A Brief History of GU 2599


 

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A Tale of Transformation*

Birthday
GU2599 was dispatched from the Morgan factory in Malvern Link to Maskell’s of London on the 28th March 1929. When the car left the factory it was a 2-door Family Morgan, painted blue. That is what chassis number 1342A tells us, and we have no reason to question the Morgan factory records. The engine is recorded as KTW/S/39091 (a side-valve water-cooled J.A.P.), but the records also say that a water-cooled Anzani was fitted. It is apparently not unusual to find such relatively minor errors in the records. The registration number is a London one issued in March 1929, which confirms the time and place of delivery.

The First Happy Owner
Who was the first owner? Where did he, or perhaps she, live? Were they happy with their Morgan? I would love to know, and I wish there was a way of finding out. All through the 1930s I’m sure GU2599 buzzed around, probably in the vicinity of London. Once the Second World War was declared, like most non-essential vehicles it was probably laid-up in a garage awaiting peace, although it’s nice to speculate whether its economical little engine made it more useful to the war effort than larger cars. This is the largest hole in the history of the car, and it will probably remain so.

A New Body
After the Second World War GU2599 appears in a re-bodied form with a sporty looking front end reminiscent of a racing car – it looks as though someone wanted an Allard or a Ferrari – although the side and rear views are less appealing (see below). The space behind the seat is a storage area covered with a tarpaulin. At this time the car was equipped with a 998cc air-cooled side-valve J.A.P.

With the cost and scarcity of cars in the post-war years, this sort of make-over was not unusual. This is especially the case with Morgans because, as such models as the Family Morgan became less fashionable, the sportier Aero became more so. People wanted higher performance motoring, but they wanted it economically. Morgans are highly adaptable - more so than many other contemporary cars - and thin sheet steel over wood proved to be easy to discard, adapt and rebuild.

 
 

 

 

 

A London Commuter
This car was the first that Fred Willcox owned, and he took the photos above in 1953. Chance acquaintance with John Macara led to the discovery that the car he had owned over 50 years ago was alive and well. Fred comments on his ownership of the vehicle:

  • We only kept the car for about a year but in that time we traveled daily from Nunhead in Southeast London to Victoria SW1 for work – about six miles. Of course the Moggie was not really an appropriate vehicle and lack of sidescreens meant some wet arrivals at the office.
  • We used to go out into Kent for runs and we were descending Westerham Hill, when, due to a loose nut/bolt the gear lever slipped out of position and we freewheeled at a much faster speed down the winding road than was prudent. Despite braking as hard as possible we were forced to use all the road and were fortunate not to meet any vehicle coming up the hill. We finally managed to come to a halt in the entrance to field where the spanner came into use. We were safe, but very shaken.
  • In mid-winter during quite a heavy snowfall we were returning home late at night and reached Anerley Hill, which is alongside the Crystal Palace grounds. The road was quite deep in snow and from proceeding normally, the rear of the car slid into the nearside gutter and with the rear wheel wedged between gutter and kerb we continued ‘crabwise’ up the hill to our considerable amazement. About half-way up the hill, the large jubilee clip which held the non-standard flexible exhaust to the off-side engine port loosened and the flexible exhaust fell off. We continued to the top of the hill with flames coming from the off-side of the V twin engine. Upon reaching level ground at the top of the hill I was able to re-connect the exhaust and we continued on our way. Quite spectacular really!
Finally they decided they needed a more conventional vehicle and sold it to a couple who wanted a change from their motorcycle combination. The names of the couple who bought GU2599 are not known.

East Sussex
When Chris Booth (long-time Morgan owner and mainstay of the MTWC) saw Fred Willcox’s pictures he recalled having seen the vehicle in the 1960s:

  • In about 1962ish when I lived in Tenterden there was a chap that did upholstery/hoods, who had once owned a Morgan, and did some seats on my first Morgans. Anyway, he told me that he had bought another, and I went to see it at his bungalow in St Michaels (part of Tenterden) and it looked just like your photos. At the time it had a KT air-cooled J.A.P. fitted, and a dog ear water-cooled as a spare. He always intended to get it going, but never did.
The new owner’s name was Keith Burfield. By 1970 Burfield had sold the car to Eugene Blackborough, also of St. Michael’s who, in turn, passed it along to Jeremy Nichols of Poole in Dorset. Nichol’s father was apparently an inveterate collector of cars, motorcycles and parts thereof. What remained of GU2599 now falls into another of those holes in history, but this one is the sort of place where King Arthur, Hereward the Wake and Paul Bunyan still strut and preen. A creative period.

