Magnificently Morgan

Magnificently Morgan

IT’S THE last family-owned car manufacturer in Britain as well as one of the oldest surviving. Its name is synonymous with quality, style and tradition. How could we resist a tour of its Malvern factory, where each model is painstakingly and lovingly crafted?

Nestled within the Malvern Hills lies Morgan – one of the oldest-surviving car manufacturers in the UK.

Established in 1909 by H F S Morgan with the creation of the original three-wheeler, it only moved to four wheels in 1936 – and things have stayed pretty much the same ever since. It’s now the last family-owned British motor manufacturer – and family values are still visible throughout the build process.

With coach building at its heart, Morgan is a company that keeps traditional values at the forefront, using classic building techniques as well as ultra-modern processes. It’s this combination that has ensured Morgan’s popularity – and it now builds well in excess of 1,000 cars a year, with order books near constantly full. With three distinct ranges – 3 Wheeler, Classic and Aero – the Morgan list of cars is as varied as the processes that are used to create them. And with the vast majority of creation and manufacture taking place in-house, there’s a distinct sense of family to the entire operation. It feels worlds away from the robot-controlled production methods that are used by modern manufacturers.

We were let off the leash to discover the ins and outs of Morgan’s factory – as well as get the chance to meet some of the people who help create such iconic cars.

The process starts with a chassis. It’s made from bonded aluminium, which creates a stiff foundation for the entire car. This first room sees the wiring loom fitted, along with the fuel tank – you could even start the car here if you wanted to. These chassis are brought in from a company in Birmingham – a relatively short trip from Malvern. This process is used to create the ‘modern’ Morgan cars – classic versions use a combination of aluminium and ash. It may
be an old-school material to use but it ensures incredible lightness, as well as making these cars surprisingly eco-friendly.

Those classic models employ a chassis created from ash pieces that are pre-cut in a mill on site. The pieces are then glued and pre-assembled, after which they are hand-finished and treated for longevity.

They can then be stitched together, creating the basis for cars such as the Plus 4 and Roadster.

Morgan cars use a variety of engines from established manufacturers. The Plus 4, for instance, utilises a 2.0-litre engine from Ford while the larger Aero 8 uses a powerful BMW- sourced 4.8-litre V8. These engines are an intricate part of the entire car – so it’s no wonder that Morgan chooses reliable, well-trusted powerplants for its vehicles.

With each new section of the build process comes a new smell. The tin shop, for instance, smells – unsurprisingly – of metal, while the wood shop – our next stop – smells just like an old woodwork classroom, or a D&T room for younger readers.

All Morgan cars rely upon some form of hand- worked wood element. Workers here use hand tools to get each piece spot on before it’s used in a vehicle, though some modern techniques such as vacuum bonding are also used. Morgan has original wood plans dating back to the 1950s – and it can still make one that way today.

Using ash means that each car is able to absorb bumps in the road, giving it a better ride than you’d expect.

An amazing tool that’s used to create the classic model’s wheel arches is a jig made entirely from oak – and it’s been there so long that the vast majority of people working at Morgan don’t know when it was installed. The ash is left in there for around half a day, and is a classic version of the modern vacuum pressing method.

Whereas many manufacturers use wood veneer, Morgan uses the real thing. Each interior dashboard piece can be tailored to a customer’s specification but it’s always all-wood rather than just a plastic-coated trim piece. You can have
it stained, leather-trimmed or just left bare – something we think looks just right.

Ed Wilkes shows us through one of the key elements of the entire car-building process – applying the aluminium bodywork to a Plus 4’s ash frame. Many of the panels remain hand- beaten or rolled, though the elegant front wings are superformed to ensure they remain perfect each and every time. It’s what gives each Morgan its iconic looks – and the handmade nature of the classically styled interior is what keeps owners so loyal to the brand.

Even the bonnets are hand-hammered to ensure a perfect fit, while flat hammers are used to round off the edges around the sides of the frame. You can’t help but notice the incredible attention to detail in the process, with each panel given just as much care and attention as the last.

Once the panelling, engine and electronics have all been installed, it’s time for paint. All
of the cars are thoroughly inspected before being painted to ensure that every panel is free of imperfections or dents. There’s an almost endless choice of colours – and Morgan can even match a shade you like should it not have the code in-house. It has seen a variety of colour combinations come out of a workshop, including an acid-pink Plus 8 as well as more traditional British racing green hues.

From there, the cars head down to the trimming area. At this point, the wings, doors and arches are left off to save them from potential damage. When they first enter this area, they are fitted with all of the customer’s pre-ordered leatherwork. This means the seats, carpets and leather trim are installed by hand, with the same attention to detail as we’d seen elsewhere.

