Brief History of Morris Engines

When William Morris decided to enter the car manufacturing business he decided that the most efficient and economical system would be to buy in most of the parts and assemble them in a Morris body. He already knew Poppe, of White & Poppe who manufactured engines, gearboxes and carburettors. He was able to convince them to manufacture engines, gearboxes and carburettors for the new Morris Oxford.

With the success of the Oxford, Morris wanted to produce a second car of lesser refinement eventually to be known as the Cowley, but found White & Poppe unable to increase production to meet the demand, there were no other suitable UK manufacturers, and so Morris went to USA, where he was introduced to Continental Motor Manufacturing Company of Detroit. Continental agreed to supply engines, gearboxes, axles, steering gear and transmissions.

World War one had broken out in the mean time, the first parts were delivered in September 1915, although production of cars didn’t really get under way until the war ended in 1918.

With the end of the war the Morris Cowley came into its own and sold very well, however Continental had decided that they no longer wanted to supply Morris because the Morris engine was not of a type suitable for sale in the USA. Morris purchased the drawings and some tooling from Continental and looked around for a suitable manufacturer. At the end of the war a lot of companies who had been manufacturing military items were suddenly out of work. One such company was the French Hotchkiss company that had shifted to the UK when it was feared the French factory would be over run by the Germans. In September 1918 Morris gave Hotchkiss an order to manufacture engines.

The Hotchkiss factory was equipped with French machinery using metric units and so the Morris engine and gearbox was built with all measurements in metric. The only concession was that the spanner sizes for nuts and bolts would be BSF/BSW, no doubt so as not to upset the motor mechanics who would be servicing the cars!. The chassis and body were still BSF/BSW/BA.

It appears there were also some American threads still in use on the mid 1920’s Cowleys and Oxfords according to the Morris parts catalogue.

The first Hotchkiss engines were delivered in July 1919.

In 1922 the first 13.9 HP engine was delivered to give the Oxford a boost over the 11.9 HP engine, (that in turn had also been a boost to the White & Poppe 8.9 HP engine), which remained the Cowley engine.

Hotchkiss never anticipated the success of the Morris cars and didn’t want to expand their UK business using funds they could use in France, and so Morris decided to buy them out in 1923 becoming Morris Engines Ltd. The factory was continuously expanded to meet demand and presumably because of the cost and time involved with replacing the French machinery with British it never occurred.

In 1926 Wolseley went into receivership with Morris buying the business in 1927, including the modern tooling and equipment along with the large factory at Adderley Park. Wolseley had several engines that impressed Morris and some of these were to find their way into Morris cars, these were of course built using British machinery with imperial measurements. One such engine is the overhead valve Morris Minor of 1929. The bore and stroke were still quoted in metric at 57mm X 83mm.

In 1926 Morris also acquired S.U., manufacturers of carburettors and pumps, who had some financial problems. Morris cars had been using SU carburettors for some time and he didn’t want to let a good product disappear.

The depression of 1929 caused a substantial drop in car sales and in order to reduce costs Morris introduced a side valve Minor to sell alongside the OHV models. Both sold well. There were also some Six cylinder engines introduced, with in 1932/3 a range of sizes up to 25 HP. Whilst the first six in 1928 was an OHV the rest with the exception of the Isis (which continued to 1935), were all side valve. These continued until 1937 when Morris announced that the Series III cars would all be OHV engines. The Morris 10 Ser M in 1938 was also OHV but the Morris 8 continued through to 1953 as the Morris 8 Ser E and Morris Minor Ser MM as a side valve. The new Morris Oxford of 1948 was also to be a side valve.

It was about this time that Morris started to introduce Unified and American National Fine threads, as well as merging with the Austin Motor Company to form BMC. The 1953 Morris Minor Ser II had the Austin or BMC OHV engine fitted which didn’t have any Metric threads.

The Unified and ANF threads are almost identical and use the same spanner sizes. They should never be mixed with BSF/BSW/BA or metric hardware.

The important thing when dismantling Morris vehicles is to keep the hardware with the parts they were fitted to and carefully label them all so that they can be refitted where they came from. Over the years someone may have fitted non standard hardware, so when fitting a new bolt or nut ensure it is the same as the one that was removed. Some of the different threads are very close to each other in thread pitch etc but when screwed on to the wrong part damage the thread or even worse strip the thread beyond recovery.

Brian Jackson