Car production at Cowley in Oxford began in 1913, and by the middle of the 1930s the plant was producing well over 100,000 vehicles a year.
In 1934, shortly after the Morris factory had undergone a £250,000 refresh of the production facilities, Autocar’s Maurice Sampson paid a visit.
Sampson wrote that the site was “staggering, not only in its immensity, but in its detailed, organised simplicity.
“For quite a number of years I have been a fairly frequent visitor to Cowley and I thought I knew the layout pretty well. But when I went there the other day I was completely lost. Everything was changed, everything new.
“Enormous sums of money have been expended on equipment that is designed to render the flow of production of cars of widely differing types not only as smooth as possible but also to the end that the cars are as perfect as possible”.
Cowley’s streamlined production line was modelled on that pioneered by Henry Ford, and our man toured the line where “Morris Eights, Tens, Cowleys and Oxfords were taking shape. The Isis and Twenty-Fives have a shop to themselves.
“Every item going into the complex structure called a car is given the minimum length of journey to its appointed place on the chassis,” wrote Sampson. “Not only is time saved, but men do not have to expend energy in walking about after a component.”
Sampson also highlighted the vast automotive supply chain that had sprouted across the Midlands. “Cowley is over 90% an assembly, as opposed to a manufacturing, plant,” he continued. “With the exception of a certain amount of coachwork, nothing is made there. From Coventry come engines, castings, coachwork; from Birmingham come gears, tyres, wheels and electrical equipment.
“From other centres arrive frames; from the other side of Oxford the radiators pour in. In Cowley a huge plant disgorges steel pressings, and other large supplies come from Birmingham.”
Sampson estimated the length of the line at about half a mile and marvelled at the pace of production. “No matter whether it is a Morris Eight or a Morris Oxford, its progress down the line is at the same rate: 25 minutes a chassis,” he wrote. “There are five conveyor lines and on these five lines 120,000 cars can be produced in a year.”
Morris had chosen to overhaul its plant long before the machinery was obsolete. Sampson reckoned that would fill prospective buyers with confidence. “It is something for an owner to know that a firm with the enterprise and confidence to scrap a plant before it was worn out, merely because an improvement could be effected by its replacement, is not only thinking of the present but of the future. A car built by such a firm, with so fine a plant, must be right if the design be right.”
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