Some cars are special because of their racing history, or they may be particularly rare, or may define a specific era, be beautifully designed, have had famous owners or been driven to remarkable places. Then again, some are only seen as special by a select few people and are loved for some personal connection to times past or simply having been in the family “forever”.
It is this last case that brings forward our feature car, a 1952 MO Morris Oxford, that has been in Tony Bullen’s family since new.
The MO Morris Oxford is, sadly, an often overlooked classic. Author and MO Oxford authority Steve McNicol from Adelaide dubbed the car “the forgotten classic” because it is so often overshadowed by its smaller sibling, the Morris Minor.
Many people are well versed in the Minor’s story, because so many books, magazine articles and website blogs have been written about it. There are dedicated Morris Minor clubs around the world and an entire dedicated spare parts and repair industry.
The same can’t be said about the MO Morris Oxford.
So well known is the story of the Minor’s development and release, but few people seem to know that it was just one of five cars, based along similar lines and ideas and designed by the same team, that adorned the Morris stand at the 1948 London Motor Show.
During the Second World War, almost as soon as the threat to England had abated and before plans were drawn up for the military push back into Europe, British car companies were already looking at the post-war market – on the assumption of a British victory.
Alec Issigonis had been experimenting with ideas for a small family car since before the war, and was eager to get started again as soon as practical, even while the war still raged and he was involved in plenty of other projects of a military nature.
Issigonis demonstrated his unorthodox approach to car design in such projects as the ludicrously small one-man amphibious wheelbarrow and the Salamander light armoured car. More successful, though, was the Morris Light Reconnaissance Car of 1941, of which around 2,200 were made. This featured unitary construction and all independent suspension, which would be hallmarks of his post-war cars.
Although ideas were well advanced by 1941, work on the range of post-war Morris cars didn’t really get going until 1944, when an allied victory looked to be assured. Initially it was intended there would be three cars, of different sizes, on which would be based Wolseley variants, and even the possibility of at least one MG.
Working under Vic Oak, Nuffield’s Technical Director, Alec Issigonis was in charge of the design of all three cars, ably assisted by Jack Daniels and Reginald Job. There were also three test engineers, C. Hosking, T. Dixon and L. Wright, as well as junior draughtsman R. Parker. They were later joined by Bob Welton, from Pressed Steel, and Jim Cockburn.
Initially, the small car, codenamed the Mosquito and about the size of a FIAT Topolino, was to be powered by, amongst others, a 750cc flat-four engine. The middle car would be called the Minor, powered by a flat-four engine of around 1100cc, while the big car, the Major, would have a 1250cc to 1500cc flat-four.
By 1946 the plans had changed dramatically, with the three cars being a lot larger, and only the Mosquito retaining a flat-four engine, of 800cc-1100cc.
The larger car would now be a six-cylinder, six-seater, while the middle car would feature either a 1500cc four-cylinder or a 2000cc six-cylinder and would only be available as a Wolseley.
Plans continued to change and be disrupted. Development of the flat-four engines was not going to plan and by 1947 they had been discarded altogether. A redesign was necessary to allow the small car, which became the Minor, and the middle-size car, the Oxford, to take conventional in-line engines with rear-wheel-drive.
With time running short the decision was made to go with the existing 918cc side-valve engine from the Morris 8 for the Minor. The Oxford took a somewhat backward step by using a new side-valve version of a Wolseley overhead-camshaft engine. The large car, now renamed the Morris Six, would feature a 2215cc in-line overhead-valve six-cylinder engine.
The Minor formed the reference point for the range, with the Oxford being basically a scaled-up version and the Six departing the most from the Minor’s styling.
In his book Morris: The Cars & The Company, Jon Pressnell says: “The larger cars were very much extrapolations of the Minor. When the author (Pressnell) talked to Jack Daniels he had very little to say about them. To him they were nothing more than a scaling-up of the smaller Morris’s engineering and styling…‘The Oxford went extremely simply’, he said. ‘As far as I recall, it just happened. The six-cylinder cars were a bit more difficult, because you had to get that longer length of front in there and find some way to mount the dampers.’ ”
Steve McNicol says that while the Oxford bore a striking resemblance to the Minor, there was much more to it than that.
“On closer examination there were num-erous differences between the Oxford and Minor”, McNicol reported in Morris Oxford Series MO. “In fact in a 1948 review of the car by The Motor magazine they reported the following; ‘The writer conceded that the two cars were…entirely distinct designs.’ There were of course some identical parts, but these were mainly items connected with the electrical, fuel and suspension systems. To drive and maintain, these cars are completely different.”
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The BMC Experience Issue 15. Oct-Dec 2015 Magazine
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