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Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society caters for veteran cars, vintage cars & classic cars, as well as commercials and motorcycles.

:: [  1913 Morgan Grand Prix  ] ::

Fascinating period photo received from one of our senior Members Ian MacLennan (UK) who was wondering what car this car was. Parents regularly attended Brooklands in the early years and took a lot of photos, mainly of motorcycles. -- We passed this lovely historical photo to the Morgan archivist Jake Alderson, who advised that it was one he had not seen before. A single seater Morgan Grand Prix fitted with JAP 90 bore ohv water cooled engine. Only one he knew like it was raced by W G McMinnies in 1913. Could be the same car, at a later date. 

We initially contacted the Archivist of the Morgan Sports Car Club Roger Tatton who advised that their sphere of interest is mainly 4-wheeled Morgans and suggested we contact Jake Alderson of the The Morgan Three Wheeler Club.

We advised Jake Alderso that we had received a photo from one of our Senior Members Ian MacLennan which came from his parents' family archives. The photo shows a Morgan GP car in a competitive event and we were interested to determine the year and type of engine, and if possible, the event and person. We advised that study of the photograph made us think this was a pre-1914 car but certain features suggested this might have been a production car rather than one of the early works cars.  Regretfully not much of the registration can be seen. Assuming it is a registration, it reads: # R 5 . 

We received a very quick response from Jake Alderson: " What an interesting Morgan, one I have never seen before. It is a single seater Grand Prix model fitted with a JAP 90 bore overhead valve water cooled  JAP engine. That is the easy bit. I only knew of one other used in competition before seeing yours and that was raced by WG McMinnies in 1914. Yours has some similarities and could conceivably be the same car at a later date as the engine cylinder heads appear to be of a later JAP type. The bonnet is different too. The driver I do not recognise, and the registration is unusual and could be a trade plate. The best I can offer is to try and look further on this and come back to you. Thanks for sending it to me, - you have made my day!" 

We then looked into the background of W G McMinnies and established that if this was indeed a car driven by McMinnies it was then a very important car in the History of Morgan. Morgan Motor Company was founded by Henry Fredrick Stanley Morgan, known as HFS, and the business was  initially a couple of local garages. In 1909 HFS developed his first prototype, a simple three-wheeler with a tubular steel chassis fitted with a 7 h.p. Peugeot V-twin engine not originally intended as a commercial venture. It received a favorable reaction and the first production Morgans appeared in 1910 being the single seat 'Runabout' with either a 4HP or 8HP JAP (J.A. Prestwich) engines. A two seater followed in 1911 and was sold, amongst others, in the famous Harrods store. Some even had Harrods bodies.

HFS very quickly recognised that competition successes would help the company sales and embarked on extensive programme of completive events countrywide. The Morgan was in the 'cyclecar' category although there was some serious questioning at time if a three wheeler could be considered as a cyclecar.   It did however conform marginally closer to a 'motorcycle with sidecar' category, both having three wheels. Cyclecars were at the time very popular in Europe, especially in France, being a class for very small relatively fragile machines with very thin 'cycle' type tyres. British and world records swiftly followed for Morgans. One such was the first International Cyclecar Race at Brooklands in 1912. In many of the more famous victories the Morgan was driven by HFS.

The main magazine covering the cyclecar scene was 'The Cyclecar'. The magazine's editor was one W G McMinnies, so it was very clever of HFS to get him to become keen on Morgans, and to become a member of the Morgan factory team. It was therefore not surprising that Morgans got good reviews and bags of coverage. W G McMinnies in turn, was no mean driver and contributed greatly to the Morgan hoard of silverware.

1912 had been a good year for Morgan with 10 British and World Records for various classes of cyclecars,  24 Gold Medals in major reliability trials and numerous victories on the race track. None was more pleasing than for a Morgan to easily win the first International Cyclecar Race at Brooklands.  

In order to continue with the successes, Morgan were determined to enter and do well in the inaugural International Cyclecar Grand Prix, at Amiens in France. Morgan built four cars specifically for the race, which was to take place in July 1913. These were built with longer chassis to enable the seat to be lower and were provided with water cooled engines of under 1000cc to comply with the regs. Two of the cars used JAP 90 bore engines and were to be driven by HFS and W G McMinnies. The other two were fitted with Blumfield and Green-Precision engines respectively.

Cutting a long race story short, the winner of the 1913 International Cyclecar Grand Prix was one W G McMinnies who had won against strong opposition from many continental four-wheelers and despite having to stop to change an inner tube in one of the front tyres,  and coming into the pits towards the end for a splash and dash !  McMinnes subsequently named his car "Jabberwock of Picardy" and campaigned it equally successfully until the start of the First World War. The war curtailed production and competition.

As a result of the successes of this car and the other team cars, Morgan began to build a series of competition cars called the "Morgan Grand Prix". It is not known precisely what eventually happened to the two JAP powered team Morgans but Jake Alderson provided a photo of the McMinnes car as published in 1920.

Jake Alderson comments were: "  Here is a photo of the Morgan, published July 15th 1920. The single seater is on the left with a London registration number (LT).  It has an identical body to your mystery car and still differs a little in other ways, but no doubt it was tuned and modified a little for the event pictured in your photo. The mudguards look similar and the headlamp brackets appear identical. My photo was apparently taken outside 'Prince's Motor Works', could that be London? Both of the Morgans in my photo differ from the production factory designs and I do wonder if Prince's were body builders trying to get established in the sporting body market. It was certainly possible to buy Morgan chassis. I'm pretty certain your photo is not Brooklands. There appears to be a winding road with hedge in the background, more likely a club sprint perhaps? Hope this helps Jake.

Jake Alderson has been in contact with us subsequently and advised as follows:  My good friend and fellow Morgan enthusiast and historian Dennis Rushton has been able to fully identify the Morgan photo you asked me about (Help Page 79).  An early newspaper magazine photo he has shows a rear view of this very car at the Cyclecar Club's South Harting Hill Climb, held July 18th 1914. This hill climb was held 4 miles south of Petersfield. The driver is L W Spencer. He competed in the Racing Class but unfortunately the race report I have fails to give results as the times recorded needed to have a formula calculation added to give final positions. I have attached the relevant photo (above). Of interest, WG McMinnies had also entered in his Morgan.

Sometimes quite a lot of information can be unearthed as a result of receiving a single photo!!

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