Secrets of the Morgan factory: Britain’s most traditional car maker
If there’s one entity that shouldn't be opposed, it’s the onslaught of time. Especially in the car industry, time waits for no manufacturer. Take the last five years for example - every performance car company has gone from a little bit of downsizing and turbocharging here and there to now vaulting head first into electrification as soon as they can.
Some companies, however, have such a strong customer base that they don’t need to make the same drastic changes as the modern megapowers and can sit back and perfect their craft. Instead of wondering what the next entitled millennial is going to want, these companies can nail the remit provided to them by their loyal customers and expand at a scale that only suits them.
One such manufacturer is the Morgan Motor Company, and I took a trip to its Malvern factory to see what goes into making one of the most well-loved shapes in British automotive history.
Walking into the oldest building on the entire site, you’re immediately presented with the company’s most forward-thinking product - the EV3. Built through a technical partnership with Frazer Nash, the all-electric three-wheelers are exactly the kind of vehicle to get people genuinely excited about owning an EV.
Lining up behind the quirky little trike come the long, swooping wings and louvred bonnets of the cars that have paved the way for Morgan as a steadfast brand in the British sportscar industry.
From there, it’s apparent that the Morgan Pickersleigh Road plant is naturally staggered, using the slope of the underlying scenery to progress from one aspect of the production line to the next. Starting at the top of the hill back in 1914, the workshops have sprouted in all directions to cover the needs of the company that has progressed from the first three-wheelers to GT racing V8 brutes.
The Chassis Shop
The next level down from the original building is where the inner workings of the company begin to take shape. Immediately I stumble upon three rolling Plus 8 chassis with their BMW V8 centrepieces sitting proud out front.
Behind them sits a production line of less completed specimens, as the Chassis Shop is where all of the electrics, suspension, power units, drivetrains and axles are bolted into place.
Seeing under the skin of each Morgan derivative shows the diversity from one model to the next - leaf springs and drum brakes sit proudly on the 4/4s, offset by the discs and wishbones of the higher spec Plus cars.
Taking in the full length of the Chassis Shop, it becomes apparent that the old wife's tale of Morgan being stuck in the 1950s is all complete tripe. Sitting at the far end of the shop is an array of contemporary Ford crate engines, a practice that many small sportscar and track car companies in the UK are partaking in.
Focus four cylinders are placed into the 4/4 and Plus 4, while the Mustang V6 houses itself into the Morgan V6 Roadster.
I managed to sneak a peak into a 3D printer containing some prototype engine parts, maybe for a new V8?
Sure, the BMW V8 it has been using is sadly now out of date but underneath the sorrow lies the potential for another classic V8 to be shoehorned into its flagship Plus 8 and Aero cars. My guess would be the 5.0-litre lump from the current Mustang…we’ll have to wait and see on that one.
The Wood Shop
It's no secret that some of Morgan’s models have much of their structure made of Ash wood. The 4/4, Plus 4 and Plus 8 have painstaking hours poured into their woodwork through skill and time that I simply can’t fathom. What is even more impressive is how uncompromising Morgan has been with the way it builds its wood-infused cars - it has found a recipe that worked and has never deviated, despite the pressures of modern, 'easier' materials.
The centrepiece of the woodwork building is the wheel arch jig - huge hunks of mysteriously old Oak shaped to perfectly fit incoming Ash that will soon form the basis for a car's front haunches.
The Ash is layered and glued together, where it is then squeezed into the jig and pressed into shape. You might think that a wooden component like a wing would be easily snappable, but once stressed and compacted by the age-old jig, the finished product is flexible but equally taught with an inner woven strength.
Ash is also used for interior panelling like the doors, floorboards and the cockpit’s skeletal structure. I can vouch for the amount of flex this brings to a Morgan Plus 4 having driven one from London to Glencoe, but that flex shouldn't necessarily be taken as a negative.
The flex is communicated through the chassis and transmitted via the Moto Lita steering wheel, forcing you to treat the car less like an out-and-out sportscar and more like a country road cruiser, bringing bucketloads of tangibility to the driving experience that is often missing in modern performance cars.
A surprising anecdote - it turns out the guys at Morgan love a bit of our very own James May.
After filming a documentary at the factory, May’s attempt at a front wheel arch sits proudly on the wall, along with a signed plaque that is comically above that of Richard Hammond's.
