The British Motor Corporation Limited
IndustryMotor vehicles
PredecessorMorris Motors Limited
Austin Motor Company Limited
Founded1952 amalgamating Morris and Austin
FateMerged with Jaguar Cars to form British Motor Holdings
SuccessorBritish Motor Holdings
HeadquartersLongbridge, United Kingdom
Key people
Leonard Lord
George Harriman
Products(include) Morris Minor, Mini, 1100,
MGB, Austin-Healey

The British Motor Corporation Limited (BMC) was a UK-based vehicle manufacturer, formed in early 1952 to give effect to an agreed merger of the Morris and Austin businesses.[1]

BMC acquired the shares in Morris Motors and the Austin Motor Company. Morris Motors, the holding company of the productive businesses of the Nuffield Organization, owned MG, Riley, and Wolseley.[1]

The agreed exchange of shares in Morris or Austin for shares in the new holding company, BMC, became effective in mid-April 1952.[2]

In September 1965, BMC took control of its major supplier of bodies, Pressed Steel, acquiring Jaguar's body supplier in the process. In September 1966, BMC merged with Jaguar Cars.[3] In December 1966, BMC changed its name to British Motor Holdings Limited (BMH).[4]

BMH merged, in May 1968, with Leyland Motor Corporation Limited, which made trucks and buses and owned both Standard-Triumph International Limited and the Rover Company to become British Leyland.[5]


A BMC share certificate
A BMC ambulance
A 1963 Austin Mini Super-Deluxe
The Mini was BMC's all-time best seller.
A 1965 Riley 4/72

BMC was the largest British car company of its day, with (in 1952) 39% of British output, producing a wide range of cars under brand names including Austin, Morris, MG, Austin-Healey, Riley, and Wolseley, as well as commercial vehicles and agricultural tractors. The first chairman was Lord Nuffield (William Morris), but he was replaced at the end of 1952 by Austin's Leonard Lord,[6] who continued in that role until his 65th birthday in 1961, but handing over, in theory at least, the managing director responsibilities to his deputy George Harriman in 1956.

BMC's headquarters were at the Austin Longbridge plant, near Birmingham and Austin was the dominant partner in the group mainly because of the chairman. The use of Morris engine designs was dropped within three years and all new car designs were coded ADO from "Amalgamated Drawing Office". The Longbridge plant was up to date, having been thoroughly modernised in 1951, and compared very favourably to Nuffield's 16 different and often old-fashioned factories scattered over the Midlands. Austin's management systems, however, especially cost control and marketing, were not as good as Nuffield's and as the market changed from a shortage of cars to competition, this was to tell. The biggest-selling car, the Mini, was famously analysed by Ford Motor Company, which concluded that BMC must have been losing £30 on every one sold. The result was that although volumes held up well throughout the BMC era, market share fell as did profitability and hence investment in new models, triggering the 1966 merger with Jaguar Cars to form British Motor Holdings (BMH), and the government-sponsored merger of BMH with Leyland Motor Corporation in 1968.

At the time of the mergers, a well established dealership network was in place for each of the marques. Among the car-buying British public was a tendency of loyalty to a particular marque and marques appealed to different market segments. This meant that marques competed against each other in some areas, though some marques had a larger range than others. The Riley and Wolseley models were selling in very small numbers. Styling was also getting distinctly old-fashioned and this caused Leonard Lord, in an unusual move for him, to call upon the services of an external stylist.

As well as the car manufacturing arms, the company had its own printing and publishing firm, the Nuffield Press, inherited from the Morris Motors group.

BMC Farina

In 1958, BMC hired Battista Farina to redesign its entire car line. This resulted in the creation of three "Farina" saloons, each of which was badge-engineered to fit the various BMC car lines.

The compact Farina model debuted in 1958 with the Austin A40 Farina. This is considered by many to be the first mass-produced hatchback car: a small estate version was produced with a horizontally split tailgate, its size and configuration would today be considered that of a small hatchback. A Mark II A40 Farina appeared in 1961 and was produced through 1967. These small cars used the A-Series engine.

The mid-sized Farinas were launched in 1958 with the Wolseley 15/60. Other members of the group included the Riley 4/68, Austin A55 Cambridge Mk. II, MG Magnette Mk. III, and Morris Oxford V. Later, the design was licensed in Argentina and produced as the Siam Di Tella 1500, Traveller station wagon and Argenta pick-up. The mid-size cars used the B-Series straight-4 engine.

Most of these cars lasted until 1961, though the Di Tellas remained until 1966. They were replaced with a new Farina body style and most were renamed. These were the Austin A60 Cambridge, MG Magnette Mk. IV, Morris Oxford VI, Riley 4/72, and Wolseley 16/60 and in 1964 the Siam Magnette 1622 alongside the Siam Di Tella in Argentina. These mostly remained in production until 1968, with no rear-wheel drive replacement produced.

