It is rare to see a Morgan automobile around Austin. But when one pops up, almost assuredly the owner will be a passionate Anglophile, at least where automobiles are concerned. Such is the case for Austinite Duncan Charlton, who has had a long-time love affair with Morgans. He recently acquired a racing Morgan with a genuine winning provenance. Duncan’s story below:
As I spoke with a friend in the pits at Circuit of the Americas during the 2013 Vintage Grand Prix I noticed a tall older man standing in front of the grille of my red 1952 Morgan Plus 4. He seemed interested in our conversation so I invited him over and asked if he was a Morgan owner. As he introduced himself, I found I was speaking to international racing legend Anatoly Arutunoff. I could not anticipate that two months later I would take possession of and begin recommissioning what is arguably the best-known Morgan 4/4 race car in the world, the one in which he won the H Production championship and Presidents Cup at the 1981 SCCA Runoffs at Road Atlanta.
Morgans have proven themselves in competition since the company began producing cars in 1909, famously winning races from the 1913 Cyclecar Grand Prix in Amiens, France to LeMans in 1938, 1939 and 1962, to Sebring, Spa, and Daytona. Morgan have been successfully campaigned in amateur club racing on most continents. Some are active in vintage racing today.
Few historic race cars have survived, having been merely “tools for the job”, to be discarded or modified for street use when worn out or obsolete. Three or four successful Morgan 3-wheeler racers still exist, and 1959 Morgan Plus 4 that was class winner at Le Mans in 1962 survives to this day, although there is little left of the car as it was raced in 1962. Although the lightweight, small-engined 4/4 model was occasionally raced it rarely stood out in SCCA races.
It’s worth describing what a Morgan is: the 4/4 model, which began production in 1936, was so named to describe its four wheels and four cylinder engine to distinguish it from the popular 3-wheeler models that preceded it. When the 2-liter Standard Vanguard (later developed into the long-lived Triumph TR2, 3, and 4 engine) became available to Morgan in 1952, the larger-engined Plus 4 was introduced as the 4/4’s bigger brother.
The Plus 4 which won its class at Le Mans became the prototype for the highly competitive Super Sports. When the supply of TR4 engines began to run out in the late 1960s, the Plus 8 was introduced, using a 3.5 liter aluminum V8 which Rover had bought from GM. Most 4-wheeled Morgans are built on a steel ladder frame while the sheet metal of the bodywork is attached to wood framing, befitting a car that continues to accurately recall its 1930s origins.
One critical advantage Morgans had over their competition was the very light overall weight afforded by the wood construction, augmented by the surefooted handling provided by the same independent front suspension found on the earliest 3-wheelers. And those 3-wheelers? Morgan began producing 3-wheelers again a couple of years ago, using a 2-liter V-twin parked out front. I’ve driven two of them and have found them very entertaining. Have a look at the Morgan Motor Company website: www.morgan-motor.co.uk
I became aware of Morgans when my older brother and his friends bought affordable old British cars in the late 1960s. I put Morgan at the top of my list and it stayed there until I could afford one (I am fortunate to now own a 1931 Super Aero 3-wheeler, a 1957 Plus 4, a 1971 Plus 8, and now the 1967 4/4, which replaced the 1952 Plus 4 vintage racer). In the 1970s I began to see the name Toly Arutunoff in Road and Track magazine as a privateer racing various Corvette, Ferrari, Lotus, Abarth, Lancia and Cooper models around the world (and later went on to build Hallett race track near Tulsa) – but what caught my attention was that he also raced a Morgan, particularly when “my team” won the SCCA Runoffs in 1981.
Toly’s exploits are documented in his book, “One Off: The Roads, the Races, the Automobiles of Toly Arutunoff” ISBN 0-929758-25-0. Peter Egan, a friend of Toly’s, wrote a driver report of this car for Road and Track magazine in 1982. The short version of Toly’s story is that he was a rich kid in Oklahoma (his father invented the submersible petroleum pump in the 1920s) who decided to racing. Although he could afford the winning car, he saw little challenge in that, preferring the fun of a challenge.
How many people would have considered racing a 1962 Studebaker Grand Tourismo Hawk at Sebring (1965)? If you’ve read his book or recall Peter Egan’s adventures with Toly, you’ll understand the importance that Toly put on making racing a fun adventure – the thrill of competition and the satisfaction of enjoying camaraderie among fellow racers were of paramount importance. Much of the auto racing world has now become quite different – more formal and businesslike and not an easy place for the privateer racer to succeed – and vintage racing has today staked a claim to the fun side of racing.
In the mid-1960s Toly wanted to race with the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America). He had a look at the rule book and thought a Morgan 4/4 might have a tiny advantage over the Austin Healey Sprites that completely dominated the H Production class since the larger allowed wheel diameter would allow more rubber on the road. He purchased two identical Morgans and by 1973 he came in first place at the SCCA Runoffs. His car was challenged and he was disqualified due to a technicality having to do with the angle of the valve seats. Ironically, he reports, the car was faster after it was brought into compliance. In 1981 he showed up in the pouring rain at Road Atlanta for the national SCCA Runoffs. His mechanic had not brought rain tires from Oklahoma, so he bought a new set – and that perhaps was the critical advantage that led to his victory in H Production. Winning the Presidents Cup earned him a hand-written letter from Ronald Reagan.
Toly raced the car for several more seasons and parked the 4/4 for good around 1988. By then the SCCA class rules had changed and the 1340cc Ford engine had been swapped for a Ford 1500cc engine and the car was run in F Production.
Going over the details of the car when I picked it up in Tulsa in December, I noted that some of the wood in the body was badly eroded from having gotten wet and staying wet. I had heard that the car had been simply parked under a tarp in an open shed for many years but this was more deteriorated than I’d hoped it would be. Toly remarked, “it was that way when I won the Runoffs in 1981…” The car was never known as a “show queen.”
The body panels were mostly aluminum when the car was new but over the years it was fitted with fiberglass fenders and a more extensive roll cage to meet rules and/or take advantage of the rules. I have already rebuilt two gearboxes and have the 1500 engine, which never completed its first race, in pieces for refurbishing and to take advantage of modifications allowed under vintage racing rules. I have all the wood pieces needed to rebuild the body tub and will strip the car down to the chassis to check for cracks and to possibly add reinforcements.
With no production car trim to be concerned with, reassembly should go fairly quickly and I hope to have the car on the track before the calendar year is out, racing against A-H Sprites, MG Midgets and MGAs, Triumph Spitfires, Lotus 7s, Alfa Romeos and FIATs. I hope to attend the CVAR (Corinthian Vintage Auto Racing club) November race at Texas World Speedway’s road course outside College Station and perhaps race again with SVRA (Sportscar Vintage Racing Association) at Circuit of the Americas in Austin.Duncan Charlton – Elgin, TX