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Morris Minor

Morris Minor Published: 18th Aug 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Morris Minor

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Tourers (convertibles)
  • Worst model: Early sidevalvers
  • Budget buy: 1000 four-door
  • OK for unleaded?: No, needs converting/additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 3759 x W 1549mm
  • Spares situation: Excellent and keenly priced, too
  • DIY ease?: As simple as an old push bike
  • Club support: As good as you will find anywhere
  • Appreciating asset?: Only the top ones
  • Good buy or good-bye?: More than a car, they are a way of life
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The British Beetle remains a great classic that’s ideal for students and pensioners alike. Super easy to own and run with as much smiles per mile than any Ferrari but you must avoid the many rot boxes around…

Long live the Morris Minor! Lord Nuffield hated it, his company neglected it and nurse Gladys Emmanuel stereotyped it, but the Morris Minor enjoyed an incredible 23-year production run. Minors make sense; when somebody as discerning as Dave Richards says that this Morris is ‘all you need’, then take notice.

Richards is the ex-rally co-driver who made Subaru Imprezas sexy as well as successful, helped Honda return to F1 and owns Aston Martin. Yet, despite having the pick of any new DB, he prefers his humble Morris for pottering around. Richards has discovered what Morris Minor fans have known for decades; that this utterly orthodox car still makes a superb classic runabout that’s as pleasing to use as it is practical. What’s more, they are super easy to run and maintain and become more than just transport but a part of the family.

History

1948 Codenamed Mosquito series MM, otherwise known as the low-light, due to the headlamps being mounted low down in the grille is announced, available as a two-door saloon, or a convertible named Tourer. Designed for a flat-four engine, the suspension features and usually wide track that’s retained when a conventional Morris sidevalve engine is used instead.

1952/3 Series II is introduced with main change being a 30bhp A-Series overheadvalve engine. Estate called the Traveller débuts in 1953 (interestingly it’s said that despite being a hugely popular model, Morris never made money on it due to its specialist part wood build that added 25 per cent to production costs…).

1956/7 Major changes saw launch of Minor 1000, with the engine upped from 803cc to 948cc, and the deletion of the quirky split windscreen design (originally done to save money). Also, the rear wings were made deeper and a new front swivel set up was fitted to the suspension. A year later, fuel tank capacity was enlarged and the Tourer’s hood became canvas.

1958/9 Rear suspension spring leaves are reduced from seven to five to improve ride quality. Also, the rear wings were made deeper and a new front swivel set up was fitted to the front suspension. Wider opening doors, more front foot space are some of the improvements a year later.

1961 Lilac-painted Million (pic) was built to celebrate a million Minors being produced, only 3550 were officially made, so watch for fakes! Around this time, some Minors (chiefly Travellers and commercials) were produced at the MG factory in Abingdon (which was having a strangely slack time despite the Midget coming on stream).

1962 Most major and final revise sees the 48bhp 1098cc A-Series engine adopted linked to a closer ratio gearbox with larger brakes stopping it. Proper flashing indicators replacing the original antiquated semaphore design now featured.

1965 Some character dialled out with the deletion of a separate starter knob, a switch from gold to black paint for the speedo and the loss of the metal-sprung steering wheel, but the boot became self supporting and the ‘clap hands’ wipers repositioned (in ’63).

1971 Apart from yet another air cleaner design (several were tried throughout the car’s life), a fresh air heater introduced, and the ‘clap hands’ wipers now made conventionally parallel, the Minor remained little changed until production ceased in 1971, to make way for the not dissimilar Marina range. Total Minor production was 1,619,958 with no less than 480,825 versions of the 1000 rolled off the lines, 108,000 of which were Travellers. The commercial range of vans and pick-ups (some oddly badged as Austins) survived another year, while the car lingered in New Zealand for a few years longer.

Driving and press comments

Charming is the best word to describe the Minor. Of course, for something that’s nearly 70 years old there’s only so much you can expect dynamically but tearing around in one is hardly the point of owning this Morris and, besides, there’s wide scope for upgrading the car – as many do – to make a Minor more acceptable for modern roads. Areas like the brakes and suspension are worth improving, and with off-the-shelf kits so easy to source, there’s no reason not to, nor enhancing refinement and creature comforts – it’s all down to your taste and budget. Try a modded Minor, if you can, as if well done they are a hoot to drive.

