RAC Cars News


Cowley Motor Plant - Happy 100th Birthday

By raccars Published

The end of March marked the 100th anniversary of production at Oxford's Cowley motor plant. Over the past century, nearly 21 million cars have rolled off the plant's production line, starting with a Bullnose Morris Oxford on March 28th 2013.

The plant is currently used by BMW to manufacture Minis but, over the years, the factory has played host to a list of much-loved British motoring names, including the Morris Minor, Oxford and Marina, the Princess, the Austin Healey Sprite, Austin Maestro, the MG Midget, BMC 1100 and the Rover 75. Among the 14 car brands associated with the plant are the aforementioned British marques, Morris, Rover, MG, Austin and Triumph, but also Honda and BMW.

The Cowley site was previously the Oxford Military College, before William Morris established his Morris factory there in 1913. Weekly turnover at that point was 20 cars per week, versus a 900 car weekly production schedule these days. It was only fitting that BMW should bring its revived Mini home to Oxford in 2001, as the location of the first Mini ever to leave the production line on May 8 1959. In all, nearly three million Minis have left Cowley since then.

By 1938 owner, Lord William Morris Nuffield, had begun to diversify to contribute to his considerable charitable causes. The Cowley plant became the site of production for iron lungs, or 'Both Respirators', which Lord Nuffield generously donated to hospitals throughout the British empire. Other recipients of his philanthropy included various colleges and health institutes.

With the advent of war in Europe, the Cowley plant began to manufacture for the military, encompassing jerry cans, parachutes and spare parts, all the way up to ambulances and Tiger Moth planes. It was also used for more than 80,000 repairs on Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft.

1952 saw Morris embark upon a merger with Austin, forming the British Motor Corporation, which later merged with Jaguar, to become British Motor Holdings in 1967. The next merger, in 1968, was with truck company Leyland, owner of Triumph and Rover, to form British Leyland Motor Corporation. Further renaming ensued, plus a 1988 sale to British Aerospace, until in 1994, what was then known as the Rover Group was bought by BMW. Having sold off the Rover and Land Rover brands, the Mini name and Cowley factory were retained by the German giant.

Today the factory is known as Mini Plant Oxford and has 3,700 employees producing Mini hatchbacks, Convertibles, Clubmans, Clubvans, Roadsters and Coupes. An exhibition centre has recently been opened featuring examples of cars produced there to celebrate the centenary.

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