Morgan Motor Company still makes cars by hand with wood

Hand-built sports cars made largely of wood are still being built. Here’s a look inside the anachronistic Morgan Motor Company.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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Morgan Motor Company

In a small factory in the west of England, Morgan Motor Company has been making vehicles for over 100 years. Here's a look behind the scenes. 

For the full story behind this tour, check out Classic of classics: how Morgan Motor Company still makes their wooden wonders.

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Starting line

The factory is unassuming, with just a series of low brick buildings on a small site.

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Hints at beyond

Finished cars await storage and shipping, and give us a taste of what's to come.

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Last of the V8 roadsters?

With only a few months of production left on the BMW V8 Morgan uses in the Plus 8, the hunt for a new, more emissions friendly, replacement is on. Tour guide Kevin thinks it might be a straight 6. My bet, based on pure speculation, is a turbo V6. 

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Two of Morgan's popular 3 Wheelers, ready for their owners. 

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On a slope

The factory is built on a slight slope, which they use to their advantage to move rolling, but unpowered, chassis from one building to the next. 

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Some legends

Before we enter the factory proper, we get to check out some important Morgans in their design studio.

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Le Mans

Morgan has competed several times in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, including this very car in 2004.

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4 seats

A somewhat rare 4-seat Morgan. 

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3 Wheeler

A prototype of the upcoming all-electric 3 Wheeler, due out in late 2018.

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A 34.8kW motor and an 8 second 0-62 time is expected, with a 120 mile range from a 21KWh battery.

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The Aero 8 was lunched in 2000, featuring an updated look and overall design for the new century. 

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Plus 4 Plus

An extremely rare Plus 4 Plus, with a fiberglass body wrapping a Plus 4 chassis. 

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The first building you enter on the tour is one of the main assembly buildings. 

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Morgan's vehicles aren't entirely made of wood, that's a common misconception. They have many wood sections, as we'll see. Their chassis is aluminum, which is manufactured nearby for Morgan.  

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Aero or 4?

You can tell the Aero from the classic 4 chassis by the rear. The Aero has a square back, the 4 and its various versions have a slope.

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The V8 Morgans use this, a 4.8L BMW V8 with 367hp. A Morgan badge gets attached over the BMW logo, though they don't hide where it's from in any literature. 

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The simple, but effective, sliding pillar suspension and live rear axle. 

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Engines in a row

Some engines await install. Cars can roll down this ramp to enter the next building and stage of production.

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Rolling chassis

A close up of a rolling chassis, awaiting some bodywork. Conveniently, that's our next stop. This is a Plus 8, I believe. 

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Put your clothes on

Once the mechanical bits get sorted in the previous building, they get wrapped in the curvy outside parts. These are largely made by hand.

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Squeezed in

A fairly tight fit for the 4.8L V8 in this Plus 8.

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Not all the same

There are four engine choices for the "traditionally styled" cars. Though they look very similar, they're not identical. The width changes slightly with the engine displacement. So the Plus 8 is the widest, the 1.6L 4/4 is the narrowest. The easiest way to tell is by looking at the distance between the headlights and the grill.

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There's the wood

Now you can start seeing how much wood is actually used. We'll see more about this in the woodshops a bit later.

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The fenders, aka "wings" and the hood, aka "bonnet" are rolled by hand for each car by skilled craftsmen using these machines.

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Ready to ride... sort of

When the cars leave this building they're officially "rolling chassis." You could, in theory, get in and drive them. In fact, that's exactly what they do to get the cars to the paint shop across the way. Before we get there, though, we're going to take a step back.

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While the chassis is aluminum, the body is a mix of wood and aluminium. In this building and the next, they build the structure to support the exterior body panels.

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Hand crafted

When Morgan says built by hand, this is what they mean. All modern cars are built with some hands-on stages (some less than others), but Morgan certainly does this to the extreme. Old school indeed.

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Aluminum and ash

An example of the handiwork. Ash, with aluminum supports.

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Here's where the curves and laminates get made.

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Curvy fenders

That curve that creates the shape for the wheel wells (upside down here), isn't cut that way. Instead, it's a bent multilayer laminate.

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In a vice

Three thin layers of ash are bent to the shape desired, then glued together and secured in the form. 

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Once the adhesive dries, usually in under an hour, the resulting curve is strong enough for car duty.  

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Pretty much everything on the car that's not metal or leather gets made here.

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For certain parts, like the dashboard, a vacuum sealing process secures pieces firmly while adhesive seals them together.

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The block of wood and the dashboard topper that gets made from it.

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Pieces at the ready

If you order a Morgan, you can have the interior trim and parts look pretty much however you want.

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Paint shop pro

After the cars get to the rolling chassis stage, they get driven across to the paint shop. Amazingly, the cars get completely disassembled at this stage, in order to make sure every part gets a full covering of paint.  

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Interior decorating

The other main ingredient for a Morgan is leather, or a leather substitute if you want. Nearly the entire interior is covered in it.

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Final assembly

As the car gets its interior finished, most of the bits that came off to get painted don't get put on until after everything is done. This is to minimize the chance for scratches. Here some parts await a maroon car that's nearly finished.

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Finishing touches

All the pieces go on, all the bolts and nuts get tightened. At this point, the Morgan is just about ready to go.

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Super bright florescent lights bathe the inspection bays with light, so the techs can find any issues or imperfections now, before the cars ship.

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Every part gets checked and rechecked. Note how the underside is largely covered on this Aero 8. 

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Some 3 Wheeler chassis. Wonder where we're headed next...

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Across from the paint shop is the 3 Wheeler assembly building. These are faster to build than the cars, and get their own line. 

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Under the skin

The big 2L V-twin gets routed through a Miata gearbox to the rear wheel.

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It's a tight fit for two, but it sure looks fun.

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The tour finishes in the Morgan museum, which has a few vehicles from their past. This is a replica of one of the earliest models.

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French Morgan

A 1923 Darmont-Morgan, which was a Morgan built under licence in France between the wars.

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Plus 4

When I finished my tour, this Plus 4 was out front in Sport Green, my favorite color, as if to tempt me. 

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Until next time

Renting a Morgan was out of my budget for this trip, but perhaps next time. Sure looks like a comfy place to sit for an open-air adventure...

For the full story behind this tour, check out Classic of classics: how Morgan Motor Company still makes their wooden wonders.  

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