A tale of mixed Moggies
Tim Hill’s 1955 Morgan +4 has spent its life on the track, but it is a complicated life!
The original Morgan with four wheels (as opposed to the traditional three) was the 4-4 and even though it first hit the road in 1936, if you saw one today, it would only be the flat radiator which would differentiate it from a car 30, 40 or maybe even 50 years older, to the eye untrained in the minutia of ancient Morgan. The original started out with a Coventry-Climax engine of a meagre 1122cc and 34hp. By 1939 this had been upgraded (?) to a 39hp 1267cc Standard, so still by no means a fire-breather!
It stayed this way until 1955 when 4-4 became 4/4 with Ford 100E power of actually little power. The “Competition” version, with an improved head and a pair of SUs, still only was delivering 40hp. In short, it looked faster than it was, but this may be unfair. With a top speed of 75mph for the standard model, if we compare that with the 70 mph top speed of the parent Anglia and a zero to 60mph time three and a half seconds quicker than the Anglia (which took a full half minute to get up to that speed) the Morgan was quicker, if not substantially, than the family car of the day.
More speed was needed and Morgan finally provided it in 1950, with the bigger and more powerful +4. The rather breathless Ford engine was gone; in its place a two litre Standard Vanguard unit fitted to a chassis four inches longer and for the first time on a Moggie, brakes (drums all-round) were now hydraulic. The look was modernised at the same time, with the radiator now hidden behind a curved cowl which blended into the bonnet. Power got another boost in 1955 when the Triumph TR3 was dropped in and various tuners across England set to work making it better still.
On April 7 1955, a green +4 with black leather was dispatched to the Morgan dealer in Ledbury to be registered MVJ101 and delivered to its new owner and keen racer, John McKechinie. It would seem its first outing was on July 9 at the Aston Martin Owners’ Club six-hour sprint at Silverstone, entered by the Morgan club and coming in sixth. This was a serious effort, the car had been returned to the works at the end of June for a decoke and to get the head some polishing and then two days before the meeting, Morgan factory records have MVJ101 back in for a set of Dunlop racing tyres.
THIS WAS JUST THE BEGINNING
of the continual upgrading of the car during the year. Ten days after the 6-Hours it was back to the factory again, this time for work to the brakes, the factory records stating, “Latest brakes fitted”. Curious, as at this time, we are talking about a three month-old car! Surely brake technology wasn’t increasing that rapidly? Then a month later another trip back to Malvern where it was “brought up to date”. And still it didn’t end. November was an overhaul of the unique sliding–pillar front suspension and December wasn’t a good month either, this time not maintenance, instead “extensive accident repairs”.
MVJ101 next appears in race results in June 1956, seventh at Oulton Park in the Production Sports Car class, followed four days later with Goodwood’s Whitsun meeting with a fourth outright, but the highlight of the year was again at the AMOC 6 hour relay and an outright win. This was a good year for both car and driver as at the end of the year they were crowned Autosport Production Sports Car Champions.
Like any competition car, as it got older, the results dropped away but this did not deter the enthusiastic McKechnie who continued to campaign the car until 1962 when it was sold. Fellow British Morgan racer Mike Duncan then re-registered it as XWP47G and undertook a full rebuild of what was by now a very tired car after ten years of constant competition use.
Here is where things get complicated. First, enter Chris Lawrence. The LawrenceTune concern was one of the top Moggie improvers and they had built up an enviable reputation, with Chris leading the driving, at sports car racing across the UK with his own highly developed +4, TOK258. Having conquered the local racing scene and wanting to spread the LawrenceTune name to a bigger audience, in 1961 the team looked across the English Channel and the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Holy Grail of international sports car racing. It was here that he hit a snag.
His mother and step-father had a major financial share in the business and it seems that while they were happy for Chris to run in the lower-key events at home, the risks of the 24 hours, where he would be sharing the track with the likes of Ferrari’s 170 mph 250TR, in his 70 mph slower Moggie, seemed too great.
A court injunction made it impossible for the 28-year old engine ace to race the “1954 Morgan +4 motor-vehicle registered TOK 258”. It would seem that the European adventure was over before it had started.
And they made sure they put a stop to it by getting a court injunction which made it impossible for the 28year old engine ace to race, “The 1954 Morgan +4 motor-vehicle registered TOK 258”. It would seem that the European adventure was over before it had started.
However… one should never underestimate the ingenuity of a frustrated racer. After some intense re-reading of the Injunction and some inventive thinking, he realised that the injunction only referred to Chris racing TOK 258.
So in May 1961, a brand new +4, XRX 1 arrived at the LawrenceTune workshop, “owned” by Lawrence’s works driver Richard ShepherdBaron.
The new car was prepared to an identical spec to TOK 258 and was sent to Le Mans, one would imagine much to the chagrin of the parental investors.
In the 1960s (and even ten years later), scrutineering at Le Mans was always a lottery for visiting teams. The locals were very protective of their race and the rules were constantly changed to suit French cars (the Index of Performance was for many years the domain of curious DB-Panhards which wouldn’t stand a chance of winning anything in the outside world). If you were entering a French car, even if you were a Rosbif, you had the battle half won. Failing that, have a Frenchman on the driving roster and you too would have an easy path to the race.
