LightAuto

Light cars from Cowley

Motor car production has taken place at Cowley near the city of Oxford, England for over ninety years. In 1913 William Morris began assembling his first car the first Morris OXFORD, a light car, from major components from suppliers all over England, including bodies. This model was in production until 1915. In 1914 he ordered engines from the Continental Motor Manufacturing Company of Detroit, USA. He also ordered gearboxes, axles, transmissions and steering gear from other US suppliers. These items could be obtained at much lower cost than if purchased in Europe or the UK. Unfortunately only about 300 sets of components were received due to shipping losses during the First World War. These components were used to produce the Morris COWLEY from 1915, then from 1919 to 1920. Although he undertook to manufacture his own components in future years, usually by taking over his suppliers, he continued the policy of concentrating on assembly at Cowley. This is now the accepted method of working throughout the industry now, but was contrary to normal practice at the time. Morris Motors commenced production in an old military academy that had been derelict for twenty years. The machining of additional components was carried out on the ground floor and assembly on the first floor. During the First World War, the production of cars was run down and the production of war materials was undertaken. It was during that time that period that new steel buildings were erected. In 1919 when car production was resumed, a simple production line was laid out on the ground floor in the new building, the chassis being moved by hand from workstation to workstation, once the wheels had been fitted to the car. At that time there were about 200 workers at the factory. The light car produced then was the COWLEY with a Hotchkiss engine, this version being made until 1926. Car production at Cowley increased steadily, being 387 in 1919, 1,932 in 1920, 3,076 in 1921, 6,956 in 1,922 and 20,048 in 1923. Morris achieved this meteoric rise by slashing prices of his cars in 1921, and due to increased productivity turned loss into profit. That profit was invested in the business. In 1927 the first Cowley produced cars were fitted with all steel bodies. These were manufactured in the Pressed Steel Company plant located adjacent to the Cowley works. The Pressed Steel plant was built as the result of a visit William Morris had made to the Edwards G Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia in the USA this was in 1925. The Pressed Steel Company was a joint venture between Morris, Budd and a merchant bank and was established to produce all steel bodies for the British motor industry. It was not part of Morris Motors and remained financially separate until 1965. The next lightweight model was the first Morris MINOR in 1928; this model was made until 1932. The Cowley works was continually updated, but from 1933 to 1934 a major reorganisation was carried out. The result was four moving assembly lines with the chassis drawn by moving chains and parts delivered to workstations along the line by overhead conveyors. Annual capacity of the works was by then 100,00 cars. The light cars produced at Cowley during the early nineteen thirties were a second MINOR model made between 1931 and 1934, further COWLEY models, 1931,1932 to 33,1934 to 35, the TEN-Four 1933 to 35, and the TEN-SIX Morris's contribution to the 1930's fashion for small six cylinder cars.  The models in the second half of the decade were the EIGHT, TEN and TWELVE. The suffix Series I, II, III, E and M identified subsequent models using these names. In 1939 the Cowley works was used to produce war materials. The EIGHT Series E and the TEN series M were produced again from 1945 to 1948 when the Morris MINOR MM was first produced. The MINOR was to remain in production until 1971 and over a million examples were produced. Also introduced in 1948 was the OXFORD MO with a 1476cc engine and in 1949 production was transferred to Cowley of the first Wolseley model to be produced there the 4/50. A version of the MO with body changes and a Wolseley overhead camshaft engine fitted These were out of production by 1954. The next Wolseley model produced at Cowley was the 4/44 made from 1952 to 1956. It shared its body shell and major components with the MG MAGNETTE. The Wolseley 15/50 replaced the 4/44 on the production lines in 1956, remaining in production until 1958. In 1952 Morris Motors became part of the British Motor Corporation. In 1954 a new shape OXFORD the II was introduced with 1489cc engine and using the same body shell the 1200cc COWLEY, both of these models had been discontinued by 1959. They were replaced with what was to be the last OXFORD the V/VI, made until 1971 by then with a 1622cc engine. Also in 1959 a revolutionary new model was first produced at Cowley. . It was the policy of the British Motor Corporation to produce many of their designs in more than one factory and market them under various names. . The Morris MINI MINOR was produced at Cowley and the Austin SE7EN was produced at Longbridge, Birmingham. By popular choice they became the Morris and Austin MINI. Morris Mini's were produced at Cowley until 1969. The Morris version of the BMC 1100 was in production at Cowley from 1962 and the 1300 from 1967, The Riley versions of the 1100 and 1300, the KESTREL was in production from 1965 to 1968 and the Wolseley versions from 1965 to 1973. The Morris versions of the 1100 and 1300 were produced until 1971.The Austin MAXI was also produced at Cowley from 1969 until 1979. The Pressed Steel Company and the British Motor Corporation merged in 1965, thus making both plants part of the same organisation for the first time. In 1968 both of the Cowley works became part of a larger organisation. First British Motor Holdings in 1966 then British Leyland Motor Corporation in1968 and later when nationalised British Leyland in 1975. In 1971 production on the Morris MARINA commenced at Cowley and continued until 1980 when an updated version the Morris ITAL replaced it. The ITAL was the last model to carry the Morris name. The first robots were install at Cowley in 1981. They were used to build the Triumph ACCLAIM, a BL version of the Honda Ballade. The ACCLAIM was produced until 1984, when production of it and the ITAL ceased, to be replaced on the production line by the first Rover 200 series cars. These were produced at Cowley until 1989. In 1986 the name of the owners changed again to The Rover Group and in 1988 the British government sold the Rover Group to British Aerospace.  In 1990 200 million pounds was invested at Cowley. The old Morris Motors north and south works were demolished and the land sold. Production was concentrated on the former Pressed Steel works. This then became titled the Large Car Plant. Rover 800, 600 and 75 cars were at Cowley between 1989 and 2000. In 1994 The Rover Group was sold by British Aerospace to BMW. The body and assemble workshops at Cowley were completely refurbished ready for the production of the Rover 75. Then in 2000 the Rover group was broken up, BMW sold off most of the company. The Cowley works was retained by BMW and renamed the BMW (UK) Manufacturing Ltd Oxford Plant in 2000.  Since then over 400 million pounds have been invested in the works including a new paint shop being installed. Early in 2001 production of the BMW MINI started at the works after the production equipment was transferred from what is now the MG/Rover plant at Longbridge, Birmingham.

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