Morgan Plus 4
The groundwork for what would become the Morgan Plus 4 was laid back when the automobile was just becoming a more common form of transportation. Like Henry Ford, Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan dreamed of making his fortune with a cheap universal car -- only he lived in England, where "proper" automobiles were heavily taxed. He thus turned to tax-free cyclecars: small, three-wheel roadsters with two-cylinder motorcycle engines and brisk performance. What set the Morgan apart from other cyclecars was its independent front suspension by a simple sliding-pillar design, a genuine revolution for solid-axle 1910.
Morgan prospered through the '20s as one of Britain's most affordable cars before being eclipsed by cheap four-wheelers from giants Austin and Morris. But the rugged tricycle "Moggies" remained a force in competition, and their sales appeal shifted from basic transport to winning sports car, a reputation that persisted through the last of the line in 1952.
By that point, Morgan's mainstay was a "proper" sports car called the 4/4 (4 wheels/4 cylinders), new in 1935 but remarkably little changed since. By the '50s it was as antique as an MG-TC, with an ash-framed body and hard sliding-pillar suspension, yet HFS and his son Peter refused to change it. Happily, the 4/4 charmed enough Americans that tiny Morgan prospered anew with its old-fashioned cars.
But even Morgan wasn't entirely immune to change, and in 1951 it issued the Plus 4. Aimed mainly at wealthy Americans, this was a deluxe replacement for the 4/4 (which would return in 1956). It had a longer wheelbase, belated hydraulic brakes, and instead of a mild 1.3-liter four, a 2.1-liter Standard engine from that firm's new 1948 Vanguard sedan. A four-seat roadster soon joined the traditional two-seater, as did two- and four-place "drophead" convertibles.
Styling evolved a bit in 1954, as the flat-faced radiator gave way to a domed vertical-bar grille. Also that year came a more potent engine option, the 95-hp version developed for Standard-Triumph's own sporting TRs. This was the Plus 4's only engine by 1959, when wider bodies with faired-in headlamps appeared, along with optional front disc brakes. The last were standard by 1962, as was a modernized engine with 105 hp or, in rare Super Sports tune, 115-120 hp.
The Plus 4 vanished after 1969, then returned in the late '80s for Britain and Europe with a new engine and updated interior. But that's Morgan for you: changing yet changeless -- not unlike jolly old England herself.