Chain gang conscript

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In the April issue Motor Sport there appeared an article entitled “Cycle-carists,” relating some of the trials and tribulations encountered by two enthusiasts during a 70-mile journey in a 1931 Morgan. This article was described, in an editorial note, as “a warning to those who turn to cycle-cars as a counter to petrol ration cuts.”

Sir, as a recent and accidental cycle-carist, I must rise in protest against such utterly libellous comment. What’s more, I am even willing to support my protest by evidence, relating my recent experiences with an even earlier Moggy.

I had no intention of becoming a cycle-carist and initially I figure in this story merely as an accomplice. It all began on a Thursday, when that remarkable publication Exchange and Mart contained an advertisement for an Aero Morgan, and Neville (that isn’t his name, but nobody ever calls him anything else) decided that he wanted it.

That evening I found that my H.R.G. contained a tow rope, two bicycle lamps, two passengers and, under protest, myself. So, on a bitterly cold winter night, I headed out through Bagshot, Windsor Great Park, Slough and then on to unfamiliar roads towards Amersharn; much asking, a few miles of “Follow that ‘bus and you can’t go wrong” (we did!), and we duly reached the address quoted in the advertisement.

“The Morgan? Yes, it’s round at the back, but I don’t know anything about it; it belongs to my husband, and he’s on duty. But if you go down to High Wycombe Green Line Garage you may find him in.”

A brief interval and we were at the aforesaid garage, where our luck was in, and, surrounded by conductresses in the canteen, we duly discovered Driver H. Four up now, we returned up the hill to the Morgan’s lair.

Unveiled this tricycle revealed itself in the somewhat illegal light of our torches. I think I probably went slightly pale at the sight, but it was too dark for anyone to notice. Really, though, it looked as if it had come out of the Ark. Out in front was a s.v. water-cooled J.A.P. motor with finned detachable valve caps and a sort of cut-up tobacco tin as carburetter inlet. The wings were almost, but not quite, S.S.100. The tail was certainly pointed, but, with an utter disregard of convention it appeared to be turned up. However, l think I must have had more carrots for lunch than Neville, for he seemed blind to all the crudity, which was half hidden under a merciful veil of darkness.

Well, to cut a long story short, the damn thing worked, so some pound notes changed hands, bicycle lamps were draped around the Moggy, and Neville departed uncontrollably (I suspect) up the road. Diving into our car, we set off in pursuit, heard the bump as he took to the kerb on the first corner and came up astern just as he changed into top gear. After that all was well until, about a mile on, the horses suddenly stopped working on a hill and the driver said he had cold feet; we said we would have cold feet, too, driving that thing, but then we discovered the feet were cold because a broken fuel pipe had deposited a gallon of petrol on them.

With one accord we started tying the Moggy behind the car, and the rest of the journey was done on tow. I’m afraid we still broke the law, as, although one cannot illuminate speedometers of open cars at night, I’m sure we did not always observe the 20-m.p.h. limit for three-wheel trailers; in fact, on the bumpy but open road through Windsor Great Park we must have been doing something around the Morgan’s normal all-out velocity, but it had insufficient brakes to be able to protest and, anyway, if you go slow you may get rammed behind! We broke the rope a few times, which was unfortunate, since it was the landlady’s best clothes line; but we arrived all complete and the towee was thawed out successfully. He was quite cold, since Mr. Morgan fits air conditioning, cabin heating, or what will you, in the form of a vast hole in the dashboard passing air from the radiator into the cockpit; very nice, but when the engine is dead and it is freezing hard the effect is the same as at least one modern cabin heating system gives by dint of far greater complication!

The second chapter of this story began the next morning, when Neville first saw the Morgan by daylight. He seemed faintly moved, but was bearing up well and in the evening he went off to see his fiancee, with a copy of The Motor Cycle under his arm containing pictures of all the modern Morgan models. He returned later, and suddenly propounded the belief that a car with no reverse gear was n.b.g. I regret to say that, to this day, we strongly suspect feminine influence to have been behind this sudden loss of enthusiasm for Morgans, but Neville denies it, so I have merely stated facts without (much) comment.

