Guest Blog: Andrew Taylor, Larry Emrick & Lloyd Dykk
When I read the car review 2 Wheels or 4? Let’s Just Split the Difference by Jamie Lincoln Kitman in my NY Times on September 2, I did not know that ultimately, and very soon, I would be taken for a ride in a 1964 Morgan Plus 4, that I would discover the advantages of Brookland fishtail silencers or that a retired Vancouver Sun arts critic not only once owned a Morgan motorcar but was also a fan of Morgan the doctor.
|Charles Morgan and the Morgan 3-wheeler|
Photo by Jonathan Player
But this story really began about five years ago when I boarded a B-line bus on Granville and 41st for a trip downtown. I sat next to a sleeping man. The man was wearing an English motoring cap (is that what they call them?). He was wearing sunglasses. On the front of the cap there was a Morgan Motor Company metal badge. I looked more closely, I had a friend who was an editor at the Vancouver Sun who owned a Morgan. There was no doubt when I looked more closely, it was indeed Larry Emrick. I decided not to wake the bloke up, being partly English on my father’s side, I knew I would have been “bad form” to do so. I knew he was headed to the Vancouver Sun building at the foot at Granville and that I would get off a few blocks before. I hoped he would wake up in time. I left my business card on his lap.
|Harry Morgan and the original cyclecar|
It was a few hours later when Emrick called me up to assure me that an internal clock always engaged a block or two before he had to get off and this was his daily routine to work.
Upon looking at the picture of Morgan chairman Charles Morgan driving the extremely odd looking 3-wheeler and quoted in the NY Times article, “Not everything good has to be an iPod or iPad,” said Charles Morgan, the dashing chairman of the Morgan Motor Company. “Brand new ideas are wonderful when they happen, but sometimes there’s good in older ones, too.” I decided to send the NY Times link to my friend of 48 years, Yorkshire-born Andrew Taylor who manufactures wine and spirits and pharmaceutical filling, packaging and labelling machinery in Guadalajara Mexico with the statement: Dear Andrew, This proves your countrymen are still strange. Alex
|The latest Morgan 3-wheeler|
Taylor’s reply was an unexpected and most pleasant (now I know what a Moogie is!) surprise.
After my grandmother died in 1954, I used to spend my holidays from boarding school with Uncle John and Aunt Jane, my Mother’s sister.
Uncle John was Dr. E.J.S. Townsend, a keen competitor in Rallies and “Driving Tests”, which were timed runs around a complicated course usually set up in a disused wartime airfield, involving backing into tight parking slots, spinning around pylons, accelerating, braking and generally tearing the hell out of the poor vehicle. I think there were similar events in the US called Gymkhanas, but not nearly so hard on brakes, tyres or trannies.
Uncle John was pretty good, and had series of Morgans, including a 15 year old green Morgan +4 with a Standard (later Triumph) four banger, and later, a brand new blue Morgan 4/4 with a Ford Popular 4 cylinder engine. The Ford had a 3 speed gearbox, so he adapted a 2 speed rear axle from a truck, activated by a button on the dashboard, giving him 6 forward and 2 reverse speeds, ideal for driving tests, where long spurts were required, going backwards. His association with Morgans went back to a time before WWII, when he had a 1928 or 1930 Morgan 3 wheeler, with no reverse gear, with which he courted Aunt Jane.
Anyway, having made something of a name for himself in the blue Morgan, he was invited by a local Bentley dealer, who also sold Morgans, to tour the Malvern Link factory, and I was invited.
|Andrew Taylor, Esquire, 1968|
The trip was obviously to be made in a Bentley, which turned out to be a brand new 1955 “S” type, and was memorable because I never heard the engine during the whole trip. In later years, I remember ads in the US for Rolls Royces, (when RR still advertised), showing the clock on the dash, and the punch line was “the loudest sound in a Rolls Royce travelling 50 mph is the ticking of the clock…..” It might have been Mad street hype, but certainly the engine and transmission were inaudible in that Bentley.
