The Morris Oxford Odyssey: A British Love Affair

Known as one of the greatest industrialists of his age, William Morris had an audacious vision to create Britain’s answer to the Ford Model T, and in the Oxford, Morris came very, very close. But just how good was the Morris Oxford? Let’s find out.

Automotive History
8 April 2024

The Morris Oxford was a car that helped Britain fall in love with the automobile. Indeed it was more than just a mode of transport. It was a beacon of great British industriousness and ingenuity. The car’s design and manufacturing reflected the post-Victorian era’s optimism and the aspirations of the burgeoning middle class, setting the stage for its profound impact on British society and beyond.

By 1923, the Morris Oxford, together with the Morris Cowley, represented over 28% of total British car production. Within two years that figure was north of 50%, with Morris surpassing Ford as Britain’s biggest carmaker.

This is the history of the Morris Oxford, the tale of a car that left an indelible imprint on the cultural and social fabric of the twentieth century.

Tradition Meets Innovation

Morris cars outside The Oxford Garage (Credit: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

If ever there was a car that epitomised a city, it was the Morris Oxford. Built in and named for the place where William Morris grew up, it was largely thanks to the manufacture of this astonishing car that Oxford became an industrial powerhouse. It embodied the blend of tradition and innovation that characterises this most historic of places and became a symbol of the city’s enduring legacy of excellence and progress.

The Bullnose Morris Oxford

1913 Morris Oxford Bullnose (Credit: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive via Getty Images)

Named for its distinctive rounded bonnet and radiator design, the ‘bullnose’ was launched in 1913 as a two-seater with a one-litre straight-four engine. Not only was it a beautiful looking car, it played a pivotal role in establishing Morris’ brand identity.

Like Henry Ford’s Model T in America, the Bullnose Morris Oxford became one of the most recognisable cars of its age. It hit the automotive sweet spot – it was reliable, affordable, practical and charming – and sold with Morris’s efficient after-sales service as standard, it was the nation’s must-have car.

In 1919, the Bullnose got a grown-up makeover. Gone was the quaint two-seater and in came a five-seat grand tourer with a 1.5-litre engine built under licence by a French arms manufacturer. A reporter for The Times called it ‘a very decided advance in light car construction’ and he went on to claim it was the best engine he’d ever encountered.

Come the mid-1920s, the production run of the Morris Oxford Bullnose was drawing to a close. An uprated 1.8-litre version – which moved further away from the no-frills Morris Cowley range – was released in 1923. This became the basis of the first MG-branded car, a marque that went on to achieve grandiose heights through much of the twentieth century. The last of the bullnose cars, an open-topped four seater called the F-Type Oxford Six, was a 2.3-litre variant which proved to be highly unstable with only fifty produced.

In 1926, the company made another momentous advance, the flatnosed Morris Oxford was launched and it became one of the greatest British cars of all time.

The Car is the Star

Morris Oxford Six with Winchester Streamline (Credit: National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

Upon its release, the flatnose Morris Oxford was a resounding success, and remained so for almost half a century. The first four years of production saw over 32,000 cars roll off the production line, a staggering number for the mid- to late-1920s.

In the Oxford, William Morris, later Lord Nuffield, knew he had a superstar on his hands. During the nine production years of the first iteration of the car, a number of different variants were produced, each one better than the last.

In 1929, the Morris Oxford Six, equipped with a two-litre straight-six engine, was introduced initially featuring an all-steel body. However, due to supply chain disruptions from the US, which were exacerbated by the impending Great Depression, the model later shifted to an all-wood construction.

During the next few years, the Morris Oxford benefitted from upgrades to the gearbox, dashboard controls, seats, and displacement, as well as significant improvements in power and smoothness.

The last full production year of the first iteration of the Oxford saw the introduction of the two-litre inline-six Oxford Sixteen and the 2.5-litre inline-six Twenty. Around 6,300 hit the roads, but in 1935 the Oxford name disappeared until after World War II.

The Post-War Boom

Morris Oxford Series III (Credit: National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

After a thirteen-year production hiatus, the Oxford MO was introduced in 1948, featuring a 1.5-litre inline-four engine. This model signified the brand’s post-war resurgence, blending modern design with reliable performance. Designed by Alec Issigonis, it was – alongside the Morris Minor – responsible for getting a recovering post-war Britain back on the road. Between 1948 and the introduction of the Series II in 1954, almost 160,000 were built.

The Morris Oxford Series II

The Series II, introduced after the 1952 merger of Austin and Morris Motors, featured a design that was largely new yet bore similarities to the Minor model. This redesign allowed the Series II to incorporate Austin’s renowned B-Series 1.5-litre straight-four engine, enhancing its performance. In two years between 1954 and 1956, over 87,000 were built, and this was followed up by the equally successful Series III and IV.

The Morris Oxford Series III & IV

The Series III Morris Oxford had a smart, fluted bonnet and a classic 1950s optional two-tone paint job, while the Series IV was only available in Traveller mode, what most other manufacturers call an estate car. With the chrome bumpers and headlight casings, there was something rather beautiful about it, reminiscent of the American Art Deco-styled cars of the 1930s. Over 58,000 III’s and IV’s were built in the three production years between 1956 and 1959.

The Series V

The Series V was a radical departure from what came before. Still using the excellent B-Series 1.5-litre straight-four engine, the V was designed by legendary Italian coachbuilder Pininfarina featuring a more angular and modern look. Modern accoutrements included a speedometer, oil pressure, temperature and fuel gauges, and an optional clock. Also available as a Traveller, which had a reported top speed of 78 mph and a somewhat pedestrian 0-60 mph time of just over 25 seconds, the V was produced for two years until 1961, during which time, around 87,500 were built.

The Last Hurrah: The Morris Oxford Series VI

The final Morris Oxford model was introduced in 1961 and lasted a decade, with over 208,000 models built. It offered incremental updates to the original Pininfarina design, including minor styling tweaks and a slightly bigger 1.6-litre engine. By the late 1960s, the design of the Oxford was becoming a little tired and with the industry facing rapidly changing consumer preferences, both the Morris Oxford and the Morris Minor were replaced with the Morris Marina.

The End of the Road: The Legacy of the Morris Oxford

Morris Oxford two-seater convertible (Credit: Hulton Deutsch via Getty Images)

The Morris Oxford history is the tale of a car that was more than just a vehicle. It was a symbol of innovation, resilience, and the indomitable British spirit. From its inception in the early twentieth century, through the war years and beyond, the Oxford series adapted and thrived, mirroring the technological advancements of each era.


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