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Morton & Brett
Morton & Brett, 1916-1935; Indianapolis, Indiana
Associated Builders

Elvin D. Morton, a Canadian living in Indianapolis and a partner, Jack Brett, opened an auto body and paint shop at 811-815 East Twenty-Third St. Indianapolis, Indiana sometime before the start of 1918. A classified ad in the May 20, 1918 Indianapolis Star announced:

“Automobiles painted by Morton & Brett are easily recognized by their indestructible crystal finish; all prices. We are now equipped to handle this work in addition to special bodies. Morton & Brett, 811-815 East Twenty-third St. North 9300 or automatic 41-189.”

Another Indianapolis Star classified dated November, 10, 1919 reads:

“Morton & Brett, High-grade special bodies and painting for all cars. 811 E. Twenty-third St., North 9300.”

With help from depressed used Model-T prices, Dirt track racing, which had become dormant during the First World War, experienced a revival in 1919, and by 1920 thousands of amateur racers were competing in short track races across the country. Indianapolis was at the center of this renewed activity and a number of small manufacturers were poised to take advantage.

The best-known of them was the Chevrolet Brothers Manufacturing Company, manufacturers of Frontenac race equipment. Located at 410 W. Tenth St, Indianapolis, the small firm introduced an OHV head for the Model T that became popular with the Model T racers. The Chevrolet Brothers, Louis, Gaston and Arthur, soon developed a whole line of speed equipment for the Model T, and included in their mail-order catalogs were one-man speedster bodies built by Morton & Brett.

The Chevrolet Brothers had used Morton & Brett-built bodies on their early Frontenac and Monroe Indy racers and close examination of Louis and Arthur’s 1916 Indianapolis entries reveals that their Speedster bodies were identical to those built and patented by Morton & Brett at the end of the war.

There was no 1917 or 1918 race, but the 1919 Frontenacs and 1920 Monroes of Louis and Gaston Chevrolet wore the same bodies, albeit with different radiator shrouds, with Gaston winning the event in 1920. The Indy winning 1921 Frontenac piloted by Tommy Milton also wore a Brett & Morton-style body.

Elvin D. Morton is credited with the design of those early speedster bodies and applied for a U.S. patent on September 20, 1919, for his “Speedway Body for Motor Vehicles of the Ford Type” which was awarded design patent # D54668 on March 9, 1920.

By 1919 Morton & Brett’s Speedway bodies were being marketed through their own catalogs and advertisements. A number of other Indiana-based Model T speed equipment retailers - Chevrolet Brothers (Frontenac), Craig-Hunt, Faultless, Laurel, and Green Engineering - marketed their own Speedway bodies many of which were identical to those first introduced by Morton & Brett in the late teens.

Although I can’t state conclusively that Morton& Brett built any of them, many Model T Speedster owners and historians believe that Morton & Brett built most of them. One exception was the Mercury Body Co. of Louisville, Kentucky, whose speedster bodies bore little to no resemblance to those produced by any of the Indiana manufacturers.

A transcription of a circa 1921 Morton & Brett advertisement follows:


“The MORTON & BRETT Underslung Parts need very little introduction, as well over 30,000 sets are in use through­out the world and the construction is accepted by all in a position to criticize as the only practical and safe method to lower the Ford frame without impairing the long service due to the wonderful Ford construction. Racing drivers throughout the world endorse and use them in rebuilding Ford cars for speed purposes.

“Our Underslung Parts are fully guaranteed and are constructed of maganese bronze, government and S.A.E. formula, which at the same time as being an excellent bearing is at least 75% stronger than steel, and breakage through any cause is practically unheard of. The remaining parts, such as bolts, etc, are nickel steel machined to fit perfectly and combining to make an exact method of obtaining the low center of gravity necessary for excessive speed.


“These discs increase the strength of the whole 25% and are made of the best material for the purpose as shown in all photographs. Supplied for both inside and outside each wheel, 8 discs in all, crated for shipment, Price, $6.00.



