Historic Car Brands
WRM Motors Ltd 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 and his first vehicle was the Morris Oxford of 1913.
Morris Oxford – Martin Petitt
The first two-seat ‘ Bullnose’ Oxford was powered by a White & Poppe 1017cc engine, had axles made by Wrigley, wheels by Sankey and bodywork by Raworth.
In 1914 a coupé and van were added to the line-up, but the Bullnose lacked the power to drive a much-needed four-seat version and White & Poppe couldn’t supply a larger one, so Morris turned to Continental of Detroit, Michigan for the supply of their Red Seal, side-valve1.5-litre engine. Gearboxes and axles were also sourced in the USA.
In spite of the outbreak of World War I, the larger two-seat and four-seat Morris Cowley was introduced in 1915. However, the British Government banned the import of US cars and parts in 1916, except for commercial vehicles, so Morris produced a van version of the Cowley.
After the War, Continental discontinued the Red Seal engine, so Morris arranged for Hotchkiss of France to make a near copy in its Coventry factory. It incorporated some design improvements, including a cork-faced clutch, running in oil. This engine powered new versions of the basic Cowley and more up-market Morris Oxford cars.
1929 Morris Minor Two Seat Sports – Sicnag
The post-War slump hit the UK in 1920, but Morris maintained its reputation for producing high-quality cars, despite having to cut prices. Morris sales continued to grow and the company increased its share of the British market, overtaking Ford in 1924 and becoming the UK’s biggest car manufacturer, with more than 50-percent market share.
1932 Morris Minor Family 8 – Graham Robertson
That cash income let Morris initiate a policy of buying up suppliers’ businesses. In 1923 he bought Hotchkiss’ Coventry business and improved production from around 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.
A larger, 1.8-litre engine was optional in the Oxford in 1923 and made standard a year later.
Cecil Kimber, general manager of Morris’ 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.
1925 Morris Cowley – Steve Glover
Having inspected Budd’s all-steel car bodies on a US visit, 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.
For 1927, the bullnose radiator gave way to a wider, ‘Flatnose’ radiator.
Morris took over Wolseley in 1927 and two of that company’s overhead-camshaft engines figured in two major 1928 Morris releases: the Morris Minor, powered by Wolseley’s 847cc OHC four and the Morris Six, powered by Wolseley’s 2.5-litre OHC six. The little OHC four was very successful in Kimber’s MG Midgets as well.
However, expansion outside the UK initially proved difficult, with the 2.5-litre Empire Oxford effort failing to attract overseas interest and entry into the French market also failed, when Morris took over Leon Bollee production and sales were disappointing.
1934 Morris Cowley 11.9 Saloon – Mikey
Morris’ move into the light car market, with the Leonard Lord-designed Morris Minor proved timely in helping Morris through the economic depression of the 1930s. In 1931 the Minor was repowered by a simpler, cheaper, side-valve engine.
In 1932 W R Morris made Lord the managing director of Morris Motors Limited and he quickly updated production, introducing a proper moving assembly line and creating Europe’s largest integrated car plant.
1936 Morris 8 – Lars-Goran Lindgren
At the 1934 London Motor Show the Minor was replaced by the Morris Eight, in direct response to the Ford Model Y. The Morris Eight became the biggest selling British car of the 1930s, with some 250,000 being sold before production ceased in 1938.
There was a financial shuffle in July 1935, when Morris Motors acquired from W R Morris – now Lord Nuffield – the car manufacturing businesses of Wolseley Motors Limited and The MG Car Company Limited. In 1936 Lord Nuffield sold Morris Commercial Cars Limited, his commercial vehicle enterprise, to Morris Motors.
Morris and Lord fell out and Lord left in 1936, threatening to: “take Cowley apart brick by brick” (referring to the Morris factory location). Lord moved to Austin and the two men were destined to meet again, years later, at BMC. Lord Nuffield was BMC’s first chairman and Lord succeeded him.
Morris Six – Charles 01
In 1938, Lord Nuffield was raised to Viscount Nuffield and in the same year he transferred his newly acquired Riley car business to Morris Motors Limited.
During World War II Morris plants produced Tiger Moth polio trainers; did aircraft repairs; made magnetic miner destruction equipment and produced millions of jerry cans.
Production restarted after the War, with the pre-war Eight and Ten designs.
