by Karen Border, TRF Publications
I have promised our MGB customers some stories about the origins of the MG marque and so I began researching them. The one thing I learned about the development of the MG was that it seemed to just sort of grow out of one man’s desire to make a better car than his employer made! Today it would be odd indeed if, for instance, Ford or GM would allow their Sales Manager at one of their car dealerships to purchase a factory-made chassis and then put a body that he or she had designed on the chassis, and then sell the remodeled car. I was not able to determine whether or not Morris got the profit from these cars, or if Cecil Kimber made the profit from them, or if they split the profit. Another thing I learned during my research was that there were some differences in versions of how the development of the MG marque came about, and there is no clear timeline. But here is my effort to explain how the MG was developed. Because it is such a complicated story, I am going to have to do it in installments. I have also included a list of books and web links that I used for research, so you can read more about the subject
Karen Border Installment 1. Background to the MG
The history of MG cars began in the early 1920s as a sideline sales promotion business of Morris Garages. William Richard Morris (later 1st Viscount Nuffield) started a garage in Oxford in the early 1900s and by 1910 the name was known as Morris Garages, Limited. At that time, Morris Garages began to produce the Morris Oxford, a series of models which included the 1913 Bullnose Oxford, and continued through 1935 with the Farina Oxfords V and VI.
The Oxford Bullnose was designed in 1912, and produced in March 1913. It was a small car with a White and Poppe 1018 cc four-cylinder, side-valve engine with fixed cylinder head. It had a distinctive radiator with a bullet-nose rounded top, sort of like the front of many farm tractors. It was an open-tourer, two-seat car, but they also made a van version. No four-seat versions were made as the chassis was too short and not strong enough. The Bullnose de luxe had a longer chassis with different body versions and it became available in November 1913. The body versions included limousines, sporting cars, and vans.
In 1915, Morris developed the Continental Cowley, and it included an engine from the United States made by the Continental Motor Manufacturing Company of Detroit. This 1495 cc engine was 50 percent larger than the 1018 cc engines previously used, and the car was also longer, wider and featured other components from the United States. Some of the other parts from America included the clutch and three-speed gearbox from Detroit Gear & Machine Co. The front and back axles and steering gear also came from America. The car design still had the Bullnose radiator, and because it had a larger and stronger chassis, it was available in a two-seater body with occasional seats at the rear, which I believe in America we might have called “Rumble Seats”, but in England they were called “Dickie Seats”. Dickie seats were sometimes called “mother-in-law seats” and they originated from horse-drawn carriages. Their purpose was as a place for servants or guards to ride. Or children would ride in the Dickie seat.
The Cowley was also the first Morris car that included electric lighting as a standard feature on the cars, but lighting was not provided as standard on Cowley delivery vans. Lucas was, of course, the lighting supplier. Production halted during WWI because it became difficult to get the parts from America, and the factory was used to make munitions. Several Continental engines were lost at sea during the war. The last Continental Cowley was made in 1920, and used the last of the American engines.
After the war, in 1919, the Morris Cowley was updated and called the Cowley Bullnose. The engine was switched to a Hotchkiss & Cie French engine, that was manufactured at the Hotchkiss branch factory in Coventry, England. Morris would end up buying the Hotchkiss works around May of 1923, and it became known as the Morris engine branch. From 1919 on, the Cowley was what we would call the “Economy Model”, and was only available in a two-seater model with smaller, lighter tires. You can read more about the Cowley on this wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morris_Cowley. This article gives detailed specifications for the cars and the engines.
In addition to the Cowley Bullnose, Morris continued development of the Oxford Bullnose. It was modified to have a longer wheelbase and stronger construction, and could carry up to five passengers. It featured a self-starter and had a better electrical system than the Cowley. It was what we would call, the “Deluxe Model”. It featured the Hotchkiss 11.9 fiscal horsepower 1548 cc engine. The Oxford Bullnose was admired because the transmission and everything that revolved, except the fan belt, was fully enclosed in an oil bath.
One notable thing about William Morris was that he introduced the techniques of mass production to England by using the assembly line processes that Henry Ford had been successful with in America. Prior to this, most automobiles had been built one-at-a-time. The Cowley and the Oxford became mass produced cars. From 1919–1925 Morris expanded his production from Oxford into factories at Abingdon, Birmingham, and Swindon.
We will leave the development of the Morris Cowley and Oxford cars, and for the next installment, I hope to be able to cover the beginnings of the MG, Cecil Kimber, and Old Number One. In my research, I came across an English group of pre-1930 Morris car owners called the Morris Bullnose Club. Here is a link to their web page: http://www.bullnose.org.uk/. They have several photo galleries on the website which you might like to view. At the end of this letter is a list of the sources that I used and I am including this installment of the story and some photos on our Photos of the Week page. I welcome any comments or corrections to this series on the MG. Please send your comments and edits to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,
TRF Publications (The Roadster Factory)
Sales Department Phone: 800-234-1104