“All MORTON & BRETT Bodies are made of 20 gauge material especially made for bodies and coated for us to prevent rust. Although this is far more expensive than regular iron it allows us to supply our customer with a non-rust body which will stand any weather. The lumber used in our jobs is selected and shipped direct to us from the mills and although much more expensive than oak is one of the prime factors of the success and the long life of our bodies.


“The well known full-hammered MORTON & BRETT Radiator Shell giving a foreign appearance, is offered with models 4 and 5 and one-man body. Included with this feature are also the necessary parts such as exten­sion filler, making a complete unit.


“The hood, which is of the MORTON & BRETT 3-piece design, is perfect fitting and has large deep pressed louvers for proper ventilation at high speed.


“The MORTON & BRETT Wedge Tail has stood the most rigid tests for balance, wind resistance and beauty of appearance. POSITIVELY the speed of the- Ford car will be increased five to ten miles per hour when our bodies are used. The strength of the tail due to the de­sign and construction is capable of stopping an automobile when in contact with its radiator without damaging the tail.


“All bodies are equipped with necessary apparatus to lower steering.


“By simply pulling forward the seat back the whole rear end is at once offered for storage space. Provision is also made in this compartment for the gas tank where it is easily installed.


“The cowl is designed to comply with requirements of racing drivers and the shape diverts the wind and dust over the driver's head also adding a beauty and finish only found on MORTON & BRETT Bodies. For the purpose of strengthening, a heavy steel rod is placed all around the cowl over which the metal is rolled making the edge very smooth and completing the finish.


“Leg room is ample for grown people and particular at­tention has been given to the comfort of passengers.


“The upholstering, which is covered with high grade enamel goods of the plain type to prevent the accumula­tion of dust, is well padded and sprung. To drive a MORTON & BRETT Body all day only proves beyond a doubt the comfort in our products.


“No extra charge whatever is made for two coats of sand filler paint und this method of painting is adopted to obtain the lowest transportation charges. All bodies are painted green.


“No charge whatever is made for crating in the best possible method. All crates under 34 inches high and all bodies weigh less than 210 pounds when completely crated ready for shipment.


Morton & Brett marketed their own double cam heads for the Model T and by 1922 underslung parts and speed equipment became an important part of their Indianapolis operation. In addition to Speedway bodies, they offered disc wheel covers, polished aluminum windshields, aluminum steps, cycle fenders, convertible tops and side curtains, and even complete speedster-based road and race cars into the late 1920s.

Starting in 1923 Morton & Brett offered an all-new 4-Passenger Speedway Body (Model 4) and 2-passenger Turtle Back Body (Model 8). Also offered was an all-new line of speedster bodies which were marketed as Roadway race bodies, which were given the Model 6 and 6F designation. Morton & Brett’s new Roadway bodies looked identical to the Race-Way speedster body that was built by another speedster body manufacturer, the Race-Way Body Company of Indianapolis, whose factory was located in Muncie, Indiana.

A transcription of a circa 1922 Race-Way advertising flyer follows:

“The Race-Way is an Aristocrat Born in an Auto Body Mansion”

The Race-Way speedster body was very similar to the “Speedway” body except the tail was lower and more rounded in order to better conform with the fenders of a stock Model T. Following is the text from a circa 1922 Race-Way flyer:

“Race-Way Body Craft

“The Race-Way is an Aristocrat, born in an Auto Body Mansion where Body Craft is an Art. Every needed machine, die, jig, or tool is at the instant com­mand of the workman skilled in their respective use. The Race-Way is the pride of the artist that designed it and the craftsman that perfected it.

“The Race-Way is a type that must stand severe usage. It is knocked about and driven hard at all times. Its sporting call to the brawn of the young, to be put to the test at command, is a temptation irresistible, and its endurance power must be there.

“The Race-Way materials are selected with the safety of its occupants in mind - its sills, its frame, and its metals are the best obtainable. It is constructed to endure.

“In design the Race-Way meets the ideal of its type. One design of perfection is the aim. It is a studied, tried, tested and balanced design of grace and rigidity with a genuine appeal-not a lot of haphazard "hope to please you", "take your choice" mishaps.

