|The original Morris, the much-loved ‘Bullnose’, was Britain’s equivalent and in competition with the Ford Model T, though its inventor, William Morris, had different ways of achieving the result. Whereas Ford had concluded that he must make as much of the car as possible in his own factories, Morris used proprietary or ‘bought-in’ components for some years at first.
Having started out in business by opening a cycle sales and repair shop in Oxford, Morris bought a disused building at Cowley, near Oxford (but one which adjoined open farm land), to produce cars in 1913. First with a car called the ‘Oxford’, then from 1915 with a smaller-engined version called ‘Cowley’, he built up a business which was Britain’s largest car producer by 1924, when it overtook Ford UK.
The Cowley’s design was as simple as that of the Model T. More conventional, it was distinguished by its rounded, bulbous, radiator style, which soon inspired the unofficial, but lasting nickname. At first almost every component was bought in, ready-manufactured, including engines from Coventry, transmissions from Birmingham, and bodies from a variety of sources. It was only as the 1920s progressed, and as the factory continued to grow, that Morris either bought up his suppliers, or started making components close to the assembly lines.
The RAC rated ‘Oxford’ types at 13.9 horsepower, and ‘Cowley’ types at 11.9 hp. They both used versions of Coventry-made engines, and many different body types were available (including super-sports versions which subsequently became the first MGs). By aggressively reducing prices at a time when costs were rising, Morris saw sales rocket.
Having produced only 3,077 cars in 1921, Morris went on to build 54,151 in 1925, by which time the Bullnose was nearly ready for replacement. As with the Model T, this market domination was achieved by cutting prices, which eventually came down to a mere £162 by 1925. No other car or model could match that, for the engines had been specifically designed to take advantage of Britain’s tax laws. This, and the way that Bullnose types sold steadily throughout the countries of the Empire, ensured Morris’s supremacy.
In the next few years Morris, who eventually became Lord Nuffield, allowed his business to diversify, so that far too many models were being sold at a time when the market-place was contracting, the result being that Austin rapidly caught up, and that Morris was never again as dominant as it had been in the mid 1920s.
The Bullnose become a British best-seller, and Morris followed up this success by buying other marques and factories (such as Wolseley) to expand even further. His actions helped to kill off many other makes of British car which simply could not compete with Morris’s tactics.