Sixty years ago today, an Oxford icon was born. On September 20, 1948, the first-ever Morris Minor rolled off the Cowley production line and into the hearts of the nation.

With bulbous lines shaped by Mini creator Alec Issigonis and family-friendly practicality, 1.6 million Minors were sold in a 23-year lifespan.

Ann Ford, from Didcot, the assistant secretary of the Morris Minor Owners' Club, said: "It's an icon. It's the one British marque which seems to have survived the test of time.

"You don't see many Ford Anglias or Hillman Imps on the roads any more. It's just an iconic part of Britain and Oxford's industrial history."

The Minor, or Mosquito as it was known during development, was unveiled to critical acclaim at the London Motor Show in 1948.

The Autocar magazine proclaimed: "The ants were round the honey pots on wheels. Four at a time they could be seen trying the seats of the Cowley Minor."

Former Cowley worker Len Carter has owned a dozen of them and will be among hundreds of enthusiasts marking the car's special birthday today at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire.

The 78-year-old from north Oxfordshire started work at Morris Motors in the mid-1950s and spent 25 years at Cowley.

He said: "I worked all over the place, in so many of the departments, like paint, trim and inspection. I'm originally from Surrey, but I came over to Blenheim Palace as a joiner after the war.

"However, there was more money at the Morris factory even though I was a skilled worker, so I upped sticks and moved, as did many men. There were undergraduates and all sorts at the factory.

"I remember I would earn £17, 10s as a joiner, but I came home from my first week at the factory with £27, 10s just for putting nuts and screws on things."

Mr Carter currently has two Minors — a two-door 1970 in maroon, one of the last two-doors to have been made — and an early 1968 in Trafalgar blue.

He said: "I've had Minors all the way through, from the side-valve ones, to Travellers, two-door and four-door ones.

"What is so special about them is just their out-and-out simplicity to work on and their reliability. You can get spare parts even today.

"With modern cars, even the local garage can't fix them if they go wrong. They need to be plugged into some kind of computer system just to see what's wrong with them.

"We've got 14,000 people in the Morris Minor Owners' Club, and although not all of them have one, there are probably still 10,000 or so who do."

THE first car off the production line, a two-door saloon with the registration plate NWL 576, is housed at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon.

The car would have cost £358, 10s 7d new. Original plans to produce 400 cars a week were soon scrapped as the Minor's popularity grew — 600 were wheeled out of Cowley each week by spring 1949.

The car's worldwide appeal, and the process of exporting vehicles from Oxford in flat-pack form for assembly overseas, led to expansion of the works in 1949.

By the early 1950s, Cowley was said to be the most advanced car plant in Europe. In 1952, the Nuffield Organisation, which included Morris Motors, merged with the Austin Motor Company to form the British Motor Corporation.