Cars still built by hand at Morgan

(November 30, 2010) The Morgan Motor Car Company located in Malvern Link in Worcestershire is more than 100 years old. Cars were hand-built a century ago, and amazingly all Morgan cars are still built by hand, and with an all-wood frame.

There are six main build stages: chassis, assembly, sheet metal, wood, machine, paint and Trim (upholstery). The first stage, chassis assembly, is done at the top workshop near the site entrance and the build stages progress downhill.


What is obvious, and very satisfying, is that the English factory has a very manual operation throughout — there are no robots at Morgan. Classics and Aero models have different build stations, but these can be switched at varying stages of construction.

The Aero8, for example, has a bonded rivet aluminum chassis. When finished the completed car weighs just 2,574 pounds — “the power to weight ratio is phenomenal” . At this bare chassis stage, everything is configured in the car – you can plug a laptop into the car and drive it away. Full configuration, including checks for fuel leaks, drivetrain and engine checks, is done at this stage as it is far easier to pick up here.

Every car is issued with a build book, containing a tracking document and quality document, where every build stage has its own page. “This follows the car right through the factory to the dealer, agent or customer who picks the car up — a full record of everything that’s gone into it,” says Steve Morris, operations director. This system was installed six years ago and is part of the continuous improvement and lean program at Morgan.

The Classic chassis station has a totally different set-up, due to the fact there is a lot of configuration later on with the Classic, and it’s not as advanced as the Aero series cars at this stage — there’s no wiring for example — so there are more chances to access parts of the Classic as it is being assembled. As the cars go through the production line they start to jockey together at different stages, with some models overtaking others on lines.

All the cars arrive at the body mount stage where the craftsmanship really kicks in. For the Classic body frame, an all ash frame is made in the wood shop, dip treated for rot outside, brought back in to be paneled by hand and then mounted to the body. “It’s a very time sensitive stage. It’s three days work here, as soon as they’re done they must be fitted to the cars,” Morris says.

Nearly all the metal is aluminum — on the AeroMax and Aero8 apart from the wishbones and the discs the car is almost entirely aluminum. The Classic has a galvanized steel chassis, a stainless steel bulkhead and firewall, and inner wings — beyond that everything is the same, ash frame paneled body and aluminum. The Aero series wings are made from super plastic-form (SPF) aluminum.

“You take a sheet of aluminum, its superheated to 450°C, you blow it into a bubble and using air pressure form tools and heat it is stretched over the steel form. You can get some absolutely stunning shapes,” Morris explains. The body shapes are designed in-house, cast steel forms are made and the panels are formed at Superform Aluminum in Worcester. Classics also use SPF for the wings and cowls, but not body panels.

Superform is expensive but has passed the cost / benefit analysis, in that it offers high quality and repeatability. This choice of metal is important to Morgan to deliver cars that match their ‘light and fast’ ethos, which Morris says also reduces CO2 emissions making Morgans extremely environmentally friendly.

The Classic car uses a mixture of hand cut and Laser cut blanks which are then very skillfully shaped and paneled onto the body frame, which exemplifies the traditional skills of the workforce in contrast to Superform’s cutting edge technology.

Woodwork — or wood engineering — is a core strength at Morgan. Their ash frames are shaped using traditional wooden presses and more modern bag press techniques. “A bag press is essentially a vacuum bag. You produce a former, for the part, and the vacuum literally sucks the wood down onto the former. It produces laminates with immense strength – you could drive a tank over it,” says Morris.

It’s all about pressure, while some ambient heat is used to cure the glue. This and clamp pressure techniques can produce some extremely complex shapes. Morris shows an AeroMax centre roof spine — beautifully moulded, super-strong. It’s based on an old leaf spring for carriages, and while it isn’t required as a structural part it has that structural property.

“It gives us differentiation in the automotive world — no-one else is using wood this way.”

The next stage, after the body mount where the wings and ancillary parts are assembled, is where the Classic and Aero cars mix and jockey for work in the same area. A car is rolled in, where Aeros are fitted with the body and wings and go straight to paint. The Classics has the body and wings fitted then it has pre-drilling, wiring, a heater, oil pipes etc all fitted here before going to the paint line. Both models are painted after being assembled at the Body in White stage.

“We do this is because the quality is so paramount in new vehicles — I’d rather invest a little more time at this point to ensure the product looks perfect here," Morris says.

"But we’re sliding towards painting the panels separately and meet them up later without building body in white.” Morgan can offer almost 250,000 color combinations from its own paint division.

Post Paint, cars are fitted out with leather trim, windows, bonnets and other auxiliary parts such as lights are fitted.

Upon completion of the build process the cars are all road tested, they then go through a full technical PDI before having an under body protection. When this process is complete the car then receives a full PDI in preparation for Despatch to either the customer or dealer.