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Oxford - a century of car-making

2013-03-11 11:41

A CENTENARY OF BRITISH CAR-MAKING: Since its humble beginnings building the Morris Oxford in 1913 to the current generation Mini (inset), few manufacturing facilities can boast a legacy the likes of Plant Oxford.

OXFORD, England - Mini will lead the celebrations of a centenary of car-making in Oxford, England on March 28 2013 – 100 years since the first “Bullnose” Morris Oxford was built by William Morris close to where the Mini is made today.

The plant initially produced 20 cars a week but over the century has produced 11.65-million. Today Plant Oxford employs 3700 people who assemble as many as 900 Minis a day. The current total is about 2.25-million.

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Major investment is under way at the plant to create new facilities for the next generation of Minis.


Since the Bullnose Morris Oxford in 1913, the plant has produced a wide range of famous British brands  and one Japanese - MG, Wolseley, Riley, Austin, Austin Healey, Mini, Vanden Plas, Princess, Triumph, Rover, Sterling and Honda.

The Pressed Steel Company, part of the Cowley operation, also built bodies for Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, MG, Standard-Triumph, Ford and Hillman, as well as tooling dies for Alfa Romeo. At various stages in its history it has also built Tiger Moth aircraft, ambulances, military trucks, jerry cans, components for Horsa gliders, parachutes and iron lungs. 

The plant has produced an array of famous cars, such as the Morris Minor, Mini and India’s Hindustan Ambassador. It also produced Hondas for a short period in the 1980s, as well as some slightly notorious models such as the Morris Marina, the Princess and the Austin Maestro.

There have been eight custodians of Plant Oxford over the past 100 years, beginning with founder William Morris who owned the factory both directly and through Morris Motors until 1952, when Morris merged with arch-rival Austin to form the British Motor Corporation. Morris, by this time known as Lord Nuffield, was chairman for six months before retiring.

He died in 1963. During the early 1960's the plant had as many as 28 000 people producing an extraordinary variety of models.

In 1967 BMC became British Motor Holdings after merging with Jaguar but in 1978 that group was merged with the Leyland truck company (which also included Triumph and Rover) to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation.


Nationalisation followed in 1974, the group undergoing several renamings until it became the Rover Group in 1986. Boss Graham Day was charged with privatising the company for the Thatcher government, which was completed in 1988 with the sale to British Aerospace. They in turn would sell the group, which included Land Rover, to BMW in 1994.

BMW Group invested heavily in Rover, deciding that a replacement for the Mini would be a priority. An unfavourable exchange rate and poor sales lead to BMW selling both Rover and Land Rover in 2000 while retaining the Mini brand, Plant Oxford, the associated Swindon pressings factory and the new Hams Hall engine plant.

In 2013 Plant Oxford is flourishing with the manufacture of the Mini Cooper, Convertible, Clubman, Clubvan, Roadster and Coupé.
It is currently undergoing a major investment that includes the installation of 1000 new robots for both a new body shop and the existing facility in readiness for the next generation Mini. This represents the majority of a R10-billion investment programme, announced in 2012.

During the Second World War the plant built military equipment, including Tiger Moth aircraft. Parachutes, jerry cans and aircraft sub-assemblies were also manufactured in large numbers.

Plant Oxford has employed a number of motor industry luminaries besides founder William Morris, including Sir Alec Issigonis (radical designer of the original Mini), Leonard Lord (eventually ran BMC), Eric Lord (plant manager in the 1960's) and plant director Sir George Turnbull, who went on to help Hyundai become a manufacturer.

Read more on:    cooper  |  clubman  |  celebration  |  land rover  |  mini  |  oxford

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