Around 600 million years ago, a fissure appeared in the earth’s crust. The rising magma surged to the surface where it cooled, at its highest point 425 metres above sea level. Successive ice ages eroded the surrounding landscape, but these rocks held firm. Today, we know them as the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire.
Nestled in the foothills is the Morgan Motor Factory. Founded by Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan – or HFS as he is affectionately known – in 1909. His original garage was just a quarter of a mile away from the Pickersleigh Road site, which has gradually expanded further down the hillside, to enable Morgan to continue producing approximately 800 cars a year.
This expansion is still slowly continuing today. The latest building to be added is the Morgan Experience Centre, which includes the Morgan Museum, café, shop, factory tours and experience drives. From October 2020 the Archive Room is open, showcasing Morgan’s history and heritage in an immersive museum setting.
The heritage and tradition that underpins the Morgan brand is evident upon walking into the dusty wood shop, where ash frames are moulded by human hands, not robotic arms. The press that is used to form the flowing silhouette of the rear wheel arch, has been at the factory longer than the oldest serving staff member.
“Nobody knows how old it is. If you bought your Plus 4 in the 1960s, and then your Plus Six today, it’s the same wheel arch press that’s been used on both your vehicles”, Says James Gilbert, Morgan’s Communications Manager, as he leads us through the workshop, raising his voice above the banging and hammering. “And it’s these little things that we just can’t change. It’s part of our heritage. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
And the longest serving staff member? ‘Possibly Vince’ says James, who is unfortunately shielding at the moment. He has worked for Morgan for decades, even meeting his wife in the factory. He retired once, but came back a week later, such is his passion.
“There’s tradition amongst the people on the production line” says James. “Real characters with long standing rare skills. Craftsmen. And it’s now being mixed with the new. You’ll find a hand beaten bonnet next to a modern super form wing and they’re just in perfect harmony. The company is always willing to embrace modern technology where appropriate. But if it starts overtaking or feeling like it’s unnatural to Morgan, we just won’t do it”.
The idea is to make the cars a little easier to live with, without removing any of their charm. Fitting a modern engine, aluminium platform and double wishbone suspension, but keeping the ash frame, ash cabin and their signature wire wheels.
Of course the original Morgan Three Wheeler, designed by HFS Morgan, was a little more rudimentary. It featured a backbone chassis, one seat and coil spring independent front suspension, which was unusual at the time. It also had three wheels, one driven at the rear and two steering up front.
Three single-seater cars or ‘Runabouts’ as they were called, were shown at the 1910 Motor Show at Olympia. With a lot of interest but only a handful of orders, HFS decided to create a two-seater version to meet demand. Production began in 1911 with the addition of a bonnet, windscreen, wheel-steering and crank-starting. Harrods took on a role as agents and at the princely sum of £65, the Morgan became the only car to ever appear in the store’s famous window displays.
The three-wheeled cars continued production until 1952, but by then they had introduced their first four wheeled car in 1936, called the 4/4 as it had a four cylinder engine and four wheels.
It wouldn’t be until 2011 at the Geneva Motor Show that the Morgan 3 Wheeler would re-emerge. The company expected to sell just 250 units but to date over 850 have been built. Top Gear named it their ‘Not Car of the Year’ in 2011, with the modern 3 Wheeler representing a ‘no frills, all thrills’ way of motoring, according to the Morgan website.
While expansion and new models have continued to come, the modern automotive world is changing rapidly. In 2019, survival and growth was sought and headlines announced that they had taken investment from venture capitalists, Investindustrial from Italy.
The Morgan family still have board representation and the family of Investindustrial regularly share time in the canteen with staff. With Investindustrial also a family business, there is a genuine affinity between all concerned.
“I think people worried at the start that we would stop making cars in the same way, but the family have really invested in Morgan’s future. And our staff continue to pass down their skills. Not just how to build the frame, but how to maintain your tools. Everything there is to know about being a craftsman”.
With a new purpose built design and engineering facility, the new experience centre opening and the staff and their skills continuing to hand build cars, the future for Morgan is set to continue slowly evolving down hill.
And that is a very good thing.