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100 years of car production in Oxford

At Oxford, on March 28, 1913, the first Morris rolled off the assembly line: a Bullnose or "Morro de Toro". Its factory was only a few hundred meters from where the current MINI factory stands today.

This event is being celebrated in style with various commemorative events. The most important of these has been the inauguration by the British Secretary of Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, and the member of the BMW board of directors Harald Krüger, of the Centennial Exhibition, located in the new visitor center of the production plant English.

William Morris, but also Lord Nuffield, were its founders. The first is said to be a great philanthropist, having donated approximately the current equivalent of 11.000 million pounds or, what is the same, 13.000 million euros. Among other disinterested works he left three wings of the University of Oxford -Nuffield Health, Nuffield Farming and Nuffield College-, and some iron lungs that he manufactured and delivered to various local hospitals.

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Oxford workers light a 'Bullnose' (Courtesy of BMIHT, Heritage Motor Center)

From the beginnings to foreignization, through concentration and nationalization

At the beginning, in 1913, the weekly production was only 20 vehicles. But the numbers skyrocketed in the years to come, to the point where by the mid-30s they accounted for almost 30% of total UK exports. And so, in 1939 Oxford became the first automobile factory in the country, reaching one million vehicles produced since its inauguration.

Apart from the assembly of cars, there were forays into the world of medicine, with the manufacture not only of iron lungs, but also ambulances; and in aviation, mainly through the production of Tiger Moth fighters, drums and parachutes. Additionally, some 80.000 of the fearsome World War II Spitfires and Hurricanes were repaired there.

The plant has had eight directors in 100 years, beginning with its famous founder, William Morris; both directly and, until 1952, through Morris Motors. That year it merged with archrival Austin, creating the British Motor Corporation (BMC).

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The Morris Minor was a best seller (Courtesy of BMIHT, Heritage Motor Center)

Manufacture of the revolutionary Mini began in 1959, designed by Sir Alec Issigonis. As a curiosity, we will say that during the first three years of its production it was only available in 3 colors: Clipper Blue, Cherry Red and Old English White. In the next 10 years, 602.817 of these small cars would be manufactured.

In 1961 the 1.000.000th Morris Minor rolled off the assembly line. And, to celebrate, a special series of 350 units was made in lilac with white interiors. And it is that the Minor has been one of the British models of greater production: in total, 1.583.619 of manufactured vehicles.

William Morris passed away in 1963, and in 1966 the company became part of British Motor Holdings (BMH). A year later it would merge again, this time with Leyland, to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation. The concentration of the British car industry was on track, and its future effects would be perverse, resulting in its current near-complete demise.

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Although the year with the highest level of production was between 1967 and 1968, with 326.818 vehicles, the new consortium had to be rescued by the government in 1974, in the midst of the global economic crisis. It is quite possible that the lack of competitiveness of their cars had already started then.

The chain of properties ends with the sale in 1988 to British Aerospace, which in turn sold the group in 1994, including Land Rover, to BMW. Several vicissitudes, such as an unfavorable exchange rate or falling sales, among others, led the German brand to dispose of Rover and Land Rover in 2000, while retaining the Mini brand and the Oxford plants, the new one from Hams Hall, dedicated to engines, and the one for body pressing from Swindon.

Today, Oxford is the headquarters for MINI production. It is a car that, even today, with around 1,7 million units shipped since 2001 to more than 100 countries, continues to generate impressive export figures. Under the leadership of BMW, it is one of the few British automotive products that has managed to stay afloat.

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Shocking photo from the sixties: most cars
of the car park are of English origin (Courtesy of Ben Salter)

More figures

Specifically, the factory has gone from building 20 cars a week in 1913 to 4.500 today, of which 900 correspond to MINI models. The total production of automobiles since its inauguration has been 11.655.000, under 13 British brands and one Japanese -Honda-, most of them today disappeared: Morris, MG, Wolseley, Riley, Austin, Austin-Healey, Princess, Triumph , Rover, Vanden Plas, Sterling and MINI. Of these, 2.250.000 correspond to Minis, both classic and modern.

For their part, three vehicles designed by the great Alec Issigonis have obtained sales of more than 1.000.000 copies: the Morris Minor, the Mini and the Austin 1.100 / 1.300.

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Mini Europe Tour: 10.500 kilometers ahead (Courtesy of BMIHT, Heritage Motor Center)

«MINI Europe Tour»: Remembrance of industrial history in the Old Continent

As the reader will have noticed, the Mini has played a very important role at the Oxford factory. Therefore, linking with the celebrations in the factory itself, From March 13 to 27, the continental automobile crossing took place MINI Europe Tour, whose objective was to recall the cross-border nature of the production of the English model. And it is that the classic Mini was assembled until the early 90s in places outside of England, from sets of unassembled parts.

As the name suggests, the vehicles that were part of the entourage have been both classic Mini and New MINI, which have been joined by temporary local participants through the places they have passed.

The MINI Europe Tour has visited the model's eight old assembly facilities, covering a total of 10.500 kilometers over the course of its tour. The caravan of small cars has stopped in Novo Mesto (Slovenia), Milan (Italy), Malta, the Portuguese city of Vendas Novas, Pamplona (Spain), Seneffe (Belgium), Amersfoot (Netherlands) and Dublin (Ireland).

As they passed through our country we have been able to see them show off in the streets of Pamplona, ​​Bilbao or Madrid.

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Our beloved AUTHI left the Landaben factory

Currently, only three of these enclaves still maintain car production, including the Landaben factory in Pamplona, ​​which has been owned by SEAT since the 70s. However, in all of them its inhabitants consider the Mini as an important part of local industrial history.

In Spain, between the late 60s and early 70s, It was manufactured under license by AUTHI (Spanish-English Tourism Automobiles) in the aforementioned factory in Landaben. It shared its facilities with the Morris / MG 1.100 / 1.300 and with the Victoria, the latter exclusively Spanish model.

Sadly, a fire brought AUTHI to ruin; SEAT then bought the factory, rebuilt it and restarted the production of automobiles there with the latest 124 series, the rectangular headlight series, whose vehicles are popularly known as "Pamplona". Today, the Volkswagen Polo is manufactured there. For its part, the Mini Clásico was not sold in Spain again until the 90s, imported by Rover.

 

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Miguel Angel Vazquez

Written by Miguel Angel Vazquez

Miguel Ángel Vázquez, graduated in Audiovisual Communication from the European University of Madrid and Master in Dubbing, Translation and Subtitling (UEM). I have been a motor racing fan since I was a child, but my connection, let's say "professional" with Classic Vehicles began ... View all

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