An aged, rusty iron gate is what first admits you; it’s propped open on the ground by a couple of fist-sized stones resting in an old biscuit tin. Inside, several large brick sheds with big, sun-faded sliding doors stand on your left. Head for the first access door in the nearest building, and get ready for a collision of noises, sights and smells like nothing else in car industry. You are entering the factory at the Morgan Motor Company.
Now you’re inside the first workshop: this is where piles of primary components become running chassis. In front of you are several aluminium underbodies for Aero 8s and Aeromaxes; some are up on jacks, others have wishbones, hubs, wheels and tyres attached. These aluminium ‘tubs’ are glued together, not welded: “two fingernails-worth of glue is enough to pull nine tonnes,” says your guide.
Engines are stockpiled in sets of eight and ten in odd corners; some are the Ford four-pots used in Morgan’s smaller models, others the imposing 4.8-litre V8s for the bigger ones. Elsewhere, other mechanical bits and bobs wait to be bolted on – antiquated-looking live axles and cart springs in some cases, much more modern springs, dampers and steering systems in others. The rolling chassis come together as they move down the hall, and then the production line winds around to the right, and into the next workshop.
Walk in here and the smell of wood chippings, glue and varnish is almost worth paying for: this is where the cars’ bodies get cut out, shaped, treated, glued and screwed together. Racks of English ash line the walls at one end of the room. Further down there are bansaws, and elaborate-looking vices for shaping and sticking ash panels.
Everywhere there’s banging, sawing, sanding and screwing going on. A fine powder of wood dust hangs in the air, and coats any surface that hasn’t moved in a while. But the chassis move through at a steady rate, as wooden cabin bodies, doors and engine covers are attached, and then aluminium and steel panels are attached in turn.
In other workshops, paint is applied, cabins are trimmed, engines are tested –you name it. And every week, at the end of the line, roughly 14 new cars are produced: ten ‘little ones’ (4/4s, +4s, Roadsters and 4Seaters), three Aero 8s and one Aeromax. It seems incredible by volume car-making standards that so much activity, and such a diversity of it, can go into the making of so few cars – but that’s the marvel that is Morgan.
And business is strong, despite the economic slowdown. In 1997 Morgan made 480 cars; eleven years later the figure was just under 700, and could be 800 this year. One day, it may make as many as 1000 cars a year, they say, but only if that can be done Morgan’s way. And what a totally unique and utterly inimitable way to make sports cars theirs is. You wonder what the rest of the motor industry could learn from it.