Fresh from its £250,000 refresh, Autocar pays a visit to the revitalised Morris factory in Cowley

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.”

Previous Throwback Thursdays

4 March 1899 - Steam, electric or combustion engine? 

26 June 1906 - The first French Grand Prix

14 February 1913 - 100 miles in one hour

8 April 1916 - Making post-war predictions

25 March 1922 - Caterpillar tracks are the future

2 February 1934 - The ethics of skidding

1 June 1935 - Introduction of the driving test

22 June 1945 - Driving through post-WW2 Europe

21 January 1949 - Tidier tails

24 April 1959 - Aston Martin enters Formula 1

27 January 1961 - Ford Thunderbird road test

17 November 1961 - TVR Grantura road test

6 May 1971 - Driving Ford's Supervan

13 May 1978 - Ferrari 512 BB road test

19 January 1980 - Talbot Horizon road test

13 February 1982 - 4x4s tested on the farm 

17 April 1985 - Secrets of a lost British supercar

28 April 1993 - BL's unseen concepts

16 March 1994 - Bentley's Concept Java

16 April 1997 - When Bugatti bit the dust

4 April 2001 - 0-260mph in 6.0 seconds

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2 July 2015
1934 and, according to the picture, they're already producing 1948-on Morris Oxfords.

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