Chris Lawrence: 100 Years of the Morgan Motor Company

As Morgan Motor Company celebrates its 110th year and introduces the all-new Plus Six and CX-generation architecture, it is important to look back on what, and how we have celebrated at previous milestones. In our latest piece, we have dug deeply into the London Morgan archives to find this article from the Morgan Motor Company’s centenary year, written by Chris Lawrence in celebration of the company’s achievements.

Chris Lawrence was heavily involved in the production of Morgan’s Aero 8, while he also drove his Plus 4 ‘TOK 258’ to victory at Le Mans in 1962.

 
An image of Chris Lawrence, an engineer who drove the Morgan Plus 4 to victory at Le Mans
 

It is fast becoming clear that many people, including a surprisingly large number of the motoring press, have failed to appreciate the sheet magnitude of The Morgan Motor Company’s achievement in reaching a century of continuous production of automobiles, all under the ownership and control of three generations of the same family.

 

It is a truly unique story of success and almost certainly will never be surpassed. To be scrupulously fair, production was interrupted by the two World Wars, but normal service was resumed just as soon as was possible in 1919 and 1946 respectively. This 100 years of production is a momentous feat, so let’s have a look at just a few of the things that have helped the company along the way.

 

First of all, the three men who have run the company since its inception in 1909 have each provided precisely the right skills that were needed at the time they were in charge. H.F.S. Morgan was ideally suited in 1909 to start his company and two of his guiding principles in particular influenced his success.


 

They were his fanatical disdain for unnecessary weight and the determination that his vehicles would be inexpensive to build and well within reach of the average pocket to buy. Quite clearly, he was an astute businessman, in addition to having an intuitive understanding of what constitutes a successful car.

 

The introduction of his first four-wheeled Morgan in 1936 demonstrated that he was also probably one of the only two men at that time – the other being Ettore Bugatti – who understood the effects of weight transfer on steering and suspension.
As a result, the Morgan 4/4 was extremely competitive in spite of the low-powered engines that he fitted, because it detected a corner in the offing, as did most other similar cars of that era.
H. F. S. Morgan’s tenure of office right up to 1959 meant that it was he who adeptly guided the company through both the two World Wars and ‘The Slump’ as it was known in the late twenties, amongst other difficulties.

 

I was privileged to meet HFS just once, in November 1958, when I called in at the factory. My purpose was to find out if any help might be available towards my aim of winning the Freddie Dixon Trophy in 1959. I spent some time explaining how I thought I could achieve this goal, but father and son Peter were not to be moved, and I was very politely told that it had always been company policy not to provide any such help for private owners of Morgans to go racing! So we all shook hands and we went our separate ways. In later years Peter was fond of telling me that as the sound of TOK’s exhaust faded away along Pickersleigh Road, his father had turned to him and said, ‘you had better keep an eye on that young man, Peter, he could be useful’.

 

After the Second World War a Standard Vanguard Engine was fitted to the 4/4, creating the Morgan Plus 4, which immediately started to make its mark in International Rallies; Peter Morgan himself being particularly adept in that field. As the Vanguard engine was also utilised in the Triumph TR series (2, 3, and 4) the Plus 4 went from strength to strength.

 

Peter Morgan took over control of the company in 1959 after the death of HFS at a particularly difficult time of commercial uncertainty, but he had just the right degree of stoic determination that was needed to do whatever it took to ‘just hang in there’, as the Americans would say. In the interests of cutting costs he became averse to change and anyway, he felt the car’s excellent performance and sales didn’t warrant any significant modifications, so he just soldiered on. Again, in later years, he would say that the exploits of TOK 258 and a handful of similarly prepared Plus 4s at home and around Europe in International FIA GT Racing were instrumental to the survival of the company. In America, the Morgan name was kept to the fore by a Californian named Lew Spencer who did much the same race tuning with a series of PLus 4s he called ‘Baby Doll’ for some undisclosed reason. Paradoxically, Lew had considerable help from Triumph.

 

Then came a stroke of genius inspired by Peter Morgan and Maurice Owen, who was normally tucked away out of sight, mostly working on minor improvements, mindful pf Peter’s edict that nothing was to be changed unless there was no option, such as the TR engines going out of production.

 

Maurice obtained a Buick Skylark engine, which was a small all-alloy V8 engine put into production by GM, and, I have heard, over not much more than a weekend, they slotted it into a Plus 4.

 
Side-on image of the Morgan Plus 4
 

The effect was dramatic, and Peter, with some difficulty I should tell you, then negotiated the supply of these engines from Rover who by then were manufacturing the Buick engine under licence.

 

The new Morgan Plus 8 soon went into production. Once again, the fundamental Morgan principles were at work. The much-increased power-to-weight- ratio, the innate Morgan handling, and what had become the much-loved classic lines took the Plus 8 raging up the ‘Must Have’ lists and the now famous five-year waiting list came about. Gratuitous advice from great captains of industry counselled that for greater efficiency and higher profits, production should be hiked up to meet demand, but Peter kept a tight rein on the production rate to one most suited to his workforce and the capabilities of the Malvern factory.

 

Early on in the ‘70s a Plus 8 from a familiar source won first a Production Sports Car Championship, and then immediately afterwards a Modified Sports Car Championship. The Plus 8 carried the company all the way to the end of the 20th century and beyond, along with continuing versions of the 4/4 and Plus 4, not forgetting the surprisingly popular four seater. Charles Morgan had joined the company to work with his father when well into his thirties having been, amongst other things, a courageous and award-winning TV news cameraman. As he became more familiar with the task that lay ahead of him, he became determined that he would be the one to introduce and entirely new model of Morgan, the first since 1936. Once again, Charles Morgan brought to the company just the skills that were needed around the turn of the millennium.

 

After two unsuccessful prototypes from outside sources had been rejected, Peter reluctantly gave Charles one more chance to create his dream. This was largely agreed on the basis that it was better to work with an old devil you know, rather than one you don’t. And this old devil was prepared to work at the factory, where progress could be observed on a daily basis, and restrained if necessary!

 

And so, with Charles providing Morgan with his intuitive pinpoint vision of exactly where and why his small, close knit, company can continue on into the 21st century and his ability to think laterally, outside the square, the prophecy of Honda that ‘the world motor industry will soon consist only of three international conglomerates. Oh! AND the Morgan Motor Company’, is coming to pass.

All fire to their arm I say.