BRITISH TO THE BACKBONE

by J. F. MacPherson

I struggle to imagine that, apart from a few philistines who are oblivious to any vehicle that doesn't come from a modern dealer forecourt, there is anyone who isn't aware of Morris Cars. Some may not know the name, but they'll be familiar with the shape.

 

At pretty much every car show I go to I'll see at least one good old Morris 'Moggy' Minor, probably a wood-clad Traveller and, if I'm lucky, a Morris LCV pickup or van. Even my own garage sports two of the old dears. They're found all over the world and (outside of classic afficionados, of course) are one of the most widely-recognised historic British marques.

What is probably less widely known is that in 1924 the founder of Morris Motors, William Richard Morris (later to become Baron, then Viscount, Nuffield), separately founded another eponymous company - Morris Commercial Cars.

 

Morris saw an opportunity when one of his suppliers, E.G. Wrigley & Co., went into liquidation, taking over the company and its premises in Soho, Birmingham and transforming it from  a manufacturer of steering gear, axles and transmissions into a commercial vehicle manufacturer.

This is not as big a transformation as it might appear. In 1913, Wigley had produced a cyclecar with a two-cylinder engine and, by the time of the First World War, was kept busy producing aircraft parts and vehicle transmissions. In 1918, the company acquired the skills of Cecil Kimber, an automobile engineer who had previously been working for AC Cars. Kimber would go on later to design bodies for Morris Cars.

Morris Commercial radiator badge
Morris Commercial British to the backbone badge

Morris Commercial enamel radiator badge - 'British to the Backbone'

By 1919 Wrigley (with F. G. Woollard) had also patented a back axle that aimed to improve accessibility to the driving gears and differential.

These assets, not to mention a skilled workforce, useful equipment and tooling plus premises in Britain's industrial heartland, were too much of an opportunity for a man like Morris to walk away from.

Morris Motors (based in Cowley) was already producing some light car-derived commercial vehicles. Morris-Commercial set about supplementing this limited range with vehicles mostly ranging upwards from one ton, including trucks, taxis and buses.

Three years after Morris's purchase of Wrigley and the creation of Morris-Commercial, he discovered yet another irresistible opportunity. Wolseley Cars had been Britain's largest car manufacturer, turning out around three thousand cars a year. Their site at Adderley Park was Europe's largest factory dedicated to car manufacture. By the time Morris had founded Morris-Commercial, Wolseley was in trouble.

Morris Commercial J Type

Come 1927, Wolseley was bankrupt and Morris snapped it up as a private acquisition for £730,000, relaunching the brand (he also completed a design Wolseley had been developing, rebranding it as the first Morris Minor).

 

Within five years Wolseley production was relocated to Drews Lane, the spacious Adderley Park site becoming the new home of Morris-Commercial.

Soon the company was offering what it described as the world's largest commercial vehicle range out of the world's largest commercial vehicle works. Vehicles ranged from 2ton light lorries up to heavy duty 6-wheelers; to taxicabs, single and double-deck buses,ambulances, fire engines, refuse collection vehicles, tankers, and even shooting brakes.

 

Marketing their range as the most economic vehicles on the road, in 1932 Morris-Commercial was also offering their customers the opportunity to "Earn while you pay" with their 'confidential hire purhchase' scheme for vehicles up to 3 ton capacity. They also promised standardised repair costs, no matter where their customers were in the country.

In 1936 the then Baron Nuffield sold Morris-Commercial to Morris Motors.

During the war, production shifted to include items such as torpedoes and the Terrapin amphibious vehicle. In 1949, M-C began production of the long-running J series with its lugubrious-looking front styling, and incorporating the new style for forward controls and front sliding doors for easy access.

The Morris-Commercial name continued as a separate brand until 1968.

Morris Commercial Newnes Data Sheet.gif

It's My Classic - the free online classic car and motorcycle magazine for people with a passion for heritage vehicles - share your classic stories with us