A Club is Born – A history of the Morgan Sports Car Club by Brian Downing
The old saying “From humble acorns do mighty oaks (or should I say ash) grow” is most certainly true of the Morgan Sports Car Club, with its 4,600-plus members worldwide. The humble acorn, namely the Morgan 4/4 Club, started with a short paragraph on page 598 of The Autocar on 18th May 1951:
Any Morgan owner interested in the possible formation of a ‘4/4 Club’ with a view to the organisation of, and the participation in, sporting events, is asked to write to D. Whetton, Rykneld Way, Littleover Derby, who is anxious to investigate the possible response to such a club.
This was seen by, amongst others, R. G. Pritchard of Spondon. He arranged a meeting in his sitting room with D. Whetton, J. Sutton Atkins and a few others. They decided to invite those who replied to the notice in The Autocar to meet at Ye Olde Flying Horse in Kegworth for the inaugural meeting on 30th June 1951.
As about 20 enthusiasts turned up, it was considered there was sufficient interest to start a club. A second meeting was arranged at the same venue on 21st July 1951 and so the Morgan 4/4 Club was born.
The membership totalled 63 and the original officers and committee were:
President: J.M. Sparrowe of Bournemouth
Chairman: R.G. Pritchard of Spondon
Vice Chairman: L.A. Willsmere of Sheffield
Sec. & Treasurer: J.S. Atkins of Derby
Comp. Secretary: D.V.J. Whetton of Derby
W. Allerton of Chester
B. Carroll of Leicester
R.D. Hadley of London
T.A. Parkes of Pershore
The First Steps
Within a month the club had organised its first event. This took place on Sunday 5th August 1951 in the shape of a road rally. With fine weather, the competitors gathered at The Beech Hotel in Burton-on-Trent. The event consisted of a 72-mile drive along minor roads to Banbury. They also managed to fit in a driving test on the county council's car park. The day finished with a dinner at The Whateley Hall Hotel.
Three weeks later on Saturday 25th August the club was invited to the second 750 Club Six-Hour relay race at Silverstone. With a four-car team comprising Jeff Sparrowe, Bill Parkes, Bill Allerton and J.S. Atkins, they managed a very creditable second place to the powerful Vintage Bentley Team. This was followed with a successful driving test at Queenford Aerodrome near Oxford on 7th October.
The first five months of the club finished with a night rally on 1st–2nd December. This event started from three different places – Manchester, Gloucester and Hereford – and finished after 300 miles with a well-earned breakfast at The Bell Hotel in Leicester. If this were not enough, they then held a Concours d’Elegance while the officials worked out the results!
The introduction of the Plus Four was greeted by the club committee with great heart-searching as to whether such ‘revolutionary beasts’ should be allowed in the club. After much discussion and rude remarks about tractors, they were taken into the fold. Could this have been an early sign of a name change? The Plus Fours were indeed accepted, so much so that it was hoped to field a team of them in their second 750 Club Six-Hour Relay race.
Throughout the fifties the club grew, maintaining its enthusiasm for track events, rallies and treasure hunts. Although there were annual dinners, often combined with the AGM, it would seem that there were very few other social events. This was probably due to the fact that there were no centres and members had to travel quite long distances to attend meetings.
In fact, the idea of centres started in the sixties. The first centre to be formed, as far as I can ascertain, was the London Centre. This apparently had two starts: the first was on Friday 3rd November at Jim Banbury’s home in Chelsea, and the second – billed as The New London Centre Inaugural Meeting – was held at W.A. (Griff) Griffiths Garage on 29th September 1965. Next, the Northern Centre was formed around the beginning of 1968, a founder member being Roger Rigden. East Anglia gets a first mention in August 1969 with a letter from David Hepworth.
The number of centres steadily increased to the present day with around 35 in the UK and many more affiliated clubs worldwide.
The Dinner Dance
The one social function that has been with the Club since the start is the annual dinner. The first of these, although it was reported in the March 1952 edition of the magazine as 'The Christmas Gathering', was at Ye Olde Woolpack in Warwick on 15th December 1951. 'A party of around 50 met for a good but rather expensive buffet followed by dancing to a somewhat erratic disc-jockey. The Evening finished at 11.30 with guests going their many ways riding their Morgans'.
The following April saw the first AGM and Dinner combined. This was held at The Royal Hotel, Leicester. After the meeting had finished at 7.15, the dinner was described as 'being far better than can be expected in these days of "hard times"’.
By April 1955 the AGM and Dinner were still held together, this time at The Warwick Arms Hotel, Warwick. The cost of the meal was 10/6d (52p).
Ten years later, the event – now called ‘The Annual Dinner and Dance’ – was held at The Star and Garter at Upton-on-Severn on Saturday 20th November 1965 for 40 members and their friends (total home membership was then 120). It was considered a poor state of affairs that only three of the 30 trophy-winners were there to receive their awards from Mrs Morgan. The evening progressed with a cabaret consisting of Nick Capaldi with his accordion, followed by some ‘astounding magic’ from Billie Magee. A little light dancing rounded the evening off at 11.30. This, of course, is what was meant by the ‘Swinging Sixties’!
The first dinner to be held at The Abbey Hotel in Malvern was on 7th February 1970. There was a four-course meal in the ‘new fully air conditioned Elgar Suite’. The guest speaker was John Bolster, who was technical editor of Autosport. There was space for 250 at a cost of 35 shillings (£1.75), and bed and breakfast was available at one guinea (£1.05) – normally 55 shillings (£2.75).
We have been using the The Abbey Hotel ever since, with around 340 easily filling the, usually too hot, Elgar Suite and often spilling over into the dining room. The event has expanded over the whole weekend, now including the AGM and a spares fair and lunchtime noggin on the Sunday. More and more members stay from the Friday to the Monday.
Same Club, New Name
The first major milestone in the club’s history was the change of name. The question is often asked why the car was called the Morgan 4/4, and the answer is quite simple really: just a case of numbers, wheels 4 and cylinders 4. With regard to the club, the 3-wheeler F type (three wheels and Four cylinders) was still in production, so calling it The 4/4 Club would not confuse it with the already well established Three Wheeler Club.
However, the Morgan Plus Four had been seen at the Motor Show in 1950 and was road tested in the April 1951 edition of The Autocar, and until the introduction of the Series II in 1955 no 4/4s had been built since 1950. By the time I joined the club in 1968, talk had been going on for quite a while about changing the name. It was said that some Plus Four owners either thought that the club excluded them or would not join it on principle. Then the arrival of the Plus Eight sealed the fate of the name.
At the end of 1969 a two-question referendum was held, with the following results:
“Do members wish for the club to change its name?”
Yes 195 votes
No 122 votes
“If the Club's name is changed, which of the indicated names would the members prefer?”
Morgan Car Club 121 votes
Morgan 4 Wheeler Club 39 votes
Morgan Sports Car Club 136 votes
These results were proposed and passed at the AGM in June 1970 and with effect from 1st January 1971 we were “The Morgan Sports Car Club”, with just over 600 members. Then the debate began over changing the badge - but that's another story.
The second milestone came in 1991, with the Club becoming a Limited Company. This had arisen mainly due to the fact that the Club was supplying spares through ‘The Register (Technical Services)’ and there were fears that any failure of any such supplies could lead to litigation against the members.