The Morgan Motor Company Is A Factory Trapped In Time
Photography by Chris Pollitt
The modern car factory is a place of precision. It’s built to be efficient, to be clean-cut, to be dynamic. There is no room then, in this spotless home of vehicular creation, for things like dust and dirt. The sense of atmosphere is lost with them. Unless of course, you head to the Morgan factory, where such qualities aren’t shied away from, but embraced.
The factory is nestled in the sleepy, postcard-picture town of Malvern, shadowed by the hills of the same name. This is all very twee—tea and crumpets country for sure. There is no concession for the cutting-edge. Malvern likes things just the way they are, and the way things are is just the way they’ve always been. It’s that attitude that is the bedrock on which the success of Morgan is built. This company makes “new” cars, but by employing time-served methods.
The bricks and mortar of the place are low and not at all intimidating like a new car factory filled with robots and just the occasional whirring of their work being done. With the exception of a couple of rooms in the wood shop, the whole Morgan factory is based on one floor. It’s spread far and wide in one of Malvern’s few industrial areas. Though even then, it’s not industrial in the usual sense; one side of the factory is flanked by other companies, another by houses. Its setting isn’t what you’d expect of a car company, that’s for sure.
And walking inside through the different areas of construction and assembly, you have to look for the glimpses of modernity to remind you which year it is—the occasional glimpse of a mobile phone or an LCD monitor in an office, perhaps a cordless drill reliant on lithium-ion power rather than a socket in the wall. Take those elements away though, and you could be stood in the Morgan factory in any number of bygone decades. It is traditional. There are no robots, there are no conveyors feeding endless cars down a line. To the observer, there’s no real sense of order in fact, other than signage that tells what each building is for: wood shop, metal shop, trim shop, etc.
Tradition is something people get mixed up. Morgan is the embodiment of automotive tradition, but tradition is not a synonym for old-fashioned. Walk through the wood shop and you will indeed see a jig being used to bend ash into the shape of a rear arch. And yes, that jig is the same jig that was put into use sometime in the 1950s, but that is tradition. That is a true “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” approach. You don’t need to revolutionize the way the arches are made. What worked then still works now.
Not everything is exactly as it was though of course. For instance, walk further into the wood shop, and you’ll see vacuum-sealed bags containing dashboards in various states of veneering. This modern approach is better than the old ways, because it produces a better, higher quality product. The glues and resins used to seal, bond and protect the wood are modern, well-considered types. The screws holding it all together are stainless steel and engineered for a purpose. These things have all been revamped for contemporary use, but without losing the sense of tradition. It’s that which makes Morgan so special.
In the metal shop you’ll see English wheels being used to roll and shape the metal that will go on to be bonnets and doors, but the metal itself arrives at the factory stamped into shape by a modern machine. It’s not a shortcut though, it’s just prudent. Morgan has the sheets cut to the right shape by a third party. Why waste the skilled hands of a fabricator on such a menial task when a machine can do it? What those machines can’t do is shape that metal, work it to the individual, millimeter-thick differences found from one Morgan to the next. A machine can’t eye the panels to get a sense of what’s right on a car being formed by hand. That’s what the time-served workers at Morgan do. Again, it’s embraced the modern, but without losing tradition.
Then of course there are the vehicles themselves. They look classic. They look—in the best possible way—old. But they’re not, they’re brand new. The chassis, whether steel in the case of the traditional cars, or bonded aluminum in the case of the Aero models, are assembled by hand, but long before that happens they’re designed to microscopic perfection on powerful computers operated by a staff far younger than you’d expect at such a company as Morgan.
The engines are modern, too. Whether it’s a Ford Sigma, a Ford Cyclone, a BMW V8, or an S&S V-Twin, they have modern origins. The dashboards are awash with classic dials and also digital readouts for consumption, temperature and range. Some models have heated seats, LED headlamps, MP3 players, the list goes on.
And that’s why Morgan has been going strong for all these years, and why it will continue to do so. It knows what it is, it knows what its customers like, but it also knows that there is a modern world out there at its disposal. But unlike others who try to gather up all the latest and greatest in their products, Morgan carefully cherry-picks the bits it can use to refine and improve what it does, without ever putting the tradition at risk. That’s a rare thing.