Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Lord K's Garage #167: Morgan Three Wheeler

Sorry, I'm late today. But with a car which is all Dieselpunk!

The success of the Morgan Motor Company was founded on an icon, the Morgan Three-Wheeler. This brilliant but simple design by skilled engineer and company founder Harry Morgan (HFS) became one of the most successful lightweight cars of the early days of motoring. The principal of fitting a powerful motorcycle engine and simple transmission into a light-weight chassis and body inspired a new type of vehicle which generically became known as the 'Cyclecar'. Thus the fashion for 'new motoring' introduced the freedom of the open road to those of more modest means. The Morgan Runabout was at the forefront of this movement and therefore Harry Morgan can be regarded as the man who first introduced motoring for the masses.

Built at the original Morgan factory, Malvern Link, not only was the Morgan one of the first Cyclecars, it was without doubt, the best engineered, the most reliable, and the most successful vehicle in its class which set the standards for other manufacturers to follow. It featured a simple two speed transmission (fast and very fast), but no reverse gear (to go backwards required gravity, or the driver had to get out and push). Engines were usually J.A.P. V-twins, although the simplicity of the chassis design allowed many other makes to be fitted.

Within a few weeks of its launch at the Olympia motorcycle show in London in November 1910, Harry Morgan entered the Runabout in the MCC London to Exeter Trial, and his remarkable performance won a Gold Medal. This was the first of many such victories in all forms of motor sport such as reliability trials, plus racing and record-breaking particularly at the Brooklands autodrome.

In little more than three years, by the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, Morgans had secured 10 British and World Records for various classes of cyclecars, won 24 Gold Medals in major reliability trials and had achieved numerous victories on the race track. These successes included an astonishing drive by Mr. Harry Martin who easily won the first International Cyclecar Race at Brooklands, finishing over two minutes ahead of the second place car even though Martin had completed the race in just 8 and a half minutes! A few months later Harry Morgan won the Cyclecar Cup for the 1100 c.c. one-hour record, travelling at a fraction short of 60 m.p.h. for one hour at Brooklands. His father the Prebendary H.G. Morgan was present and in his imposing ecclesiastical attire this is probably the only time a top hat had ever been worn at the popular circuit.

The most significant victory of the early years was that of W.G. McMinnies in the International Cyclecar Grand Prix at Amiens in France. McMinnies and his passenger Frank Thomas won against strong opposition from many continental four-wheelers.

All of this achieved in spite of an enforced stop to change an inner tube in one of the front tyres! W.G. McMinnies, was the editor of the "Cyclecar" magazine and his success gave Morgan a great deal of publicity. After the event he christened his particular car "Jabberwock of Picardy", and a new model, called the Grand Prix and based on the race winning car was introduced to the Morgan range.

When peace returned in 1918 Morgan was one of the first manufacturers to resume full production mainly due to the simplicity of the design. Most manufacturing operations were now moved from the Worcester Road works to the new factory in Pickersleigh Road (although the first two workshops at the site had been completed before the war). A few years earlier, the WW1 flying ace Capt. Albert Ball had ordered a special-bodied Grand Prix, of which he said "to drive this car was the nearest thing to flying without leaving the ground".

Alas, Capt. Ball was shot down and killed shortly after taking delivery of his car, however his special Morgan inspired the introduction, in 1920, of the next new sporting model which was called the Aero, in recognition of the famous aviator.

So advanced had been H.F.S. Morgan's first designs that little alteration, apart from bodywork modifications, were required for some years. The car retained its sturdy, lightweight construction and the two-speed transmission system remained in production for many years. A Family Runabout was introduced with four seats, to offer inexpensive motoring for the whole family.

As a result of reliability trials experience front wheel brakes were installed, the Morgan car being one of the first in the field to enjoy this innovation. More powerful V-twin engines were fitted, giving Morgans an exceptional performance for their time.

