Sports cars under £700: the £659 Morgan 4/4

The last sports car in the vintage style

All the other cars dealt with in this series of road tests of under £700 sports cars are in the 1,100-c.c. category but the Morgan 4/4 is available with the 1,340-c.c. or 1,500-c.c. Ford Classic engines, giving the Morgan the best performance of the cars tested in this series and the worst fuel consumption, a fact of motoring life which seems inescapable.

With the 1,340-c.c. engine the Morgan 4/4 is known as the Mk. IV and costs a total of £659 2s. 1d. with the engine in standard form. With the 1 1/2-litre engine and all-synchromesh gearbox it is known as the Mk. V and costs a total of £683 5s. 5d., once again with the engine in standard form. The car submitted to us for test was in actual fact the Competition version of the Mk. IV which uses a single S.U. carburetter on a new inlet manifold in conjunction with a 4-branch exhaust manifold. Production cars of this type also have a rev.-counter but the test car was not so fitted. With these modifications the price of the test car came over our £700 limit, working out at £731 12s. 1d. The standard models will of course be slower and have better fuel consumption.

There is not a lot which can be said about the Morgan which has not already been said many, many times, as, apart from engine and gearbox variations, the design changes very little over the years, only slight body changes serving to distinguish the present model from its pre-war counterparts. The chassis has two deep Z-shaped side-members with five bracing cross-members, the front suspension is the same sliding pillar type patented by Morgan 40 years ago except that longer coil-springs are used, the rigid rear axle runs above the chassis side-members and is sprung on semi-elliptic leaf-springs, but a concession to modern trends is shown in the braking system, which uses 11-in. Girling discs on the front wheels and 9-in. drums at the rear.

There is little comparison between the Morgan and the other cars in this series as the others have been developed to the extent where they can be considered as completely weatherproof, comfortable touring cars with most of the amenities of comparable saloon cars, but the Morgan stays determinedly rugged and spartan, with few of the refinements which most modern sports-car drivers demand. Getting in and out is a problem as the cutaway doors are narrow, the door sill is high, and the end of the scuttle provides a pointed edge to impale kneecaps with great accuracy. There are no external door handles so it is necessary to lift the flaps on the detachable sidescreens to reach inside and open the doors. However, as the flaps button down to keep out the rain it is sometimes necessary to bend the metal framework of the sidescreen to gain access unless you detach the sidescreen in its entirety, which is simple enough as the knurled knobs are on the outside.

Once inside driver and passenger sit on upholstered cushions loosely placed on wedge-shaped wooden boxes which have no method of adjustment, and they lean against a one-piece back-rest which is also not adjustable. The driver is confronted by a huge 17-in. Bluemels 4-spoke steering wheel which is too large for the cramped conditions of the cockpit, as well as rubbing the driver’s trousers. The brake and throttle pedals are well placed in relation to each other for heel-and-toe changes but due to the wide gearbox tunnel there is no room to rest the left foot, which makes things difficult, especially as the Morgan handbook implores the owner (in large capital letters) not to rest his foot on the pedal. The dipswitch is placed above the clutch pedal on the bulkhead and the plunger for front suspension oiling is above the gearbox tunnel. This plunger diverts engine oil to the sliding axles and should be pressed every 200 miles or so, although there is a childish tendency to do it more often, just to see the drop in oil pressure on the gauge. However, this can soon empty the sump, so is not really recommended.

The wooden dashboard follows normal Morgan practice with two cream-coloured instruments placed either side of the steering column, that on the right being a rather erratic Smiths 90-m.p.h. speedometer with trip and total odometer, and the other one containing fuel contents, ammeter and oil-pressure gauges. A horn button is placed on the outer edge of the dashboard to the driver’s right and in the centre is a batch of toggle switches in a separate panel which cover the operation of the panel lights, fog and spot-lamps (although the test car only had a spot fitted), direction indicators, and windscreen wipers. Pull-out knobs operate the choke and headlamps, a tiny press-button works the electric windscreen washers, and starting is by the ignition key. Warning lights in this panel show when the headlamp main beam is in operation, when the dynamo is not charging and when the flashing indicators are working. A 2-pin socket for an inspection lamp is also fitted in the centre panel.

In front of the passenger is an unlidded cubby-hole, which, with the space behind the scats, forms the only luggage accommodation in the car. To the left of the locker is the knob for the Smiths recirculatory heater which is fitted to the bulkhead. Of the items mentioned, the heater, spot-lamp and windscreen washer are all extras, costing £15 4s. 6d., £8. 12s. 2d. and £4 16s. 1d., respectively, the price for the spot-lamp including the badge bar on which it is mounted. There is also a vast range of other extras (some of which many people might consider as essentials), such as wire wheels, leather upholstery, rear bumper, tonneau cover, wooden steering wheel, seat belts, luggage carriers, etc.

Having accustomed oneself to the cramped driving quarters of the Morgan it is quite refreshing to peer along a proper bonnet once more, with separate wings showing just where to point the car. Visibility is good through the flat screen but side and rear vision is rather restricted and the tiny rear-view mirror is inadequate.

Morgan have not adopted a proper remote-control arrangement for the gear-lever but have fitted a push-pull lever like that used on the older 4/4 model and such cars as the 2 c.v. Citroën and Renault 4. This takes some getting used to and although satisfactory changes can be made, the box is nowhere near as pleasant as that on the Ford from which the gearbox is taken. It is difficult to judge distances across the gate and we confess to hitting 1st occasionally when going from 2nd to 3rd, while we found reverse difficult to locate. However, we soon became accustomed to the peculiarities of this lever without coming to like it much. Clutch pedal pressure is light so that reasonably fast shifts can be made with determination.

