Has the Marina truly gained classic status, four decades after its launch?
When British Leyland sets out to create a beautiful car, you get the Morris Marina.’ Um, yes. So ran the tagline BL’s advertising campaign for the Marina, begging the question of what would happen if British Leyland deliberately set out to design something that wasn’t beautiful. Answers on a postcard with an Allegro on the front, please.
To be fair to the Morris Marina, it was designed to be a middle-of-the-road motor, all the better to battle the conventional Cortina, thus leaving Austin as the avant garde innovator of the BL family. And this 1971 successor to the Minor didn’t do that badly in the marketplace, selling close to a million. Available in 1275cc and 1798cc form – and, from 1978, with a 1695cc O-series engine too – the Marina came in saloon and coupé formats; at least nobody could say punters didn’t have a wide choice. Now, however, the Marina has become one of the epitomes of Seventies automotive cool, finally appreciated because it does stand out as an icon of its epoch. Why buy an MGB when you can get the same engine in a Marina coupé with even wilder handling for a lot less money? Welcome to British Leyland’s Mustang…
1971 Marina 1.8 TC
Power (bhp@rpm) 95bhp@5250rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 106lb ft@2600rpm
Top speed 100mph
Gearbox 4-spd manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Coming as it does from the golden age of British Leyland, it’s not really surprising that Marinas rust both outside and in, thanks to poor weather sealing that allows water into the boot and the interior. Sills corrode from their edges inwards, which will then spread to the floorpans and wheelarches. Front wings are another weak spot – they’ll go towards their trailing edge, as well as just above the headlamps. Look for trouble in the headlamp panels themselves, as well as the valance, both front and rear. Under the bonnet, search for signs of rust beneath the hinge mounts.
Some Marinas had stainless steel wheelarch trims; nice to look at, even better at promoting tinworm. But a Marina arch is perfectly capable of corroding even without the trim, especially the rear ones. Search for signs of trouble in the inner arches as well, not just what is easy to see on the outside.
Blocked drainholes will cause the bottom of the doors to frizz, and the hinges also wear out, causing the doors to drop when opened. It’s most likely to occur on the oft-opened fronts.
Inside, check underneath the carpets and mats for a rusty floorpan; a leaking windscreen will let in water. Another area where damp infiltrates is under the vinyl roof (if fitted), so feel for crunchiness, especially at the edges of the covering. Don’t forget to look in the boot the corners like to corrode, and with them go the jacking points and the rear spring hangers. The boot lid edges corrode, and rear lamp panels go too, something else which allows water into the boot to wreak havoc.
Three engines populated the Marina’s engine bay the good old 1275cc A-series and the 1798cc B-series beloved of MGB owners were available from launch, the O-series unit of 1695cc popped up in 1978. The A-series is a tough enough unit, although it has its work cut out with the heavy Marina. Look for signs of oil being burnt and listen for nasty noises from within, although you should also expect some tappet and timing chain chatter. It’s an A-series, they all do that. The B-series engine suffers similar ailments – smoke on the overrun is the biggest pointer to a failing powerplant – but should last longer than the A-series because it is less stressed. The O-series unit has few issues so long as the cambelt has been changed every 48,000 miles – or even earlier, if you want to be on the safe side.
Manual transmissions tend to wear out their linkages quite easily, with first gear often difficult to reach unless you go via second. Gearboxes don’t generally last that long, with failing synchromesh a sure sign of advanced wear, along with noisy first and reverse gears. Clutch judder is quite common as well, the culprits being worn gearbox mountings, propshaft universal joints, failing rear shock absorbers or rear antiroll bar bushes that have seen better days. If you hear a creaking when the clutch is pressed, the operating fork is probably cracked; ultimately it will break and you’ll lose the ability to change gear altogether. Hydraulics also play up, through leaks and the slave cylinder mounting bracket breaking. Elsewhere, propshaft centre bearings split, differentials leak (which will lead to whining) and the universal joint at the back of the propshaft can seize. A squeal when the clutch is taken up points to the spigot bearing in the flywheel needing lubrication. A limited number of Marinas had automatic transmissions, which, by contrast, have few major foibles, but they are difficult to find.
Front and rear anti-roll bars came along in 1975, and these cars handle far better than their predecessors. Heavy steering is often the result of seized swivel pins, which should be greased every 3000 miles. Try to ascertain if this has been done, and look for uneven tyre wear as further evidence of it not having been carried out. Worn tie rod bushes will also cause this, although this will probably be accompanied by steering vibration too. That said, worn wheel bearings also have this symptom, although you’ll usually hear a drone to accompany it. Pre-1975, 1.3 cars had brake drums all round, but from October of that year, discs were fitted to the front of all models. Look for a car with a servo too – some pre-1974 models didn’t have one. Aside from the automatic adjusters playing up on some early Marinas, the brakes are usually well-behaved.
Marina interiors often look tatty, so buy the best you can. Cloth seats split or go baggy, while vinyl ones will crack, especially the top of the rear seats, which can get damaged by the sun. The big, bright ball of fire in the sky also affects dashboard tops.
Carpets wear out quite easily. And any electrical faults are likely to be earthing problems or else corroded connections, as these are quite simple machines when it comes to electrics.
Like Marmite and Milton Keynes, you either love the Marina or hate it. If you’re in the latter camp, then nothing you’ve read here will change your mind. However, if you understand the whole kitsch kudos of a Seventies Marina – which have now become a motoring legend of the decade which coughed them out – then we’re wondering why you haven’t already bought at least two already? After all, at these sort of prices, it’s almost rude not to.