Now, as a bloke who knows what he wants Neville may not be so hot, but as a car salesman he is positively devastating. I thought I was safe, being happy in possession of an “1,100” H.R.G. and a sort of two-wheeled American car, but it was not to be. In a weak moment I said, “Sell the old Squariel for me and I’ll splash half the proceeds on the Moggy.” As if by magic a bloke appeared with twenty-five pound notes in his hand, and by the time we had recovered from a demonstration run on very snowed up roads I found myself with 12 1/2 quid and a Moggy. Just. like that. You can now forget Neville, who fades out of the story; he was last seen driving the world’s slowest Morris Minor saloon, so I think he is now doing sufficient penance for selling me a cycle-car! 

Having become a Morgan owner, the device obviously had to be taxed, but first came the formality of insurance; needless to say, this involved certain difficulties, but “engineers’ Certificate,” etc., eventually appeased the company and insurance and licence appeared.

Now, as one brought up on synchromesh, with only comparatively infrequent doses of unaided right-hand cog-swopping, I was a little bashful about my first drive in the cycle-car, but, unfortunately, a personage known to quite a few as “Enoch” heard what was afoot and insisted on dragging the Editor of this high-class journal (advert.) along to watch.

Item 1. on the programme said, “Start engine.” It sounds simple and it is an item which recurred frequently, but with geared-up starting handle (at the side of the vehicle!), 500-c.c. pots with lots of compression and a valve lifter which didn’t, it was quite tricky. Eventually we discovered that “starting handle” was a misnomer, the correct technique being to kick-start, and the peace of the neighbourhood was soon disturbed by the familiar V-twin bark.

As regards controls, the Moggy was faintly unorthodox. Acceleration was by hand throttle on the wheel, likewise choke and ignition controls; clutch was normal, even if cone, and a foot pedal tightened a piece of tape wrapped round the rear hub. The front brakes (for which Allah and H.F.S. Morgan be praised; early models had none, only the bit of tape) worked off the hand lever, while a right-hand lever worked the two-speed semi-Frazer-Nash transmission.

Apart from very haywire carburation, departure from rest proved surprisingly easy and rapid, and the change up to top gear was safely achieved. Came a long corner and halfway round an urgent desire to reduce speed. Frantic groping failed to find the hand throttle, till the fact that it had turned through 180˚ with the steering wheel was realised. Hastily it was pushed down, to turn off the power, for I in my innocence had yet to comprehend that, when on full lock, one moved the lever up, to close the taps…. Yes, I am still intact, so is the Morgan, but I’m not sure quite why.

Coming out on the open road, I began to realise that, if it is in good nick, even a s.v. J.A.P. can make 7 cwt. go places quite well; as I sailed past him at a furious 50 m.p.h. the be-Gwynned Editor came to a rather similar conclusion. Quite a few miles were done on sundry tests, with assorted passengers and promising results, but two things became extremely obvious: one was that my continued survival depended on the replacement of the hand throttle by a foot ditto (apart from cornering worries, could you double-declutch a change down when the right hand has to cope simultaneously with widely distant throttle and gear levers?); the other being that there was little prospect of any lasting peace between myself and the prehistoric Zenith carburetter fitted.

Item No. 1, I regret to state, has yet to be dealt with properly. I have a foot throttle, admittedly, and I have used it for quite some time now, but it is a fantastic affair of rubber bands and wire, such as even Heath Robinson would disown. Maybe by the time you read this I shall have something better, but, me being me, maybe not. Item No. 2 was dealt with by the acquisition of a common or Morris Cowley S.U., with awkward diagonal flanges; an effective, if ugly, adapter was produced and the new carburetter was installed, together with a sort of Cox Atmos gauze between adapter and manifold. To my surprise it worked, the engine starting at the first attempt.