The Morgan weighs in at around 13 cwt. dry so the Ford engine endowed it with fairly brisk acceleration, which places it ahead of the other cars tested in this series as far as performance goes. It is relatively noisy in the Morgan, setting up a sympathetic vibration somewhere in the car when approaching peak revs, but it will pass through this period and smooth out until valve bounce is reached. The gearbox is not unduly noisy and the main source of noise at speed comes from colossal wind roar around the windscreen pillars, which is also the source of numerous draughts inside the car which become a little too uncomfortable in really cold weather. Fortunately with the heater fan switched on at full blast the heat just about counterbalances the incoming draughts. Another fault found on the test car was its lack of weather protection, the screen becoming almost as wet on the inside as on the outside in heavy rain, and as there are no such refinements as demisting slots on the scuttle a plentiful supply of clean rag is necessary to keep the screen clear on the inside.

The ride of the Morgan is softer than previous Morgans we have tried due to the longer coil-springs, but it still has about the harshest ride of any current production sports car. On smooth main roads the ride is quite acceptable, small bumps not being particularly noticeable, but as soon as any serious undulations are crossed the suspension bottoms viciously, lifting the occupants out of their seats and dropping them back with a spine-jarring crash. There is also some scuttle shake under these conditions, a problem which is nearly always present in cars of this type of construction. The harshness of the suspension spoils high-speed driving for most people as it is necessary to reduce speed drastically when running on bad roads. On smooth roads the 4/4 will cruise quite happily at an indicated 80 m.p.h., although with its 4.56:1 axle ratio the engine sounds quite busy. It should be possible to fit the 4.1:1 ratio of the Classic for quieter cruising in the higher speed ranges. On the present ratio the car will reach speeds of 27, 45, 65 and 90 m.p.h. in the gears, but engine r.p.m. is near 6,000 r.p.m. at maximum speed. Acceleration from rest to 60 m.p.h. in 13.7 sec. is some 2 sec. better than the Spitfire and 2.7 sec. better than the Midget, while it shows an even greater improvement to 70 m.p.h. with a time of 17.4 sec., which is 4.3 sec. faster than the Spitfire and 5.6 sec. quicker than the Midget. It must be remembered, however, that the Morgan is the more expensive Competition model.

The actual performance figures, with the best run in brackets, are shown below.

0-30 m.p.h. – 3.5 sec. (3.1 sec.)
0-40 m.p.h. – 6.2 sec. (6.0 sec.)
0-50 m.p.h. – 10.2 sec. (10.0 sec.)
0-60 m.p.h. – 13.7 sec. (13.4 sec.)
0-70 m.p.h. – 17.4 sec. (17.0 sec.)
s.s. 1/4-mile – 19.0 sec. (18.9 sec.)

On smooth bends the Morgan handles particularly well as the taut suspension allows little roll, and it is possible to make the C41 Dunlops squeal heavily without inducing breakaway on dry roads. On bumpy corners axle hop is experienced and the driver is given the feeling that the front and rear suspensions are out of phase, the front end dancing about noticeably while the tail sits down fairly happily. The steering is reasonably light and with only 2 1/4 turns lock-to-lock corrections are easily made, but a smaller steering wheel and more elbow room in the cockpit would give the driver more confidence as he sits in a rather hunched-up position.

The brakes are smooth, powerful and progressive, and stop the car well under all circumstances with no sign of fade or grab. However, the umbrella-type handbrake fitted under the dashboard is completely out of character with this type of car although working reasonably well.

It seems incredible that a car which has changed only in small details, apart from various different engines, since well before the war is still selling at all, but the small factory is still quite busy sending cars all over the world. Much of the credit for this must go to Chris Lawrence and Richard Shepherd-Barron, whose exploits with the Lawrencetune Morgan Super Sports have brought the car to the notice of a much larger public due to their numerous competition victories. The fact remains that the present-day sports-car buyer demands a far higher degree of comfort and habitability than the Morgan offers. Compared with its competitors in the under-£700 class the 4/4 has less interior room, less luggage space, a much firmer ride and a general lack of refinement and detail finish, while many buyers in this price class may feel that a petrol thirst of 28.5 m.p.g.. which is what we obtained, is too much compared with the 33.7 m.p.g. of the Spitfire and 39.2 m.p.g. of the M.G. Midget.—M.L.T.

Engine: Four cylinders, 80.96 x 65.07 mm. (1,340 c.c.). Push-rod-operated overhead valves. 8.5:1 compression-ratio. 56.5 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m.

Gear ratios: 1st, 18.8 to 1; 2nd, 11:1; 3rd, 6:1; top, 4.56:1.

Tyres: 5.60 x 15-in. Dunlop C41 on bolt-on disc wheels.

Weight: 13 cwt. (dry).

Steering ratio: 2 1/4 turns lock-to-lock.

Fuel capacity: 8 1/2 gallons. (Range approximately 230 miles.)

Wheelbase: 8 ft.

Track: Front, 3 ft. 11 in.; rear, 3 ft. 11 in.

Dimensions: 12 ft. x 4 ft. 8 in. x 4 ft. 4 in. (high).

Price: £545 (£659 2s. 1d. with purchase tax). Competition model as tested : £760 4s. 10d.

Makers: Morgan Motors Ltd., Pickersleigh Road, Malvern Link, Worcestershire.