rush of flames round the pedals and petrol tank, when a ride on the tail at 60 m.p.h. with the hand brake on followed. On another occasion, when push-starting in the middle of Portsmouth, I was unable to knock the gear lever into neutral when the engine fired, and I held on (because of a third party insurance policy), with the throttle wide open in bottom gear. A brace of cyclists were unhorsed and a brick wall demolished, but fortunately, as in the incident above, no blood was spilt.

By the end of 1934 I was able to contemplate a very limited racing programme. I had been watching the achievements, at Lewes, of G. E. W. Oliver’s SuperSports Morgan with 10/40 watercooled J.A.P. engine. At one meeting in 1934 it won the 1,100 c.c. and 1,500 c.c. Super Sports classes in 25.8 secs.—-a very good performance at that time. The Lewes speed trials were one of the few remaining events open to both cars and three-wheelers. They were held on an interesting course, invariably attracting an excellent entry. My Morgan seemed to stand a chance here, so I decided to run in all the 1935 events and started to prepare for the opening meeting.

I knew enough about vee twin engines to leave this part to an expert, and decided on E. C. E. Baragwanath. One of the greatest authorities and holder of the Brooklands sidecar lap record, he was always very helpful and encouraging. His work included the fitting of a big end bearing of his own design (the Achilles heel of all J .A.P. twins), special connecting rods, and Martlet pistons with larger gudgeon pins. The compression ratio was thus raised to just under 12 to 1, that of the wet, or off side cylinder being the higher. A double Best & Lloyd oil pump was added to an improved oiling system. He used his own cams, with special followers, push rods, rockers and valve timing. The inside flywheels were lightened by four pounds and the balance weights modified. I machined a new outside flywheel in nickel-chrome steel. This tapered in all directions and weighed eight pounds as against sixteen of the original cast iron component. We “bumped up” the 11 in. diameter blank for this from a 5 in. bar, the biggest available, on a gigantic steam hammer. The bronze clutch cone which engaged with the flywheel was balanced statically, several ounces being removed in the process.

Continuing with the transmission system (the machine by now being reduced to its component parts), the propeller shaft was the next problem. This had a bad vibration period at about 4,000 r.p.m. I had a special one designed and made for me by R. R. Jackson. He has forgotten more about Morgans than I ever knew, and used to race them successfully [including a 500 c.c. vee-twin job.—Ed.]. It was the Blackburne engine developed by him for his machine which was afterwards used in the Freikaiserwagen (and subsequently blown) with such terrific effect. Even this new shaft did not quite cure the trouble—an indication of the need for a central steady-bearing as used on the “works” racing chassis. The bronze bevel box was hand scraped and the top cover, filler cap, inspection plate and new drain plate underneath made in Electron. The box was originally intended for grease lubrication, but the seals were improved and a vegetable engine oil used. I machined a new countershaft of very tough steel, leaving large radii at changes of section. This overcame the twisting tendencies of the standard type. The selector-forks had been a source of rapid wear so some were cast in phosphor-bronze and proved far more durable.

The rear wheel spindle and adjacent highly stressed parts were replaced in alloy steel. Bronze bushes were fitted to shackles and spring eyes and the sprockets were drilled with d’oyley-like designs. The arm of a specially-adapted double Hartford shock-absorber was attached to a “hoop” over the back wheel, which it satisfactorily damped and stabilised in the vertical plane. This wheel was rebuilt and fitted with a fat 140/40 Michelin “Real Low Pressure” tyre.

Dunlops built me some light front wheels to take their 3.25” x19″ ribbed tyres. These were dished severely inwards, bringing the centre point of tyre contact with the ground some 11 ins. nearer the steering pivot line, or about 1 in. from it. This materially reduced wheel-flap and loads on the front suspension and steering -arrangements generally. The front hubs were machined to take Timken taper roller bearings (in place of the unsatisfactory cup and Cone type), and new stub axles were made to suit, with Electron distance pieces and hub caps. Special telescopic Newton shock-absorbers controlled the front springs. A point to which Morgans are sensitive on corners is the angle of the steering arms. I got the best results when the lines through the steering pivots and track rod ends, if produced backwards, met in the rear wheel spindle (with the wheels straight). For this purpose the steering arms should be bent at red heat. The strip steel drag-link with yoke and pin ends was replaced by a rod with spring-loaded ball joints and an adjustable track rod was made up. The above ministrations and attention to a number of smaller points, resulted in general handling comparable with that of an average sports-car, and the Morgan would then slide round dry corners in normal style.

I used the latest type of Morgan front brake drums, which were now flanged at the open end and as rigid as, though much lighter than, some home-made cast iron, aluminium finned versions which I had tried. The shoes were relined with the correct grade of Duron. All three brake cables were connected to a cross shaft mounted, on cast aluminium bearings, across the lower chassis tubes. On the end of this was a long outside lever. The foot pedal operated the back cable through a slotted link. The leverages of the system were carefully worked out and the brakes proved to be surprisingly good from all speeds.

Nearly all the standard nuts and bolts had Whitworth threads and these were replaced by the lighter and stronger B.S.F. type. Assisted by first-class machining facilities and a wide selection of high duty materials, I was able to lighten practically every part of the machine. The dry weight in road trim was 7 cwt. 2 qrs., and 5 cwt. 1 qr. 14 lbs. when ready for Lewes. This saving of 2 cwt. 14 lbs., or just over 28 per cent., seemed satisfactory in a machine already built down to a taxation “formula” of 8 cwt. maximum. Of this saving nearly 40 lbs. was unsprung weight.

