Ah, the Morris Oxford. As with many other cars I still think this is one beautiful car. Look at the picture above. Pinin Farina did well. The proportions are good (overhangs not too big in relation to the rest of the car), the lines are good, the rear wing top that begins in front of the rear wheel, the downward middle chrome strip, the dignified green house.
This was one of the cars which was not bought because I was a hardcore enthusiast for the type; I was not. I just wanted to experience this, a proper middle class British car typical of the sixties. That is a valid reason for me. I like to find out how they would be to drive, to own. Why people are enthusiastic about them. Not all cars; in most popular cars I have no interest. A car will sit higher on my score card if it is an underrated model, British, looks good, not too expensive, is not produced in giga quantities. The problem is that the list of cars I want to try has not become shorter!
When in the ’80s I had my first Sunbeam Chamois, I frequently attended meetings of the BMC & Rootes Club. Apart from the social side of it, I saw the variety of cars attending. There were many cars I found interesting but as a poor student I had only eyes for reachable cars. One of those was the four door four cylinder BMC Farina. This was a very popular car in the UK and Europe in the late 50s and 60s.
BMC, BMH, Leyland, BLMC, BL? Yes it gets a bit confusing. The UK were very good at confusing car makes and names.
1952 – BMC: was the first instance, a car agglomeration formed in 1952. It was the merger of Austin and Morris. MG, Riley and Wolseley belonged to Morris so also became part of the new British Motor Corporation.
1966 – BMH: When BMC bought Jaguar in 1966 the new name became British Motor Holdings.
1961 – Leyland: was a truck maker which bought (Standard-) Triumph in 1961, and Rover in 1966.
1968 – BLMC: came about when BMH and Leyland merged in 1968, forming the British Leyland Motor Corporation.
1975 – BL: after nationalisation in 1975 the name changed to British Leyland.
In the 80s more changes came along, Jaguar left the conglomerate (to be bought by Ford a couple of years later), the name changed to Austin-Rover and finally to Rover. It was bought by BMW which sold it to a couple of entrepreneurs (new name: MG-Rover) who could only keep it alive for five more years. Still not the end, Rover was sold to China but the name Rover is not used anymore. MG is also in Chinese hands now and is gaining success in Europe as a supplier of cheap but decent electric cars.
Austin A50 Cambridge left, Morris Oxford series III right
Austin had a medium sized sedan in the mid 50s– the Austin A50 Cambridge. Medium sized for the UK, in the US it would be seen as a small or compact car. Morris had the Oxford. In 1958, both were replaced by one design styled by Pinin Farina. This style of four door sedan was based on his earlier design for the Lancia Flaminia, and later was used by more car companies: the Peugeot 404 and Fiat 1800/2100/2300.
Austin called their new version the A55 Cambridge which became the A60 Cambridge a few years later. Morris versions were the Oxford V and Oxford VI. There were also MG, Riley and Wolseley badge-engineered versions. The earlier versions had higher fins at the rear and different grilles. Basically all Austin, Morris , MG, Riley and Wolseley Farina cars were the same with only a few differences: grille, dashboard, rear lamps and badges.
Inviting, big, comfortable leather seats (Rob’s car)
A friend, Matthew, had been the second owner of a A60 Cambridge for 15 years. Around 1985 I had a lift with him in his car and was surprised how cosy and comfortable it was. Large upright leather seats and Peugeot 404 like view over the two front wings. A large rear trunk. Very much a car of an older generation when comfort was important. The car felt solid, well built and reliable. It was a new feeling for me. It was a typical, quintessential British car. You could wear your top hat in this car. What would it be to own, daily drive such a car?
Badge engineering in all its glory! From left to right: Austin A60 Cambridge, Morris Oxford VI, MG Magnette Mk IV, Riley 4/72, Wolseley 16/60
The lovely time of selecting, searching and finding a car could begin.
Most cars on the market were of the later, post 1961 type. In the last year(s) of the cars they had been cheapened a little, no more leather but vinyl. This was something that you could see at other car makes as well. For example Jaguar had the Mk2 Saloon, in its last years it got rid of the big bumpers and leather was replaced by vinyl. I would not want that.
From brochures it is nice to pick out which version I would like best. And what color(s). But in the real world around me not many cars were or came up for sale. If I wanted a car soon, there was not much choice. MGs and Rileys were almost non-existent, Wolseleys were around but I could not find an affordable one.
The Austin version was okay but there were some things I did not like, it had fake wood on the dash and the grille had a too fine mesh. Morris did it better. The grille had thick horizontal bars. Rear lamps were more upright. Dash was a good looking metal with a pretty segment of copper/gold looking weave.
For Sale! How I found my Oxford
Another Oxford owner (Rob) lived in my small town and owned a twin version. Same colour, same interior. How rare / special was that? His car differed only because it had a manual gearbox. Plus the fact that his car was in a near showroom condition. This was quite remarkable because Rob had painted the car in his own home garage, using spray cans only. He had a friend living nearby who had a Riley 4/72. This was another version of the Oxford, with (you guessed it) a different grille, dashboard and rear fins. It was also a bit quicker having twin carburetors. The three of us went to an English Car Rally together. Our cars definitively were seen as cars from an older generation, classic cars. Only enthusiasts would drive these old barges.
I used the car for quite some time to drive to my work. It lived on the street, never in the garage. Despite that it would always start without problem. Speaking of problems, I cannot remember anything going bad. The car received its maintenance (which incorporated many grease nipples). Wait, I lost a fan blade once. It was a four bladed metal fan. A local specialist in British cars had one new but I thought it was too expensive. A few phone calls to other owners resulted in buying a second hand one cheap.
The Oxford was chosen as transport for a weeks holiday in the South of the UK. Our friends, a couple like us, joined us, 4 in the car. We stayed at some very nice farm Bed & Breakfast addresses. The car trip was uneventful in itself, the car did what it had to do without issues, comfortable and just about fast enough.
What better car to drive in Oxford Street than an Oxford?
Regent Street, London
Most car owners would be pleased by having a car without worries, being reliable and not needing special attention. However I am not one of those. After two or three years I got a little too bored with the car. It did what it had to do, always started, was not too expensive on fuel, did not need expensive maintenance. It always looked a bit shabby though, would benefit from better paint, door and window rubbers were over their best (old and leaking) which resulted to the carpets needing replacement, better bumpers would be nice.
However I decided not to invest in the Oxford, instead to try something else. I sold the Oxford to a club member who promised not to scrap the car. According to the registration office, he still owns the car.
Parked next to my Triumph Herald
Ten years later, Rob (the other black Oxford owner in my town) decided to sell his car. He asked me to help, I made a few pictures and put the car for sale online. It was quickly sold, which was to be expected as the car was in a very good condition.
These were very practical and hardy cars and a diesel version was popular as taxis in many UK colonies like Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
When the Maxi replaced the Cambridge and the Marina the Oxford, Leyland did a diesel version of the latter to try and continue the business but the Marina was never as reliable and caused the taxi trade to move to Japanese alternatives such as the Datsun/Nissan Cedric and Toyota Crown – bigger cars for not much more money; and damn reliable to boot!
Diesel Farinas are very rare now. There’s one in our local club I believe.
Out of curiosity, do you know what kind of automatic it had? A Borg-Warner 35, maybe?
The standard automatic option for these was indeed the B-W Type 35.
This car really appeals to my sensibilities. And I am a sucker for a red leather interior. The automatic transmission in a modestly powered car, not so much.
And what a unique experience for an American reader – a three-year tale of owning a British car that does not involve multiple failures, repairs and rust. 🙂
At the beginning, you describe my early philosophy of car ownership perfectly. I wanted the experience of becoming intimately familiar with something new and unusual. Some of those experiences turned out better than others, but I am glad to have collected the experiences just the same. So I understand the desire to move on after three years, even from a car that treated you as well as this one did.
It is something that regrettably is not changing. I thought that over the years I would have come to my senses and would be happy owning a few cars for years and years, and not looking for / to other ones.
I am in awe of people that can restrict their classic car hobby to just one and owning that for decades.
Probably the best looking of all the BMC medium size Farinas, though they were very out-dated by the time the Marina replaced them in 1971. Very tough and heavy, they were popular for ‘banger racing’ in the ’70s and early ’80s which must have cut their numbers a lot.
Quite amazing they were seen so soon (12 years) as outdated whereas for example the Peugeot 404, not very different, lived on for a couple more until 1975.
I often wonder what cars I would buy/have bought if I were born in different parts of the world. Well, I’d be buying exactly what you buy/have bought, Dion, if I were born in northern Europe: neat, fairly inexpensive, fun old cars just to enjoy working on and driving around. Great looking Morris, and it doesn’t get much more British than a car called “Oxford.”
What about “Westminster” then? 🙂
As a kid, I definitely remember seeing these tooling around Central Canada. In large cities, at least. Their bigger size, and discreet styling, certainly gave them an excellent ability to blend with larger North American cars in traffic.
Interesting view. I would have thought it would have stood out between the low, wide and long American cars of the 60s.
They were often seen in the Maritimes as well. I always liked the look of them, especially after the lumpish (?) Austin/Morris models of the 50’s. The pointed taillights seemed appropriately ‘Gothic’ in an England known for its Gothic cathedrals and Gothic-revival government buildings .
My parents (UK ex-pats) test-drove the Wolseley version in 1960, but opted for a Falcon wagon instead. Even the English were hesitant about English cars in North America. 🙂
I can very much see the appeal. When I was young, I was a bit obsessed with the MG Magnette sedan, which was sold in the US and I used to see occasionally. The leather interior and wood dash, along with the MG badge had their pull on me.
The Farina cars were never sold in the US, as they would not have been able to compete effectively, so I have very little exposure to them. But obviously I’m drawn to that Farina styling on a tall narrow sedan, in my case the Peugeot 404, which I owned in multiples.
FWIW, the 404 appeals to me more except of course in those particular British interior appointments.
And as to an automatic in a modestly powered four cylinder sedan, our 404 wagon had one and it wasn’t as bad as some might assume. It does enhance the cultivation of a different driving style.
Thanks Paul. I think the Austin A55/A60 Cambridge might have sold in the US at the beginning, I have seen a few examples for sale over the years. But I can imagine these were not sold in quantities.
Wow, even after the Imp, Mini and Herald I didn’t see that one coming! To be honest, not my favorite; I prefer the 404 or even the Fiat version of this Farina style. But it does take me back to my childhood with two years (1960 and 1964) spent in the UK. By ‘64 the Mini was everywhere, as were mini-American cars from Vauxhall and Ford, but still many cars on the road were more perpendicular like these and older BMC and Triumphs.
Have to say the Oxford was a bit out of the blue. I got the chance to buy it very cheap and just could not resist.
While it did serve its purpose it got me longing for another BMC – to be told in another COAL 🙂
Sorry if my comment sounded negative. But the Imp, Mini and even Herald with its IRS, fully opening hood/bonnet, etc seemed innovative, and punched outside their size class, while these were more traditional. But they’re all a lot more interesting than most of my COAL’s.
What a lovely story. I assumed that some of your pictures were brochure shots, until I looked more closely.
To me, these are the archetypal British car of the 1960s. Although the smaller, front wheel drive ADO16 models sold more, it was these (or Ford Zephyrs) which you’d see in taxi ranks in provincial towns in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The taxi drivers always seemed to be smartly-dressed old men who covertly smoked roll-up cigarettes and who drove very slowly and carefully.
An Oxford was Winston Churchill’s last privately-owned car.
I agree of the Oxford being an archetypal British car – of the sixties. It has good styling, conservative but dependable mechanics, proper leather interior. Nice to learn that Churchill owned one as his last car, that fact was new to me.
Dion – I’m sure you’re more aware than I am of all the Oxford-Cambridge content on the web (the excellent AROnline, Austin Memories, the equally excellent Australian Shannon’s site, old BMC publicity films on YouTube, etc).
However, I thought I’d recommend this video from YouTube channel, ‘Furious Driving’, which test drives a pre-facelift Farina.
Many people considered this car was sort of a sturd underrated Peugeot 404
Mine was a grey 65 station wagon with the same red interior, full if rust but it ran ok on a smokey kind of way it was at least reliable and fired up everymorning to go to work, eventually the oil burning got so bad I pulled the engine out stripped it took it to work and had the block bored 60thou over, there was a wait for parts even in the 70s and while waiting I gave up on the car another guy wanted it for parts including the new stuff on order so it went away and I just drove my 55 A 90 six Westminster instead, the oxcart had been a stopgap car while I rebuilt an engine for the big one.
Apart from all the rebadging you mentioned there was also a pickup and van in both A55 & A60 the styling wasnt updated and the 50s panelwork was still in use in 75 when the last new one sold here, very very few left they were beaten to death with hard use and put away wet.
They made these ADO 9s in Australia in Austin and Wolseley versions. Australians can never leave anything alone for long and the local Australian BMC engineers, after making the 1622cc version of the ‘B’ series (which was adopted back in the UK), then made a six cylinder version of the ‘B’ series called the ‘Bluestreak’ Six, (which wasn’t).
The six, (in production 2433cc, same bore and stroke as 1622cc four form) was bored out to 2700cc and fitted with all the MG ‘B; series power improvements and fitted to an MGB. An MGB with 50% more power went very well, only weighed 50 lbs more and the six dropped in the otherwise unmodified car. But it suffered from ‘not invented here’ syndrome so the MGC with it’s 200lb heavier iron six with torsion bar front suspension to fit it, and no more power than the Bluestreak produced, went ahead and understeered off into market failure.
The Wolseley version was called the 24-80, the Austin version, the Freeway. How much nicer to drive would your Morris Oxford have been with 50% power?
And how much more successful would the ADO 9 BMC range been in the USA with a 149 c.i. six? Or an MGB with 50 % more power?
MGB with Bluestreak Six and factory triple SU carbs optional on the Freeway/24-80.
Agree that these cars could do with a bit more power. But then again there was the MG or Riley or the big Farina with the 3.0 litre six cilinder.
How well did the Freeway – 24/80 sell in Australia / New Zealand? Must admit they seem a very nice package.
The Bluestreak Six weighs forty lbs more than the ‘B’ series four. The ‘C’ series six weighs 280 lbs more and to fit it in the MGB to make the MGC they had to completely redesign the front suspension. The Bluestreak fits easily without any mods and can make the same power as the C six.
But, it suffered from ‘Not invented here syndrome’ back in the UK, worse, the blocks were cast by Ford in Australia due to capacity constraints at BMC.
Exactly, one of the many, many mistakes made by BMC management.
They sold okay, but not as well as the Holden, though interestingly the Wolseley 24-80version outsold it’s sister-car Austin Freeway. There seem to be more Wolseleys left now, than Austins. They do have a much nicer interior.
Wolseley 24-80 Bluestreak Six
In Canada in the 1960’s, the Farina body BMC cars were as common as Toyota Corollas in the late 1970’s and 80’s. Canada received all SIX badged-engineered examples (Austin, Morris, MG Magnette, Riley, Wolseley, & Vanden Plas) until 1967, when it was killed off after the new 1968 NTSHA regulations took effect.