Farina also designed a large car. Launched in 1959 as the Austin A99 Westminster, Vanden Plas Princess 3-Litre, and Wolseley 6/99, it used the large C-Series straight-6 engine. The large Farinas were updated in 1961 as the Austin A110 Westminster, Vanden Plas Princess 3-Litre Mk. II, and Wolseley 6/110. These remained in production until 1968.

BMC cars

Inherited models






BMC designs







Vanden Plas[edit]


BMC project numbers

Main article: Amalgamated Drawing Office

A 1966 MGB (ADO 23)

Most BMC projects followed the earlier Austin practice of describing vehicles with an 'ADO' number (which stood for 'Austin Design Office' but after the merger 'Amalgamated Drawing Office'). Hence, cars that had more than one marque name (e.g. Morris Mini Minor and Austin Mini) would have the same ADO number. Given the often complex badge-engineering that BMC undertook, it is common amongst enthusiasts to use the ADO number when referring to vehicles which were a single design (for example, saying 'The ADO15 entered production in 1959'- this encompasses the fact that when launched, the ADO15 was marketed as the Morris Mini Minor and, later, the Austin Seven—soon replaced with Austin Mini). The ADO numbering system did continue for some time after the creation of British Leyland – notable models being the Austin Allegro (ADO67) and the prototype version of the Austin Metro (ADO88).

Commercial vehicles

Most BMC-era commercial vehicles were sold as Morris, but there were sometimes Austin equivalents. Radiator badges on the larger vehicles were often BMC.

Car-based light vans

A Morris Cowley MCV Van

Light vans

A 1957 Morris JB Van

Taxi cabs and hire cars

Light lorries

BMC agricultural vehicles

With the merger of the Nuffield and Austin interests, the Nuffield Organization's tractor range, the Nuffield Universal, was incorporated into BMC.

BMC abroad

In the 1950s and the 1960s, BMC set up 21 plants overseas, some as subsidiaries, and some as joint ventures, to assemble its vehicles. One was British Motor Corporation (Australia) which was established in 1953 at the Nuffield Australia site on the one-time Victoria Park Racecourse, Sydney.[8] This facility went from a marshalling area for fully imported Morris cars (Austins were up until then being assembled in Melbourne from an earlier Austin Motors establishment), to a facility for making CKD cars, to the total local fabrication and construction of vehicles, engines, and mechanicals.[9]

Denmark was a particularly strong market for BMC products in Europe. In the postwar period, the Danish government closely regulated exports and imports to maintain the country's balance of trade. High-value imports such as cars were heavily taxed.

From 1963 to 1975, a company was established in Spain to produce BMC cars under licence, its name was: 'AUTHI' -'Automoviles de Turismo Hispano-Ingleses' -'Spanish-English Tourism Automobiles'. The factory was in Pamplona, Navarra, Spain, and when the production of Austin and Mini cars was discontinued, Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo (SEAT), owned by the state and some banks and industrial investors, purchased the factory. After the takeover of SEAT by Volkswagen, SEAT made an 'internal' resale of the Pamplona factory, formerly Authi, to Volkswagen, which soon started producing there the 'Polo'.

In 1964, BMC Turkey was established in cooperation with the British Motor Corporation. The Turkish partners retained the 74% of the capital while 26% held by the UK-based British Motor Corporation.

Government takes over

The Wilson Labour government (1964–1970) came to power at a time when British manufacturing industry was in decline and decided that the remedy was to promote more mergers, particularly in the motor industry. Chrysler was already buying into the Rootes Group, Leyland Motors had acquired Standard Triumph in 1961 (and would buy Rover in 1967) and had become a major automotive force. BMC was suffering a dramatic drop in its share of the home market. Tony Benn, appointed Minister of Technology in July 1966, brought pressure to bear on the industry.

British Motor Holdings Limited

In mid-1965 BMC offered to buy its major supplier Pressed Steel and took control in September with 27,000 employees.[10][11] Twelve months later, BMC merged with Jaguar Cars adding a further 7,000 employees.[12] On 14 December 1966 BMC shareholders approved the change of its name to British Motor Holdings (BMH) and it took effect from that date.[4]

British Leyland

Main article: British Leyland

Little more than 12 months later in January 1968, under pressure from the Labour British government and Minister of Technology Tony Benn, a further wave of mergers occurred in the British car industry. BMH merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation (LMC) to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC).[13] BMC Ltd (which contained most of the operations of the former British Motor Corporation) remained a subsidiary company of BLMC after the merger, although its name was later changed to "Austin-Morris Ltd" - reflecting the new Austin-Morris division of BLMC, with the BMC name subsequently disappearing from public view.

