Morgan Motor Company is one of those classic old companies that hasn’t been gobbled up by a conglomerate and has survived well over 100 years producing sports cars that are quite niche in style but has an enthusiastic following the world over.
Henry Morgan founded the company in 1910 after studying engineering and working for Great Western Railways in the UK within their design office. He had started his connection with cars in 1906 as a motor dealer in Malvern, Worcestershire selling Wolseleys and Darracqs. He bought a Peugeot engine and set about building a single seater three wheeler for his own use. He called it the “Runabout” and after many offers, decided to build some. He showcased them at a motor show in 1910 and received 30 orders but realised that people wanted a two-seater as well.
So he started building three wheelers in Malvern and raced them in competition as a way of marketing. He used several types of engines most notably from JA Prestwich (known as JAP) and Dorman. These cars were known as cyclecars and were popular because they weren’t taxed like bigger cars. Many manufacturers started out by using bicycle or motorcycle technology to create cars that were cheaper due to no tax and great fuel economy.
The Morgan cars were typically V-twins, sharing components with motorcycles however they had two wheels at the front either side of the engine. The F Series from the 1930s used a Ford sidevalve engine that started 80 years of collaboration – today’s Morgan’s use the Ford Duratec engine, similar to the one found in Mazda, Lincoln and Ford cars.
By the mid 1930s Morgan was also building 4 wheeled versions called the 4/4 (standing for 4 wheels, 4 cylinders). This car was very popular and started to surpass the 3 wheelers such that by 1952, the F series 3 wheeler was discontinued and the 4/4 was enhanced with better designed bodywork – in fact the same style that exists today!
The 4/4 was joined by the Plus 4 with a 2 litre Standard engine in 1950 and this continued for many years with Triumph, Rover and Coventry Climax engines. In fact by the early 1990s it had also used FIAT engines as well! This period is of importance to me: my parents had a Morgan in the late 1950s (prior to the family coming along).
In 1968, Morgan shoehorned in a Rover V8 and the Plus 8 was born. It followed the trend of the Sunbeam Alpine/Tiger, AC Ace/Cobra and TVR Griffith by using a smaller engined sports car as the donor and putting in a motor with lots more power!
Although the Plus 8 has now gone, the 4/4 and Plus 4 are still true to the designs of the 1950s even though mechanically they use the most up to date equipment. In 2000, the Aero 8 was launched, the first new design since the 1950s and now fitted with a BMW V8. It still has styling cues from the past but is updated all round and with 370hp on tap with a lightweight body is also a throw back to the original concept of the Plus 8.
Another throwback was the re-introduction of the 3 wheeler: simply called the Morgan 3 Wheeler and utilising a motorcycle engine from the American S&S Cycle company. It is a V-twin 2 litre OHV motor putting out around 115hp and attached to a Mazda sourced 5 speed gearbox.
The factory still remains in Malvern pumping out approximately 25 cars a week and they have survived not only by selling a product that is constantly in demand, but they have not tried to diversify with engine development or other costly technology. By remaining true to the concept set up by Henry Morgan in 1909, they have used other companies’ engines, gearboxes etc which has reduced the cost of development. So while many of their peers have collapsed, they keep on going stronger than ever. Importantly, the company has also used Henry Morgan’s ideas in competition to help market their cars by racing in club championships all the way up to the famous Le Mans 24 Hour race.
The Morgan Motor Company was for decades a family run business. After Henry had died, his son Peter took the helm and he was succeeded in turn by his son, Charles. Unfortunately, in recent years, that family chain has been broken with Charles leaving the company – a new Chairman is on board and Morgan is still thriving!
Update: April 2019
In April of 2019, the Morgan family sold a majority stake in the company to InvestIndustrial.