Curbside Classic: 1950 Morgan 4/4 – Fashion? What Fashion?

This week will be dedicated to both that most British of automotive institutions, the roadster – specifically, early post-war roadsters that begat a long line of descendants. Which means we have to start the clock circa 1935, because most British cars were stuck in that era for a good couple of decades. There were notable exceptions, as we shall see, but the Morgan 4/4 isn’t one of them. In fact, it remained fiercely – some might say stubbornly – true to its pre-war roots for many decades.

In late 1935, Morgan, hitherto mostly specialized in trikes, launched the 4/4 (4 wheels, 4 cylinders) roadster. For the time, it was a perfectly acceptable small British drop-top, from both a styling and technical point of view.

In fact, as far as its chassis is concerned, the Morgan 4/4 was actually quite unconventional and advanced in several respects. It consisted in a very low and rigid steel ladder frame – so low that the rear axle sat above it.

The front suspension was Morgan’s own technical specialty. It’s a form of sliding pillar design that contemporary literature called a “sliding axle.” A diagram from might serve us better than a lengthy description in this particular case.

Originally, the 4/4 came with a 1122cc 34hp Coventry Climax F-head 4-cyl. and a Meadows gearbox, though race-oriented cars could be ordered with a smaller bore to compete in the sub-1100cc class (a Morgan came 2nd in that class at the 24-hours of Le Mans in 1938). In 1939, Morgan switched to Standard for their engine supply, which was a 1267cc OHV design. It produced 40hp and was specially made for the 4/4 – down to the addition of the marque’s name on the head cover.

This 1.2 litre engine sent power to the rear wheels via a Moss 4-speed gearbox (again, specially-made for the 4/4, smaller than the one used in contemporary Jaguars). Said box was located pretty much in the middle of the chassis, right under the necessarily short gear lever. All in all, a rather interesting and modern chassis, for the time.

But to clothe that modern chassis, the Morgan solution was to keep things pretty conservative. An ash-framed body, styled to look perfectly presentable for the mid-‘30s, was deemed a perfectly viable solution. And I guess it still looked fine when production resumed in late 1945, but as the decades piled on, Morgan never really altered it fundamentally. They changed a few bits and pieces, here and there, but the car seemed frozen in time forever.

One of the major aesthetic evolutions was the front end, which did become a bit more integrated and could almost pass for aerodynamic compared to this. In Morgan parlance, this is a “flat-rad” car – a tell-tale sign that it’s a pre-1954 model.

The body was conservative, but there were options. Our feature car (and the star product in the above 1947 advert, which already waxes nostalgic about the “pre-war days”) was the two-seater roadster, but one could opt for a “Coupé” model that had framed windows, a lined canvas top and a cosier feel. There was also a four-seater option – a tad unsightly, with its boxy behind, but potentially useful, if the aim was to get four people drenched in English rain, rather than merely two.

The first series flat-rad 4/4s were only made until 1950. The “tailor-made” 1.2 litre Standard engine supply was drying up, which meant Morgan had to devise a new larger model, the +4, featuring a 2.1 litre straight out of the Vanguard, a slightly longer chassis and hydraulic brakes. The smaller 4/4 was only out of commission for a short spell though, as it reappeared in 1955 with a 1.2 litre side-valve motor from the Ford 100E.

From that point on, the 4/4 remained in continuous production as Morgan’s junior model, with minute evolutions to its body and a variety of Ford 4-cyl. engines under its louvered bonnet, right up to 2018. That’s quite the production run. The bigger +4, for its part, made it to 2020, when the steel chassis that traced its origins back to the mid-‘30s was finally retired for good.

Despite its 80-plus year career (minus a couple of hiatuses), the 4/4 remained a handmade car and sold for an increasingly steep price. The flat-rads were affordable, but as time went on and Morgans gained living fossil status, even the smaller models’ value skyrocketed. In the early naughties, demand was so high that waiting lists crept up to eight years for a new car.

All models combined (4/4, +4, +8, Aero), Morgan produced about 35k four-wheeled cars between 1936 and 2020, everyone from the same factory. Series 1 flat-rad 4/4s only represent a tiny fraction of that number, though I’m struggling to find sources that can agree on an exact number. One that seems pretty authoritative declares that 525 cars were made with the Standard engine (1939-1950), another source says 663 cars were made between 1935 and 1939. Body style-wise, the two-seater roadster was the most popular, but it’s not clear exactly how many of each were made – no two sources agree 100%. Whatever the case may be, there weren’t too many of these made, and fewer still left.

Morgans have an avid following in Japan, as one might expect in a place where Anglophilia, car enthusiasm, wealth and conservatism overlap to such an extent that a firm like Mitsuoka could thrive on domestic sales alone. So seeing a Morgan is not the occasion it once was for yours truly. But this very early one was exceptional, no matter how blasé one might feel about those saucy Worcestershire roadsters.


Related posts:


Carshow Classic: 1936 Morgan 4/4 (And Morgan History) – Trying To Understand The Enigma, by Roger Carr

CC Twofer: 1989 Porsche 928 S4 & Morgan 4/4 – The Oddest Couple, by T87