Malvern’s Marvellous Morgan
For any Petrolhead, having a car factory tour is pretty special. Finding one where they still make most of the cars by hand, is pretty rare. Finding one that welcomes photographs without limitation is pretty unique!
Our tour was hosted by Robert, a man who went from fan of the marque, to purchaser of a car, to regular visitor, to tour guide. In fact, he suggested the idea and, as a result, has been showing people like us around the factory complex for the last 10 years.
In 1906, Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan (known as ‘HFS’) designed a motorised three wheeler car as a useful local runabout in his home town of Malvern, Worcestershire. The little tricycle became rather popular and thus the Morgan Car Company came to life. Work soon expanded enough to justify buying a nearby greenfield site that remains home to the company some 110 years later.
The tour starts in the newly plush reception and showroom area adjacent to the excellent cafe. A short cinematic history and handing out of ear pieces meaning Robert didn’t have to shout at any point on the tour.
We entered the first and oldest factory building that now houses a small display of venerable Morgans, including an unpopular (at the time) 1964 Hard Top… now a sought after and valuable classic. Apparently, ‘HFS’ would recognise some of the furniture, tools and other items on display in there… but not the Hard Top!
From there, we moved into a very quiet work space. It wasn’t quiet for long… we’d arrived at lunchtime. The bell rang at 13:00 and the place erupted with hammering noises. We were in the aluminium shed.
Our first opportunity to see cars being built was half way through the build process. We’d already seen some static ‘platforms’ (not called chassis, thanks to their unitary bonded construction) and engines imported from BMW; 4-cylinder 2.0L for the ‘Plus Four’ model and 6-cylinder 3.0L for the Plus Six. The noise came from hammering aluminium sheets around ‘mules’ built for the purpose before being wheeled into the next shed to be married to their engines, wiring looms, etc.
Robert showed us a piece of wing, light, flexible and ready to be beaten into the shape that’s so evocative of the Morgan style. Some pre-war machinery, still used regularly, sits alongside computer aided machines… “but there’s no ‘CNC’ process used here”, Robert is quick to point out. He’s also eager to point out how Morgan have led the industry in the adoption and use of the ‘superforming’ process (for the platforms), complementary to their traditional hand crafting for the bodywork.
A further step back in the process – yes, this was no ordinary start-to-finish process review – took us to the woodworking shop. This was perhaps the part of the tour we were all expecting, after all, who doesn’t know that Morgan cars are made of ash? However, it was still very impressive to see the bending machine they’ve been using for almost a century, to see the craftspeople chiselling and planing and to smell the fresh (Norfolk-sourced) wood in that room.
A quick peek through a window into the pre-delivery inspection room – that used to be the 3-wheeler assembly line – precedes our exit into the cold fresh air.
We then nipped across the road to peer briefly through the paint shop window before entering the final assembly shed. The smell of leather greeted us as this is where the seats and other trim are married to the car. Sewing machinist occupy one corner, folding hood mechanisms and materials in another.
Also in this room are the ‘special projects’ underway. Not only is it a privilege to witness such work, it’s also mightily unusual for any car company to allow members of the general public to see and photograph proceedings. If you wanted confirmation of the friendliness of the Morgan Car Company, that was it.
A side room away from final assembly showed us the very last of the ‘current’ (year 2000) 3-wheeler models that was awaiting collection, complete with signatures of every employee who’s had a hand its build adorning the underside of the boot lid. Nice touch.
We also saw some of the off-road (rally) specials (9 built) and one of the 9-off GT models before finding our way back to the reception building via the small but very well presented museum.
The museum rounded off the tour very nicely with both a replica of the car that started off the whole story. A replica that consists of as many original parts as possible, but not enough to satisfy its builder – and company historian – that it’s actually ‘original’. Regardless it has starred in photo shoots, etc. and so is building a history all of its own. At the other extreme is a one-off electric 3-wheeler that almost became a production car and is no doubt now featuring heavily in the Morgan design studio’s inspiration and workload.
Other curios included the helmet and signed photograph of Gwenda Stewart (1894-1990) that was so treasured by HFS and an electric guitar built by an apprentice from a Morgan car door.
Finally, on to the shop (of course) and the cafe for that well-earned cuppa and cake.
Thank you Robert and the Morgan team. A terrific half-day out and well worth it if you’re considering the same for yourself or a gift for a Petrolhead loved one. We took along a non-Petrolhead friend (yes, we’ve actually got more than one of them) and they enjoyed it too!
You can also arrange to test drive the Plus-4 and Plus-6 models as part of your tour.