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Mini factory celebrates its 100th birthday

Thu, 28 Mar 2013

A bastion of the British car-building industry, Mini’s ‘Plant Oxford’ in Cowley, Oxford celebrates 100 years of building cars today (28 March 2013). Currently responsible for producing the second-gen BMW Mini range, Plant Oxford has been the birthplace more than just trendy city cars: it’s stamped out over 11.5 million cars since 1913, including legend like the Morris Minor and Frogeye Sprite, and clunkers like the Morris Marina. It also contributed to the war effort by repairing damaged RAF fighter aircraft during the Second World War.

Plant Oxford’s car (and plane) history

Latest figures put Plant Oxford’s car production to date at over 11,655,000 units – and counting. The very first motor car to roll off its shop floor on 28 March 1913 was a fittingly named ‘Bullnose’ Morris Oxford.

Pre-war, Cowley turned out the Morris Eight and first Morris Minor, before switching to aircraft repairs during the way: 80,000 Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricanes repairs were made at Cowley. The plant also built aircraft assemblies, jerry cans, Tiger Moth aircraft –   and the odd iron lung…

Post-war, Cowley produced the Alex Issigonis-designed Morris Minor: the first British car to sell more than one million units. By the 1960s, with Issignonis’ classic Mini in full production swing, the plant boasted a 28,000-strong workforce, producing a record high of 6000 vehicles per week, exported as far as South America, India and New Zealand.

It’s not just humdrum everyday cars that rolled out of Cowley: the plant also built the MG Midget and Austin-Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprite in 1966.

It sounds like Cowley produced a string of legendary machines!

It did – but there were a few turkeys in the mix too. The Morris Marina was built at Cowley from 1971-80, though it managed over one million sales and a several year period as one of the top-five British best-sellers. The wedgy Austin Princess was another Cowley alumnus, and Rover built the 75 at Cowley from 1999-2000, before an expensive and complex move to Longbridge left the plant free for the hand of BMW re-development.

Tell me about BMW’s Plant Oxford renaissance

Plant Oxford now handles production of the non-crossover Mini range: the Hatchback, Convertible, Clubman, Clubvan, Roadster and Coupé. The plant now employs 3700 personnel, building 900 Minis a day. Since 2001, 2.25m first- and second-gen BMW minis have left the Cowley plant – compared to ‘just’ 660,000 original Minis built there in the last century.

Now the subject of a £750m investment scheme to upgrade the facility and install 1000 new car-building robots, Cowley looks in conspicuously rude health, flying in the face of the shaky state of the European car market. Happy birthday, Plant Oxford.

By Ollie Kew