News : MINI to celebrate the centenary of Cowley

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

MINI production (2)

MINI will be celebrating a centenary of car production at its factory in Oxford. BMW may call the factory ‘Plant Oxford’, but most car enthusiasts still refer to it as Cowley – the site that the first ‘Bullnose’ Morris rolled off the line in 1913.

The main centenary date will be 28 March. This is exactly 100 years after the first Morris was built. Plant Oxford will host a commemorative exhibition, and MINI wants to hear from ex-employees and the families of ex-employees, who would like to share photos and memories from the plant over the last 100 years.

Since 1913 tens of thousands of people – 26,000 at the peak in the 1950s and 60s – have worked on the site building over 11,000,000 cars. Cars built at Cowley have been a diverse bunch – with marques including Austin-Healey, MG, Wolseley, Riley, Austin, Mini, Vanden Plas, Princess, Triumph, Rover, Honda, and Sterling. Morris is the most associated with Cowley, but more Minis (classic and post-BMW) have been built at the factory.

The current factory is actually based in the body assembly plant founded by Pressed Steel, with the original Morris buildings being demolished during the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Cars built at the factory are now exclusively MINI – the hatchback, Convertible, Clubman, Clubvan, Roadster and Coupe are made there and exported to more than 100 global markets. Also onsite is Unipart, BL’s old parts supplier (now an international logistics company). A centenary exhibition at the Plant will incorporate stories and pictures from employees past and present. To share a story or a photograph please contact oxford100@mini.co.uk

Full Cowley timeline

MINI production (1)

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

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.
Keith Adams

43 Comments

  1. MINI must be coming up for replacement soon… I wonder if they’re going to do something a bit more avant garde this time.

  2. @2 The next MINI is based on the Rover R30, er, sorry – the “BMW F20” (new 1 series) platform – slip of the fingers there…

  3. The centenary day in March 2013 ties in perfectly with the thirtieth anniversary of when the Austin and MG Maestro variants were launched.

    I feel there is now mileage to update the 2005 book about building cars at Cowley, or even create a new Centenary book to mark this special anniversary.

  4. 11,000,000 cars…blimey. Interesting to note that Nissan Washington is at 6,500,000 after about a quarter of the time.
    Cowley has made a diverse range of vehicles though, I wonder if they will gather the likes of Princess, Maxi, Montego, Maestro for the day. They will do well to find a a Cowley assembled Legend too…were any actually built there?

  5. @6 Indeed that really puts Nissans achievements at Sunderland into perspective. @4 I cant imagine BMW will base its new Mini on a 12 year old still born Rover platform (which would have been a BMW platform anyway)

  6. Cue another pointless, overpriced special edition from BMW. How about a basic, stripped out Mini, with a 1 litre engine, no electric windows or mirrors or power sapping aircon?

  7. @8, Yorkshirebusdriver,

    Deffo. All the old Mini needed for ventilation were the holes in the floor. Forget ventilated seating- Mini drivers had water-cooled socks.

    Also needs to have door pockets in order to hold an oil-stained Haynes manual, a selection of tools, some cardboard to lie on, and padded headlining so you don’t get a headache from banging your head on the roof.

    And a decorative radio that you can only hear when the engine isn’t running, such as when waiting for the AA van to show up, and some ear defenders to protect your hearing when it gets going again.

    Ah, we had proper motors in them days…

  8. The new Mini is a lifestyle car and not like the original Mini a cheap car for people which could not afford a more expensive car. If you want a cheap car with low quality buy a Dacia or if you want a little bit better car buy a small Skoda.
    Mini is not a car for people with less money!
    It is a small car for people which will believe that they were upper class and which will not have so much money that they could afford a Mercedes E Class or a BMW 5 series.
    It is truely an overpriced car for stupid people (like most of BMW drivers are) which do not know how to mantain a pocket calculator!
    If you want best cars for less money buy from a japanese company!

  9. @6 Plenty of Honda Legends were built at Cowley, they came down the same line as the XX (Rover 800). I think it was about 1 in 8, 800’s were also built in Japan. I always thought the Legend was bland compared to our car, the Rover had far more style, the Legend was like any other Japanese car at the time, practical but plain.
    Haven’t seen one for years, are any still in existance after 1/4 century?

  10. @8 – Your version would be completely pointless. Nobody would buy it! There wouldnt be enough weird beards in the world to satisfy production demand for half a shift.

