In production : Morris Marina

The Morris Marina at Cowley and how this vital car for British Leyland was going to be built. During its development, the production line was completely gutted, giving the plant the capability of producing some 5000 cars per week.

These photographs were extensively used by the press at the time of the Marina’s launch to show off the scale of the investment put into the plant, and how Cowley was now a world-class operation.

Marina: a £45m investment in Cowley

Morris Marina production at Cowley
Morris Marinas heading though the brand-new covered walkway between the two factories at Cowley

As a Morris-badged car, it was logical to build the Morris Marina (AD028) at the Morris Works at Cowley. The problem was that the factory was in a poor state – it needed gutting. The existing Morris Minor production line would never be able to cope with ADO28’s planned volumes of up to 5000 per week, so Cowley would receive a massive £45m investment programme.

As planning for the ADO28 entered its early stages, huge amounts of work was already underway at the Pressed Steel Company and Morris over the road at Cowley to accommodate the production of the Austin Maxi. Half of the PSC ‘A’ block was cleared for this and the roof raised by 10ft to allow overhead body storage conveyors.

Following hard on the heels of the Maxi, (the last of the Issigonis BMC designs to be introduced onto the Cowley production lines), the Marina was developed and productionised extremely quickly. The Cowley refit was nothing if not comprehensive and, once completed, car bodies were assembled at Pressed Steel’s Cowley body plant. This was linked to the car plant by a covered half-mile bridge, thereby saving the company the considerable cost of shipping them in from the previous location of Swindon.

A thousand a week from launch

At launch, the Cowley works was producing 1000 Marinas a week from one production line, and Austin-Morris planned to phase in a second line by the end of 1971, with a weekly production target of an ambitious 5000 cars per week. One of the conditions of Cowley building the Marina was the acceptance by the workforce of the abolition of piecework and its replacement by Measured Day Work.

British Leyland management believed that piecework was a major cause of industrial disputes and its abolition would produce greater harmony in its plants. Cowley had a dreadful record for disputes – from January to October 1970, there were 347 disputes including some very lengthy stoppages. Measured Day Work was finally accepted by the workforce on 18 January 1971 after George Turnbull threatened to take away ADO28 from the plant, and BLMC looked forward to uninterrupted Marina production.

From conception in mid-1968 to launch in 1971, the Marina was a rush job with Saloon and Coupe models soon joined by an Estate car in 1972. Although not regarded with the same affection as the Morris Minor, (which was phased out of production in 1970/71), the Marina went on to become the second, exclusively Cowley-built car to sell more than a million.


Keith Adams


  1. I’d forgotten about the estate. It’d be interesting to see prototype mock ups and stuff on that. Haven’t seen any in years.
    There was a metallic blue colour – anyone know what it was called?

    • Astral blue……often with a Regal blue roof…….somehow, my Bonneville ended up in in Astral blue with a matching Regal seat…..ah, the joys of being an apprentice!

    • Damask red was a burgundy and yes Denim Blue was a light blue metallic. Harvest Gold was a popular Marina colour too.

  2. Just what the company needed just at the right time. My new 1.3 Coupe was underpowered and deficient in several ways – my 1.8 Harvest Gold Estate was an unbalanced lump but my white 1.7 4door saloon was a gem. I loved hustling it – it handled really well and road holding was adequate. Great days!

  3. Interesting how cars seemed to be produced in batches back in the 70s, a line of identical red cars coming off in one photograph and a collection of Sandglow ones in another. This limitation of production lasted well into the 80s. I remember seeing some Ford publicity shots with red L spec MK3 Escorts filling the Halewood lines as far as the eye could see and Vauxhalls launch brochure for the Mk2 Astra from 1984 showing Ellesmere Port full of red 2 door cars. Now when you see contemporary images of car plants it seems no two cars rolling off the lines are the same.

    • In the days of oil based paints, it was easier to run batches of single colours through paint shops. This was simply down to the time it took to clean one colour out of the system before using another. It was especially common to run ‘specials’ in large batches, for example BT vans in yellow and British Gas vans in that blue/grey colour.

      • I was told that Adderley Park vehicles, Minor vans etc, came from Nuffield Metal Products already in colour and trimmed, with a build sheet attached. Is that true or were they painted and trimmed in the factory?

  4. I remember reading in a book on the history of Saab that at one time they used to make a day’s production in just one colour to simplify things in the paint shop.

  5. Measured day work was finally accepted by the workforce on 18 January 1971 after George Turnbull “threatened to take away ADO28 from the plant”

    Was that a serious threat, surely no other BL plant had the spare capacity to produce 200k Marinas a year?

      • But all that means is that the Cowley workers build the ADO16 instead of ADO28. And when the Allegro comes along, Longbridge will be full and production will have to take place at Cowley!

  6. Just before finding this article, I found the one below in AUTOCAR, of a direct successor! What a difference 50 years can make . . . . .

    MG HS 1.5 T-GDI Exclusive 2019 UK review

    New compact SUV goes big on luxury feel and metal for the money but covers its budget roots out on the road with mixed success. AUTOCulletin&utm_content=ACAR%20ENews%20Bulletin%20-%20SUBS%20AD%20V4%20(10.10.2019)::article1_readmore&utm_source=20191010

  7. I saw an L registered Morris Marina yesterday in lime green with a black vinyl roof. Was this colour called Leyland Limeflower?

  8. I think I know the colour you mean Glenn, I think it came on Mini’s of that era too. Not sure of its name though

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