1949 Morris Minor – David Merrett
In 1948 the Eight was replaced by a new Morris Minor, designed by Alec Issigonis, who designed the Mini 10 years later. initially, Issigonis had sketched out the new Minor with a flat-four engine and front-wheel-drive, but limited finance meant it had to be conventionally power by the pre-War 920cc engine and rear axle drive.
Nonetheless, the Minor was a huge success, graduating from low-headlight model, to high-headlights with a one-piece windscreen and then overhead-valve 803cc and 948cc engines.
By the time the Minor had sold to more than one million buyers the engine size was 1.1 litres.
The Ten was replaced by a new 1948 Morris Oxford – also designed by Issigonis – that was a larger version of the Minor. The 1956 Morris Oxford III was the basis for the design of India’s Hindustan Ambassador, which continued in production until 2014!
Morris Oxford MO Saloon – Sicnag
In 1952 the Nuffield Organization 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 and that led to Austin’s domination of the organisation. Badge-engineering was rife at BMC and various brands would be seen on several families of similar vehicles.
Despite the turmoil, the Morris Mini of 1959 was world-shaking.
Mini cross section – London Science Museum
The Mini came about because of a fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez Crisis. Petrol was rationed in the UK, sales of large cars slumped and the market for German bubble cars boomed. The Fiat 500 was also hugely successful.
The Mini’s space-saving transverse engine and front-wheel drive layout – allowing 80% of the area of the car’s floorpan to be used for passengers and luggage – influenced a generation of car makers. In 1999, the Mini was voted the second-most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Ford Model T.
Mini Moke – Steve Baker
The Mini Mark I had three major UK updates: Mark II, Clubman and Mark III. Within these was a series of variations, including an estate car, a pick-up truck, a van, and the Mini Moke.
The performance Mini Cooper and Cooper S were globally successful race and rally cars.
1968 Morris Mini Cooper S – Brian Snelson
Subsequent derivatives of the Mini design layout were the Morris 1100, 1500 and 1800.
1970 Morris 1100 Mk2 – Vauxford
The Morris Nomad hatchback version of the Morris 1500 sedan was produced in Australia by British Leyland Motor Corporation of Australia from 1969 to 1972. Power came from a BMC E-Series engine with a single overhead camshaft, but automatic versions of the 1500 sedan and Nomad were fitted with the 1275cc BMC A-Series engine.
Morris Nomad – Chris Keating
In 1966, BMC acquired Jaguar to create British Motor Holdings (BMH), which subsequently merged with Leyland Motors in 1968 to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC), and subsequently, in 1975, the nationalised British Leyland Limited (BL).
The Cowley complex remained the second largest single facility in the BL empire, but BL’s history was a turbulent one and BMC was close to financial ruin. Needless to say, the newly installed Leyland management failed to turn its fortunes around.
1961 Morris Major Series II – Jeremy
After the rift of the 1930s it’s difficult to imagine how the Morris-Lord team could work. Indeed a report done years later said, in part:
“Although nearly 25 years had elapsed since the BMC merger, not even Austin and Morris, the two volume car manufacturers that formed the core of the original merger, had integrated to a significant degree.
“Lord Stokes illustrated the immensity of the problem presented by the merger in 1968 by referring to the former Austin and Morris companies having been ‘scarcely on speaking terms’.
“Sixteen years after the formation of BMC, like the other former Nuffield companies and Jaguar, each possessed different management systems, approaches and methods, and like the other companies in the group they were ‘running on their own’.”
It would be pleasant to end the Morris saga with a positive report on the last Morris-badged car to be sold Down Under, but unfortunately, that model was the Marina.
Morris Marina – Felix O
This poorly-designed and worse-made car was introduced to the Australian market in April 1972.
It used the OHC E-Series four-cylinder motor in 1500 cc, 1750 cc and 1750 cc twin carburettor forms. Additionally, in an attempt to compete with the Holden Torana and Ford Cortina six-cylinder models, the Leyland-badged Marina was offered from November 1973 with a 121hp (90 kW) 2.6-litre E-series six-cylinder engine.
Used Marinas are as scarce in Australia as they are in the UK, where, statistically, the Marina was the most-scrapped car ever made in Britain. In 2006 Auto Express magazine reported that only 745 of the 807,000 Marinas sold in Britain were still roadworthy. By 2019 that number had dropped to 374.