Lunch with... Damon Hill
It’s a decade since a Briton took the Formula 1 world championship. Simon Taylor sits…
I was reminded of the Mors when, for no particular reason. I remembered a curious book which had appeared anonymously on the stands at a pre-First War Olympia Motor Show. It attacked in clever verse, in which makes of cars were carefully disguised, those who marketed foreign cars here disguised as home products to foil import duty. No-one ever found out who was the perpetrator of this astonishing publication, which was nicely printed and produced. MOTOR SPORT featured it some years ago, so that readers could set themselves the task of trying to identify the makes of the cars so skillfully concealed in the many verses. Copies of this publication must now be very rare indeed, otherwise the thing would surely have constituted a popular puzzle for car enthusiasts, who might well have preferred probing over its connundrums to busying themselves with crosswords or pondering on which numbers might make them Lottery millionaires.
The Dietrich and the Death, too The Sneezer — making three Are each removed from British
So far as far can be. The Charmer and the Volume From USA arrive, Which makes the Alien Family
Of Friend Biletsi — five. Rumour has said that Death has shown Our bold friend to the door, Which, if correct, reduces
The Alien Crew to four. and soon, (“Biletsi” was undoubtedly William “Billy” Letts, Dietrich is obvious, and “Death” is Mors. There was some discussion in MOTOR SPORT about the other disguised makes, but “Sneezer” was fairly obviou sly the Sizaire-Naudin and the “Charmer” was thought to be the Mass. Another car ascribed to “Biletsi” was the “British Pet”, presumably the Crossley-Bugatti,)
One of the hidden makes in one of these poems was the “Death”, which scholars among our readers had no difficulty in recognising as implying the well-known French Mors. I suppose the superstitious who owned this make had not comprehended the connection, or perhaps in the days of uncrowded highways and fewer accidents the implication was easily passed over… Because the Mors, from the rue du Theatre, Paris, was respected in France and had its following here. Rightly so, if racing improved the breed, because electrical engineer Emile Mors was a notable supporter of it from the very early times. He was among the pioneer makers of automobiles, the Societe d’Electricite et d’Automobiles Mors having been formed in 1895. From its factory came cars which tended to copy Benz practice so far as the belt transmission went but the motive power of which was surprisingly advanced for the period, with dry-sump oiling, air-cooled cylinders but water-surrounded heads and Mors’s own coil ignition system. At a time when horseless carriages were so rarely encountered as to scare not only horses but many humans, it was said that by 1898 the Mors people were turning out 200 vehicles a year. So well liked were they by those who had come to own the new-fangled means of transport that the front-engined 850cc flat-twin Mors Petit Duc was continued in production until 1901 and could be bought by English autocarists for £295 in 1900. Mors had shown good sense in abandoning handlebar steering for a steering wheel before the Petit Duc was replaced by later models.
Emile Mors had Brescia design his racing cars, making their debut in 1897, when those rear-engined Benz-like vehicles took part in the contest from Paris to Dieppe, in which Emile drove himself and was 18th on his 5hp Mors, the battles with Panhard and Peugeot dimly emerging. In the same year three Mors appeared in the Paris-Trouville race, two of them driven by Mors and Michelin, and thereafter the marque was in most of the races, with Alfred Levegh and Jenatzy among their drivers. More practical 2 1/2-litre water-cooled vee-fours had been built for the 1898 events and by 1899 came even more effective 4.2-litre racers in the Panhard style, but still unable to vanquish this make. However, by 1900 the great 7.3-litre racing Mors had arrived, to beat Panhard in two of the important fixtures, the 197-miles Bordeaux-Pengueux-Bordeaux, won by Levegh at 48.4mph. and Paris-Toulouse-Paris, in which the same driver averaged 40.2mph for the 837 open-road miles, Panhard vanquished in both contests. Farman was by then a Mors pilot.
In 1901 de Caters got a third place in the Nice-Salon-Nice affair, the great Fournier brought a Mors Sixty home first at 53mph in the Paris-Bordeaux struggle, ahead of five 40hp Panhards, and repeated this in the prestigious Paris-Berlin, doing 44.1mph over the 687 miles, beating the Panhard drivers Giradot and de Knyff… There were far fewer moments of glory for Mors in 1902, although Gabriel’s and Vanderbilt’s Sixtys followed Jarrott’s 70hp Panhard home in the Circuit des Ardennes.