When we arrived in Malvern Link, we were received by Peter Morgan, and saw ash frames being assembled for hanging the rear panels, non adjustable bench seats being sewn in leather, and Aquamarine Morgans being prepared for shipment to California. In one corner, under a dust sheet, was a 3 wheeler, which had never been finished, never turned a wheel, and I remember Peter saying he kept it as a tribute to his father. I would like to think the new 3 wheeler is Charles’ tribute to his grandfather, with a giggle thrown in.
|Tim Birkin driving car with Brooklands fisthtail silencer|
The new Moggie 3 certainly captivates the performance-to-comfort ratio of the original, which were hardly well appointed even in their own day, although I have seen Morgan 3 wheelers with split windscreens and funny looking soft tops, tokens of the Reverend’s half hearted efforts to provide a minimum of comfort. The other modern component of the car roaring with authenticity is the Harley Davidson based engine. Where else could you find a brand new, handmade power plant designed in the 1930’s? The boat tail design of the body looks very convincing, if a little plain, but I take exception to the straight pipes, which are undoubtedly horrendously noisy. Charles should certainly have diverted the Harley’s exhaust gases through a proper Brooklands style fishtail silencer, which apart from being easier on the ears would have provided a convincing finishing touch to the retro bomb package. Yes, Uncle John would definitely have approved.
But yes, definitely quite strange to any sane person.
Before it even occurred to me to enquire what exactly a Brooklands (a racetrack in England) style fishtail silencer was Taylor sent me some pictures. Here (above) is one.
I called Larry Emrick who lives in Southlands not far from my home. Within 20 minutes I was in the back seat of his 1965 4 wheeler enjoying a jarring ride in the back seat. I was in the back seat because I wanted to take a photograph of Emrick reflected on the curious (not so when you figure that the Morgan does not have a normal windshield) rear view mirror. And here is what Emrick wrote about his beloved Morgan.
|Larry Emrick's 1964 Morgan Plus-4|
This is my 1964 Morgan Plus 4 English sportscar. I have owned the car for 31 years and apart from the non-factory paint, which is now more than 20 years old, the car is totally original.
The Morgan Motor Company, located in Malvern, England, is still owned by the founding family and has recently celebrated its centennial. Morgans were originally sold as three-wheelers, with two wheels on the front and a single driving wheel at the rear. After a lapse of about 50 years that configuration has been revived by the company with a limited-edition run of newly engineered three-wheelers.
In the mid-1930s Morgans broke with its three-wheel tradition and designed a four-wheel car that was designated the 4-4 which meant it had a four cylinder engine and four wheels. In the 1950s the company upgraded the power of the engine to make it more sporting and competitive and designated the new model the Plus 4, which is the model I have. Mine is also somewhat more unusual, being a four seater.
My car has 95,000 original miles, of which I have put on about 25,000 since I bought it 31 years ago. I drive it regularly during the summer but only licence it for six months of the year because I am reluctant to keep piling mileage on an ever-aging car.
Nevertheless, it is in good condition with its original leather upholstery. The car has never been restored.
A large part of the reason it is in such good condition is that in all the years I have owned it, I have only once or twice had to drive it in the rain. That is important because much of the car is wood and if not kept dry the car would eventually rot, requiring a total reconstruction that would cost far more than the value of the vehicle.
Morgans are certainly not to every car-owner's taste. They are difficult to drive and not very comfortable. They are draughty and for those owners who do drive in the rain, the tops leak and water blows in around the windows. Nevertheless for those car owners who appreciate owning and driving a piece of automotive history they are the ultimate in inexpensive sports cars and a step up from the ubiquitous MGs and Triumphs of an earlier day. They are still hand-built in the same factory in England that has been building them for generations.
Morgan achieved lasting fame in the early 1960s when a Plus 4 model, with the same basic engine as mine, won its class at the Le Mans 24-hour race in France. That car still exists and is campaigned vigorously as a vintage racer in England.
