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If the Morris Minor saloon is the most easily recognised classic, then the wonderful, wood framed Traveller estate has got to be the most useful.
What is a Morris Minor Traveller?
If the Morris Minor saloon is the most easily recognised classic, then the wonderful, wood framed Traveller estate has got to be the most useful. With its double rear doors, van like shape and extreme practicality, it can still make sense as family wheels with a difference, but examples with wood rot problems can be worryingly expensive to put right. Here’s how to buy a good one.
Launched in 1948, the original Minor saloon was a brilliantly conceived design which mixed robustness, fine handling and space efficiency. It was created by engineering purist and car design genius Sir Alec Issigonis, and should have had a flat four engine – hence the wide engine bay and spacious working environment surrounding production version’s in line engines. The half timbered Traveller didn’t appear until 1953, when Morris merged with Austin to form the BMC combine. The car followed the ‘woody’ styling and build ideas found on some pre-World War 2 American estates, and some specially converted ‘shooting break’ bodies fitted by coachbuilders to British, separate chassis saloons.
It employed ash framing and alloy panels, and its launch coincided with the launch of Series 2 Minors, with raised headlamps and the fabulous A Series engine, borrowed in 803cc guise from the Austin A30. These early Series 2 Travellers still had split windscreens, and today few survive. Unlike Minors in van and pickup guises, which had separate chassis sections, the Traveller was based on the two door saloon’s integral underframe, which would inevitably flex more, so using wood, which is more pliant, made sense, and the ash framing is part of the car’s structure. The timbered sections and metal roofs fabricated at a BMC-owned joinery in Birmingham, before final assembly in Cowley. Later, BMC even experimented with plastic sections and rear doors, and at least one prototype survives.
Along with the saloons, Minor Travellers gained curved windscreens in Series 3 guise, and items like flashing trafficators, and 1,098cc A Series engines as the range matured. By 1961 1000,000 Minors had been sold in saloon, convertible, van forms – a first for a British car. Even in its late 1960s the Minor was finding 60,000 buyers a year, and had outlived the Wolseley 1500, originally conceived as a replacement. Minor convertible
production stopped in 1969, saloons went the following year. The practical Traveller outlived them all, as it was kept in production alongside the unlovely Marina saloon, until estate versions of that car appeared in 1971.
A lot of Minors have been modified to keep pace with current driving conditions, and appropriate upgrades don’t damage values. Desirable changes include fitting servo brake kits. Cleveland-based Minor specialist Tom Roy (01642- 723400) charges £150 for the servo, pipe work and fittings. He says fitting takes less than five hours and will charge £18/hour for his labour.Using Marina front disc brakes and servos used to be big business, but
the stock of Marina parts is fast vanishing. Five-speed gearbox upgrades, often using a Ford Sierra transmission, modified bell housing and propshaft are popular too. Sussex-based Morris Minor Spares (01580-200203) sells a complete kit with recon box for £860, or £430 if you supply the gearbox.
There are other, cheaper conversions on the market, so compare prices and specifications. Other improvements include shock absorber kits which allow the front lever arms to be replaced by telescopic units (you’ll pay £136 plus VAT for a kit from Charles Ware in Bath (01225-315449)), plus a refundable £30 surcharge to exchange the old lower wishbones, which have to be modified, along with the telescopic shock’s top link, which needs a retaining plate welded in place. With upgraded brakes and suspension, it’s amazing how well these car take extra power, and everything from MG Rover K-Series motors, to Rover V8s and Fiat twin cams have been fitted to them.
Good, usable Travellers change hands from about £2000, although if you’re lucky and have some mechanical aptitude and find a physically solid, but mechanically frail one, it could be a real bargain, perhaps secured for under a grand. There are some really pretty, beautifully presented cars on the market – not the sort of thing to fill with garden rubbish and take to the dump – and it’s possible to pay anything from £3000 to £6000 for a better-to immaculate example.
Overall, Minor values have calmed down a lot since the vastly inflated prices asked for them in the late 1980s, but the Traveller’s everyman nature means that some owners believe tired, neglected cars are still worth a mint. They’re not, and it pays to shop around. Auctions and private sales are prime targets but don’t ignore a Minor specialist for a good deal either.
What To Look For
- Unlike the early Mini estates, the Traveller’s woodwork forms part of the structure, cars will fail the MOTs if it rots out, and although replacement panelling is readily available, putting this right can be a pricy – think a grand plus for a car that might be worth £1500, and getting this timber right can be a complex business.
- Steve Foreman, of Chichester-based Minor timber fabricators Woodies (01243-788660/www.morriswoodwork.co.uk), says later cars used inferior timber varnishes and wood preservatives (which were sprayed on rather than dipped), so are more prone to problems.
- The long wooden rails below the sliding rear side windows is the most obvious weakness. They can act as a water trap, and rot out around the window channels (moss and peeling lacquer are prime warning signs). The glass should be removed every five years and the channels cleaned and treated to prevent rot. Sections where the timber frame joins the roof panel can give trouble too. Generally, it pays to check the entire timber structure, majoring on water traps and joints.
- Including VAT, Steve can supply a complete woodwork kit for about £1000, but this will need decent chippying skills to fit, as breaking old glued joints can be problematic, and reveal other timber ailments.
- Properly fettling a Travellers’ woodwork is time consuming, which is why he’d charge another £2000 to completely refit one with the Americansourced ash sections Woodies make and sell.
- As for general Minor maladies, look at the trailing edge of the front wings and the inner panel work behind them. Rotten Minor front wings that detach themselves from the B post ends. A vertical line of rust on the wings is a sign of trouble Check the inner and outer sills, floor pans, boot floor, inner wings and rear suspension hanging points. You should find two tubular metal sections welded to the car’s undersides near the front doors. These are the jacking points. These can crack and watch out for examples where these are missing and remember that quite clean looking cars can be rotten underneath.
- Listen for weary engine big end bearings. Other common mechanical problems with the usually trusty A Series include smoky engines, cam wear and general lack of care. The good point is that they are so easy to repair.
- Noisy transmissions with ’boxes that jump out of gear, particularly in cheaper cars is common, although old ’boxes can soldier on for years even when worn. Five-speed Ford Sierra units can be fitted and that added cog really helps motorway work.
- The front suspension stub axle ‘trunnion’ assemblies need regular greasing, or the front wheels can drop off. Check grease points and suspension joints for signs of appropriate lubrication. Stiff steering and lack of self centring are warning signs too. The lever arm shock absorbers aren’t noted for longevity, so look out for leaks, and down-at-heel front ends and wandering handling.
For the price of an ageing Vauxhall Corsa you could get behind the wheel of charming Morris Minor Traveller as a family second run-about, which ultimately has more space, if looked after (clean that frame, varnish that wood) won’t depreciate in value and will certainly provide you with a lot more fun – just make sure you don’t invest in a soggy Moggie with tired timber. There’s many around…
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