Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE GOOD folks of HB Automotive just attended to a 12,000-mile servicing of my Honda Crosstour, an oil change of Mobil 1 Synthetic, a new oil filter and a look at a bunch of things, all found to be fine, thanks. This got me thinking of the good old days when the automotive experience was rather more intense.

As an historical (and entertaining) extreme in this regard, I offer a brief look at operation and upkeep of a Morgan three-wheel sports car, a Moggie trike. R.M. Clarke is the business moniker/penname for John Dowdeswell, whose Brooklands Books publishes a large collection of automotive titles. The Book of the Morgan Threewheeler was the first Clarke/Dowdeswell effort, a reprint John arranged back in 1954 when he sought information on his newly acquired Moggie trike.


Moggie trikes of my acquaintance. At left, Spence Young and me in his Matchless; on the right, an F-Type at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, c. 1987.

The Book of the Morgan Threewheeler begins logically enough with Driving and Running-In! What’s “Running-In”? Manufacturing and metallurgy of cars have always profited from controlled phases of break-in, though now automakers handle most of this prior to delivery. For instance, we used to drive at progressively higher revs, carefully bed in brake linings, etc. Let’s pass by the trike trivia in this regard and get right to the fun part.


The controls. This and other images from The Book of the Morgan Threewheeler.

On its steering wheel, in place of infotainment, cruise, phone and God-knows-what-other convenience features, the Morgan trike has two levers, each resembling a traditional multi-speed bicycle gear shift. The one on the right is the throttle/air lever; the one on the left is for ignition timing. “The ignition control lever is seldom used except when actually starting up when it is fully retarded.”

The driver’s left hand operates the front wheels’ brake lever and also the gear lever next to it. (For moments of panic, note the gear lever is the shorter one.) Left and right foot pedals control clutch and rear-wheel brake, respectively. Last, “The exhaust valve lifter is situated on the near side of the dashboard, and except for starting the engine, may be ignored.”

Pause here to imagine the chaos were modern drivers confronted with all this. And, notice, we’re only to Controls; nothing about maintenance yet.

Starting the Engine takes another long paragraph beginning with “SEE THAT THE PETROL IS ON!!!!” Do you suppose the author used to forget this?

Gear Changing (recall; it’s the shorter one) is treated succinctly: “Up… speed about 10 – 15 mph… clutch out, close throttle almost fully. Place gear lever in next gear… Clutch in!!!!”


The earliest trikes had 2-speed gearboxes; later ones, 3-speeds; both crash boxes.

“Down,” it continues, and here we must pay attention! [my emphasis, not the author’s], “declutch and gear lever into neutral, release clutch… slightly increase engine speed by hand throttle, declutch and into lower gear… (i.e., a normal double-declutch change.” Having some proficiency at this artful technique, I’m reminded of the type-writing instructions: “Think of the letter you wish. Find it amongst the keys. Depress this key. Continue to the next letter.”

Later, in Care of the Magneto, it states “The magneto is an instrument which most motorists regard with awe. They know little about it, and in the majority of cases they do not want to know. Fortunately, however, a knowledge of its functions are by no means necessary….” Which is as far as I read this part.


“Fig. 9. Contact Breaker, Showing Gap Being Tested (Magneto).”

Let’s not ignore Engine Maintenance and Overhauling, however, with its all-important “Decarbonising.” Every 4000 – 5000 miles, it’s necessary to dismantle the engine and remove carbon deposits from “cylinder heads, piston heads, round the valve ports and guides, behind the piston rings, and underneath the heads of pistons.” (Another reason why unleaded gasoline is a Good Thing.)


“… it must be borne in mind that these rings are cast iron and are exceedingly brittle (Fig. 6).”

Generally, decarbonising uses “a mixture of emery paste and oil. The addition of a little paraffin [Brit for kerosene] will lessen the tendency for the oil to dry up during grinding-in.”


Admitted, a Moggie trike is toward the fiddly end of the automotive spectrum, but really. There’s plenty to do every 2000 miles, every 1000 miles, indeed, every 500 miles.

It makes life with a modern automobile appear downright uneventful. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015


  1. Bill Urban
    June 4, 2015

    Dennis, delightful.
    If one reads further in Care of the Magneto my old habit might be listed: if the feeler gauge isn’t handy a matchbook cover will suffice.
    Also, my new car computer is telling me to plan for a service/oil change at 13,000 miles, next February. Ho times have changed.

  2. Bob Dayton
    June 4, 2015

    I have a book exactly like that, but for the 4 wheeler circa 1959

    • simanaitissays
      June 4, 2015

      Cool. No doubt another of John Dowdeswell’s early efforts

  3. Chris Towner
    July 14, 2015

    Dennis, you must have one of the California additions , there does not appear to be any rusty staples.. Yours Chris Towner former US/ GO MTWC

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