Perfect Parts: The Bonnet

 

The bonnet’s life starts as a sheet of aluminium, cut to shape, then put through a roller to create the perfect curve. This, alongside the punching of the louvres, requires a serious amount of skill. We caught up with bonnet makers Paul Shakespeare and Richard Harris, to see how it’s done.

“It takes a while to get proficient at bonnet making, probably six months, or even longer,” Paul tells us. The first step is to roll the aluminium into shape. A simple roller is used with one lever to rotate the rollers, and another to apply pressure. It’s a two-man job, which, when skilled like Paul, take a matter of seconds.

With only a single mark on the metal, Paul used his eye to curve the metal to shape. He bent one side, then the other, and suddenly one half of a bonnet is formed. It’s like magic!

Next, Paul began to work on the fittings and reinforcements.

We followed Richard as he fed his completed bonnet through the press. “It’s all done by eye. We’ve marked where the louvres have to follow, then it’s a case of lining up the mark on the press with the central line we’ve drawn.”

Richard slid the bonnet under the press with steady hands, as an apprentice stamps the press down to create the louvres.

As the punch went down and the aluminium bent under the weight, we mentioned that it’s quite therapeutic to watch. “Well, it’s not that therapeutic to do!” Richard laughs. “It’s surprisingly heavy, and you have to keep it steady, and make sure you change the angle slightly as you reach the end of the bonnet.”

The bonnet makes up such a large part of the car that even the slightest mistake would be obvious. These guys operate under quite a bit of pressure to get it right first time – otherwise a whole bonnet is wasted.

As with most Morgan parts, they’re made for each individual car. The natural materials and handmade nature of every Morgan makes it impossible to operate to exactly the same dimensions every time.

It turns out it’s more than just the dimensions that change every time. “Some people want more louvres, some want less. We’ve done reverse ones, and we’ve even done long ways ones. It’s a good way to personalise your car,” Richard explains.

It’s fascinating to watch, and definitely one of the most popular parts of the factory tour – a crowd had formed around Richard, adding to the pressure no doubt! Shaping aluminium in this way just isn’t seen very often in the modern world. Keep punching out those louvres chaps; a Morgan wouldn’t be a Morgan without them.