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
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 Minor’s production line as it was would never be able to cope with ADO28 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.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.