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Even Today, Morgan Motor Company Is Still Building Cars Out of Wood
A version of this article originally appeared in the Craftsmanship issue of Gear Patrol Magazine as part of a story with the headline “Die Hard.” Subscribe today
When H.F.S. Morgan crafted his first namesake vehicle, in 1909, his product was modern: an ash frame affixed to a steel ladder-frame chassis under metal body panels was inline with English coach-built autos of the era. More than a century later, as sleek electric cars roll off robotically-assisted assembly lines elsewhere in the world, some of Morgan Motor Company’s century-old woodworking tools are still in use at the brand’s Malvern Link factory in England’s West Midlands.
The new cars do have modern touches — today’s Morgan chassis is made from strong, lightweight aluminum instead of the traditional steel — but the core of the vehicle’s body is still made from rigid, durable ash wood. That traditional approach is a point of differentiation for the brand, and also a point of pride. One need not fix what isn’t broken, the company thinking goes, and a wooden frame keeps the machine lithe, a coveted attribute in a sports car. (The company also claims its wooden frames receive superior crash-test ratings.)
Wood is also relatively simple to work with — though that’s not to say the process is easy. Each component is marked from a template, cut, routed and joined, glued and sanded. As the pieces come together, the larger unit is dipped in a treatment solution and then hand-sanded before a quality-control inspection. Finally, aluminum body panels are added atop the structure. The process requires eight weeks of labor, and Morgan’s 180 workers complete around 800 cars per year. And aside from necessary wiring, there’s virtually no plastic in (or on) a Morgan vehicle.
If you’re wondering how well century-old automotive manufacturing techniques hold up, Morgan reports that when a Roadster model built in the 1950s was recently delivered to the factory for a refinishing, the frame was devoid of rot or other imperfections. Try saying that about a Chrysler Imperial from the same era.
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