Oxford Mini plant marks 100 years of car production

  • 28 March 2013
  • From the section Oxford
Staff working on a row of cars
Image caption Plant Oxford, seen here in 1925, is the UK's oldest mass-production car plant

An Oxfordshire car plant has reached 100 years of production.

Plant Oxford finished its first car - a Bullnose Morris Oxford - on 28 March 1913, and has made more than 11.6 million since then.

It has produced 13 brands of car and, during World War II, made items ranging from parachutes to jerry cans and repaired more than 80,000 aircraft.

The plant, in Cowley, Oxford, now employs about 3,700 people and produces Minis for the BMW Group.

The factory was founded by William Morris, one of the most successful businessmen of the 20th century, and built the first Bullnose Morris a few 100 metres from where the modern plant stands today.

Image caption The plant employs about 3,700 people

Twenty cars were built each week at the start, and 393 Bullnose Morris's were built in that founding year.

The first prototype for the first Mini was approved in July 1958 and it went into production the following year.

'One wiper'

Peter Tothill, a former production engineer at the plant from 1950 to 1982, who died earlier this year, said he had seen big differences between the Mini he helped to develop and the modern Mini.

"You didn't have a heater," said Mr Tothill, "if it was a home trade car you would only have a wiper on one side, on the very first Minis.

"The trim and the seating were minimal, not very comfortable. It was totally basic and it bears very little comparison to the present Mini."

Eric Lord, former works manager who worked at the plant from 1940 to 1979, said his most "challenging" time was in the 1960s as "there were a lot of people in the plant who were doing their best to shut it down, so there was a constant battle with the unions".

He said: "Despite that we managed to get our production up, and we managed to produce over 6,000 cars per week."

Union convener Chris Bond, who has worked at the plant since 1979 said the 1970s at the car factory was "quite eventful".

Image caption The plant has made almost three million Minis

"We had all sorts of different factions," he said, "the International Marxist Group and the Workers Revolutionary Party.

"Of course I was young and wanted to change the world."

'Much-derided cars'

A company spokesman said the plant had "generated considerable wealth for the nation", employing hundreds of thousands of staff during its history.

It also produced "much-derided" cars like the Morris Marina and the "startling '70s wedge that was the Princess", he said.

The plant completes 4,500 Minis a week and will get 1,000 new robots as part of a £750m investment announced last year.

Mini communications director Graham Biggs said: "We're going to be here for a good long time yet."

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