With Bowden control of jet position it soon became obvious that carburation was still wrong, but was at least hopeful. Out came jet needle and micrometer, when it became highly obvious that the last car to use this gasworks (a Wolseley Hornet) must have been petrol cooled. A needle giving about 30 per cent. less juice was put in and made a definite improvement, while a still weaker one made matters even better, but correct idling setting still gives excess richness under load. The next move is to make up a needle, but, since “the dean” and I insist on a needle being accurate to a tenth of a thou, it is a slow job. The specification is out, but a chance to borrow the lathe for a long enough period is still awaited.

There came the day when Tony called and rashly deserted his J2 M.G. to make a conducted tour of this district’s collection of rare machinery by Moggy. All was well, apart from a spot of wheel lifting and broadsiding, until we came to leave the yard where such things as Alta, Gwynne and Tracta live; sad to relate, depression of the clutch pedal produced no effect save a ticking noise. Rude comments from Tony, who, when he is not wrapping it round telegraph poles, keeps his very standard M.G. in lovely condition.

Education proceeding apace, I discovered that the Morgan clutch-withdrawal gear was held together purely by split pins, of which we were one short…. Fortunately, the vital bits were still hanging around and repairs took a mere couple of minutes.

Well, the Moggy continued to motor, mostly locally, till there came an invite to go and say goodbye to a friend’s Meadows Frazer-Nash, said ‘Nash living about 35 miles away. Ever in search of adventure, the Editor decided to come too, so on a cold Sunday morning we set out.

Here comes a part of the story which I know you won’t believe.

We had gone about six miles quite briskly when about 75 per cent. of the power faded gently away. A halt to investigate exonerated the phoney throttle control and there was no sign of seizure, so we restarted, and lo and behold the horses were working once more. Then, after a similar distance, the power went again, but this time we spotted the trouble – icing. The outside of the carburetter was all hoar frost, while the Cox Atmos gauze had iced over and in effect shut the throttle. Yes, it’s true; I do know carburetter icing when I meet it, even though I’ve never had it on the ground before. Main causes were an unheated inlet manifold, three heat insulating washers where the carburetter adapter and gauze were fitted to the manifold and the latent heat of evaporation of “Pool.” Effect was either we cruised at a speed of 31 m.p.h. flat out or we did quick bursts of 10 miles with stops to thaw out between bursts.

However, in contradiction of the theory that it is no good trying to go places in a Morgan, I will say here and now that only once that day did I feel truly doubtful of getting home safely, and that was not the Mggy’s fault. The fact is, the Frazer-Nash owner insisted on being allowed to drive, and though I know quite well that she can dice a motor better than I can, one begins to have horrible doubts when, from the passenger seat, one sees a corner coming up at ‘Nash speed!

Returned home, any question of a hot air supply for the carburetter was temporarily waived and the induction gauze was removed as being the main collector of ice. So on the Monday evening I picked up “Enoch” and a stop-watch and headed for our measured stretch. A most unpopular piece of road this for, dead level, with timing marks over half-a-mile apart and with no downhill approaches, it has ruined not a few people’s reputations as owners of fast cars; in fact, since it proved too distant for Mr. T.P. and his 96-m.p.h. Midget, we are still waiting for someone to go really quickly. Anyway, the venerable Moggy, with its crew of two, clocked precisely 52 m.p.h. average, and we went home well satisfied with the results.

Little more remains to be told, for since then the Morgan has been doing honourable but undistinguished service locally, even taking on a job of towing when “Enoch” bought himself a Calthorpe motor-cycle for a quid.

If after reading this you have come to the conclusion that an old Morgan is sound enough transport for anyone sufficiently enthusiastic to tolerate its little eccentricities you will have come to the same conclusion as I have. My example is reasonably brisk and accelerates magnificently, despite s.v. and only two speeds – incidentally, t.v. on bottom gear is about 30 m.p.h. Braking is not too bad and, although it is possible to lift a wheel, one can dice round corners in ordinary sports car manner without anything peculiar in the handling becoming apparent; probably the later models handle even better, but I’m not complaining. l admit that, so far from buying a Morgan of my own free will, I had a Morgan thrust upon me; but, now that I belong to the Chain Gang’s junior branch, I have become converted, and the Moggy is not for sale. – J. Lowrey.