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100 Years of Morris

William Morris had an ambition to produce a car priced so all could afford it.

If you've been wondering why you have been seeing Morris cars out and about these past couple of months it is because their owners are celebrating the 100 year anniversary of William Morris producing his first car in Oxford in April 2013.

The Morris Oxford was quickly given the name the"Bullnose" because of its rounded radiator. From these small beginnings the business grew rapidly and became a global conglomerate within 20 years.

Like so many of the early automobile makers, Morris was raised on a farm and moved off the land to find work. He started work in a bike shop, then established one of his own.

In 1900 Morris decided to go into motorcycle manufacturing. By 1910 he'd established a taxis and hire car business. He called it Morris Garages.

Like Henry Ford, William Morris had an ambition to produce a car priced so all could afford it. In 1912 with the financial backing of the Earl of Macclesfield, Morris formed a company to manufacture the Morris Oxford.

Morris was also a student of Henry Ford's manufacturing techniques, and introduced the production line and quickly gained economies of scale. Morris also followed the Ford sales technique of continually reducing prices, which crippled his competitors and allowed Morris to win ever increasing sales. By 1925 he had 40% of the UK market.

Morris constantly expanded his range of cars. The MG (Morris Garages) was initially a “high performance” Oxford. Increasing demand led to it being standalone design by 1930. He also bought the Riley and Wolseley brands.

Morris the man was a strong, opinionated character. Once the money started rolling in he began to take long ocean voyages, but insisted on making all important business and product decisions in person.

During his long periods of absence decision making tended to grind to a halt and many talented managers resigned in frustration.

In 1948 saw the release of the Sir Alex Issigonis designed Morris Minor. The now aging Morris did not like the car, tried to block its production and refused to be seen with it.

In 1952, financial issues caused Morris to merge with arch rival Austin, establishing the British Motor Corporation (BMC), the fourth largest car company in the world at that time.

Despite its industry leading designs, such as the Mini and Morris 1100, BMC never really did recapture the sales success once enjoyed by Morris and Austin when they were standalone companies. By the late 1980s, Leyland, as it was then known, was underwater.

Morris died in 1963. By our estimates there are about 80 Bullnose Morris cars running in Australia today.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au