The Morgan Motor Company has been dominating the headlines recently, so we take a look back at the history of the bespoke British sports car maker
2 November 2013

Morgan Motor Company was born in 1909 when its founder, Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan, decided to make his own cars in the town of Malvern, Worcestershire.

That year, he created the company’s first prototype of its iconic Three-Wheeler model – the Runabout, which was initially invented for his own personal use at the time. The one-seater Runabout was not originally intended as a commercial venture until the promising reaction to Morgan’s creation encouraged him to put the car into production.

A year later, the Runabout was unveiled at the 1910 Olympia Motor Show in London. Powered by a 7bhp Peugeot V-Twin engine mated to a tubular steel chassis, the light nature of the car meant it had a unique power-to-weight ratio of 90bhp per tonne; making it one of the fastest accelerating vehicles at that time.

The following year, a two-seater Runabout was launched, equipped with wheel steering for the first time and a hood. The car even attracted interest from the managing director of Harrods; as a result the car appeared in the shop window – the famous store becoming the first Morgan dealer to sell all Runabout models.

In 1912, Morgan Motor Company officially formed as a private limited company, with HFS Morgan as managing director and his father George Morgan, who had invested considerably in his son’s business, as its first chairman.

The car maker began flexing its competitive muscle when in 1913 it won the International Cyclecar Grand Prix at Amiens in France, beating strong opposition from many continental four-wheelers. That same year also saw a Morgan achieve the fastest time at the celebrated Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb at an average speed of 22mph. The three-wheeler model used became the basis for the Grand Prix, Aero and Sports models between 1913 and 1926.

Due to increased demand following these victories, in December 1913 HFS Morgan purchased a large plot of land on Pickersleigh Road – a quarter of a mile from the original Worcester Road factory - and proceeded to build two large workshops on the plot, to this day the site for the current plant and known traditionally as the 'Works'.

New models were being added to the Morgan range and in 1921 a four-seater family ‘Runabout’ was available for the first time.

In 1933, the Morgan F-4 debuted at that year’s Olympia Motor Show. Rather than the tubular steel chassis, the four-seater F-4 used a Z-section steel ladder-frame chassis mated to a four-cylinder Ford Sidevalve engine used in the Model Y. The F-4 was supplemented by the two-seater F-2 in 1935 with production of the Ford-engine three-wheelers continuing until 1952.

Three years later and Morgan’s first four-wheel car, the 4-4 sports car, was revealed at the London and Paris exhibitions. The 4-4 – indicating four wheels and four cylinders – was an immediate success with four-seater and Drophead coupé versions arriving shortly thereafter. Still in production today, the Morgan 4-4 holds the record for the world’s longest production run of the same model. Alongside the 4-4, the three-wheeler remained in production until 1952 although sales of the V-twin engined cars were in decline. 

Fast forward to 1950 and the Morgan Plus 4 was launched. Initially powered by a 2088cc Vanguard unit that developed 68bhp, later Plus 4s used Triumph TR2-TR4 engines from 1954 to 1969. A lull period for Plus 4 production occurred in 1969 and didn’t resume until 1985 when a 2.0-litre inline-four cylinder Fiat engine was used for three years, followed by a four-cylinder Rover engine. The Plus 4 returned again in 2004, this time with a potent 155bhp 2.0-litre Ford unit dropped into the body.

In 1955 the Morgan 4/4 became the Series II 4-4 and was of similar design to the Plus 4, but fitted with a smaller 36bhp Ford side valve engine and integral gearbox; the objective being to provide a sports car with lively performance for the enthusiast with modest means.  

In 1959 the bespoke British carmaker suffered a great loss when the company’s founder HFS Morgan died. Known as ‘Harry’ by family and friends, he was one of the great innovators of motoring and highly respected throughout the industry. Peter Morgan, son of HFS, took over the reins of the company until a few years before his death in 2003.

In 1966 the Triumph TR engine was coming to the end of its life and so Morgan struck a deal with Rover to use the aluminium Rover 3.5-litre V8 engine – spawning the Morgan Plus 8 in 1968. By 1983, the Rover EFI V8’s power was up to 204bhp, which allied to a kerb weight of 851kg, made for a 0-60mph time of 5.6sec for the Plus 8 – enough to give Porsche 911 owners of that time a sweaty brow. The Morgan Plus 8 proved to be one of the most successful cars for the company and production continued for 36 years right up to its discontinuation in 2004.

The same year production of the Plus 8 ceased, the traditionally styled roadster debuted, powered by a 3.0-litre 24-valve V6 derived from the Ford Mondeo. The resultant shoehorning of said lump helped the roadster accelerate from 0-62mph in 4.9sec and onto a top speed of 134mph. In 2011 the engine was replaced with a Ford 3.7-litre Duratec Cyclone V6 with a power hike to 280bhp. 

In 2000 Morgan took a punt launching the Aero 8 – the first new Morgan design since 1948 and the first Morgan vehicle with an aluminium chassis and frame as opposed to the traditional aluminium skinned wooden body tub on a steel chassis. Originally powered by a 4.4-litre BMW V8 mated to a six-speed Getrag transmission, in 2008 the Aero 8 received BMW’s 367bhp 4.8-litre V8 and an optional automatic transmission became available. 

A limited-run coupé variation of the Aero 8 – dubbed Aeromax – was showcased in 2008 with just 100 examples built up to 2010, each costing £110,000. A targa-roofed version of the Aeromax, called Aero Supersports, was launched at the prestigious 2009 Pebble Beach car show in California, with a price tag of £126,000.

At the 2011 Geneva motor show, Morgan’s iconic Threewheeler returned to prominence, incorporating an 80bhp S&S 1983cc V-twin engine making the Threewheeler capable of nudging 115mph. With its distinctive steering and handling, bags of character and superb engine response, it has cemented itself as one of our favourite lightweight cars.

With the launch of Morgan’s Eva GT 2+2 coupé postponed, news of Charles Morgan’s dismissal and the subsequent loss of his appeal against the decision, lets hope the bespoke British sports car maker can put this uncertainty behind them and continue to grow into 2014 and beyond.

Aaron Smith

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