“The Race-Way is a design developed from the World's Classic Auto Races, come to stay, and it is worthy of the finest Body Craftsmanship.

“Briefly told Race-Way Bodies


“Radiator Shell fits standard core without use of screen, Brass Water Ex­tension Filler, Hood Louvered Sides, Flared Cowl, Dash drilled for coil box and steering post, Spring Cushioned Wide Seat, plenty of leg room. Seat-back easily pulls forward, giving access to metal floored tail com­partment that holds standard Ford Gas Tank, with additional room for luggage. Tail made of single piece of metal on each side; wide, heavy Side Aprons. Primed in Light Brown. Crated. Takes actual weight in shipping, 355 pounds. Price $122.50 complete f.o.b. Muncie, Ind.

“Mounted on new or used Ford Chassis, makes the most practical and best small Sport Car in the World-Regardless.


“Strongest, Safest, Fastest, Easiest to install

“In order to make a racy speedster of your Ford with road safety, class and speed, it is necessary to lower the frame and body line. All Ford track race cars of merit are underslung. The Race-Way Underslung parts are universally recognized to be the simplest, cheapest and easiest to install of any method. They are rigid and correct in design. No give-n-sway at any speed. Holds car firmly to road. Drops the frame 7 inches. Gives the car straight line drive, with road clearance of 50 inches. Lengthens the wheel base 3 inches. Not necessary to alter drive shaft. Does not interfere with the steering gear. No machine work necessary to install; parts are complete-nothing more to buy.

“Race-Way underslung parts are the original parts for lowering the Ford frame and springs. Each set of parts guaranteed to make the frame suspension stronger than the original Ford. Price, $12.50 full set, with instructions for mounting.”

By the late 1920s Morton & Brett were major distributors and manufacturers of aftermarket Ford and Dodge speed parts which were sold to the nation’s macadam, board and dirt track racers through regional distributors and mail order catalogs. In October of 1924 the firm became the erstwhile managers of the Hoosier Motor Speedway, a dirt track located at Thirty-Eighth St. and Pendleton Pike, Indianapolis, Indiana.

A search of newspaper classifieds from papers across the country reveals aftermarket Ford speedster bodies were most popular between 1920 and 1922. The earliest ads date from early 1918 and by 1923 I noticed a sharp drop-off in frequency. By 1925 only used bodies were advertised, typically priced between $20-35, including windshields. I could find no ads for any Ford, Chevy or Dodge-based speedster or generic speedster body dated 1926 or afterwards.

Throughout the rest of the decade they built rolling chassis, engines and complete racecars for many of the grass-roots racers that competed in the Midwest and with backing from the Grapho Products Co., an Indianapolis-based (2234 Alvord St.) manufacturer of automobile parts, master pin and bushing blanks, and graphite-based lubricants, entered and qualified a single car in the 1931 Indianapolis 500.

Piloted by veteran Indy driver, John Boling (also ran in 1920), and mechanic Buddy Boles, the #48 Morton & Brett Special finished a poor 36th after breaking a connecting rod during the 7th lap of the race collecting only $270. The also entered cars in the 1930 and 1933 Indy 500s by failed to qualify. I’ve been unable to locate any Morton & Brett business activity after 1933 which is not surprising as by that time the Depression had forced many small auto-parts manufacturers out of business.

Professional Car historian Bernie deWinter IV wrote me the following account of a Morton & Brett speedster once owned by his father:

“I can send you some photos of a 1922 Model T speedster with a Morton & Brett body that was built in 1925. I'm familiar with it because my dad owned it in the early '50's when he was building up his '15 T runabout from parts. The car was built locally, and my dad actually got to meet the man who built it, when he was going back to a local car show where it was on display for a few days.

