A one-off, Avon-bodied Morgan used extensively by the Morgan family

Photography by John Webber

When this elegant drophead coupe first rolled into the Morgan Motor Company, the Morgan family claimed it. Historian Ken Hill writes that founder Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan found this Avon coachbuilt prototype “so attractive that he immediately took the car for his own personal transport.” H.F.S.’s son and daughter enjoyed it as well, and factory manager George Goodall spent his weekends tossing the coupe through the woods in winter trials.   

How did this one-off family favorite come to be built? In 1936, after decades of building jaunty, two-fisted three-wheelers so light and tossable they were said to be part motorcycle and part Gipsy Moth biplane, H.F.S. realized that the British motoring public was moving toward more refined rides. Many enthusiasts fancied motorcars that rolled on an even number of wheels, offered weather protection and provided more comfort.

So Morgan launched its Series 1, a still-sporty but more civilized two-place roadster. With a wheel at each corner and four-cylinder power, it became the revered and long-lived 4-4. It sold well, and soon Morgan was planning an upscale version aimed at the posh set.

The company sent a donor 4-4 to coachbuilder Avon with instructions to create a “high-luxe” Morgan to compete with more exclusive offerings, like MG’s coachbuilt Tickford. Avon responded with this distinctive drophead coupe that, despite the name, featured a three-position folding top. 

Its grille, bonnet, fenders and headlights were recognizable from production 4-4s, but from the windshield back to its curved, sloping rear deck, this prototype showcased its own graceful style, including tall suicide doors, interior upgrades and an enclosed spare wheel. It was the first Morgan with trafficators and the first to use the then-experimental Standard Special (Triumph) engine.

Boss H.F.S. spent considerable time behind the wheel. His son, Peter, who later ran the company, also enjoyed this car. Sister Stella took it on her honeymoon. Factory manager and later managing director George Goodall drove it so often in trials and rallies that it became known as Uncle George’s Winter Carriage.

It not only served as the template for Morgan-built DHCs, but it also became the company’s “hack” for testing engines and developmental upgrades. Even long after it was sold, it was returned to the factory for service and upgrades. Over the years, it has become perhaps the most documented car in Morgan history.

While its styling was well received, Morgan’s bean counters sharpened their pencils to cut production costs, eliminating a number of distinctive elements. The complex, sloping rear deck with its recessed spare and metal cover was replaced by a flat panel that housed two spare wheels. Inside, the instrument facia and dash were redesigned for better placement of gauges. 

Starting in 1938, production DHCs sold for around £225 (about $1100 U.S.), a premium of £39 over a standard 4-4 roadster. Demand was light, and Morgan built only 57 copies before World War II intervened. 

After the war, the company resumed production, building some 765 copies in various configurations as the 4-4 evolved, including Plus 4 flat-radiator models, round-cowled models and Plus 4 four-seaters, until production ceased in 1969. About 175 are known to exist today. 

The prototype that started it all is an unlikely survivor–the only drivable prewar DHC on this side of the Atlantic. Five postwar Series 1 DHCs are known to reside in America, but at last report, none is driving. 

This one-off’s voyage to the U.S. started, as many do, with an internet search. Chasing parts for his 1939 Series1, Central Florida Morgan collector Mark Braunstein, a die-hard disciple who currently owns four, ran across a U.K. listing for a 1938 DHC. Intrigued, he learned that it was a stalled restoration project, mostly in boxes. 

His interest led to weeks of detective work, including research into Morgan books and factory records. He ran down leads, checked numbers, and communicated with experts and former owners. “When I first saw photos of this car, I was sure I’d seen it in a book,” Mark recalls. “I was right. After my investigation, I was convinced that it was indeed the Avon-built prototype DHC, Uncle George’s Winter Carriage, and I bought it in 2005.” Its provenance has since been authenticated by Morgan experts, including the U.K. Morgan 4-Wheeler Club technical services secretary and 4-4 Series 1 registrar.

Then living in Atlanta, Mark had the rolling chassis and its imposing array of boxes shipped there. When he began sorting, he learned to his dismay that nothing was labeled. 

He faced a jumble of proper DHC parts, other Morgan bits, multiple duplicates, the occasional plumbing fixture and odd pieces he’s still trying to identify. “Evaluating parts took me a year,” he says, “and I was still missing some important items, like the trafficators. I also had several duplicates, like four pairs of headlight buckets. Which was correct?” 

Amid this chaos came a professional relocation to Florida. Sadly, even a Morgan fanatic immersed in a restoration must deal with making a living. 

Mark had no garage in Orlando, so aptly named Porsche restorer Ray Morgan agreed to proceed with the project’s bodywork and paint while Mark moved and built a garage. The coupe’s body panels had been loosely mounted to the chassis, but panel gaps were seriously askew. The engine and drivetrain were installed, but some components were incorrect and others didn’t function. Facing these issues, they pulled the body off the chassis.  

They found that the ash frame was in good shape, but the wings, bonnet and body panels had suffered the ravages of time and abuse, and some were altered. Mark was determined to save as much original metal as possible, so most panels underwent straightening, smoothing and adjustment. “We took it completely down and started again from scratch,” Mark explains. “I wanted to restore the car as closely as I could to its prototype form.” 

The restoration stretched into five years. Mark’s job required global travel, and those trips cut into garage time. Still, his worldwide voyages often paid off, yielding parts and information from Morgan contacts. During a business trip to Perth, Australia, with the help of another Moggie enthusiast, he measured the top bows on a DHC relic. “There was just enough there to give me the data I needed,” Mark recalls. “It was not really a car, just a carcass.” In the U.K., he visited the Morgan factory twice. 

Stella Morgan, daughter of the company’s founder, took the one-off on her honeymoon. Today, it lives in Orlando. Photograph Courtesy Morgan (insert).

Few DHCs remain. Information is scarce and some parts unobtainium. Fellow owner Rick Frazee loaned his 1953 Morgan DHC to serve as a template, which was especially useful in restoring the complex, three-position top. Fortunately, its original mechanism had survived. To replace the wooden bows, Mark bought a bandsaw and fashioned new ones. 

Morganistas from around the world shared tips, photos and encouragement. “I had help from the whole Morgan community,” Mark recalls, and he adds with a smile, “My wife, Andrea, has always supported my obsession.” 

One challenge followed another. The headlamp wiring loom presented a baffler. After days of testing, Mark discovered that what he thought was a floor-mounted dip switch actually turned off the headlamps and powered the center-mounted Lucas “passlight,” a vintage arrangement designed to avoid blinding oncoming traffic. Once a car passed, a tap on the switch shut off the passlight and again powered the headlamps. Turns out that Morgan retained this odd but effective “anti-dazzler” light grouping on 4-4s until 1951. 

Restoring an ancient one-off means agonizing over minutiae, making educated guesses and, when necessary, improvising. The coupe’s fuel filler is mounted beneath the spare tire’s hubcap, and the filler pipe and cap were not among Mark’s pile of parts. After he sourced a pipe, he and a fellow Moggie, after spending time with an old photo and a few beers (we’re guessing Guinness), sketched a solution–on a bar napkin.

“My friend Rick took the napkin and showed up a few days later with a finished aluminum cap that mimics a wheel knock-off,” Mark recalls. “It looks great and works perfectly.”

As work progressed, he continued to probe the car’s history. So far, he’s uncovered nine previous owners; only a couple of gaps remain. He’s compiled a stack of handwritten logs, photos, notes, registrations and receipts from previous owners, along with a copy of the factory’s “dispatch log,” which lists the Avon as a “works experimental coupe” that left Morgan painted “blue with black wings.” Mark also authored “A Morgan Journey,” a book that chronicles this extraordinary restoration in detailed text and photos.  

His long and difficult Morgan journey paid off, and Mark is happy with the results. He’s shown the coupe at prestigious concours like The Amelia, Meadow Brook, Hilton Head, Pinehurst and a host of regional shows in the Southeast. It’s won numerous class awards, judges’ awards and best-in-show honors. Enthusiasts love its jaunty elegance and striking paint scheme, and it always draws a smiling crowd.  

[An all-British Saturday at the All British Car Show]

Mark Braunstein, the car’s current caretaker, doesn’t hide it, as he regularly shows the Morgan at both local and national events.

Mark drives this Morgan, one-off or not, to events within 50 miles and trailers it to more distant events. “It’s just too small,” he says. “I’m hurting after about an hour.” 

How does it drive? “It accelerates, steers and stops like the vintage machine it is,” he tells us, “and it needs a huge turning circle. I don’t push it above 50, so ‘handling’ is not a consideration.” He reports that the cable-actuated drum brakes are adequate but require careful application and adjustment.

As garage art, the coupe serves as centerpiece in a Morgan shrine. The walls are filled with pictures, posters, a Morgan depicted in stained glass, and shelves stuffed with books and ephemera. It’s flanked by a 1933 Trike and 1951 4-4. 

A 2005 Roadster lives close by. Each Wednesday morning, a group of British car enthusiasts (numbering 10 when we visited) gathers to admire the Morgans, tinker with cars and drink coffee. “This group recently celebrated its fifth anniversary,” Mark says. “It’s fun, instructive and helps keep us sane.” 

Several months ago, returning from a show, the Moss gearbox balked, and he crawled the coupe home. A teardown revealed that the third-gear synchro bearings and springs had dislodged and were bumping about the case, somehow avoiding gear damage. 

Mark and his friends removed the gearbox–no small chore–built a crate and shipped it to the U.K for specialized care. It’s now back in place, shifting like new. “It turned out to be a long and pricy fix,” Mark says, “but it’s a generation older than most Moss gearboxes in the U.S., and I couldn’t find anyone here who could rebuild it.”

It is an early gearbox, and Mark suspects it may be the original. Can we blame this failure on George Goodall? Did the mud-slinging, tree-dodging trials he ran 80-some years ago finally catch up with Uncle George’s Winter Carriage? No matter. We think George would be delighted that his favorite ride is back in the game, still drawing a crowd.

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