Morris Motors

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Morris Motors Limited
Industry Automotive
Fate Individual identity retained until 1968
Ownership merged with Austin in 1952 as subsidiaries of The British Motor Corporation Limited
Successor The British Motor Corporation Limited
Founded 1912 W.R.M. Motors
1919 renamed Morris Motors
Defunct brand name used until 1984
Headquarters Cowley, Oxford, Oxfordshire, later Longbridge England
Key people
William Morris, 1st Viscount Nuffield
Frank George Woollard
Leonard Lord
Products motor cars
Subsidiaries Morris Commercial Cars Limited,
Nuffield Acceptances Limited,
Nuffield (Australia) Limited,
Nuffield Exports Limited,
Nuffield Mechanizations Limited
Nuffield Metal Products Limited,
The Nuffield Press Limited,
Nuffield Tools and Gauges Limited,
Riley (Coventry) Limited,
Riley Motors Limited,
The M.G. Car Company Limited,
The S.U. Carburetter Company Limited,
Wolseley Motors Limited
Product type Automotive
Owner SAIC
Discontinued 1984
Previous owners W. R. Morris (1912–1952)
BMC (1952–1968)
British Leyland (1968–1986)
Rover Group (1986–1988)
BAe (1988–1994)
BMW (1994–2000)

MG Rover Group (2000–2005)

NAC (2005–2007)

Morris Motors Limited was a British motor vehicle manufacturer formed in 1919 to take over the assets of WRM Motors Ltd., which had been put into voluntary liquidation. Though merged[note 1] 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.


Early history

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. 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.[1] 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, were unable to supply the volume of units that Morris required, so Morris turned to Continental of Detroit, Michigan for the supply of a 1548 cc engine.[1] 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.

Inter-war years

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 brought in 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.[2]

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 Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

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.[3] 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.[4]

An array of Morris cars on the forecourt of Mr J. Kelly's garage at Catherine Street, Waterford, Ireland, 1928

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.[5] But Morris and Lord fell out, and after 15 years Lord left in 1936 – threatening to "take Cowley apart brick by brick".[6] 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.[7]

In 1936 Lord Nuffield sold Morris Commercial Cars Limited, his commercial vehicle enterprise, to Morris Motors.[8] In 1938 William Morris, Baron Nuffield, became Viscount Nuffield, the same year he transferred his newly acquired[9] Riley car business to Morris Motors Limited for £100.[10]

Car production in Britain 1919-1938 (per cent)


1919 1921 1923 1925 1927 1929 1932 1935 1938
Morris 2 10 28 42 37 35 33 31 23
Austin 7 8 10 23 25 27 23 21
Ford 22 11 2 6 4 6 17 18
Rootes Standard Vauxhall 8 23 23 31

Significant subsidiaries

Subsidiary founded or acquired

by W R Morris,
Viscount Nuffield

acquired by Morris Motors Limited
MG 1909 1935
W R Morris 1912 1926
Morris Engines 1923 1926
Morris Commercial 1923 1936
Nuffield Press 1925
Pressed Steel 1926 never
SU 1926 1926
Wolseley 1927 1935
Nuffield Mechanizations 1935 WWII
Riley 1938 1938

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[13]

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 MO, 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 Hindustan Ambassador, which continued in production until 2014.

The nine different cars made by Morris Motors and its wholly owned subsidiaries at the time of the formation of BMC
Morris Six
2215 cc 
Morris Oxford
1476 cc 
Morris Minor
918 cc 
M.G. 1¼-litre
1250 cc 
MG TD Midget
1250 cc 
Wolseley 6/80
2215 cc 
Wolseley 4/50
1476 cc 
Set free by the munificence of
Viscount Nuffield
Riley 2½-litre
2443 cc 
Riley 1½-litre
1496 cc 

They used six engines and five (and a half) car bodies, of which the "specialist" three were obsolescent, the rest very closely related if not identical.


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 various marques would be seen on several families of similar vehicles.

British Leyland

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, used in the coat of arms of Oxford.[14]

Car models (excludes light vans)

Part of the former Morris Engines works
The William Morris Building
Coventry University. (photo 2007)
A bullnose Morris. The car that made Morris's name and fortune

Morris-badged tractors

Morris-badged tractors
Model Year(s) of production Horsepower Engine type Notes
Morris-Leyland 154 28 hp (21 kW) built by BMC Sanayi in Turkey
Morris-Leyland 184 built by BMC Sanayi in Turkey
Nuffield Morris 10/60 60 hp (45 kW) built by BMC Sanayi in Turkey

See also


  1. . . . although nearly twenty-five 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. 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'. H. C. Reports, Accounts and Papers, XXV, Fourteenth Report of the Expenditure Committee, Minutes of Evidence (1974–75), Vol. II, q. 2171 quoted in Historical foundations of Corporate culture: British Leyland, its predecessors and Ford. Roy Church. Business history and business culture. Edited by Andrew Godley, Oliver M. Westall, Manchester University Press, 1996


  1. 1.0 1.1 Georgano, N. (2000). Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile. London: HMSO. ISBN 1-57958-293-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. G. T. Bloomfield, ‘Harriman, Sir George William (1908–1973)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  3. Offer for sale of shares - Pressed Steel Company Limited. The Times, Tuesday, 7 April 1936; p. 21; Issue 47343
  4. Pressed Steel Company.The Times, Friday, 10 January 1936; p. 19; Issue 47268
  5. R. J. Overy, ‘Morris, William Richard, Viscount Nuffield (1877–1963)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  6. Graham Turner, The Leyland Papers, London 1971, p. 91
  7. Wolseley And M.G. Companies.The Times, Friday, 14 June 1935; p. 20; Issue 47090.
  8. Morris Motors Limited, Notice issued in compliance with . . . The Times, Tuesday, 13 October 1936; p. 22; Issue 47504.
  9. Riley Motors. Purchase by Lord Nuffield, The Times, Saturday, 10 September 1938; p. 17; Issue 48096
  10. Obituary, Mr. Victor Riley. The Times, Tuesday, 11 February 1958; p. 10; Issue 54072
  11. Roy A Church, The Rise and Decline of the British Motor Industry, p. 39, Cambridge University Press 1995 ISBN 0521552834
  12. Castle Bromwich Retrieved: 9 February 2008.
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Sixty Years of Morris". Autocar. 138 (nbr 4022): 4–9. 28 June 1973.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Hillinger, Ellis (25 June 2000). "Morris Automotive Heraldry". Retrieved 11 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Timeline 1968, Retrieved on 26 September 2013