By this time the Mors had like many others adopted some of Mercedes’s advanced features for the production models, including the contracting-band clutch, which they retained long after the war, although not necessarily of exactly Mercedes design. Back to racing, it was in the tragic 1903 Paris-Madrid race, stopped by Government decree at Bordeaux because of the deaths (much exaggerated) of spectators and competitors, that Mors achieved its greatest success and lasting fame. For a 70hp Mors, driven by the immortal Ferdnand Gabriel, and fitted with one of the first streamlined bodies used in a road race, of upturned boat-like form with gilled-tube radiator slung below the pointed prow, averaged a truly commendable 65.3mph for the 342 racing miles in spite of the dust, the hazards and the cars he had to overtake, an incredibly strenuous and dangerous 5 1/4-hour drive. / suppose Schumacher and Villeneuve could have done it: but would they have wanted to? Gabriel was followed in by Salleron on another 70hp Mors and our Charles Jarrott driving a 45hp de Dietrich, their respective speeds 59.1 and 58.2mph. (In sober tact another quite remarkable performance was that of Louis Renault, his brother killed during the contest, who was actually placed overall second, on his 30hp Renault light car, at 62.3mph.
All had vanquished the might of the next cars home, Panhard Eighty and Mercedes Sixty.
Gabriel’s number was 168, which made it seem to the uninitiated that he had had the stupendous task of passing some 167 others en route. In fact, as Kent Karslake pointed out in MOTOR SPORT, with non-starters, etc, the Mors would have had to overtake only 40 to 60 moving cars, but, as Karlsake agreed, this was still a racing epic.
After all the mayhem, sensation and criticism had died down, people would begin to say “And who won this sadly historic motor race?” and would forever more remember that it had been GABRIEL — MORS.
Thus was the Mors established as a car to respect and admire in the years that followed. Their racing giants would not be forgotten, those 1901 10.1-litre, 1902 .9.2-litre racers with experimental shock-absorbers, 11.5-litre cars in 1903 and the T-head 13.6-litre Gordon Bennett racers of 1904. The talented Mors designers Brasier and Terrasse left the Company around 1903, but the results had been established… Moreover, in 1902 Mors had been the fastest car in the World, when first Vanderbilt, at Ablis, put the LSR held previously by a Serpollet steamer, to 76,08mph, then Fournier did 76.60mph at Dourdan, and at the same course late in November Augieres drove a Mors at 77.13mph. For its 1903 racers Mors had gone for pressed-steel chassis frames and mechanically-operated inlet-over exhaust valves, and there was that interesting wind-cheating body.
These race-inspired technical advances and reputation were exploited up to the war by various models, up to a 40/50 version but mainly of smaller size, including the 10/12, 17/20 and 20/30hp four-cylinder cars, selling here for modest prices, the Company having premises at 45 Great Marlborough Street, in London. The Mors slogan was “The Name Has Always Been Its Own Guarantee”, and coachbuilders in the golden Edwardian era, such as Thrupp & Maberly and Thorn’s, etc, built bodies for them. The year before war closed over Europe Mors had a range of seven models, from the 12/15hp 75 x 120mm TX to the 20/30hp 85 x 150mm FX, prices of these being £300 and £660 respectively for a chassis, the biggest car having six cylinders. As with Rolls-Royce, a petrol brougham had been tried and in 1907 a 50hp Six was offered in England for £1375.
There was a return to racing in 1908, with 12.8-litre cars for the French GP at Dieppe but although Jenatzy conducted one of them, he could do no better than 16th, with team-mate Landon behind him. At that time things were not going too well for Mors. They had long lost their designer Brasier to Georges Richard and by 1904 Charles Schmidt, another Mors designer, left for Packard in America. The 1908 depression was no help but Andre Citroen came to the rescue and certainly the Mors reputation was not really tarnished. Citroen double-helical-bevel final drive was used for the new small Mors, which included a sports version of the side-valve 17/20hp model.
After the 1914/18 war Malcolm Campbell became the Mors agent here, from his showrooms at 27 Albermarle Street in London, it was a make, among many others, which he raced at Brooklands. Like several other makers, Mors now adopted the double-sleeve-valve Knight engine, supplied by Minerva in Belgium. In 1920 Campbell had a stand at White City (the Olympia overflow hall), probably paid for by Mors, to show these cars, although he had many other irons in his fire and was soon to be away year after year on successful LSR bids. Shown was a handsome fast touring 20hp Mors with English bodywork, it had a 80 x 130mm (3308cc) four-cylinder sleeve-valve engine, the band clutch, and Citroen type back axle and was priced at £1575. The radiator was not unlike that on the Leon-Bollee of the same period and it was not long before Mors adorned it with three intertwined “Ss”, standing for Sans Soupapes Sllencieuse. or “without valves and silent”, a snide ploy, Mors’s former racing rival, Panhard-Levassor, having but two “Ss” on its radiator.
This rather fine car remained the staple Mors product: it could do 70mph and front brakes came as early as 1921. A year later the 20hp was joined by a more staid 2-litre sleeve-valve model. After a year or two there was no Mors stand at the London Motor Show and by 1925 Citroen had absorbed most of the assetts. The mighty had fallen at last, to the point of making Mors Speed motor-scooters in the mid-1950s. Yet never must Gabriel’s great drive in the Paris-Bordeaux race be forgotten. . W B
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