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, 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. Morris transferred his interest to his company, Morris Motors Limited.
Pressed Steel was acquired in 1965 by the British Motor Corporation and this led to BMC's acquisition of Jaguar later in 1965. At the end of 1966 BMC changed its name to British Motor Holdings (BMH). BMH merged with Leyland Motors in 1968 to create British Leyland and Pressed Steel's businesses were absorbed into the new conglomerate. Many components of the former Pressed Steel business were gradually divested following British Leyland's bankruptcy, nationalization and subsequent restructuring.
Today three major Pressed Steel factories are still in operation. The Cowley plant is now where BMW's Mini is assembled, known as Plant Oxford. At the old Swindon plant the BMW subsidiary Swindon Pressings Limited, or Plant Swindon, produces parts for the new Mini. Lastly, Pressed Steel's former factory in Castle Bromwich now forms part of Jaguar's main assembly plant.
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 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.
This was several years after Andre Citroen was co-operating with Budd in France for building Citroen car bodies.
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. 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. This was followed by the announcement of a reduction of Pressed Steel's capital from £1.6 million to £1.2 million. Morris lost the capital he had invested and the right to appoint directors, Pressed Steel was now free to supply other customers.
In the coachwork exhibition at the 1931 Olympia Motor Show alongside the products of Salmons, Thrupp and Maberly, Windovers etc. Pressed Steel Company displayed bodies of a Twelve-six Harley de luxe Austin saloon, a Hillman Wizard 75 de luxe saloon and a 12-horsepower six-cylinder Rover Pilot. Readers of The Times were told the bodies were made in four pieces, the back, two sides and the front. The doors were also stamped in one. These all-steel bodies were said to give the cars lightness with great strength, more room inside and better visibility.
At the very end of 1935 Budd agreed to sell their controlling interest to British interests and then Pressed Steel was fully independent having from mid-1930 also produced car bodies for Morris's competitors.[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.
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.
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."
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. 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.
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 , 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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1965 Pressed Steel was acquired by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) 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). At the time of the merger Pressed Steel was the largest independent manufacturer of car bodies and car body tooling in the world .
In the third quarter of 1966 BMC completed its takeover of Jaguar Cars On 14 December 1966 BMC shareholders approved the change of its name to British Motor Holdings (BMH) and it took effect from that moment.
Early in 1968 BMH merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation (LMC) to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC), 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. Under BLMC the Pressed Steel-Fisher business became the Pressed Steel Fisher division.
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.
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—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. So ended Prestcold domestic appliances.
Industrial refrigeration supplied on a large scale to supermarkets and food retailing groups was to continue for many years operating out of the Theale site nr. Reading.
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.
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.