The blow fell when I applied for an entry form. I was told that, because three-wheelers were controlled by the A.C.U. they could not, in future, compete in events run with an R.A.C. Permit. This was crushing news as much fairly honest sweat had gone into the preparation. I had even (funny though it now seems) obtained a contour plan of Race Hill, Lewes, from the local surveyor. With this and b.h.p. and torque curves a slide-rule-pushing friend deduced the “optimum” gear ratio values. Oliver’s Morgan weighed just under 8 cwt. and gave not more than 45 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. Figures for mine were 5¼ cwt. and 60 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. with better rear wheel adhesion, and greatly reduced flywheel and road wheel inertia. Although data of this kind is usually deceptive, it was sufficiently encouraging to make us curse the fate which denied us the consummation of months of toil.

On recovery it was decided to convert the Morgan into a token four-wheeler with rear track of 19¾ ins., which would bring it under R.A.C. jurisdiction. I got out some drawings, proposing to use the existing springs, forks, and two-speed gear, with some extra top linkage for rigidity. (This system was only intended for Lewes and had to be readily re-convertible. The easier “standard” method of conversion, with G.N.—or Frazer-Nash—countershaft, radius rods, springs and axle, as exemplified by Woodall’s “Chatterbox,” Lones’s “Tiger Cat,” and Breyer’s “Salome,” appears to provide good all round controllability.) The axle forgings for this had just been machined when I ran into J. H. T. Smith, who suggested that we make up a team for the forthcoming L.C.C. Relay Race, then in its prime. Smith had just bought the K3 M.G. in which Gardner and Benjafield had finished third in the previous “500” ; his warmish road Aston-Martin was to complete the trio. Here was a chance to compete in a more important event on level terms with cars. I decided in favour of it and started to replace the back wheel, increase the tankage, alter gear ratios and tyres, improve the streamlining –and make various other necessary changes, with none too much time to spare. Meanwhile friends prophesied, with gloomy relish, that suspension parts which I had lightened for Lewes would fail me on the outer circuit.

The week-end before the race, which was on a Saturday, I worked two nights without sleep and left Lancashire for London on Monday morning. The Morgan was on a sort of trailer, hired from a farm and previously used for manure, behind a 10/23 Talbot, This had ignition trouble on the way down which I was too tired to deal with and left to a garage while I fed. They failed to cure it but replaced an ignition control rod in such a way that it fell into the clutch and knocked off all but two of the clutch springs. On these and about two cylinders I pressed on, finally to acknowledge defeat near Coventry in the small hours of Tuesday morning. I awoke at about 6.30 a.m. from some sleep on the grass beside the Talbot, and, after stopping a number of lorries, found an angel (disguised as the driver of an old Leyland with an overload of boiler plate) who towed the whole outfit right to Marble Arch.

The days before the race passed quickly in the usual rush and excitement which was heightened when we saw the programme and found that we were expected to be the fifth fastest team. The Morgan lapped at 90 m.p.h. quite easily though we never timed a flat-out lap. The speed seemed prodigious at the time, and the bumps unbelievable, but the only thing to give way was my air cushion. I soon learned how to avoid the worst bumps, but was unable occasionally to prevent my foot being jolted off the throttle pedal. Owing to the sensitivity of a twin to lubrication and mixture adjustments this occurrence always oiled or wetted up one of the plugs, which could never be induced to clear itself. This trouble, which was later partially rectified, was apparently not peculiar to my machine. Lones was rumoured to drive on his hand throttle, which he opened flat-out and retained in that position by a rubber-band! I used a 3.9 to 1 top, with 4.50″ x 19″ back tyre. My engine had one carburetter and magneto. With two of each the lap speed would certainly have been over the 100 m.p.h. mark. Fuel was R.D. 1 at 6/- a gallon, for which I had to pay. The M.G. Magnette was lapping at about 110 m.p.h., although Smith was a stranger to the “Outer,” and the Aston was making a creditable 88 m.p.h.

On the afternoon before the race we all qualified early and prospects seemed bright. Then appeared that bane of amateur motor racing, the superfluous spare driver. Where he came in I never could discover, but he expressed a desire to “qualify” and proceeded to lap flat out on the Aston-Martin until a timing wheel broke. This was (but shouldn’t have been) of fibre, which permeated the oiling system and made-it impossible to put it right in the time. As this was our “C” car, which had to cross the finishing line, team No. 5 was out of the race. We were the only non-starters, and were thus not able to avail ourselves of the rule whereby depleted teams could make up their number from others similarly placed. Next day, with a whole machine and mixed feelings, I watched the new 1,100 c.c. Singers pull off a well-deserved win.

And so ends this pathetic tale of frustration. I was too late with my Morgan. Prejudice, or some other factor, had gradually ousted them from all forms of racing. Their racing heyday was from about 1924 (when they even competed in the J.C.C. 200 Mile Race) to 1931 or ’32. In this period the owner of a fast Morgan could, and did, enjoy a full season of varied events with large fields of three and four-wheeled competitors. At that time Morgans were, generally speaking, faster than cars of equivalent capacity. (In connection with this, I believe that Lones did a Brooklands lap at over 100 m.p.h. with an unblown 750 c.c. two-seater Morgan. I cannot recollect any unblown 750 c.c. car having done this.)

I hope that the Morgan Motor Co. will excuse such criticisms as have been made about an obsolete model. Mr. H. F. S. Morgan’s feat in producing a tubular “backbone” chassis with Lancia-type front suspension in 1910 (well before the great Commendatore himself) has never received sufficient appreciation.