Skip to main content

Britain By Car - A Motoring History


Created Date:

23 January 2014

Last Modified:

18 December 2023
Cowley

Pressed Steel

The metal car body and pressings plant, originally established by William Morris.

Location
Eastern Bypass Road, Cowley, OX4 6NL.

Date
1926 - 1993.

Adjusting a bodyshell on the line at Pressed Steel Cowley, 1932, © British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, source: www.motorgraphs.com.
Adjusting a bodyshell on the line at Pressed Steel Cowley, 1932, © British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, source: www.motorgraphs.com.
A woman welding together a jerry can at Pressed Steel Cowley, World War Two, © British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, source: www.motorgraphs.com.
A woman welding together a jerry can at Pressed Steel Cowley, World War Two, © British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, source: www.motorgraphs.com.
Using a grinding machine on bare metal bodyshells for the Austin Maxi, 1970, © British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, source: www.motorgraphs.com.
Using a grinding machine on bare metal bodyshells for the Austin Maxi, 1970, © British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, source: www.motorgraphs.com.
  • Adjusting a bodyshell on the line at Pressed Steel Cowley, 1932, © British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, source: www.motorgraphs.com.
  • A woman welding together a jerry can at Pressed Steel Cowley, World War Two, © British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, source: www.motorgraphs.com.
  • Using a grinding machine on bare metal bodyshells for the Austin Maxi, 1970, © British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, source: www.motorgraphs.com.

Commentary
In 1912, Edward Budd of Philadelphia pioneered the construction of all-steel car bodies by developing a technique of welding pre-formed steel panels.  His company went on to supply a number of major US car manufacturers, and in 1924 his methods were adopted by André Citroën at the Saint-Ouen factory on the northern outskirts of Paris.

Two years later, in 1926, William Morris and Edward Budd embarked on a joint enterprise to establish production in the UK, with the formation of the Pressed Steel Company of Great Britain, on a site in Cowley, adjacent to the North Works.

It appears that the venture was not an initial success, with problems over the quality of the pressings and difficulties in persuading other motor manufacturers to order steel bodies from a facility that was primarily geared towards Morris production.

First William Morris, and later Edward Budd, sold their shares in the company, allowing Pressed Steel to become fully independent; which appears to have been the green light for the company to produce pressings for a much wider range of manufacturers, including Austin, Hillman, Rolls-Royce and Standard.

Like many other companies in the motor industry, production at Pressed Steel during the Second World War was diverted to the military effort; although the manufacture of car body pressings was resumed after the War, with high demand for body shells, as the industry moved towards chassisless construction.

In 1966, the close links between Morris and Pressed Steel were re-established when Pressed Steel joined with Jaguar and BMC (an amalgamation of Austin, MG, Morris, Riley and Wolseley, created in1952) to form British Motor Holdings. 

Two years later, in 1968, BMH merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation (comprising Rover and Standard-Triumph) creating the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BL); and it was under BL that Fisher Ludlow, a car body subsidiary that BMC had acquired in 1953, merged with Pressed Steel to form Pressed Steel Fisher. 

For a number of years, Pressed Steel Fisher continued to produce car bodies and panels in Cowley, but in 1993 this came to an end with the closure of Cowley’s North and South Works.

Between 1994 and 2000, the former Pressed Steel plant at Cowley became Rover’s large car plant, producing the Rover 800, 600, and briefly, the 75.

In 2000, the plant closed, but today is the site of one of three MINI manufacturing facilities in Britain, and known as BMW MINI Oxford.

Other locations
Cowley
, Oxfordshire
Swindon, Wiltshire

Further details

  • Making Cars at Cowley, Gillian Bardsley and Stephen Laing, Tempus Publishing, 2006, and the History Press, 2009.
  • www.aronline.co.uk