  11. @6 Going back to that statistic again, as the only time Cowley has ever really been busy is with the new MINI its fair to assume that a fair chunk of those 11,000,000 cars have been built in the past 10 or so years. Makes you realise how pitiful BLs volumes where and how over manned the operation was. 26000 Employees at its peak. Was that one car per man per year?

  12. @15, Paul,

    A bit unfair to compare modern car building practice to how things were done ‘back in the day’- before robots and other automated processes were commonplace, and cars could not possibly be built with anything like the precision that they can be today, even in the best operated plants.

  13. To be fair, MINI production has run at 200-240k a year for the last 10 years, so that only makes 2m of the 11m.

    But in a smaller, much more intensively used factory…

  14. Oliver

    Wake up and smell the coffee… MINI is NOT a cheap small car, it is in fact a quality BRAND image and image sells in droves, creates an emotional desire, has rock solid residuals and has countless numbers of people clambering to get inside one.

    Suffice to say it is also an aspirational car to own. No one will ever aspire to own a Skoda or indeed a Dacia.

    New car buyers fall into two very distinct categories:

    Emotional want / desire or Rational need – where would we say the MINI fits in?

  15. Or any car, Mike!

    But the MINI is not overpriced unless you choose to make it so. It’s easy to forget, with cheap leasing deals, that the list price of my C3 Airdream was £15,510 in Jan 2011. That’s without climate control, or leather, or electric rear windows, or satnav, or subwoofers or heated seats or rain-sensing wipers or any of the other ‘flashy’ things; the nicest thing it has is the Zenith windscreen. It doesn’t even have alloys.

    A good spec C5 was £30,000 list. Makes the £35,000 list of the V8 Chrysler look like a total bargain.

    I think the MINI is what, £11,000-anna-bit to start out? And for that you may not get the kit, but you get the same build as the £30K optioned-up one and the same design.

    All of these cars are so much cheaper, relatively, than their equivalents cost our parents. Such a nonsense calling the MINI expensive when it has kit we’d only have dreamed of in entry level cars 20 years ago and compared to the original Mini, which was about a year’s salary at launch and quarter of the price of a small house, is less than half the average annual salary and easily less than a tenth of the cost of a small house – more like 1/13th or so.

  16. Moan, moan, moan. Even if you don’t like the MINI at least try and be glad that Cowley are still going strong. I’m not its biggest fan (and don’t get me started on the Pacman) but it’s nice to see Cowley still a success.
    If BMW shut up shop and moved all the tooling to Austria that would be wrong as well wouldn’t it?

    I think a stripped out 1 litre BINI would work, if it was priced right. Great for people who are desperate for one but can’t afford/justify MINI’s current prices. But we all know they won’t do it.

  17. If they made a budget Mini (BMW making budget cars….) it would have to look very different to the other Minis. If it looked the same it would de-value the brand. I would not buy top spec mini that could be mistaken for a low spec budget mini, would you?

  18. People also seem to forget that for the last 10-15 years of Mini production it was not aimed at people with a small family. It was an expensive for what it was aspirational car. If you wanted something sensible in the same class there was the Ford Ka, the Twingo, 106 etc etc. BMW employees more than 10000 people directly in the UK as well as countless others in the parts supply sector.

  19. ” I would not buy top spec mini that could be mistaken for a low spec budget mini, would you?”

    Yes, ’cause I couldn’t give a flying [redacted] what anyone else thinks and buy my car for ME. If what I wanted was a MINI but wanted lots of equipment on it, why on earth would the vaguest possibility that someone with (clearly) far too much interest in what I have spent – or have not spent – may assume I have spent less, have any influence whatsoever on my purchase?

  20. @24 thats fine but you are very much in the minority otherwise we would all be driving Ladas Kias Dacias. Even Hyundi are (by their own admission) are “moving up market” thats where the money is.

  21. If BMW had masses of factory capacity at Cowley, then targeting greater volume by introducing cheaper variants might make some sense. But they don’t.

    If they’d kept Longbridge, and the P4 had got Cowley, maybe things would have been different…

  22. I like the Mini, my only grip is that it is one seat belt short. I see no reason why they couldnt make it fit two adults or tree children in the back. alex

  23. Right, weight is the killer in modern cars, which is why they have such crap fuel economy figures and need more power, simply just to lug them around. Binning stuff like aircon which chews fuel and saps a good 10% of engine power, and electric windows? How difficult is it to physically use your arm? I know full well as cars are getting loaded up with more crap, driving standards are deteriorating, as drivers simply become lazy and rely on these so called ‘aids’. I bet if 99% of Bini drivers actually drove a real Mini, they would run off crying that their arms ached after 2 minutes. Anyway BMW could use the Austrian plant to build the basic car, after all it did build Fiat 500’s for a hell of a number of years.