“At any rate, it hardly looked like a homebrewed conversion, as it even had some kind of original accessory frame horn extensions at the front, along with Dayton wire wheels, and a huge chrome exhaust pipe that ran the full length of the right side and used to get red hot. It would do 70 mph, and that was with a stock Model T two speed planetary transmission and stock rear end, with no auxiliary transmission; with a Ricardo head instead of an overhead valve setup. He owned it at a time before anyone seemed to know what a speedster was, so it wasn't a valuable car then. He only had $100 invested in purchasing it, and that involved a partial trade of a 1927 T coupe that he had bought 2 weeks earlier.

“The car was advertised for sale in the local paper's classified ads by a man who had a little business of buying up Model T's and parting them out, so that coupe was more valuable to him than the speedster was; seeing as how the speedster had so few stock parts left on it that would be useful to anyone else who owned a T. That was the first Model T I had any experiences in, and I can vaguely remember riding in it. He sold the car in 1954 when he first got the '15 on the road, and it's floated around since. The last time anything on it turned up, it was in the form of a small painting in the front of the 4-91 issue of ROAD & TRACK, and was published as a space filler, but there was no mistaking the car at all. And people wonder why I've got a weakness for Model T's...

“Morton & Brett's claim to fame was building bodies for Indy cars in the '20's, but with that being a limited market, aftermarket bodies for speedsters was probably their main business. It would be safe to say that their boattail speedster bodies were probably the best looking bodies of their type for that purpose, even though there were fancier bodies such as those offered by Mercury. A Mercury body may have been fancier, but it didn't have that race car look about it like a Morton & Brett body.

“You'd be surprised at how many different firms there were that offered aftermarket bodies like that for a Model T. Actually, aftermarket bodies for Model T's was an industry in itself. Speedsters fall into a gray area, as far as the antique car hobby is concerned, in that they're seldom ever anything close to what a "purist" would appreciate, yet they're such a significant part of history in their own right.

“That gray area is probably where a lot of my sentiments are, as I appreciate original cars and authentically restored cars, but at the same time, I've seen too many cars worth appreciating that fell into those gray areas. The previously mentioned Morton & Brett bodied speedster was one, as is my dad's '15 T runabout. It was built or restored to the then contemporary standards of the early '50's; which were far different from what's taken over in the intervening years. That runabout is finished in '49 Cadillac dark green with dark brown leather upholstery and a light tan top and boot, with black fenders, running boards, and splash aprons, and more brass than what was supposed to be on a '15, with the wheels in a natural wood finish. The car has a look that charms a lot of purists, and it's been so well known that way that it would be a travesty to ever try to make the car perfectly authentic now, simply because nobody would ever recognize it if that was done.

“For that matter, my dad's '28 Model A phaeton fell into a weird situation when it was first restored, too. The car was originally finished in a shade of blue that was listed as a Model A taxicab color only at the time of its restoration, which was between 1959 and ‘61. A lot of purists had fits over the color on it, and my dad kept a door hinge in the side curtain compartment under the rear floor to prove the originality of the color. In '63 or ‘64, someone bought an un-restored '28 phaeton out of an estate in Columbus, Ohio, and it wasn't two shades off the color on my dad's '28. By the time of the national Model A meet in Dearborn in the Summer of '65, there were several other '28 phaetons that turned up there in that same color. During that time period, it was learned and documented that when huge batches of paint were mixed wrong, it got used instead of being dumped, and sometimes it proved so popular that it had to be offered the following year because of its popularity.”

© 2004 Mark Theobald - with special thanks to Glenn Pullin & Bernie deWinter IV






Glenn Keudell - Morton & Brett - F.A.S.T. Journal 2002 #2

Morton & Brett History - F.A.S.T. Journal 2003 #3

Dan R. Post - Model T Ford in Speed & Sport

Dan R. Post – The Fast Ford Handbook

Larry Sigworth - Making the Ford Fleet Footed

Wallace Spencer Huffman - Indiana Built Automobiles

Morton & Brett Company - M & B overhead valve head - The Restorer, Model A Ford Club of America - Mar-Apr 1966 (vol. 10 no. 6)

Dan R. Post - Model T Ford in Speed & Sport

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