MORRIS MINOR REVIEW

The Morris Minor was launched at the Earls Court Motor Show in 1948 against a background of austerity in Britain, where fuel rationing was still very much a reality. It represented a shift away from the large capacity cars that were popular before the war towards the smaller, more frugal motorcar. The man to spearhead this revolution was Sir Alec Issigonis – who would go on to perform the same trick years later when he designed the Mini.

The first series of cars are known as MM models, and were in production from 1948 to 1953. Though they were originally designed to carry a flat-four engine, late in the design process this was changed to the 918cc Morris sidevalve engine that was found in the Morris 8. The motor produced 27.5bhp and allowed the Minor a top speed of 64mph, but the main selling point was its fuel economy – it drank one gallon every 33 miles. Initially the Minor was only offered as a two or four-door saloon, but by 1950 a four-seat tourer had been added to the lineup, offering the British public budget top-down motoring.

By 1952 the now antiquated ‘split screen’ Minor was very dated. A heater was only offered as an option with the introduction of a proper water pump late in the run, and the sidevalve engine was reaching the end of its life cycle. So it was that the updated Series II car began production in 1952. Aside from the one-piece windscreen, the most notable change was the engine – disposing of the asthmatic sidevalve of the Morris 8 in favour of the new 803cc A-series overhead valve design, which was developed for the Minor rival, the Austin A30.As well as the engine improvements, the model range was also updated with the addition of pickup, convertible and van variants – and of course, the ever popular Traveller.

In 1956 the Morris Minor received another well-needed revamp. Though the ageing looks were left practically untouched, vital upgrades were made to modernise the car including the addition of indicators (in place of the old trafficators) and an increase in engine capacity to 948cc. This gave the Minor fractionally more real world performance at a time when other cars of the day were becoming quicker and quicker.

By 1961 the millionth Minor had been produced, and by way of celebration BMC launched a commemorative model, the Minor Million. Every Minor Million featured the same Lilac bodywork and white interior combination, and were only available in two-door configuration. In total only 350 of these cars were produced, and as such will command a premium over a standard Minor in comparative condition. Almost 50 years before Skoda created their Fabia from cake, Morris had done the same, delivering a Minor Million – made from entirely edible components – to the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

By 1962 the Minor received its last major updates – notably an increase in engine capacity to 1098cc. Though it didn’t improve fuel economy, it did offer much more spirited performance, and these cars are the most usable on today’s roads.

Prices start at around £1000 for a Minor saloon in usable condition, but budget double that for a smart car. Restoration costs can mount, so it’s a good idea to buy the best your budget will allow.

When you get into a Fintail, you can’t fail to be impressed by how spacious it is, especially compared with modern cars. You sit high up on a fairly firm seat and the wheel in front of you with its chrome horn ring seems just huge. Then there’s that extraordinary vertical strip speedometer, a column change (in most cars) and an umbrella handbrake under the dash.

None of the engines is particularly quiet, a failing of most OHC designs of the time. Worn engines can be very noisy at the top end, though. The gears slot in nicely, although the intermediates don’t feel ideally spaced. Automatics work well enough but the changes can be a bit rough. 

On the road, you’ll quickly adapt to the car’s natural rhythm. The suspension is very soft, and on later cars a Boge self-levelling strut at the rear was used to prevent tail-end droop when laden. All that of course makes for plenty of suspension wallow over bumps and plenty of cornering roll, but a Fintail soon begins to feel right, and after a while you’ll forget how old the car is and will settle down to enjoying the drive. That’s it – you’re hooked!

 

VITAL STATISTICS

MORRIS MINOR 1000

 

Engine                                    1098cc/4-cylinder/OHV

 

 

Power (bhp@rpm)                  48bhp@5100rpm

 

 

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 60lb ft@2500rpm

 

 

Top speed                                77mph

 

 

0-60mph                                  22.2sec

 

 

Consumption                           38mpg

 

 

 

Gearbox                                   4-speed manual

 

 


 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

Hot spots for corrosion are: sills, wheelarches, headlamp fixings, bumpers, panel gaps, door hinges and wings. All manner of rust can be hiding on the underside of the car, too. Your best bet is to inspect the bodywork as thoroughly as possible and in good light.  