Turn up with an all-British team however and you would need to be able to recite the rule book, in its entirety and in French, to have any hope of keeping ahead of the not exactly unbiased scrutineers. Yet the Morgan got through.
Almost. At the very last minute the team was told they could not compete. The reason given? XRX1 was not a current car, but a pre-war model which had been given disc brakes and wire wheels.
Of course this was nonsense and there was more to the story than met the eye.
Standard-Triumph had entered a team of three works Triumph TR3S’ fitted with their new “Sabrina” twincam head. Fresh from being beaten by the privateer LawrenceTune Morgan across Britain, they were not wanting to risk a humiliating defeat and associated bad publicity if the same were to happen in the world’s most important and highly regarded sports car race and they, as a factory team, had pressured the organisers with some misinformation to get the upstarts with the ancient-looking car tossed out.
Annoyed but determined, XRX1 and TOK258 were entered for the Coppa Inter Europa meeting at Monza, a three-hour race and part of the FIA GT Cup series. Keeping to the letter (if not the spirit) of the injunction, Lawrence drove XRX1 single-handed, planning on running the entire race non-stop with the long-distance Le Mans fuel tank still fitted to the car, while TOK258 had a two-driver team at the wheel.
Not wanting to give its strategy away, during practice the team
A valve was on the way out, allowing a Porsche to take the class lead from the Morgan in the dying minutes of the race, relegating the Morgan to second, still an outstanding result for a privateer team in a race full of works entries.
performed dummy fuel and driverchange stops for both cars and it was only with half an hour to run that Porsche’s equally devious team manager, Baron Huschke von Hanstein realised he had been sold a dummy and the Morgan was not going to be stopping, that he put out the “faster” pit-board to his drivers.
Due to racing commitments back in the UK, Lawrence had not had time to do his usual pre-race freshen of the car’s head (it may not have raced at Le Mans, but it had run in practice) and a valve was on the way out, allowing a Porsche to take the class lead from the Morgan in the dying minutes of the race, relegating the Morgan to second, still an outstanding result for a privateer team in a race full of works entries.
Lawrence still had unfinished business at Le Mans and the 1962 race was a major effort for the team. TOK258 was sent back to the factory, but that registration number was swapped to the chassis which had worn XRX1 and the car itself had the body removed, which was retained by the factory and new low line Super Sports body was fitted. This time the ACO were happy to see the car and not only was it able to start the race, they won the 2 litre GT class, beating a works Sunbeam Alpine to do so. And the injunction? TOK258 was no longer “the 1958 Morgan +4 motor vehicle” as specified. Problem solved.
So, what does all of this have to do with the yellow Moggie we are looking at on these pages? We now go back to the tired MVJ101, in the hands of Mike Duncan who had rebuilt it when he bought it in 1962.
Three years later he undertook a major rebuild again to bring that car up to the latest (for a Morgan) spec. The chassis was new, as were the wheels and brakes. The engine was the original LawrenceTune with alloy sump and inlet manifold with a pair of Weber 48 carburettors. The gearbox was the 4 speed Moss fitted by John McKechnie in 1958 and the body came from Morgan, the discarded high-line Le Mans body from the abortive 1961 campaign, still with Le Mans regulation full windscreen, hood and side-screens. At this time, the registration was changed to XWP47G and the car continued to be raced, hillclimbed and sprinted, before changing hands again in the late 60s.
In 1971 Andy Garlick bought the car, re-registering it as MOG615 and spent the next 32 years campaigning the car both in Britain and on the Continent. There was no sign of the car slowing as it got older, as it took wins through the 70s at places as diverse as Zandvoort and the Nürbürgring. It was only in 2003 that Andy finally sold MOG615, keeping the registration number, and the new owner continued to race what was now GAS 550 in classic events and hillclimbs, but by now the engine was tired, with head and gasket problems manifesting themselves and it was at this stage that Tim Hill first saw it and tried (unsuccessfully) to buy it.
In its next set of hands there was still no sign of retirement or an easy life for a car approaching 50 years since it left the factory. Instead it was given a sympathetic restoration and continued to be raced extensively, highlights being a second overall in the VCSS Pomeroy trophy and more impressive, a run in a six hour race at Spa. When business commitments saw the car back on the market in 2006, Tim Hill was on the spot immediately and three years after first seeing it, what must be one of, if not the world’s most extensively campaigned Morgans was finally his. In 2008 when he and Jane moved to New Zealand, the Morgan came with them and now wears the registration number it wore the longest in its competition history, MOG 615 and continues to be used at suitable events, the last being the Roycroft Trophy in March. Next year the car turns 60 but there is no sign it has reached retirement age!
LawrenceTune made their name in the late 1950s and into the 60s racing their own tuned Morgan’s. A pair of 45mm Webers dominate the engine-bay
The bonnet scoop is necessary to keep those carb.s fed
A sign of a proper sports car. The driver gets the rev counter, the passenger the speedo
Not welcome at Le Mans in 1961, but 2012 was a different story
The engine tuner’s name. Worn with pride on the rocker cover
MOG615 was the UK registration the car raced with for more than 30 years