Morris Motors Limited was a British motor vehicle manufacturer. Though merged into larger organisations, the Morris name remained in use until 1984 when British Leyland's Austin Rover Group decided to concentrate on the more popular Austin brand. The trademark is currently owned by the China-based automotive company SAIC after being transferred from bankrupt subsidiary Nanjing Automotive.
Morris Motors began in 1912 when bicycle manufacturer William Morris moved on from the sale, hire, and repair of cars to car manufacturing. He planned a new light car assembled from bought-in components. In this way he was able to retain ownership by keeping within the bounds of his own capital resources.
A factory was opened in 1913 at former Oxford Military College at
Cowley, Oxford, United Kingdom where Morris's first car, the 2-seat Morris Oxford
"Bullnose" was assembled. Nearly all the major components were bought-in.
In 1914 a coupé and van were added to the line-up but the Bullnose chassis was too short and the 1018 cc engine too small to make a much-needed 4-seat version of the car. White and
Poppe, who made the engine, wanted more money than Morris was prepared to pay for a larger version, so Morris turned to Continental of Detroit, Michigan for the supply of a 1548 cc engine. Gearboxes and axles were also sourced in the US.
In spite of the outbreak of the First World War the orders were maintained and, from mid-1915 a new larger car, the 2-seat and 4-seat Morris Cowley was introduced.
After the war the Continental engine was no longer available so Morris arranged for Hotchkiss of France to make a near-copy in their Coventry factory. This was used to power new versions of the basic Cowley and more up-market Morris Oxford cars.
With a reputation for producing high-quality cars and a policy of cutting prices, Morris's business continued to grow and increase its share of the British market overtaking Ford to become in 1924 the UK's biggest car manufacturer, holding a 51% share of the home market and remaining enormously profitable.
Possessed of a very large cash income Morris had a policy of personally buying up suppliers' businesses. For example, in 1923 he bought Hotchkiss's Coventry business which later became Morris Engines branch. He also bought F G Woollard which became Morris Commercial Cars to lead the re-organization of their engine production from batch to flow, thus increasing output from less than 300 units per week to 1200. By 1924 the factory was making 2000 units a week with only a small increase in work space and labour force.
Cecil Kimber, head of Morris's own original 1909-founded Morris Garage sales hire and repair operation in Oxford, began building sporting versions of Morris cars in 1924 labelling them MG. They were so successful a separate MG factory was soon established south of Oxford in
Having admired Budd's all-steel bodies Morris founded The Pressed Steel Company of Great Britain Limited in 1926 as a joint venture with Edward G Budd Manufacturing Company - Budd International of Philadelphia, USA. Pressed Steel's factory was located over the road from Morris's factory at Cowley and supplied Morris and many other motor manufacturers. Morris withdrew from the venture in mid-1930. Budd sold their share to British interests at the beginning of 1936.
The small car market was entered in 1928 with the Leonard Lord-designed Morris Minor using an 847 cc engine from Morris's newly acquired Wolseley Motors. Lord had been sent there to modernise the works and Wolseley's products. The Minor was to provide the base for the MG Midgets. This timely spread into the small car market helped Morris through the economic depression of the 1930s. At the 1934 London Motor Show the Minor was replaced by the Morris Eight, a direct response to the Ford Model Y and, though Leonard Lord's handiwork, heavily based on it.
In 1932 W R Morris appointed Lord Managing Director of Morris Motors Limited and Lord swept through the Morris works, updating the production methods, introducing a proper moving assembly line and creating Europe's largest integrated car plant. But Morris and Lord fell out, and after 15 years Lord left in 1936 – threatening to "take Cowley apart brick by brick". Lord moved to Austin and they were to meet again in BMC —Morris, as Lord Nuffield, its first chairman. Lord succeeded him.
As of 1 July 1935 Morris Motors acquired from W R Morris, now Lord Nuffield, in exchange for a further issue of ordinary shares to him, the car manufacturing businesses of Wolseley Motors Limited and The MG Car Company Limited. A separate private company, Wolseley Aero Engines Limited, was then formed to continue the development of his aviation interests.
In 1936 Lord Nuffield sold Morris Commercial Cars Limited, his commercial vehicle enterprise, to Morris Motors. In 1938 William Morris, Baron Nuffield, became Viscount Nuffield, and the same year he transferred his newly acquired Riley car business to Morris Motors Limited for £100.
Second World War
In the summer of 1938 Morris agreed to build equip and manage a huge new factory at Castle
Bromwich, which was built specifically to manufacture Supermarine Spitfires. After a major air raid damaged the Morris Bodies factory, the premises switched to the production of jerry cans, producing millions of these versatile containers for use during the rest of the war and following the ending of hostilities. The Cowley plant was turned over to aircraft repair and production of Tiger Moth pilot trainers, as well as "mine sinkers" based on a design produced at the same plant during the First World War.
Post-World War II production
Production restarted after World War II, with the pre-war Eight and Ten designs. In 1948 the Eight was replaced by what is probably the most famous Morris car, the Morris Minor designed by Alec Issigonis (who later went on to design the Mini) and reusing the small car name from 1928. The Ten was replaced by a new 1948 Morris Oxford, styled like a larger version of the Minor. A later Morris Oxford (the 1956 Morris Oxford III) was the basis for the design of India's famous Hindustan Ambassador, which continues in production to the present day.
In 1952 the Nuffield Organisation merged with its old rival the Austin Motor Company to form the British Motor Corporation
(BMC). Nuffield brought the Morris, MG, Riley and Wolseley marques into the merger. Leonard Lord was in charge, which led to Austin's domination of the organisation. Badge-engineering was important to BMC and for many years the several marques would be seen on several families of similar vehicles.
In 1968, in further rationalisations of the British motor industry, BMC became part of the newly formed British Leyland Motor Corporation
(BLMC), and subsequently, in 1975, the nationalised British Leyland Limited (BL).
The Morris marque continued to be used until the early 1980s on cars such as the Morris Marina. The Morris Ital (essentially a facelifted Marina) was the last
Morris-badged passenger car, with production ending in the summer of 1984. The last Morris of all was a van variant of the Austin Metro.
In the early 1980s, the former Morris plant at Cowley and its sister site the former Pressed Steel plant, were turned over to the production of Austin and Rover badged vehicles. They continued to be used by BL's Austin Rover Group and its successor the Rover Group, which was eventually bought by BMW, and then by a management consortium, leading to the creation of MG Rover. None of the former Morris buildings now exist, British Aerospace sold the site in 1992, it was than demolished and replaced with the Oxford Business Park. The adjacent former Pressed Steel site (now known as "Plant Oxford") is owned and operated by BMW, who use it to assemble the new MINI.
The rights to the Morris marque are currently owned by Nanjing Automobile (Group) Corporation.
The history of William Morris's business is commemorated in the Morris Motors Museum at the Oxford Bus Museum.
Post-Morris cars to have been built at Cowley include the Austin/MG Maestro, Austin/MG
Montego, Rover 600, Rover 800 and (for a short time) the Rover 75.
The Morris badge shows an ox fording the River Isis, the traditional emblem of William Morris's home town of Oxford.
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