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Homepage. This page: Further motoring recollections
Ian kindly sent over his recollections of motoring, 1950s style, before the advent of motorways & Farina-designed cars from BMC ....

Those Oxford days

I’m a generous hearted soul, but even I can’t help thinking sometimes that some rather dubious cars are being granted classic status. Having said that, I do hope that no one would ever take an irrational dislike to the Morris Oxford. Now before you Ferrari owners start laughing, yes, I know that the Oxford was not the most exciting car in the world, but at the time its owners held it in considerable regard. After all, it must have had something going for it, as it remains in production to this day (albeit in the guise of the Indian-built Hindustan Ambassador).

Morris Oxford Series IV Traveller
Before I go any further, I must make it clear that I am referring to real Oxfords and not those Farina-penned, Austin-derived horrors from the 60’s - they can be dismissed out of court straight away. Real Oxfords came in various shapes and sizes over the years, but the best one to my mind was the Series IV Traveller. Despite my tender years at the time, I have vivid memories of the one my father owned at roughly the same time that Harold Macmillan was telling us we had never had it so good. This remark was singularly appropriate, as the Oxford managed to make the split-screen Minor that preceded it look downright prehistoric. The car featured deep and luxurious green leather bench seats with folding armrests, a wonderful steering wheel complete with a horn ring, and a clock, which was incredibly useful to someone like myself who was just learning to tell the time and had previously thought that such instruments were only to be found on mantelpieces. Contrasting with all these modern features, a traditional note was struck by the trafficators. The car was finished in Connaught Green (which was near enough black) and seemed so solid that I thought it would last forever. Perhaps it has done.

I remember that our Oxford also had a radio, an item which was by no means common at the time. Unfortunately, it seemed to be permanently tuned to the Billy Cotton Band Show, although under pressure from my sister it could be persuaded to produce Radio Luxembourg on our long journey home over the Pennines to Manchester when we had visited my Grandparents. In pre-M62 days, this journey was regarded by some as being distinctly hazardous, and one of my father’s colleagues, who had to make the trip twice a week (in an Oxford saloon, funnily enough) used to arrive a gibbering wreck and in need of a lie down for an hour or two if the weather was anything less than perfect. Most enthusiasts have a distinct tendency to look back on their favourite era through rose-tinted specs, but we occasionally need to be reminded that, in some circumstances, motoring in the late 50’s was not the effortless and sometimes soulless pastime that we take for granted today. Manipulating a ton or more of drum braked family car running on cross-ply tyres (or even the “Town and Country” tyres favoured by many in winter months, in a sometimes vain attempt to find some rear-end grip in the snow) cannot always have been much fun on some of the nastier roads of the day. When you remember that even major highways of the day, such as the A1, would hardly have passed muster as B roads today, it makes you realise that motoring in the good old days didn’t always leave you with a nice rosy glow - especially if your car had no heater.

Our Oxford was the car in which I recall my first really long journey, a holiday trip from Manchester to Hastings. Such a drive was something of an adventure before the motorway network covered the country, and so the old man wrote off to the AA and asked them to send him details of the best route. I hope they still do this, because I seem to recall him telling me later that the route was constructed in incredible detail, only just stopping short of such gems as “open door of car, insert key in ignition, etc”. Off we went, and tempers became frayed at a fairly early stage due to Mum’s inability to read out the directions properly (said Dad) and/or Dad’s inability to understand simple instructions (said Mum). Several unscheduled stops were made and things got really bad at one point when we found ourselves within the confines of the Morris factory at Cowley. The Oxford obviously had a homing instinct.

Oxford Traveller
That present-day journalistic phenomenon the “Group Test” didn’t exist in the mealy-mouthed motoring press of the 1950s - a pity, as I would like to be able to flick back through a period-piece copy of “The Motor” or “The Autocar” to see how well the Oxford compared with its competitors - not that there were too many of them. The obvious comparison was with its in-house rival, the pre-Farina Austin A55 Cambridge. I have to confess that I have a sneaking admiration for the styling of the Cambridge when compared with the rather lumpy lines of the Oxford, but dynamically the Morris was far superior to the somewhat soggy Austin, as indeed it should have been given its rack and pinion steering and torsion bar front suspension. Ford’s Consul was an attractive alternative, but its standard of finish and equipment was somewhat inferior to the BMC products. The Consul’s 3-speed gearbox was just about acceptable with the flexible engines of the day, but those hilarious windscreen wipers that had a tendency to go to sleep just when you needed them most showed that, to Henry F, saving a few quid ranked above road safety. There was also Standard’s Ensign, but it was so lacking in “standard” equipment compared to the Oxford that it hardly bears thinking about. And that was really about it, competition-wise, because no-one with an ounce of good taste would ever have stooped to buying one of the truly horrible and nasty F-type Vauxhall Victors and the Hillman Minx - popular and competent as it was – really stood a class below the Oxford in terms of accommodation for both passengers and luggage. Don’t let’s forget that hardly anyone bought foreign cars at the time, except for the unfortunate souls who lumbered themselves with a Renault Dauphine, a car which quickly earned an entirely justified reputation for rapid self-destruction, or those prudent enough to acquire an everlasting VW Beetle.

Even the most loyal owner would never claim that the Oxford had any pretensions towards being a performance car, although in its favour I remember reading somewhere that David Hobbs used to race one. That must have been a wonderful sight and I wish I had seen it. But I think it was rally driver Roger Clark, something of a hero of mine, who was the first to refer rather unkindly to the MGB as being nothing more than a two seater Morris Oxford. Actually, that was quite a compliment to the Morris, although members of the MG Owner‘s Club were no doubt distraught to hear it. Realistically, it would be unfair to criticise the Morris too much because few of its competitors were any quicker to a significant degree. 0-60 figures held little fascination for Mr Average Family Saloon Driver in the 1950s and, truth be told, getting such cars to the dizzy heights of 60 mph was quite an achievement for some of the less spirited motorists of the day. I really have no idea what the top speed of an Oxford Traveller in prime condition would have been; I would hazard a guess at somewhere around the 75mph mark, but when it was pointed out to me one day that we were travelling at a speed which amounted to a mile per minute I was enormously impressed and thought that this was what motoring was all about. Surely nothing could ever be better than this?

Well, perhaps it could. All good things come to an end, and eventually the Oxford was replaced by a Mark II Zephyr. But that’s another story!

Thanks for sending that in Ian, a great read!

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