By David Mullen
When cycle manufacturer William Morris first started building cars in Oxford in 1912, he couldn’t have foreseen that within 12 years, his company would become the largest car company in Britain.
By 1924, as the economy recovered after the First World War, 51% of all new cars sold in England had rolled out of Morris’ factory in Cowley.
It had never been a particularly innovative company, but its Bullnose model gave it a reputation for solid, dependable machines and the founder’s success would elevate him in a few short years from plain old William Morris to Lord Nuffield.
By the 1930s, models like the Morris Eight ensured that even on the eve of the war, the company was still Britain’s biggest.
When the Second World War came in 1939, car production ground to a halt. Morris, like companies all over Britain, stopped development of new cars and turned its attention to building aircraft and other equipment for the military.
The engineering department attempted (not very successfully) to come up with all kinds of new vehicles for the army. One of those engineers was a young, Turkish-born designer named Alec Issigonis.
By 1942, when it looked like the tide of the war was turning, Morris began to think about what it’d do once the war was over. After all, there hadn’t been any new cars since 1938 and once the war ended, the company would have to go back to selling old models like the Eight. Issigonis was instructed to get-going on designing a new small car, codenamed Mosquito, to go into production around 1947. He was the right man for the job as he had very strong ideas about small cars.
They were often quite cramped, which he felt was ridiculous. People who bought small cars were the same size as people who bought big ones and even if the car wasn’t big on the outside, there should still be plenty of interior space.
Prototypes were ready by 1943, but development continued right up until 1948. Shortly before the Mosquito went into production, Issigonis decided that the American-styled body was too narrow. He ordered it to be sawn in half lengthways and four inches of metal added, widening it.