January 2013 - Morgan factory VIP tour
I received a remarkable Christmas present from my fiancée: A special VIP visit to the Morgan Motor Company. Morgan do group guided tours, but my VIP special was to be taken around the wood frame construction, and also have my technical questions answered.
Firstly, I would like to thank all of those involved at Morgan for their first-class hospitality. We were well and truly pampered! My private VIP tour was very enlightening. Some of the processes/techniques have changed since I last read about Morgan body building. Wood frames have reverted to being left unpainted, but dipped in preservative. Surprisingly (to me at least) wood adhesive is mostly water-proof PVA, but the laminated sections are now bonded with polyurethane quick curing glue. Ash timber is kiln-dried and screws are pozi-drive.
I was keen to learn what sealant is currently used for the damp-proof course that seals the wood frame to the chassis. Old cars including the AC used bitumen. Alan Alderwick's book recommends silicone-rubber sealant as a longer lasting alternative. My concern is the shear-strength of the bond, in conjunction with the many bolts that secure the wood frame. Morgan's sealant is Terostat MS 939 elastic adhesive, by Loctite.
Much of what I saw also tied in with my longer term interest in designing/building a new car, and I was pleasantly surprised at the similarity in my and their design philosophies. Over 20 years ago, I drew up plans involving a bonded aluminium chassis and laminated ash body frame. The amazing strength of laminated ash was demonstrated and the superior crash-worthiness was explained with the passion that I have already given that topic on many occasions. Our philosophies merged again as the practice of combining the best of old and new technologies was discussed. The big front wings are formed utilising modern methods in contrast to AC's that were made from 15 hand-formed sections butt-welded together!
I was also able to watch closely as one of Morgan's craftsmen folded and fastened aluminium panelling to a wood frame. The above photo shows a side panel clamped under plywood while the edges are hammered over.
The process of wood frame manufacture looked similar to how AC almost certainly did theirs. Components are cut around templates, and some sub-assemblies made, prior to the main assembly process. I noticed that all the joints I inspected looked perfect, in contrast to many on my AC! In fairness to AC, I think they were under pressure to make things more hurriedly back in the 1940s/50s.
Of added interest was the process of gluing certain other laminated components. These were placed in vacuum bags to apply the required clamping pressure (atmospheric) while the glue cured. Very simple but effective.
The 'normal' group tour of the factory was also enlightening and thoroughly recommended. Morgan seem to be very good at customer relations as well as making proper motor cars. Bristol is the only other maker I can think of that maintains construction and design practices that I respect as highly. Morgan make classic cars with the soul of a coachbuilt motor and a true pedigree. Phoney pseudo-classics just don't "do it" for me! Visit Morgan's website.
Happy versus unhappy motoring
Since becoming engaged, I've done more travelling by car (more often as a passenger), and this has given me an unusual insight into how UK motoring has changed since my 1980s AC motoring. Admittedly, classic car motoring usually gives special privileges, as other road users give way, or wave and smile. Even so, I've been startled at how much more aggressive and impatient motoring has become.
Driving faults are just the same, but seem worse because of more crowding and faster cars that cut the occupants off from the outside world. In the 1980s, many main roads had no speed limits for villages, and as I slowed for these most obvious of hazards, someone would end up almost against my rear bumper. 30mph limits appeared soon afterwards for villages. Today, 40 and 50mph limits have appeared all over A and B roads, but these are still taken to be the speed at which to drive constantly, whilst ignoring changing road conditions. And that most obvious of hazards, darkness, has no effect on speeds for most, from my observations. That great driving instructor and author, Tom Topper, stated over 40 years ago that 70mph is the absolute limit at night in the most ideal conditions. As a traffic cop once said on TV: "Cars have got a lot faster, but driver's brains have not speeded up".
I have lots of respect for professional drivers such as truckers who have to put up with other motorists who are blind to nearly all types of hazard. Police driver's training is also vastly superior with intensive tests on observation and recognition of hazards. Many motorists do not even know what a lot of road signs mean! Going back to aggressive driving, I've witnessed a few incidents of threats and abuse from young hot-headed car drivers. Sometimes aimed at bus drivers along a road in Leicester where cars are not permitted! Maybe they're on drugs?
