Morgan Motor Company is celebrating 100 years of production at its workshops on Pickersleigh Road in the charming spa town of Malvern Link. This article puts the celebration in context. On the first Monday of October 2013, BritishV8 dropped in and toured the Morgan works. Our report shows what has always made Morgan special and also what changes are occurring at Great Britain's oldest independent automaker.
Morgan builds uncommonly lightweight and nimble sportscars, and they do so with old-fashioned manufacturing techniques. Along our tour route we saw wood shaped with rasps, chisels, and planes. Aluminum body panels were cut and formed with handtools. Leather upholstery was hand sewn. On the other hand, elaborate and curvaceous aluminum fenders are now made by a partner company nearby where instead of using conventional mechanical presses, air pressure is used to blow super-heated aluminum into one-sided steel molds. CNC machines mill wooden assemblies with great precision, but our tour didn't pass into that part of Morgan's plant so our overall impression was "pre-industrial". There's never been a mechanized assembly line at Morgan. Cars may or may not move in a predictable order from one workstation to another. Morgan doesn't throw around fashionable industrial engineering terms like "kanban". They trust skilled workers to work calmly and smartly together.
And the company is booming! In 2012 they built almost 1000 vehicles. That's a build rate unseen since before World War II. 2013 has been an even busier year. Morgan has introduced new models and they're entering new markets. A new Morgan dealership has just opened in China's Shandong province. Yet Morgan seems to be standing on a dangerous precipice in at least two respects.
The first danger may be more omen than actual. Ash wood is a critical component of every Morgan vehicle. A terrible fungal blight is rampaging across Europe and Great Britain. Asian spores travel on a foul wind. Many millions of trees are affected. At some point in the foreseeable future Morgan will have to import ash wood from much farther afield and/or utilize a different species.
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That's a new "Aero" convertible in the foreground. But please note the buildings to the right.
Our tour started in the furthest one, then proceeded downhill through four more before
crossing the road to visit three on the left. The natural incline is used to advantage:
cars are generally hand-pushed downhill from building to building as they're assembled.
"21st Century Coach Building" is the description our guide used. The Aero range features
elaborate "Super Plastic-Formed" (SPF) aluminum bodywork. Super-heated aluminum panels
are formed onto (or into) one-sided steel molds, primarily by application of pressurized
air. The SPF process is now used for the sweeping fenders of the Classic models too.
Prime mover? The Aero range comes with a 4799cc BMW V8 rated 367 bhp at 6500rpm and 370 lb/ft
of torque. Customers are given their choice of a BMW 6-speed manual or a ZF 6-speed automatic.
which produce ratings of 23mpg (manual) or 26mpg (automatic) combined average fuel economy.
Width 1751mm. Dry weight 2601#. ABS, cruise control, electronic brake distribution, and drag
torque control are all standard features. All leather components are hand-stitched.
Base price for an Aero Coupe is currently £83,292, to which you may need to add Britain's
Value Added Tax. (That converts to about $135,000 U.S. dollars before taxes, etc.)
However, this photo shows Aero convertibles, not coupes and not Supersports.
This model isn't currently listed in Morgan sales literature.
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Headquarter offices are housed in the Pickersleigh Road site's original production
building. We stepped inside the lobby to see a small display of historic Morgans.
The #80 Aero 8 GTN had good potential and bad luck. It completed 222 laps in the 2004
24 Hours of Le Mans race, but the winner that year completed 379 laps. The #29 Aero
and its teammate (not shown here) split victories in the first two races of the 2009 FIA
European GT3 Championship Series, upsetting factory-supported Audi R8LMS and Aston
Martin DBRS9 racecars and a very large field. That two-car Morgan team ultimately
finished fifth of fifteen teams in points over twelve Championship Series races.
This is my favorite Morgan model, the "Plus 4 Plus". Sadly, stars were out of alignment for it.
Introduced in 1963, only 26 of these were ordered and built. (All 26 are accounted for. At least
one still vintage races in Europe.) Look beneath this Plus 4 Plus' beautiful fixed head coupe body
and you'll find a normal Plus 4 chassis and Triumph engine. Morgan fans didn't embrace this model,
and it didn't help Morgan sell into new markets or niches either. If it had been introduced a few
years earlier, potential customers might have compared it favorably to heavier cars such as the
(similarly Triumph powered) . On the other hand, if an equally handsome coupe body
had been offered on the Plus 8 chassis... well, we'll never know what might have happened.
Triumph discontinued their 2138cc four cylinder engine in 1968, which left Morgan scrambling
to find a suitable replacement. Ulitmately, they sourced a Ford engine for the Plus 4 model.
While beating the bushes, they were also offered Rover's fantastic aluminum V8. An opportunity
they couldn't resist, the Morgan Plus 8 model was an instant success. () With Rover
V8, the Plus 8 served as Morgan's flagship model for 36 years. Compared to a contemporary
Plus 4, the 1968 Morgan Plus 8 chassis was stretched 2" in length. Bodies were similar except
steel floors were installed in lieu of wood.
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