- Larry Emrick
I asked Emrick for a little bio. Here it is:
I joined The Sun in 1971 as a copy editor on the news desk after 10 years as a reporter and editor on newspapers across the country. I was the national editor for about 20 years until I was assigned to the city desk as a copy editor. I retired four years ago.
While at The Sun I also wrote extensively about hiking, climbing, mountaineering and skiing and occasionally about vintage cars. Since retirement from The Sun I have been engaged in equestrian pursuits as a rider and stable hand. All the HS that I dealt with in 50-year-career as a journalist left me well-equipped to deal with the real thing when I got into horses.
Our Morgan story does not end here. I called up my friend John Lekich to tell him of my recent interest in Morgans. He said, “Do you know that Lloyd Dykk ( a recently retired extremely high calibre music and theatre critic of the Vancouver Sun) owned a Morgan and wrote an essay about it?” This took me in a three day quest to find it. The usually reclusive Dykk did answer my call (and I called him again on the next day). He could not find a copy nor could he give me a date for the essay. I tried connections at the Vancouver Sun and their electronic files found nothing.
Finally I used the resources of the Vancouver Public Library. I was told that the article would be in the microfiche files but that it could only be found with an exact date. I searched another data base called Canadian Newsstand. I entered Lloyd Dykk, Morgan (with variations Morgan mortorcar, Morgan convertible and finally simply cars). Nothing appeared except Dykk’s record and CD reviews or plays that had the word car in the articles. But there was one that caught my eye. Here it is. It has nothing to do with Morgan cars and more to do with Rex Morgan M.D. Both Rosemary and I are fans of Rex Morgan and particularly now as the strip has a young girl (a terrible teenager from hell) that reminds us of Rebecca. The girl goes bananas when her mother takes away her cell phone in punishment. It would seem that Lloyd Dykk was a fan of both Morgans, the car and the doctor.
At last, June is busting out all over in a Gale of passion: After 47 years of waiting, it’s still not wise to rush. Final Edition Dykk, Lloyd, The Vancouver Sun 18 Feb 1995
Is there a more aptly named comic strip heroine than June Gale, professional nurse to Rex Morgan, M.D.?
Who knows what teary off-frame gales must have flooded the pillow of the primevally youthful June’s single bed over the 47 years since she and Rex set up medical practice together? “Rex, how can you be so…blind? Rex is there someone…else? Rex could you be… gay?”
No, she seems to have concluded. He wasn’t gay…not in the discomfitingly contemporary sense anyway. Nor was he what you could call gay in the dictionary sense, either. No, the stick-like Rex certainly wasn’t that!(I’m a doctor, dammit!...why, even his name sounded like a prescription.) But then that’s what made him so appealing, since June wasn’t exactly what you would call a live wire herself.
In today’s strip, in this very paper, she’s in for a big surprise, as only the perpetually-in-the-dark June could be, though all the rest of you Rex junkies will have seen it coming for weeks.
After dinner, in a fancy-schmancy restaurant, after a crisis in the desert involving a tubercular patient and a Dickensian tot called Little Emily, Rex finally plants one on June. “Oh, Rex, this is so…sudden!” you might expect June to exclaim, who would be about 75 by now. Instead she whimpers, “Oh, Rex, I think I’m going to…CRY!” And readers, so do I!!
The kiss happens at the airport and naturally passers-by get in on the act, smirking beatifically as the two gigantic profiles merge, June’s left arm over Rex’s shoulder in an understandable half-nelson. The frome doesn’t show it, but she’s no doubt perched on one foot, the other sensible pump cocked in the air at the knee—the expression of ‘50s feminine rapture.
Lines radiate from them as if a neutron bomb has gone off. The unstoppable force meets the unmovable object. With the speed of glaciers, those two profiles have been approaching each other for decades and now it’s point impact. Rex should have known they were made for each other. Both of them as antiseptic as Pine-Sol, they also happen to speak in…ellipses!