The most common aggressive tactic is tailgating. Driving too closely behind another vehicle is an offense in the UK and very dangerous for a number of reasons that will be obvious to those who do not do it. The offenders are also probably trying to drive too fast for the prevailing road and traffic conditions. The answer may be, in part, far better driver training? Learning everything the hard way is the height of stupidity (and often fatal). One can learn so much from the vast experience of our predecessors. Recent legislation has already targeted the aggressive young hot-heads that are repulsive to most of us. I've long suggested that they need to have their licences revoked, and vehicles taken away, until they can prove that they have matured into adults. High insurance premiums may help, but also hit many responsible young drivers.
And to all motorists reading, please remember that a "speed limit" is, well, a limit! Not the speed to drive at constantly until the next speed limit sign. One has to read the road and traffic conditions which may be constantly changing, as well as weather and lighting conditions. In fact, no speed limits would be needed if most motorists grasped this simple point and could also judge what the safe speed should be at any moment. Hence the ever increasing number of speed limits that have popped up.
My hope is that there will still be some pleasant drives possible in classic cars in the years to come. When one is in a beautiful classic car, other people tend to love you rather than hate you, so there's hope yet!
BBC Top Gear
Early in 2013 I was contacted by "Top Gear" wanting to borrow my 1964 newspaper cuttings about the Le Mans Cobra's speed test on the M1 motorway. Although apprehensive about letting my precious archive snippets out of my hands, they did return them unharmed. They appeared in an episode featuring a race across Europe between travel by train and a modern Ford Mustang. The Mustang brought up the subject of Shelby, and hence the Cobra and the M1 test. Unfortunately a photo of a Daytona Cobra was substituted for my copy of a newspaper photo of the Le Mans coupé. However, it was still entertaining to see the headlines of horror about those speed tests.
April 2013: Electro-plating
I have been trying my hand at applying replica-chrome plating to some of the AC's brightwork. I've done electro-plating in a previous job, so I'm not unfamiliar with the process. However, brush-plating is new to me. This entails the use of a plating wand with a foam applicator, rather than having a tank full of electrolyte. Brush plating is the cheapest way to get started, and is also convenient for doing parts that can't be dismantled, or parts that would require a very long tank to fit them in. The downside is that it is labour-intensive, and so not easy to build up thick plating - as would be needed to protect external steel parts.
The reason for using replica-chrome rather than real chrome, is that the latter is quite dangerous to apply because of the fumes produced. Also there are air pollution concerns. Real chrome is a very thin layer over nickel, and it is all too easy to remove that chrome through damage or harsh polishing.
In due course, I will attempt plating in tanks. For now, I'm replating interior brass fittings including those illustrated below.
This sort of task is the kind of creative work that I relish. So much so that I'm very tempted to add it as a business sideline (I'm self-employed already) after gaining more practice. It's certainly more fun than the factory plating work I used to do. Although it is early days (it's April 2013 as I write this), if anyone in the UK wants to discuss having small components re-plated, then drop me a line: E-mail Ian.
Above is shown one of the quarter-light window knobs. Prior to replating, the nickel under the chrome was pitted giving a rough feel. The middle photo shows it after sanding and rough polishing, revealing the yellow-ish nickel plate. On the right is the finished item with replica-chrome applied.
Below is shown one of the rear blind brackets. The original plating was chrome and no nickel underneath, and the chrome was peeling off. The middle photo shows the bare brass after sanding and fully polishing. On the right, the gleaming replica-chrome.
If you want to try it yourself, then I can recommend my supplier Gateros Plating. They have been very supportive with advice on getting the best results. I can see why the professional platers charge a lot for re-plating classic car brightwork. The preparation work can be time consuming if the metal surface has corrosion or scratches.
July 2013: Wood frame repaired - more or less.
After 4 years and about 1,950 hours work, the wood frame repairs are complete except for gluing the boot side panels on. These will be fixed on after attention is given to the rear of the chassis. The rebuild has involved making 36 new components and repairing 72 others. Those repairs numbered about 110 not including packing pieces and drilled/dowelled screw holes. 41 original components were reglued (with 10 more to follow when the boot side panels go on permanently). Including all packing pieces etc., over 250 repair parts were made. Many of the packing pieces were to fill in gaps that had been left in the original construction (actually filled with glue!).
The above photo shows the front half of the frame in aluminium primer (the rear half is fully painted).
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