Within the new conglomerate, the various marques were grouped together into two main divisions, based largely on the original BMC and LMC businesses; with the former mass market BMC marques becoming part of the Austin-Morris division of BLMC, whilst LMC stablemates Rover and Triumph joined Jaguar in the Specialist Division.

This basic structure remained in place right up until the creation of the Austin Rover Group in the early 1980s, by which time BLMC had been nationalised and renamed British Leyland Limited[14] (later just BL plc), although by this time both Jaguar and Land Rover had been placed in their own independent subsidiaries which were separate from the old BMC/LMC divisions.

Post mortem

Following the merger with Leyland, a review of company records undertaken with the support of the new board, author Graham Turner stated that at the time of the merger, 16 versions of the Mini were being produced, yielding an average profit of just £16 per car, while every Morris Minor sold lost the group £9 and every Austin Westminster sold lost £17.[15] This helps to explain why the Westminster and Minor were among the early casualties of the merger, as well as the introduction of the Mini Clubman, capable of being built for less, but sold for more than a standard Mini thanks to simplified ("modernised") front panels. Even the UK's best seller, the Austin/Morris 1100, had to be subjected to an emergency cost-reduction programme which removed about £10 from the cost of each car, applying changes that included the omission of lead sealing from body joints (£2.40 per car), removing provision for optional reversing lamps (£0.10) and "changes in body finish" (£0.75).[15] Rebuilding the Cowley plant to include "new automated body building facilities" saved £2.00 in transport costs per car for bodies that no longer needed to be transported from the corporation's Swindon plant and in the longer term further transport costs were saved by concentrating assembly of the model at a single plant, rather than splitting it between plants at Cowley and Longbridge.[15] Because of the high proportion of auto-production costs represented by fixed costs that needed to be allocated over a planned production volume, and the use in the 1960s of investment appraisal criteria that were ill-suited to accounting for volume fluctuations and the rapidly changing value of the UK currency in the 1960s, the precise figures quoted may be open to challenge, but the new management's diagnosis that BMC's profitability was insufficient to fund support and new model investment to cover its disparate range of brands and models was hard to refute.[citation needed] Throughout the 1960s, the failure of the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Community meant that the company could not exploit the lucrative European markets due to high import tariffs, whereas BMC's key rivals Ford and General Motors both had German subsidiaries producing and selling within the bloc, and were therefore immune from those import tariffs.[citation needed]


In 2002, BMC (Turkey), a Turkish commercial vehicle builder, originally set up by the British Motor Corporation to build its designs under licence in the 1950s, began exporting its vehicles to Britain. This allowed the return of the BMC brand to British roads for the first time in over 40 years.

See also


  1. ^ a b Morris-Austin Merger Company Named. The Times, Friday, 29 February 1952; pg. 9; Issue 52248
  2. ^ City News in Brief. The Times, Monday, 21 April 1952; pg. 9; Issue 52291
  3. ^ "Jaguar Group of companies is to merge with The British Motor Corporation Ltd., as the first step towards the sitting up of a joint holding company to be called British Motor (Holdings) Limited." Joint merger statement, 11 July 1966 issued at the press conference at the Great Eastern Hotel, London
  4. ^ a b British Motor Takes That New Label The Times, Thursday, 15 December 1966; pg. 17; Issue 56815
  5. ^ "British giants merge | 19th January 1968 | The Commercial Motor Archive". Retrieved 15 September 2023.
  6. ^ "Lord Nuffield's Retirement". The Times. No. 52498. 18 December 1952. p. 6.
  7. ^ "New Dormobiles". Autocar. Vol. 127 (nbr 3739). 12 October 1967. pp. 91–92.
  8. ^ The Macquarie Dictionary of Motoring, 1986, page 62
  9. ^ Timothy R. Whisler (1999). The British Motor Industry 1945–1994. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-829074-8.
  10. ^ B.M.C.-Pressed Steel's Defensive Merger The Times, 23 July 1965; pg. 17; Issue 56381
  11. ^ B.M.C. Gets 89 p.c. Of Pressed Steel The Times, 10 September 1965; pg. 15; Issue 56423
  12. ^ "...after lengthy and cordial discussions with Sir George Harriman, we have mutually agreed to a merger of our two organisations" Letter to suppliers by Sir William Lyons, July 1966
  13. ^ £410m British Leyland group to storm the world market The Times, Thursday 18 January 1968; pg. 17; Issue 57152
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ a b c "The cars then and now". Autocar. 28 October 1971. p. 57.