The New Blackburne
I have been the owner of, and keen enthusiast for, vintage motorcycles for many years but have always lusted after a Morgan 3 wheeler. Not just any old Morgan but an air cooled overhead valve racer. But with lack of garage space this dream has been just that. A dream.
Having been in motor racing for most of my life, with over thirty years as an engineer in F1, I am fast approaching retirement and have started to venture out on the odd away trip with my 1930 Scott race bike. It was a pilgrimage to Montlhery in 2017 that changed everything.
On arrival at the ferry terminal in Portsmouth with my car + caravan with bike in the back. I was excited to see a whole gaggle of 3 wheelers lined up for the crossing. “Are you all off to Montlhery?” I asked. “Of course!” was the reply.
I was surprised to learn that everyone drove down, entered the event, then drove back with not a 4×4 or trailer in sight.
On arrival at the circuit I noticed a large gathering of Morgans in the paddock, chairs and picnic tables out with everyone gathered around drinking wine laughing and discussing the trip down and generally having a great time. The next day saw much of the same, the whole Morgan community having a fabulous time on and off the track.
This was the lightbulb moment. On my return to the UK I joined the MTWC. I needed to make some space in the garage and start looking for a project. A fellow member of the VMCC and MTWC informed me that one of the most knowledgeable members of the MTWC, George Darbyshire, lived just over the hill from me and I should pay him a visit. Over a cup of tea with George and Sue and a lot of drooling over Sue’s two racers, the reality started to sink in; this was not going to be as easy as I first thought.
First George informed me a rolling project is very hard to find so don’t leave it till you retire but start looking now.
About 10 to 15 grand should find you a start, but the engine is a whole different matter as if you want a big air cooled V-twin JAP you’re going to need deep pockets. There is no cheap way of buying a motor said George, you can buy a dodgy second hand one and spend a fortune on rebuilding it, or pay a lot of money for a supposed good ‘un only to find you still have to spend big cash on a rebuild. Your best bet is a new one from Cameron Engineering, smiled George. A visit to the Cameron website got my brain ticking.
I saw all those fabulous JAP parts laid out on the table. On seeing a pair of beautiful crankcases it came to me, I’m sure I have seen something like this before. A trawl through the Internet, and especially the site “A VTwin Obsession”, (a great petrol heads site) led me to the old ironhead sportster Harley engine; the four separate cam layout looked fairly similar to the JAP. It looked like I could just cut the gearbox off the Harley and slide it on to the front of my still-to-be-purchased Morgan. On closer inspection the main problem came to light. The ironhead is the same as all Harley engines. They have a 45 degree V angle with the carburettor on the wrong side of the engine, the narrow V giving no room for a new aft facing manifold between the heads. So I looked into the feasibility of using as many standard Harley parts as possible with new crankcases with a 55 degree V angle giving me enough room to install the carb on the rear of the engine and enabling it to be fitted to a standard chassis.
A mockup was made and it not only all seemed to work but looked pretty good as well. It was at this point a few friends had seen the mock-up photos and asked what name are you going to give it. With much pondering over the internet and The Bulletin one name stood out.
BLACKBURNE. An old name associated with Morgan although not in this format. But with a one-off project that was to be only for my consumption, I guessed I could call it what I liked. With the help of Performance Projects, an engineering design company based at Silverstone owned by an old F1 friend and colleague, the engine was schemed out in CAD and was ready for machining.
The decision was made early on that the best way to go was to machine from solid aircraft spec alloy rather than cast, reducing cost and increasing accuracy. To fit in with the period look I went for a single 1¾” HS6 SU carb; the ignition is off-the-shelf Dynotec Harley with the standard bob weight advance retard and a bespoke rotor for the 55 degree angle. A new flywheel and clutch with a 1″ 10 spline plate was commissioned from Helix Motorsport.
I had already sourced a donor engine at a cost of £900 for the first build, and the following parts cleaned and checked ready for the first build –heads, barrels, pistons, crank, cams, pushrods and followers.The stock ironhead oil pump has always been suspect, so the crankcases were engineered to accept a newer type sportster pump. With the first set of crankcases now back from machining and shot peened, I could start to with the assembly.
It was at about this time I came to the conclusion that others might be interested in one of these engines. Only one problem – I may have to change the name as I guessed Blackburne would belong to someone else.
A search for the owner of “Blackburne” produced little result, so I decided to call in the professionals. Extensive searches at Companies House etc. found no trace of the ownership of Blackburne Engines or the logo, so with legal advice the decision was made to go for it. I’m still waiting for someone to come out of the woodwork claiming they own the name. Back to the build. With a few minor mods and tweaks it all went together very well. I made a set of engine plates and a Morgan front end mockup rig with a L/H Brice starter. With the Blackburne now installed the day had come. On the 6th of June with the sun shining and the birds singing I flicked on the fuel pump and pressed the starter. Lockdown silence was shattered. This brings us up to today and the next chapter. I would like to make a couple of points clear.
My intention is for this engine not to be a replacement for your lovely old JAP, Matchless or even Blackburne, as I am from the old school that believes that to change anything from the original on car or motor cycle would be sacrilege. But if you’re looking for a sporty 60+ HP for that engine-less project then maybe this is an alternative.
A new Blackburne (see next page)?
Spotted alongside other classic Morgan Three-Wheelers parked at Sue and George Darbyshire’s this month was Colin Butler’s 1929 Super Sports Aero with his newly created Blackburne engine installed.
For the background to this engine please read the August 2020 copy of The Bulletin.
Yes, I know there is a lot of Harley-Davidson parts in his new engine but I can see the logic of what he has created. I like that he has used a second hand “ironhead” Harley engine that has the charming patina of its years and the layout of the pushrod tubes make it look a lot like a JAP or Matchless, unlike the newer Harley engines. He has also created a bespoke crankcase which increases the V angle to 55° which also helps it, in my eye, to look more like a classic Morgan engine. Perhaps the increase in angle may make the Harley smoother? Certainly, when he started it up it did sound good. Clearly it has enough power for the car. To help cope, the car has twin leading shoe front brake assemblies. I’m told these were on the chassis when it came from John Powell. John, can we have an article on these please? Colin’s motivation to own a Morgan Three-Wheeler was sparked by a pilgrimage to Montlhery and seeing the cars there. However, on his return, the reality of the potential costs of an older Morgan V twin with a newly rebuilt engine that could be used in anger set in.
Being an engineer and having worked in F1 he was able conceive and make the engine you see here. As it’s made of many off-the-shelf and second-hand Harley parts it will potentially be a fraction of the cost of a JAP or Matchless. Is it a Morgan Three-Wheeler? Well, there are Specials such as the twin Scott engined Super Sports and there is Harold Pass’s Vincent-engined car. Of course, the current production cars use HD derived engines. So, in my mind the precedent is set, it’s a Morgan Three-Wheeler (Special?) and I look forward to seeing it at events. Your first chance to see it may be at the AGM Rally at Leamington in September. When can I have a ride, please? Colin is already getting inquiries about the availability of more of these engines, particularly from our French cousins with Darmonts.