We are all familiar with Henry Ford, and the impact he had on the mass production of the automobile
. Lesser known perhaps, but providing a similarly important role to the British car industry was William Morris (later Lord Nuffield), who believed firmly in the need to produce cheap cars for the masses. Morris himself started out manufacturing motorcycles, but his attention soon turned to automobiles, and he was determined to make his company a success. The first iteration was the 1912 Oxford, named after the nearby city of Oxford (the Morris factory being at Cowley).
But the Oxford moniker was soon replaced by the rather less attractive name “Bullnose” by most, because of the distinctive rounded radiator grille. Powered by a small White and Poppe four cylinder engine producing 10hp (7.5 kW), only 1000 would be manufactured before the outbreak of war. Next came the larger Cowley, which used a 1.5 litre US built Continental engine, and then after the war both cars had their engine capacities upgraded.
As production methods were streamlined, costs inevitably fell, and instead of the savings being consumed by greedy executives they were instead passed on to the buying public. The Cowley, albeit with a slightly lower level of trim, had £100 slashed from the price, a huge sum at the time. Inevitably there was an increase in demand, and with the added cash-flow Morris set about the strategic acquisition of key components suppliers, including Hotchkiss engines, Wrigley transmissions
, SU carburettors
and Hillock and Pratt bodies. The “Bullnose” radiator would be dropped in 1927, replaced by a less distinctive but more traditional flat design.
The “Empire Oxford” was designed for export to the then British Empire, it featuring a 2.5 litre four cylinder engine mated to a four speed gearbox and worm final drive. In 1934 hydraulic brakes
were introduced across the range, and larger versions appeared such as the long wheelbase Ten-Six and top of the range 3.5 litre Twenty-Five. The trusty Minor was replaced by the side-valve Eight in 1935, and was available in saloon or open tourer models. The Eight was replaced by the E Series just before the war, and all models would go back into production following the cessation of hostilities.
But the best would come in 1948 with Alec Issigonis masterpiece Morris Minor
. Designed by Issigonis
and A. V. Oak, it was originally intended to be a front wheel drive
flat four iteration, but time constraints meant the design retained the old 918cc side valve rear-wheel-drive configuration. Technically well advanced, the Minor featured rack-and-pinion steering, independent front suspension
, unitary construction
, a roomy interior, excellent handling
and great fuel economy. In fact, it was such a hit that it would remain in manufacture right up until 1971! Morris merged with Austin in 1952, forming the British Motor Corporation (BMC).
The Austin overhead-valve engines were favoured over the older design Morris side valve units, the Minor now equipped with a 49ci 803cc engine taken from the Austin A30, the 1954 Cowley received the 73ci 1.2 litre B Series, and the Oxford received the 1.5 litre version. Over the next few decades, the Austin and Morris cars became increasing an exercise in badge engineering, being virtually identical versions of the same thing. This was never more evident that with the other Alec Issigonis
masterpiece, the Mini, that was available as either the Austin Seven or Morris Mini Minor.
The last “Morris” only iteration was the woeful Marina
, the victim of British automotive industry upheaval during the 1970’s. Build quality was non-existent, and it would tarnish a marque better known for producing high quality affordable automobiles for the masses.
Also see: Lost Marques - The William Morris Story