Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha, Harvey-Jones

The BBC's `troubleshooter' said Morgan would be lucky to last five years. It's gone from strength to strength. By Roger Bell

Five years ago Morgan was doing it all wrong, according to Sir John Harvey-Jones. The BBC's "troubleshooter", formerly ICI's boss, reckoned the sports-car maker should double production to clear its backlog of orders, increase prices to pay for new investment, and update its cars and plant. In the most memorable of his compelling television series, broadcast in the summer of 1990, Sir John said of Morgan: "Their pride seems to be in manufacturing from the furthest-back state they can, and buying the most basic material. I am surprised they don't start with the tree itself."

Morgan's directors were dumbfounded. What was the man advocating? A timberless, mass-built, all-metal Moggie? Modernising Morgan would be like squaring the Albert Hall, or firing blanks on a pheasant shoot: what would the point of it all be?

Five years on from its TV grilling, Morgan has no regrets about rejecting Sir John's advice. Business is booming and profits are up, despite his pessimism about the company's future. "He gave us five years," says Charles Morgan, grandson of the founder, HFS Morgan.

By preserving old values and traditions, and styling that evokes a golden age of motoring, Morgan advances slowly but safely without losing touch with the past. Critics talk of dated relics made by antiquated means - you won't find any robots at Morgan's labour-intensive factory in Malvern Links, in Hereford & Worcester - but Morgan enthusiasts see the cars as antidotes to modern motoring, coachbuilt classics with an unbroken 60-year ancestry. The legacy of Morgan's first production four-wheeler, announced late in 1935, is evident in every Morgan made today.

Peter Morgan, son of the founder, was against radical change. "If we had gone ahead and implemented Sir John's recommendations, we'd be in deep trouble. Such is the recession, we wouldn't have the demand." Cautiously maintaining demand ahead of supply, so that good times cancel out the bad, has been central to Morgan's philosophy for decades.

"We've not felt the recession at all," says Peter's son Charles, formerly of ITN, now a third-generation Morgan director. "All that's happened is that delivery times have come down a bit, from six years to perhaps four or five in Britain. We don't build cars on spec like other manufacturers. Every car is built to order. I don't think Harvey-Jones understood that."

A refundable deposit of around pounds 250 gets you on the waiting list for a new Morgan. You tie up the details much later - a month or so before the car is built - on a five-page specification document that could well make your purchase unique. Had Sir John had his way, Morgan prices might now be in the pounds 25,000-pounds 40,000 bracket. As it is, they run from pounds 16,662 for the Ford-engined 4/4 (the name used for Morgan's first four-wheel, four-cylinder car in the Thirties) to pounds 26,608 for the 3.9-litre, Rover- engined Plus 8. Largely because of supply restrictions, Morgans hold their value better than any volume-made car on the market.

Morgan has increased production - this year it will be about 500, up from 442 in 1990 - but at nothing like the rate advised by Sir John. "His methods would result in making many changes to the traditional way the Morgan is built," says Charles Morgan. "We believe Morgan's policy of gradual and carefully considered change will enable us to maintain the car's qualities and unique appeal."

Without compromising hand-crafted quality, Morgan's production methods are being steadily overhauled; developments since the Troubleshooter programme include computerised stock control. "But we shall retain our coachbuilding traditions," says Charles Morgan, who speaks of a three-point plan for the future: more efficient assembly methods to improve productivity; better teamwork and training (it can take six years to attain craftsman status); and a steady increase in output to perhaps 750 cars a year. That would be roughly a third of what Morgan achieved with its three-wheelers in the Twenties, but still well below Sir John's recommendation. There's no mention of new plant or a shift in design or production philosophy.

Morgan's workforce of 130 (the same as in 1990) makes only 10 cars a week, so productivity is very low by industry yardsticks. But as an independent company, Morgan has no outside shareholders to satisfy. It is not driven by avarice or expansionist ambition. It has, though, been compelled to embrace much new technology. Air bags are on the way. Ditto a state-of- the-art ICI paintshop. Computer-controlled "clean" engines, from Ford and Rover, are obligatory, of course.

So is crash-worthiness. Here, the Cuprinol-dipped ash frames that brace the Thirties-style bodywork (in aluminium or steel, to customer choice) are remarkably effective. "The 100-year-old wood we use performs well in crash tests," says Charles Morgan. "Nothing else combines such strength, weight and durability." Morgan reckons that two-thirds of the four-wheelers made in the past 60 years are still on the road.

Although the Troubleshooter programme shook Morgan, it did the company no harm. Orders increased in the months following the 1990 broadcast, and Morgan's viewpoint won widespread support. Rest assured, the world's oldest privately owned car manufacturer is not about to do anything rash.

Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum