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Pressed Steel Company

South-east facing side of Pressed Steel's Cowley site in January 2007[1][2] now home of MINI Plant Oxford
Swindon Pressings plant, Swindon

Pressed Steel Company Limited was a British car body manufacturing business founded at Cowley near Oxford in 1926 as a joint venture between William Morris, Budd Corporation of Philadelphia USA, which held the controlling interest,[3] and a British / American bank J. Henry Schroder & Co At that time the company was named The Pressed Steel Company of Great Britain Limited. It acquired Budd's patent rights and processes for use in the United Kingdom.[4] Morris transferred his interest to his company, Morris Motors Limited.

Today at what was their Cowley plant, BMW's Mini is assembled and this site is known as "Plant Oxford". At their Swindon plant, the BMW subsidiary Swindon Pressings Limited has been established and produces parts for the new Mini at what is now referred to as "Plant Swindon".


  • Morris and Budd 1
  • Independence 2
    • Cowley, Theale, Linwood I 2.1
      • Industry consolidation 1953 2.1.1
    • Swindon, Linwood II 2.2
    • Tooling 2.3
    • Research and Development 2.4
  • British Leyland and BMW 3
    • Cowley 3.1
    • Swindon 3.2
    • Linwood 3.3
    • Theale 3.4
  • Diversification 4
    • Domestic Refrigerator Factory 4.1
    • Railway rolling stock, Linwood 4.2
    • Beagle Aircraft 4.3
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
    • Further reading 6.1

Morris and Budd

William Morris's all-steel Fifteen-Six saloon with Budd / Pressed Steel body

William Morris had recognised the potential of pressed steel car bodies being developed by Budd Corporation in U.S.A.and wanted them for his own cars. The new joint venture initially supplied car bodies[5] to Morris's Morris Motors with its plant located alongside the new Pressed Steel plant across what became the A4142 spanned by a special bridge between plants.

The venture was not a success. In May 1930 it was announced that arrangements had been concluded to place the Pressed Steel plant under British control.[6] Operations had not gathered pace as expected. Many difficulties[note 1] had been encountered. The British steel industry was unable to provide steel sheets large enough for the Budd machines and, once they came available, in any case American supplies were still 25% cheaper than local supplies. Tycoons William R. Morris and Edward G. Budd were unable to settle their differences.

Budd took his troubles with Morris to the High Court which decided in his favour and in June 1930, by a resolution of the shareholders supported by an order of the High Court the directors of Morris Motors Limited were obliged to retire from the Pressed Steel board, with the share interests of Morris Motors either taken over by other interests or surrendered to the company.[7] This was followed by the announcement of a reduction of Pressed Steel's capital from £1.6 million to £1.2 million.[8] Morris lost the capital he had invested and the right to appoint directors, Pressed Steel was now free to supply other customers.[9]


Cowley, Theale, Linwood I

At the very end of 1935 Budd agreed to sell their controlling interest to British interests and then Pressed Steel was fully independent[10] having from mid-1930 also produced car bodies for Morris's competitors.[11][note 2]

The degree of completion of Pressed Steel's finished product varied widely. In some cases unpainted stampings are shipped to the customer's plant for finishing and assembly. Other customers are sent their bodies fully assembled, painted, trimmed and glazed.[9]

Industry consolidation 1953

Standard Steel Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn with Pressed Steel pressings 1953

When compared with USA and France the British automotive industry then had little vertical integration. Britain's "Big Five"[note 3] looked to their body suppliers. In the spring of 1953 Briggs Motor Bodies, American like Budd, had the bulk of its British operation swallowed by Ford. The following autumn The British Motor Corporation acquired Fisher & Ludlow. Fisher & Ludlow supplied Standard-Triumph who were then obliged to take control of the relatively small Mulliners but that took a few more years to develop and Mulliners was to close at the end of 1960. Pressed Steel stood alone as the only remaining independent supplier of mass-produced car bodies in Britain.[9]

In December 1953 Pressed Steel Company Limited was able to advertise: "The largest press shops in Europe with over 350 power presses working with pressures up to 1000 tons . . . a factory area at Cowley alone more than half the size of Hyde Park . . . Here, indeed, with its 12,000 and more workers, is one of Britain's greatest industrial enterprises."

Factories: Cowley, Oxford. Theale, Berkshire. Linwood, Scotland.
Head Office: Cowley
London Office: Sceptre House, 169 Regent Street W1.
Manufacturers of bodywork and pressings for many of the most famous names in the British motor-car industry, including Austin, Daimler, Hillman, Humber, Jaguar, Lanchester, Morris, Morris Commercial, M.G., Riley, Rover, Singer, Wolseley.[note 4]
The largest body manufacturers in Britain and pioneers in Britain of pressed steel bodywork and unitary construction in quantity.
Manufacturer of Prestcold refrigerators, steel railway wagons, agricultural implements and pressings of all types.[12]
Names to which pressings were supplied not included in the above list include Rolls-Royce and Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Volvo, Vauxhall.

Swindon, Linwood II

The Swindon pressing plant in 1967

In 1956 they opened a new plant in Swindon to provide extra capacity, and in 1961 they opened their Linwood, Scotland plant alongside the new Rootes Linwood plant to provide bodies for the new Hillman Imp being produced there.[9] By the end of the 20th century the Linwood site had been completely cleared. It is now partly occupied by a cinema complex.


Pressed Steel was a major manufacturer of press tooling for Morris, Hillman, Rover and Rolls-Royce and car companies across the world including Vauxhall, Alfa Romeo etc.[9]

Research and Development

The R&D function which was set up at the Cowley site in the early 1960s, and later transferred to their development site at Gaydon [1980], was a centre of excellence for the industry with many new processes including the development of electrophoretic painting (electrocoat), full mould casting, robotic welding and assembly, robotic adhesive and sealant application and robotic painting amongst many other firsts in the industry. In the late 1960s, and the early 1970s, the R&D function pioneered the use of Finite Element Analysis for the body structure, and developed computerised crash simulation techniques for the complete vehicle, the occupants and the pedestrian. Between 1973 & 1980 the R & D function also developed plastic fuel tanks that proved superior to the only other current ones of the time produced by Volkswagen.

British Leyland and BMW

By 1965 Pressed Steel employed 26,000 persons. Its sales to the British motor industry—over 90% of turnover— were by value 40% to BMC and a similar share to Rootes. However BMC's bodies were relatively unfinished, Rootes bodies were painted and trimmed so in terms of body units 61% went to BMC and 27% to Rootes.[9]

BMC found only about a quarter to a third of its requirements at Pressed Steel obtaining the rest from subsidiary Fisher & Ludlow, Nuffield Metal Products, Austin, Morris Commercial Cars and Morris Motor Bodies. Rootes Group was almost entirely dependent on Pressed Steel for its car bodies. Jaguar and Rover were wholly or very largely dependent on Pressed Steel for their car bodies.[9]

A factor covered in the Monopolies Commission Report is the association of Chrysler with Rootes Group so that there was the possibility of a take-over from USA putting Jaguar's and Rover's body supplies at risk if BMC's proposal was vetoed. It was also noted by the commission that an internal document drawn up while negotiations between BMC and Pressed Steel were in progress set out the terms and assurances to be offered to customers including that the continuance of supply of bodies or tools to customers other than BMC would be subject to BMC's own requirements. The Commission subsequently obtained assurances that allocations will be made to all customers on a pro rata basis.[9]

In 1965 Pressed Steel was acquired by the British Motor Corporation (BMC)[13][14] and BMC set about combining Pressed Steel with its existing body making subsidiary Fisher and Ludlow, acquired by BMC some twelve years earlier, thereby creating Pressed Steel-Fisher (PS-F).[15] At the time of the merger Pressed Steel was the largest independent manufacturer of car bodies and car body tooling in the world [2].

In the third quarter of 1966 BMC completed its takeover of Jaguar Cars[16][17] On 14 December 1966 BMC shareholders approved the change of its name to British Motor Holdings (BMH) and it took effect from that moment.[15][18]

Early in 1968 BMH merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation (LMC) to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC),[19] By this time PS-F had become the world's largest independent car body and car body tool manufacturer, and supplied bodies and tools not only for the British motor industry but also for Volvo, Alfa Romeo and Hindustan Motors.[9] Under BLMC the Pressed Steel-Fisher business became the Pressed Steel Fisher division.

In 1975 BLMC was nationalised and became British Leyland Limited.[20]



When BMW acquired Rover Group in 1994 they became owners of the Swindon pressing plant. Although BMW disposed of much of Rover Group's assets in 2000, they retained the Swindon pressings plant and set up a subsidiary, Swindon Pressings Limited (SPL), there in 2000. SPL now provides most of the body panels and body sub-assemblies for the Mini models produced at Plant Oxford in Cowley, at what was the Pressed steel site.[21]




Domestic Refrigerator Factory

Under the Prestcold name Pressed Steel supplied refrigerators for the home, industrial cold rooms and marine installations. The Domestic Refrigeration Factory (DRF)—it was publicly acknowledged the product of the first four years was not reliable[4]—started in 1933 and was located within the Cowley site for many years before transferring to Swansea in a government sponsored regeneration scheme, an ill fated venture with Rolls washing machines. As a supplier to entrepreneur John Bloom's company when Rolls Razor went into liquidation in July 1964 Pressed Steel was owed $1,200,000.[22] So ended Prestcold domestic appliances.

Industrial refrigeration supplied on a large scale to supermarkets and food retailing groups[9] was to continue for many years operating out of the Theale site nr. Reading.

Class 117 Pressed Steel suburban unit no. 51360

Railway rolling stock, Linwood

Former associate Budd Corporation built passenger rolling stock. An existing engineering factory in Linwood, Scotland, was acquired by Pressed Steel in 1947 where they manufactured railway rolling stock. A peak of production was reached in the late 1950s - early 1960s. The types of rolling stock produced were of standard British Railways design, and included: standard carriages, British Rail Class 117 Diesel Multiple Units, British Rail Class 303 "Blue Train" Electric Multiple Units, and specialist vehicles like restaurant cars. Pressed Steel received few orders after the completion of the changeover to diesel trains and modern carriages.[9]

Beagle Airedale 1961

Beagle Aircraft

British Executive and General Aviation Limited. In 1960 Pressed Steel was persuaded by Sir Peter Masefield to invest in light aircraft through the formation of its Beagle Aircraft division. Beagle was sold to the government in December 1966. This venture lost Pressed Steel about £3M.[23]

Beagle's facilities at Shoreham-by-Sea were purchased with their take-over of Miles Aircraft and those at Rearsby with Auster.


  1. ^ It took some considerable time to gain the confidence of customers and to accustom workmen to a class of work which they had never done before.
    Steel sheets used:
    1926 720 tons
    1930 13,300
    1935 30,900
    and in 1937 they were running at the rate of 50,000 sheets per annum.
    Employees at Cowley works (annual average)
    1926 873
    1930 1,300
    1935 2,950
    on 28 April 1937 there were 4,322 employees
    Address of the chairman to shareholders. Pressed Steel Company. The Times, Saturday, 22 May 1937; pg. 19; Issue 47691
  2. ^ Olympia Motor Show, October 1932. Pressed Steel, stand 172. All-steel bodies are well represented by the display of three production models: Hillman Wizard 65 saloon, Austin light twelve-six Harley saloon, 12 hp 4-cylinder Humber. They are made in four main parts, each part being stamped by a giant press into the required shape from sheet metal.
    The Olympia Show. The Times, Thursday, 20 October 1932; pg. 9; Issue 46269.
  3. ^ BMC Ford GM Rootes Standard-Triumph
  4. ^ BMC and Rootes Group with Singer. Jaguar and Rover


  1. ^ Geoffrey Tyack, Oxford: An Architectural Guide OUP, 1998, ISBN 0198174195
  2. ^ M Stratton, B S Trinder, Twentieth Century Industrial Archaeology, Taylor & Francis, 2000, ISBN 0419246800
  3. ^ Offer for sale of shares - Pressed Steel Company Limited. The Times, Tuesday, 7 April 1936; pg. 21; Issue 47343
  4. ^ a b Address of the chairman to shareholders. Pressed Steel Company. The Times, Saturday, 22 May 1937; pg. 19; Issue 47691
  5. ^ Deliveries have commenced. Morris Motors (1926) Limited. The Times, Friday, 13 May 1927; pg. 24; Issue 44580
  6. ^ Mr. Thomas And Motor Industry (SMM&T). The Times, Friday, 2 May 1930; pg. 16; Issue 45502
  7. ^ (Roan Antelope Debenture Issue). The Times, Wednesday, 11 June 1930; pg. 19; Issue 45536
  8. ^ Legal Notices. The Times, Friday, 11 July 1930; pg. 4; Issue 45562
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k The British Motor Corporation Ltd. and the Pressed Steel Company Ltd. A report on the merger 25th January 1966, The Monopolies Commission, HMSO
  10. ^ Pressed Steel Company.The Times, Friday, 10 January 1936; pg. 19; Issue 47268
  11. ^ Pressed Steel Company of Great Britain, Company Results. The Times, Saturday, 3 May 1930; pg. 21; Issue 45503.
  12. ^ The Illustrated London News 19 December 1953
  13. ^ B.M.C.-Pressed Steel's Defensive Merger The Times, Friday, 23 July 1965; pg. 17; Issue 56381
  14. ^ B.M.C. Gets 89 p.c. Of Pressed Steel The Times, Friday, 10 September 1965; pg. 15; Issue 56423
  15. ^ a b "Pressed Steel-Fisher: Europe's biggest body-building group".  
  16. ^ Jaguars To Join Up With B.M.C. £18m. deal to strengthen front against Detroit The Times, Tuesday, 12 July 1966; pg. 1; Issue 56681
  17. ^ 90PC OF JAGUAR TAKE BMC The Times, Wednesday, 14 September 1966; pg. 18; Issue 56736
  18. ^ British Motor Takes That New Label The Times, Thursday, 15 December 1966; pg. 17; Issue 56815
  19. ^ £410m British Leyland group to storm the world market The Times, Thursday, 18 January 1968; pg. 17; Issue 57152
  20. ^ Government takes over the restyled Leyland, British Leyland today joins the ranks of nationalized industries The Times, Monday, 11 August 1975; pg. 13; Issue 59471
  21. ^ "New era under BMW". The Car Industry in Swindon. SwindonWeb. 
  22. ^ "The Doomsday Book". Time Magazine. 4 September 1964. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  23. ^

Further reading

  • "The British Motor Corporation Ltd. and the Pressed Steel Company Ltd. A report on the merger". Competition Commission (UK). 1966. Retrieved 2006-06-06. 
  • Bardsley, Gillian. Issigonis: The Official Biography. Icon Books.  
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