Woodwork on Traveller estates requires attention, as it is prone to rotting if the car hasn’t been cared for. Look out for discolouration or softness, particularly where the different sections join together (below).  

The suspension components need greasing regularly – as often as every 3000 miles is recommended. Let it slack, and the trunnions and swivel pins can wear out quickly, but this isn’t fatal as replacements are cheap and easy to find. The leaf spring set-up at the rear is pretty archaic, and many owners have swapped the lower arm dampers for telescopic items. However, the dampers can rub against the tyres if they haven’t been fitted correctly.

 

ENGINE

Listen out for a deep thudding sound when starting the engine. If this is evident until the oil light goes out then the bearings in the engine are probably worn, which may necessitate a rebuild. 

Remove the radiator cap and have a look at the coolant inside. If you can see any traces of oil on top of the coolant then there may be a head gasket problem. The usual check for a white and creamy residue on the inside of the oil filler cap will also affirm any issues with the head.  

 

ELECTRICS

The electrics are incredibly simple, so there’s not much to worry about other than age-related wear or bodged stereo fittings. Cars that see regular use will benefit from modern additions like an alternator, electric screen washer and halogen headlamps, so don’t be surprised or scared off by such upgrades, as they’re usually worthwhile. 

 

 

RUNNING GEAR

Don’t worry about a slight whirring sound when accelerating in first gear. This is perfectly normal and is simply a characteristic of the Morris. What should cause concern is a grinding noise, which indicates wear in the gearbox. 

 

BRAKES

All Minors came with front and rear drum brakes, which are fine as long as they’re set-up correctly and in good condition. Retrofitted front disc brakes and a servo aren’t uncommon and, again, are fine as long as the work has been done properly. Problems are more likely to come from the brake master cylinder, which sits under the driver’s footwell and is exposed to road debris. Swapping them is easy enough. 


INTERIOR

Interiors will obviously vary dramatically from car to car, but don’t be too worried about a cabin that’s a little rough around the edges. Trim is readily available and very cheap, so sourcing new bits is rarely an issue. Bakelite switches found on early models are the only components that are tricky to track down, but more durable plastic replacements are available. Series I and II cars came with leather trim, while later models got vinyl. Retrofitted leather isn’t uncommon on later cars. 

 

 

OUR VERDICT

There’s a wonderful chumminess about the Morris Minor, a car that seesm to so perfectly sum up happy family life in the 60s.

The curvaceous, sit-up-and-beg looks, friendly face and everyman image render it one of the most affable classic cars around. That’s far from the extent of its appeal though, as the Moggy proved hugely popular when it arrived in 1948, then known as the MM or Low Light because the headlamps originally sat low down in the grille. 

The saloon and the Tourer (convertible) were the first versions on the market, but when the Series II Minor appeared in 1952, the Traveller estate version followed a year later. Its external ash frame added an extra dose of charm and Travellers are now the most coveted of all Minors. 

Over 1.3 million were built, so it’s still very easy to find a Minor in any kind of condition. We defy you not to be able to find one, even locally, such is their enduring popularity. Fantastically simple engines, a huge parts supply and strong club support make ownership all the more attractive, too.

If you must have an early Minor then be prepared to hunt for a good one and set aside some time to look for parts and get to your destinations. For many, the easy going appeal of the later 1000 will prevail. It is neither difficult, nor expensive to come by a tidy example, and there are so many around that you can afford to be picky. 

Mint Travellers can change hands for £10,000, which seems like a lot for a Moggy, but that puts their increasing desirability into perspective. 

We reckon that £5000 for a Minor 1000 in good nick is a reasonable price, and one that could pay dividends in years to come if the cars continue to grow in value. The timeless appeal of the Morris means that it probably will, too. 

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