  24. Right, weight is the killer in modern cars, which is why they have such crap fuel economy figures and need more power, simply just to lug them around. Binning stuff like aircon which chews fuel and saps a good 10% of engine power, and electric windows? How difficult is it to physically use your arm? I know full well as cars are getting loaded up with more crap, driving standards are deteriorating, as drivers simply become lazy and rely on these so called ‘aids’. I bet if 99% of Bini drivers actually drove a real Mini, they would run off crying that their arms ached after 2 minutes. Anyway BMW could use the Austrian plant to build the basic car, after all it did build Fiat 500’s for a hell of a number of years.

  25. If anyone wants a very cheap modern MINI, the early 2001/2 R50 MINI One’s and Coopers are over 10 years old now and can be picked up at very reasonable prices……choose a well looked after one with service history and it should last many more years. I own a 2002 MINI One, bought it secondhand six years ago for 6K and unlike my classic Mini’s it has never gone wrong, nothing has dropped off and most important for us ‘old timer’ Mini owners it has no rust!!

    The New Mini (R50)
    Preparations to build it at Longbridge:
    http://www.austinmemories.com/page164/page164.html

  26. I owe my life quite literally to the amazing build of the mini as it protected me when I was side swiped by a lorry driver this february. MINI Oxford invited me as a VIP to tour the factory when I told them. I loved seeing the plant and was mesmorised by the production of this iconic car which has so captured so many peoples hearts. It would be amazing if they organised a massive rally there for this event. I would love to go again in my new mini coupe..
    MINI is an innovator and has produced some of the best and most talked about models on the road. Excited to see what they will come up with next.
    Happy 100th birthday Plant Oxford for March..Miff.

  27. Really pleased that Cowley is going strong building the MINI, even if is not my kind of car. Fair play to those who bought them, keeps British folks, many of them ex BL/Rover etc gainfully employed. As does Hams Hall engine plant near Brum

    Didn’t realise so many Legends were built here. Would be really interesting to find a Japanese built 800 and ship it back

  28. @26 – no, there’s a difference between ‘rationality and logic’ and ‘obsessed with status’. I don’t care if people think my car is £500 or £50,000, but I haven’t rationalised myself into a Dacia Sandero[1] as my main car. I am obsessed with cars, and have a 300C because it’s got a thumping great V8 and is a little unusual. In fact my point is very much that cars should sell on whether you like the car itself – the shape, handling, whatever appeals to you personally.

    If at that point you have then decided that you WON’T get the car you like, with the equipment and spec you want, because someone might think you “could only afford” the most basic one (this, I think, hampers sales of the BMW 1-series – which is a shame as it’s a fun little car) – well, then I think the priorities are a bit messed up.

    [1] That might be what replaces the C3 however, if we don’t just take the C3 at the end of the PCP. I prefer the idea of running a petrol engined cheap car into the ground than a PSA-made manual diesel.

  29. “Shows what they could have done with Rover, if things had worked out my favourably.”

    Shows what they could have done with Rover, if things had worked out more favourably. Typo sorry.

  30. @29 “I bet if 99% of Bini drivers actually drove a real Mini, they would run off crying that their arms ached after 2 minutes.”

    Yes, that was me after loaning a friend’s Mini City to nip to the shops. My daily driver at that time? An Austin Metro. The fact is the old Mini should have been terminated when the Metro came out.

    I actually feel that the BINIs steering is way too heavy just to cater for those who remember the flawed, dated original.

  31. @ 28 Alex Scott:

    “I like the Mini, my only grip is that it is one seat belt short. I see no reason why they couldnt make it fit two adults or tree children in the back. alex”

    Having owned two of these MINI’s, over a total of 6 and a bit years, I can tell you that it would be easy enough to fit three belts, but the back seat simply isn’t wide enough to fit either three child seats, or three children that are too large for child seats. The back seat isn’t designed to take two adults either.

    We had to give up on ours, when both my 10 year old daughter and my very compact wife, refused to sit in the back. This car is strictly a 2+2 only.

  32. Oh yes, back on topic, I’m really pleased to see at least some of the Cowley Plant producing cars after a complete century of production; I just can’t tag the “Plant Oxford” tag seriously!

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