WITHOUT him, Cowley’s car plant might never have existed.

But after falling out with William Morris, his friend and mentor, Leonard Lord vowed to destroy what he had once helped build.

Lord, later to become Baron Lambury, died in 1967, leaving mysteriously little documentary evidence about his time in Oxford.

But today a new entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography sheds more light on a man who helped make Cowley the centre of a formidable global business.

The national reference book contains biographies of more than 55,000 people who shaped the history of Britain, and Lord is one of 60 men and women credited with changing British motoring to feature in the new edition.

He was born in Coventry in 1896, and began life as a draughtsman.

In 1922 he began working for a company which made power units for Morris cars, and through this met and quickly impressed William Morris.

Their working partnership saw Morris Motors thrive, and Lord was appointed managing director in 1933.

He modernised the Cowley plant using mass production techniques first used by Ford in America.

But his relationship with William Morris – later Lord Nuffield – soured in 1936.

Author of the entry, historian at the Heritage Motor Centre Gillian Bardsley, said: “When Nuffield eventually fell out with his protégé it was not because of Lord's forceful personality.

“Having promised to step back from the business now he was in his mid-50s, Nuffield found himself unable to cede the amount of control Lord had begun to feel was due to him. The personal rift which developed between them was deeply hurtful to both men.”

According to Lord’s biographer, Martyn Nutland, he vowed: “I am going to take that business at Cowley apart, brick by bloody brick.”

Following the split, Lord moved to the firm’s big rival, Austin, where he modernised the Longbridge plant in the same way he had done at Cowley.

In the 1950s he became chairman of the British Motor Corporation.

His production wizardry at Cowley ensured the Morris Eight became the best-selling small car in Britain, following its launch in 1934. And the iconic original Mini owes its existence to Lord.

In 1957, tired of seeing many cheap German cars on the road, he set about designing a true miniature car and gave teams a brief to create a small car that still had enough room for four people, and a boot. Mr Nutand said: “All you could ever find out about him was the fact he smoked a lot, swore a lot and nothing much else. Two quotes that stood out are ‘we are not in business to make motor cars – we are in business to make money’ and ‘if the door’s not open kick it open’.”

As the 1950s approached, Britain’s position as a motoring superpower weakened, and despite deep divisions a merger between Cowley and Longbridge became inevitable.

Lord was knighted in 1954, and became Baron Lambury of Northfield in 1962. He died in 1967 at home near Cirencester.


OTHER notables who feature in the new 2013 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

  • Dorothy Elizabeth Levitt (1882-1922), the first woman in Britain to compete in a motor race, and author of a pioneering manual on motoring for women
  • Sir Ernest Stenson Cooke (1874-1942), the first secretary of the Automobile Association
  • Albert Arthur Bill Durrant (1898-1984), engineer and designer of London, Transport’s Routemaster bus, introduced in 1959 and in service until 2005