Again, the level of personalisation on offer is hard to get your head around. Seats can be trimmed in a variety of different leathers and can be embossed with the Morgan logo – or even a customer’s name, should they want it applied.
Everything is stitched by hand, although some elements are aided by computers. Similar to the car’s use of modern engines with traditional building materials, each manufacturer process is a seamless blend of the new and old.

Susan Thomas has seen the company change, with people coming and going – although many choose to stay. She chatted to us while still stitching away, barely taking her eyes off the material for a second. Throughout each workshop there’s been a distinctive variety in ages – something it seems is important to the longevity of the Morgan brand. There aren’t any textbooks or lectures going on, just a hands-on, get-stuck-in handing-down of skills.

The trim room is a hive of activity and it features an important process – creating and fixing the cloth roof. Each roof is made specifically for one vehicle and uses a metal framework that is also created in-house. There is – again – a range of fabric colours to choose from, but each one is tailor-made to the individual car, ensuring a watertight fit that will last for years.

It’s worth remembering that this process isn’t done in glitzy, sealed units but traditional stone buildings that have been on site for years. But everything moves in a well-oiled fashion, with everyone knowing exactly what they’re doing during each part of the assembly line.

From the trimming room the cars move on to the final finish. Here, they are given their final assembly, and this means the installation of seatbelts, lights and indicators. They also need to be checked for rattles and squeaks, as well as ensuring that all the dials work correctly. There’s only one way of doing this and that’s by giving them a thorough road test.

Each car is taken for a drive in the surrounding area to make sure that it responds, handles and sounds just as it should, and it’s only when you experience the sweeping roads surrounding Malvern – as we did in a V6-powered Roadster
– that you can see where Morgan’s handling benchmarks have been set.

They suit long sweeping bends at modest speeds, and that’s exactly what you find in the Worcestershire countryside.
Up next is pre-delivery inspection. As you’ll see from our photos, the room that houses this process has been fitted with high-wattage lights designed to show up any imperfections that could be in the paintwork.

Technicians here, such as Mark Cross, check cars to make sure that they are absolutely perfect when they’re handed over to the customer. If a blemish or scratch is found, it’s polished out and repaired. The utmost care is applied to the cars throughout the build but accidents do happen – and Morgan ensures that any car that leaves the factory doors does so without a single problem. The vehicle is then given a complete machine- polish before being handed over to be fully cleaned and valeted.

An important modern process is photography. Every car that has been fully built is thoroughly photographed. Why is this? To ensure that the car arrives at the customer exactly as it should. It means that Morgan has a point of reference in case a vehicle arrives with damage. The brand’s vehicles are being sent to far-flung locations – the Middle East has recently developed a liking for its cars – and a few weeks spent in a shipping container aboard a ship can play havoc with a vehicle.

Of course, there’s one three-wheeled addition that we haven’t mentioned just yet. The original three-wheeler was Morgan’s first car, with production starting shortly after the end of the First World War in 1918. It used a two-speed transmission and remained in production until the early 1930s. The modern 3 Wheeler certainly has the looks and build of the original, with a V-Twin motor sitting proudly at the front of the vehicle and weighing in at just 525kg.

However, these vehicles are created in a separate part of the factory and have their own dedicated production line. Because the build process is so far removed from that of the standard Morgan cars, it was decided that it needed its own area – and that’s exactly what it got. It’s proved immensely popular, and is selling in America as well as in Europe.

Morgan has also got one eye on the future as well as maintaining traditional building techniques. It’s developed the EV3 – an all-electric version of the 3-Wheeler. This uses a 20kWh lithium battery coupled to a 46W motor and can offer a range of 150 miles as well as a 0-60mph time of under nine seconds. In a similar way to Morgan’s adoption of more reliable and efficient petrol engines it’s also not shying away from trying an all-new powertrain. This car has yet
to enter full production – but it’s likely to be immensely popular once it does.

There’s something intoxicating about the Morgan factory. Similar to the classroom association we mentioned earlier, it conjures up feelings of nostalgia. It also – in all honesty – makes you appreciate the effort and care that is put into every vehicle and makes you want to get behind the wheel of one of the cars.

Thousands of people take a tour of the Morgan factory each year and it’s easy to see why. There are no shrouds, no frosted glass windows, everything is in plain sight and simple to understand. There’s one word to describe Morgan: honesty. If there’s something that car manufacturers could use a little more of – especially in this day and age – it’s honesty, and it’s a feature that Morgan has by the bucketload.

Written by Jack Evans

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