Throughout the 1920s the Morgan continued to have success after success in racing and was so fast that at Brooklands it was required to start a lap behind four wheeled cars in the same class. Likewise, Morgans were dominant on the trials hills, where they won more medals and trophies than any other comparable machine. The rugged strength of the Morgan and its excellent traction meant that it always performed well on muddy tracks when taking part in reliability trials.

Morgan Three Wheelers also sold well abroad. Harry Morgan was having difficulty keeping up with the demand for his machine, so in France Monsieur Darmont bought a licence to manufacture the car as the Darmont Morgan.

Racing successes encouraged the introduction of another sporting model in the late 1920s, called the Super Aero with lowered streamlined bodywork. Not only were the cars dominant on the race track they were now one of the most fashionable machines to be seen driving on the open road.

During 1930 Mrs. Gwenda Stewart broke the One Hour World Record at the banked race track at Monthlery, south of Paris, at a speed of over 100 m.p.h.

She was later to achieve 117 m.p.h. in a single seater Morgan on the long straight at Arpajon nearby. 1931 brought a new transmission system with a three speed and reverse gearbox, a single chain and detachable wheels. This arrangement was eventually used on all models, with engines now supplied by Matchless, the high performance machine (a development of the Super Aero) being known as the Super Sports.

The factory even introduced a commercial Delivery Van based on the three wheeler chassis.

1933 was a vintage year for Morgan, bringing in its train a large number of World Records. 1933 also saw the advent of a new model known as the F-type, fitted with a Ford engine. With its more conventional bonnet and radiator this was one of the most popular three-wheelers ever produced and encouraged a number of other firms to copy the idea.

Two years later, Morgan introduced the four-wheeled 4/4, although the three-wheeler remained in production (mainly the F4 four-seater and F Super two seater models).

Car production stopped completely throughout the Second World War but resumed in 1946. The last twelve twin cylinder three-wheelers were manufactured in 1946 using mostly a stock of pre-war parts and shipped to Australia. The F-type continued to be built alongside the 4-4, but due to post-war shortages, export orders were favoured over those for the home market when allocating supplies of steel. Three-wheelers did not enjoy this popularity overseas and therefore the decision to discontinue their production was made in 1950. The last Morgan Three Wheeler left the factory in 1953.

Refining the original design has produced a unique 21st century vehicle. A sub-500kgs overall weight and streamlined bodywork provides the ultimate in performance and fuel economy. Once again, the iconic Morgan 3 Wheeler is being created by the skilled craftsmen at Malvern Link so that even in modern times, discerning drivers can experience the thrill and freedom of those halcyon days of motoring so long ago.

Text and images: morgan3wheeler.co.uk

Morgan Delivery Van via morgan3w.de

And now, a colorful array of classic Morgan Super Aero, Sports and Super Sports cars:

1930 Morgan Super Aero 3 Wheeler1930 Morgan Super Aero 3 Wheeler by Newdawn images, on Flickr

1930 Morgan

1930 Morgan by J0n4th4n D3rk53n, on Flickr

1930's Competition Morgan

1930's Competition Morgan by VEB Zardoz the Gravyboat, on Flickr

Morgan JAP

Morgan JAP engine by kenjonbro, on Flickr

1930 Morgan by Trigger's Retro Road Tests!, on Flickr

1930 Morgan

1930 Morgan by J0n4th4n D3rk53n, on Flickr

1930 Morgan

1930 Morgan

1930 Morgan by J0n4th4n D3rk53n, on Flickr

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Comment by Cap'n Tony on January 22, 2013 at 9:15am

That's awesome that they're remaking them!  Though TBH te OD Green "sharkmouth" custom reminds me of a fishing lure.

Comment by lord_k on January 19, 2013 at 5:36am

To lojzo:

Of course. Seen some of them in 'flesh and blood', fully operational.

Comment by lojzo on January 19, 2013 at 5:26am

Lord K, do you know the "Czech version" called Velorex? ;-)


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