It’s only Clarkson that hasn’t really invested himself in Morgan - anything under 400bhp probably isn’t good enough for his tastes.
The Tin Shop
On the metal working front, Morgan has progressed from the panel beating and cutting stages on some aspects of its cars. The outer skin of the wheel arches is pressed Aluminium which is transported to the factory in beautifully symmetrical trolleys, soon to be assembled onto the chassis waiting patiently out on the workshop floor.
On the other hand, the iconic split bonnets are still made by hand just across from the pre-pressed wings, using simple yet effective measuring tools and rollers to perfectly shape every metal sheet into the louvred design.
It takes two vastly experienced craftsmen to roll the bonnets to the correct shape before stencilling the centrelines to receive the all important Morgan bonnet hinge.
The Paint and Trim Shops
There’s no two ways about it, Morgans aren’t cheap. It’s around £40,000 for the entry level 4/4 sportscar and peaks at over £100,000 for a fully bespoke Aero 8.
And although that would make most of our bank accounts shrivel into an ether of disappointment and longing, an insight to where the personalisation magic happens like this easily shows you where that money is going.
Once in the interior/customisation building, your car can be painted or upholstered in virtually any colour and material you could imagine, be it the green of your favourite wellington boot or the pink of your Labradoodle’s bejewelled collar.
Your interior is then met in an individual bay with freshly painted matching bodywork, where the final stage of knitting a car together takes place.
PDI - Pre-Delivery Inspection
PDI is where your car is statically tested, road tested and then buffed and polished to make sure that the car is completely spotless and made precisely to order.
Every detail you could possibly ask for can be catered for by the Morgan finishers, exemplified by a Plus 8 that is sitting in wait in the PDI building to be shipped off to Holland. Matte Grey probably isn’t the first colour you’d associate with a classically designed British Sportscar.
Nor is an interior made entirely of white Alcantara. But once slapping eyes upon that combination just about to be delivered to its eccentric but lucky customer, it has suddenly become the ultimate Morgan spec that I’d have to have.
Just across the workshop sits a Gulf liveried car. Yes, a Morgan Plus 8 with a wonderful pearlescent blue exterior hugely contrasted with the iconic orange plastered all over the leather covered interior. Morgan customers certainly know what they want.
Looking at the cars that have made it through each level of the Morgan production process, it is immediately apparent that the classic Morgan shape is still very much in demand, especially overseas.
Germany is a massive fan of the great British sportscar as an entity, leading to many cars finding their way on a ship to mainland Europe.
If I was one of those lucky customers, I think I'd find it hard to resist a V8 if I was presented with a catalogue to pick from, although I must admit I'd hark after an Aero 8 Coupe, a shape that ceased production back in 2015. Then again, the limited edition Aero GT is about to break cover at Geneva in March this year, and the proposed motorsport influence might just sway my tastes from the Coupe.
To finish of the tour, I'm taken to the shop floor that I've been looking forward to all day, that being the one covered in the innards and body shells of the mighty three-wheelers.
Morgan couldn't have hit the retro nail on the head more precisely than with the rejuvenation of one of its original shapes, with the V-Twin engine and belt-driven rear wheel flushing all rationality out of your system and forcing you to want one.
With the S&S bike engines protruding from the front of the upturned boat body, one can't help but follow the beautifully naked exhausts from each cylinder off down the car's flanks.
You'll only get 82bhp to the rear wheel at best but a 525kg kerbweight and those narrow tyres solve any hankerings for power.
Seeing an exposed drivetrain also makes for some seriously geeky viewing, with the power of the bike engine having to be channeled through an inverter before channeling through an MX-5 gearbox shared with the Plus 4. From there, a foot-long prop shaft splits the centre of the cabin before convert its rotation to a kevlar belt, providing the final kinetic energy transfer through to the single back wheel.
Much like my visit last year to Suffolk Sportscars, my time at Malvern further reinforces that cars can still be built using the old ways, which in itself creates a market for the craftsmanship that can make something like a Morgan so unique.
In a world full of platform sharing, barely distinguishable derivatives and fully automated production lines, Morgan is still spearheading its own niche, but in a way that is staying fully relevant in today's hectic car market. From brutish V8s to electric three-wheelers, hydraulically pressed front wings to hand-louvred bonnets, Morgan has somehow managed to be simultaneously versatile and yet hugely niche, and long may that be the case.