Go back to article: Adapting to the emergence of the automobile: a case study of Manchester coachbuilder Joseph Cockshoot and Co. 1896–1939

Cockshoot in the interwar period: agency and sales

During the First World War Cockshoot produced bodies for Royal Flying Corps Crossley Tenders, a local motor manufacturer for whom Cockshoot had worked before.[27] However, in the interwar period the firm moved further away from coachwork and enhanced their role as motorcar agents. Up until 1914 Cockshoot produced 717 motorcar bodies, between 1920 and 1929 they produced 242, and between 1930 and 1939 as few as 68.[28] This follows a general trend in the coachbuilding industry as custom coachwork became less common with the majority of customers purchasing already finished motor cars. In the 1920s motorcar bodies were made as part of the production processes or outsourced to local coachbuilders. However, in the 1930s bodies began to be made from pressed steel, which saw a decline in coachbuilding skills (Lyddon, 1987, pp 585–586). There were a few exceptions. Firms like Hooper’s in London built nearly as many motorcar bodies in the 1930s as the 1920s; however, after the Second World War they too saw a decline in custom body orders (Brooks, 1979, 09009).

Cockshoot continued their association with Rolls-Royce into the interwar period making the occasional body and acting as regional agent. However, key to their survival and prosperity was their relationship with Morris, one of the three successful mass producers of the era. The first agency agreement with Morris was signed in September 1919 for a modest fifty cars.[29] However, as Figure 8 shows, the number of cars being supplied to Cockshoot was as high as 2,200 by 1925. This boom in sales coincided with the rapid rise in fortune for Morris, who became Britain’s market leader in 1923. It also shows the importance of gaining an agency for a popular car. A rise in car sales necessitated the opening of a new showroom in St Anne’s Square in 1927, increasing their potential. The first Morris Minor was delivered to the showroom, where it was advertised as the first £100 car, in 1930. John Norris remarked from memory that ‘within minutes the showroom was almost besieged by people wanting to see this new, cheap car’ (Brooks, 1979, 09009).

Figure 8

Line graph showing number of cars provided by Morris in the early twentieth century

Data from Cockshoot’s surviving dealership agreements

By 1924, with the number of cars taken by Cockshoot rapidly increasing, the agreement changed to include much more detail for sub-dealers, including rates of commission and rules of appointment. Whilst Cockshoot had the agency for East Lancashire and Cheshire, they were based solely in Manchester city centre until after the Second World War. So they relied on sub-dealers in the towns outside of Manchester. The agreement for the 1939 season described Cockshoot as ‘distributors’, overseeing the appointment of ‘dealers’ and ‘retail dealers’. There was a small fleet of nine demonstration models available and Cockshoot and its partnered dealers were selling four thousand of the various Morris vehicles a year. The contract also included increased advertising stipulation. No longer was it good enough to put up a sign outside, as per the 1919 agreement; 10 shillings per vehicle sold had to be spent on advertising by various means, reflecting an increased control over dealer operations from the start of the interwar period.[30]

At the back of each completed agreement, there was a schedule or ‘estimate of distributor’s monthly requirements of vehicles’. What is most striking, when these are filled in, is the difference between the schedules of the 1920s and those of the late 1930s. In the 1920s there is clear seasonal variation, with Cockshoot estimating higher sales of vehicles in the spring and early summer, with a big drop off in the autumn and winter months. For example, in the schedule for the 1923 season 43 cars were ordered for autumn and 102 for the summer.[31] By 1939 there is very little seasonal variation in Cockshoot’s estimate of requirements, with the biggest variation being 304 in August compared to 355 in May.[32] This shows how Cockshoot catered for a changing car culture, as motoring became an all-year-round activity. The Oxford and Cowley models sold in the 1920s were seen as summer touring cars, whereas the Morris cars of 1939 were designed for comfort in all weathers, also reflecting the change from open coachbuilding to mass produced pressed steel enclosed bodies.

So quick was the decline in Cockshoot’s motorcar bodybuilding that Brian Norris remarked of the 1930s that ‘We just kept on the coachbuilding side of the business to keep the old men happy. If ever it had been subject to cost analysis, we would have had a fit’ (Brooks, 1979, 09015).  However, the success of motorcar sales and the relationship with Morris secured the survival of the coachbuilding firm. Figure 9 shows the profit made throughout the interwar period, with the exception of the period around 1930. Notable also is the larger interwar profits compared to those of 1903–1914.

Figure 9

Bar graph showing profit taken by Cockshoot by year during the early twentieth centruy

Data gathered from profit and loss accounts

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170803/009