The Wessex Connection
Actually, the ‘hole in history’ is only a few years long, but it’s very deep. The Vehicle Registration Document of 1982 shows the car owned in 1978 by one David John Butcher of Westbury in Wiltshire. He passed the car along to Frederick George Body of Axbridge, also in Wiltshire. And here’s where that ‘hole in history’ proves to have worked some profound magic; GU2599 with the same chassis number 1342A now emerges as a green Aero! It now has a rockerbox OHV J.A.P., number LTOW 39091/5. The document is clear so there is no possibility of misreading. Was it wishful thinking that GU2599 became transformed from a blue Family with an SV engine to a green Aero with an OHV, or is this just another clerical error? Hardly. Truth to tell, if the transfer was the other way – Aero to Family – an unwitting error could be suspected, because for those fanciers of sporty vehicles this would be a downgrade. But a Family transforming to an Aero is an upscaling quite consistent with more modern aspirations. Perhaps somebody wasn’t being quite straight with the registration authorities? We’ll probably never know.

Back to East Sussex
The next owner of GU2599, which was now a skeleton with attendant fragments of sinew and plumbing – having lost that sporty body along the way – was Brian Courage of Lewes, East Sussex, who intended to restore the car to its ‘original’ form. It came with an OHV rockerbox J.A.P., but the numbers had been filed off, so it is uncertain whether this is the engine referred to in the Vehicle Registration Document. (Who would file numbers off, and why?) The kit of parts included a B type chassis; these were still used by the Morgan factory until 1930 or so, but unfortunately the chassis number cannot be found. All that is extant is the number 6; perhaps the identification number of the bloke who soldered the chassis together. Brian had the parts for a number of years, cogitating all the while on their disposition, before finally deciding to offer the ‘kit’ for sale. Pictures of the parts can be seen in Restoration of GU2599 on this website.

Across the Pond
I made an offer to Brian Courage in October of 2003, leaving aside the engine as I already had a KTW J.A.P. that I had acquired from David Browne of the MTWC Used Parts Exchange Registry, and disassembled in my brother’s London front garden, prior to taking it back to Canada in bits wrapped among my luggage on successive business trips. (Double plastic bagging avoided oil stains on my socks and underwear.) Had the OHV engine been original to the car neither Brian nor I would have contemplated splitting the package up. My brother collected the kit of parts from Lewes and transported them to Ledbury in Herefordshire, where Brian Clutterbuck (Chairman of the Morgan Three Wheeler Club) had kindly agreed to look them over and pack them for shipping to Canada. The crate arrived in May of 2004.

Restoration
The car was restored quite quickly, and what had been intended as a retirement project was completed in 2006, long before I became a burden on the Canadian taxpayers. This was convenient, because the workshop I have at my disposal now is a far cry from the suite of facilities I had at my disposal as a public employee! GU2599 is now proudly a green Aero with a water-cooled SV J.A.P., and carries the Canadian historic vehicle number  913HVY. Nobody has had the heart to take him (or her?) aside and reveal the 'true’ identity. Indeed, this would probably precipitate such an identity crisis that he (or she?) might never start up again. There are Morgan three-wheelers that have been assembled from diverse bits at one sitting, and there are those that have become slowly transformed over several decades.

This car is not a 'bitsa' because it has papers and a bit of history, but the issue of ‘genuineness’ or ‘authenticity’ is still moot. I believe it has to do with time: transformation and change have been discussed at great length for such famed artefacts as Robert Stevenson’s Rocket, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and the violins of Antonio Stradivari, all of which would be unrecognizable to their creators, and yet are vibrant examples of what becomes of cherished, loved and revered objects that are maintained over long spans of time. There is little need to continue the debate here, except to say that those who dismiss the value of such transformations, driven by what is known as ‘the selective tradition’, are naïve indeed. Surely, it’s not what the object was, but what it has become. And this particular old warrior has seen a thing or two. Indeed, among some native Canadians, the essence of being a warrior is not what you are – that bit is easy – but how you got there. We could all take a lesson from that. Whatever the case, GU2599 has seen more changes than most cars of its type, and fully represents the transformational legerdemain of William the Conqueror’s fabled battle axe!

It would be satisfying to know more about this little Morgan; to fill in some of the holes in the historical record. Perhaps there is a reader who knows more and would be interested in sharing further information?

*This story first appeared in essentially this form in the Bulletin of the Morgan Three Wheeler Club in January and February 2007, to whom the author is indebted for permission to reproduce it here.

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