It’s also taken a glacier’s patience to follow the non-madcap adventures in professional tedium, but Rex and June have their inexplicable fans, probably most of them ironist, but maybe not… a scary thought, so best abandon it.
Rex Morgan is the perfect expression of banality in North American life. Purer than even Zippy the Pinhead, its satirist. North American readers have complained en masse that they don’t “understand” the absurdism of the syndicated Zippy (which the Sun briefly attempted to run). But they do seem to understand Rex (not a lateral-thinking non-sequitur in a car-load). In Rex, satisfyingly, nothing happens – exquisitely slow. Or else something happens—sensationally fast. And all linearly.
There were storms of protest when the Sun decided to pull the life-support on Rex for a few months in 1992, and then back he came, millimetring his way across what you would laughably call a story, something that was the equivalent of illustrated radio soap opera, but in tiny adventu-bites.
These consist of three, sometimes only two, frames a day, which seem to be happening in real time (this expands into something like six frames on weekends—presumably when you have the time to put your feet up and really get into it). The dialogue is continuous and the strip laboriously drawn in a bad crowded, photo-realistic style.
In a recent Thursday’s strip, this is all that occurred: June comes in and asks Keith (one of the epidemic of minor characters who come and go) if he has a minute. Sure, Keith says.
Not that Rex is okay, she wants Keith not to leave the practice. He thanks her but tells her his decision has been made – - it’s better this way. Abba-dabba-dee, that’s all folks. Tune in on Friday four our next five-second graphic Zen non-adventure that makes Nancy look deep.
Five seconds is about what it takes to read the average Rex Morgan strip, if you don’t pause to savour the iconography of the drawing or the suspenseful ellipses and exclamation marks that stipple the speech balloons with a rash of emotion (“Please…just say you’ll think about reconsidering!”).
Multiplied, that comes to 9.5 minutes of reading/action per year. In the 47 years since the strip began in 1948, that comes to something like 7.44 hours of total action, and by implication, 7.44 hours of total aging to the characters, who do not, in fact, discernibly grow older: Rex retains one wavy line of concentration across his youthful forehead, while the hopeful June is eternally clear-browed.
But if this aging hypothesis (which would explain some things) is correct, why are all the visual references so contradictory? Rex with his matinee-idol square jaw and Keith with his sinister little goatee, remain true t the era and look as though they could very well be living in a late-1948 B-movie.
But why, then, does June, with her short perky do and her dater-free living-with-mom martyrdom, seems to have advanced to the ethos of 1956 (and stayed there)? And how do you explain the up-to-date cars or the shocking intrusion of modern slang, like the frankly repellant Berna Holt’s response to her stalker ( who is, in fact, Professor Trillon): “Get a life, weirdo!” Time in comics is relative but nowhere near so co-relative as in Rex Morgan, M.D.
Before being rash enough to tie the knot, June and Rex should think it over. They have to only look through their own frames at their neighbor’s marital records.
After 18 years courtship, Joe Palooka married the cheese heiress Anne Howe in 1949, and of course they’re all in the news, just like Prince Valiant since he married Princess Valeta in 1946. Sure Blondie and Dagwood made a go of it after marrying within three years, but where did that get her? A catering job with Tootsie while the pathetic Lois smarms her way through a career in real estate.
But at least they are probably doing better than the vomitously drawn Cathy, much too old for her continuing stand-up comedy career and still making smart cracks about cellulite to her fridge.
Don’t let the sound of wedding bells deafen you to the facts, June. It’s no bowl of cherries. And just because you’re married is not excuse not to hold out. Rex might not…respect you. When he starts getting frisky, suggest a nice game of badminton and coca instead. Or say, “Rex, it’s been such a nice marriage…please let’s not spoil it!”
After all, where would your kids find disco-pants in the year 2011?