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Morris Motors centenary prompts proud memories
12:00pm Thursday 2nd August 2012 in News
Buy this photo » Fred Ellis
A CENTURY on from the creation of what would become Morris Motors Limited, experimental engineering technician Fred Ellis has been looking back at the extraordinary lengths he and his colleagues went to to ensure Morris cars made the grade.
WRM Motors was started in 1912 by William Morris, a former bicycle manufacturer who wanted to create affordable cars for the ordinary man.
Morris opened a factory in the former Oxford Military College at Cowley and later founded Morris Motors Limited and Pressed Steel.
Combined they would employ tens of thousands of Oxford people who would help create household names such as the Morris 1100, the Morris Oxford and the Morris Minor – and make Morris Motors the most successful European car firm, overtaking even Ford.
But while mass production was Morris’s aim, he insisted on high quality, and workers like Fred Ellis were responsible for making sure any design faults were ironed out quickly.
Mr Ellis, 86, from Dene Road, Headington said: “In experimental engineering we had two huge refrigerators, one above ground and one below and both big enough to take a car. We would subject the cars to extreme temperatures of cold and heat because we were exporting them all over the world, to places like Canada and Africa.
“After we’d lowered them into the refrigerator with a crane, we’d start at -20 degrees and then take it down to -40.
“This tested the heaters and demisters and the rubber seals, and of course whether the engine would start in extreme temperatures.
“We pumped cars full of silicone dust with vacuums to simulate the desert and to make sure there were no gaps in the windows and doors.
“And once, when we had trouble with the tyres on the 1100 blowing out in Africa, we had sacks of African mud shipped over to Cowley, so we could test the tyres in the proper conditions.”
Mr Ellis worked for Morris Motors for 26 years, retiring at 65. He said: “I was very proud to work for William Morris. He was a fair man and looked after us workers well.
“We had a barber at the factory, who would cut our hair for sixpence and the same man would then go up to Lord Nuffield’s office and cut his hair too.
“We also had a doctor, a dentist and a physio, plus an active sports and social club and we were extremely proud of the cars we produced.
“We stuck small Union Jack transfers saying ‘Made in Great Britain’ on them to prove it.”
Morris Motors was producing nearly a thousand cars a week in 1925 and in 1939 became the first British manufacturer to make one million vehicles.
But rationalisation in the motor industry saw it slowly disappear.
The firm merged with old rival Austin in 1952 to form the British Motor Corporation, later becoming part of British Leyland.
Under nationalisation as the Rover Group, the business was sold in 1988 to British Aerospace.
In 1994, it was sold to BMW and in 2000 the Rover Group was broken up.
The Cowley works was retained by BMW and early in 2001 production started of the BMW Mini .
- Tomorrow we speak to Ernie Wright, from Abingdon, who was Lord Nuffield’s first apprentice electrician.
- Email you memories on Cowley to firstname.lastname@example.org