Founded in 1909 by visionary engineer Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan, known affectionately as HFS, the genesis of the Morgan Motor Company was, by comparison to the other British car marques that emerged at the start of the twentieth century, modest.
From a factory in the Worcestershire spa town of Malvern, HFS was determined to create something different, and this spirit led to the birth of the company’s first cars – the iconic three-wheelers. These vehicles, with their unique design and engineering, rapidly garnered attention, propelling the Morgan Motor Company to the forefront of the automotive world.
In 1936 there was a monumental shift in Morgan’s design philosophy with the introduction of their first four-wheeler. However, what truly distinguishes Morgan from other automakers is its age-old tradition of incorporating wood into the construction of its vehicles. This isn’t merely a nod to times past, but a testament to the company’s commitment to traditional craftsmanship. Indeed, Morgan car company’s history isn’t just about its vehicles, it’s about the amalgamation of innovation, tradition, and a quest for perfection.
The Birth of a Legend
Initially, Morgan automobile history starts at the very dawn of the motoring age. Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan, or HFS to his friends, left a job at Great Western Railway to build cars. With his friend Leslie Bacon, they set up a garage, primarily to service Wolseley and Darracq cars. Yet Morgan was an engineer at heart, and built a single-seat three-wheeler for his own use, with no intention of putting it into production.
Considered a cyclecar – three-wheelers avoided tax on cars as they were classified as motorcycles – he took three to the 1910 Motor Show at Olympia. Despite little interest, he wasn’t deterred. A two-seater version quickly followed and a year later he was back. Such was the interest in his V-twin three-wheeler that Harrods took a concession and displayed it in their shop window with a sale price of £65. It’s believed that the 1911 Morgan is the only car to have ever been displayed in Harrods’ window!
The Morgan Motor Company itself was registered in 1912, with HFS as Managing Director and his father, Prebendary H. George Morgan who had put some money into the fledgling business, as its first chairman.
What became known as the Runabout remained in production until the outbreak of World War II in dozens of different configurations, including incredibly successful racing models, the first Aero model in 1920, the Super Aero in 1927 and a four-seater family version called the F-4. They even made a three-wheeled delivery van.
In 1936, when the Road Tax Fund was abolished and it was no longer a tax advantage to having three wheels, Morgan branched out with the astonishing 4/4. In the history of Morgan cars, the 4/4 is the undoubted superstar.
What’s the Story, Morgan Glory
It’s no exaggeration to say that the 4/4 is to Morgan what the 911 is to Porsche. Morgan’s halo sports car remained in production in ever more modernised form until 2018. It’s believed to be one of the longest running production cars ever.
Called the 4/4 because it had four cylinders and four wheels, the first iteration of the most famous of all Morgan cars, the Series I, was offered with a 34 hp, 1.1-litre straight-four and retailed for 185 guineas, or £194 5s. A truly stunning drophead coupe was offered in 1938, as was a sporty Le Mans version.
To many, the 4/4 is the embodiment of Morgan car company’s history. As the company’s pioneering venture into four-wheeled vehicles, it effortlessly combined the brand’s cherished principles with fresh innovation. Retaining the elegance of design, lightweight build, and exhilarating driving experience intrinsic to Morgan’s identity, the 4/4 struck a chord with both aficionados and new enthusiasts. A defining feature of this iconic car was its distinctive ash wood frame, not merely a traditional touch, but a testament to Morgan’s commitment to craftsmanship.
Beyond its aesthetic allure, the 4/4 boasted commendable performance, all while being reasonably priced, making it a favourite among a broad audience. Its success didn’t only pave the way for future Morgan Motor Company iterations, but reinforced the company’s enduring dedication to handcrafted artistry. In the Morgan 4/4, the automobile world witnessed not just a car but the embodiment of a timeless philosophy that celebrated simplicity and heritage.
List of Morgan 4/4 Generations
- Series I | 1936 – 1950 | 34hp, 1.1-litre Coventry Climax straight-four | 1,720 made
- Series II | 1955 – 1960 | 36hp, 1.1-litre Ford straight-four | 386 made
- Series III | 1960 – 1961 | 39hp, 1.0-litre Ford Anglia straight-four | 58 made
- Series IV | 1961 – 1963 | 62hp, 1.3-litre Ford Classic straight-four | 114 made
- Series V | 1963 – 1968 | 65hp, 1.5-litre Ford Cortina straight-four | 639 made
- 4/4 1600 | 1968 – 1993 | 95hp 1.6-litre Ford or Fiat straight-four | 5,448 made
- 4/4 1800 | 1993 – 2009 | 114hp, 1.8-litre Ford Zetec straight-four
- 4/4 1.6 Litre | 2009 – 2018 | 110hp, 1.6-litre Ford Sigma straight-four
Meet the Morgans
HFS ran the business until he died in 1959. His son, Peter Henry Geoffrey Morgan took up the reins that same year and was managing director until shortly before he died in 2003.
The first non-family director, Alan Garnett, was in charge from 2003 until 2006 and then the third-generation Morgan, Charles Peter Henry, the son of Peter, was part of a management team who then became MD, just like his father and grandfather before him. In 2019, Italian private equity firm Investindustrial took a majority stake in the Morgan Motor Company.
The Marvellous Morgan Cars
Unlike other British car marques, the history of Morgan cars hasn’t been blighted by decades of mergers, acquisitions, nationalisation, industrial relations disasters and pillar-to-post private ownership. This stability through the decades saw the design and production of a number of notable Morgan models.
The +4, a big brother to the 4/4, was equipped with the smooth-running Triumph engines from the 1950s. The fibreglass variant, +4+, was faster and had a more streamlined design than the standard +4. However, its deviation from the usual design was met with resistance from dedicated Morgan enthusiasts. Following this, the Morgan +8 was introduced, initially driven by the notable Rover V8. Later versions boasted a powerful 4.8-litre BMW V8 in a vehicle weighing less than 900kg. Additionally, introduced in 2000, the Aero 8 also came in various versions.
The most recent offerings from the Malvern factory include the three-wheeled Super 3 and the Plus Six. The latter is a standout two-seater sports car powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre BMW inline-six engine, delivering 335 hp, a top speed of 166 mph, and accelerating from 0-60 mph in just over four seconds.
A bit quicker than the car in Harrods’ window, but built with the same craftsmanship, passion and commitment to quality.
Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow: The History of Morgan Cars
As we journey through the annals of automotive history, few brands possess the charm, authenticity, and dedication as the Morgan Motor Company. From its humble beginnings with the iconic three-wheelers to the transformative 4/4 and beyond, Morgan consistently focused on the path of tradition. In a world where speed, state-of-the-art technology and automation often overshadow artistry, Morgan cars stand as a testament to craftsmanship.