Unless you’re a bit of a Minor purist, a mid-50’s model is minimum Minor as the 948cc engine provides anything like remotely decent performance. It is also the sweetest of them all but the later 1098cc has more pull although nothing beats a well done 1275cc conversion.

The Morris’ road manners were a pure revelation in 1948, and are still a pleasure today. The rack and pinion steering is so light and precise it’s untrue even today and the torsion bar independent front suspension is also a delightful piece of design, even if the leaf-sprung live rear axle is somewhat cruder and liable to tramp, especially on tuned cars.

Rear seat passengers can travel in relative comfort, thanks to the placing of their bench seat ahead of the rear axle. On rough roads, the back end can hop around if driven hard through the corners, but it is generally easy to catch and correct. With so much glass and slim pillars, the all round visibility is excellent.

The press’ view of the car tapered off as the years rolled on. When it first appeared the Minor turned the small car market on its head and it was an innovative as the Mini that Alec Issigonis also designed a decade later. Here was a machine that was more spacious than most rivals, and quick enough at the time. When the split-screen variant gave way to the Minor 1000 in 1956, Motor was even more enthusiastic, claiming that “The Nuffield engineers have produced an outstanding little vehicle… The little car feels from the start like a thoroughbred. The rack and pinion steering is beautifully light and precise. The suspension is firm at speed but the ride is never harsh. The brakes are fully up to the performance potential, and a deliberate attempt to induce fade on a three-mile descent proved fruitless”. You may think differently now.

Autocar was similarly enthusiastic, especially with the new 948cc engine installed along with the car’s handling, roadholding and steering which it hailed was, “superior to those of any compatible small family car”, a point it emphasised by adding that testers covered 57miles in 68 minutes of night time driving! Comfort and refining was considered good although the fruity, farty exhaust note on the overrun was duly noted – though not in such terms…

A refresher test in 1961 saw the same magazine pointedly remark that with the influx of new designs “It is easy to forget how remarkably good is the Morris Minor 1000 as current small car choice” and still regarded the maturing Morris as “a strong contender” as the best car in its class.
However, the Minor quickly faded away and when Morris slotted in a 1098cc engine what was fascinating was how Motor’s testers had hardened their attitudes towards the car; it was obvious that this lightly revised design was rather long in the tooth. No longer was the mag impressed by the Minor’s visibility, packaging, driving position, ergonomics and handling. But at least they still loved the Minor’s steering, gear change and more eager performance with its new, bigger engine.

Values and marketplace

The most desirable (and practical) Minors are the 1000 Traveller and Tourer versions where mint examples will set you back around £7000 easily and truly concours ones (or a Charles Ware special) often sell for five figures easily. Between £2500 and £5500 appears to be the typical outlay for a decent and pretty presentable runner that’s not a liability.

Modded Minors may carry a slight price premium depending on what’s been done and it’s rare to find a totally standard car because they are easy to improve plus, nine times out of ten, they are worthwhile deviations from standard – such as a disc brake conversion, for instance.

Charles Ware’s Morris Minor Centre says 1000s make great daily drivers and adds around 70 per cent are used as second cars. It recommends a post ’63 model (proper key start, improved heater) with a Marina-based front disc brake conversion as an ideal runaround. Most folk go for the versatile Traveller, with the convertible the next popular pick due to its style plus the fact that it’s a compact fourseater rag top. Mark Havard of Canterbury Convertibles (01227 720306) says, like MGBs, prices only rise steadily so they can’t drop as a consequence and make good daily drivers although adds many who own one aren’t necessarily enthusiasts either. With some 35 years experience, Havard advises buying the best from the outset and while convertible conversions can be okay says, as with antiques, why buy a fake when you can own the real thing!

Improvements

It’s rumoured that during the same time certain models were being made at the famous MG plant a ‘Minor GT’ was halfheartedly considered using Midget power. It never happened of course but there’s lot you can do to make one for modern use, such as Midget power.

If you’re not too worried about originality it’s worth fitting a 1275cc powerplant, as it just slots into the engine bay, single carb for original looks or in full Midget tune. You can, of course, tune the smaller engines with higher performance heads and cams but the 1275cc engine is better, gives the same performance lift in an easier manner and doesn’t affect insurance loadings as it’s now an accepted upgrade.

Drum brakes, if in good condition with harder linings (try the new Mintex Classic range) the system is quite okay for the job but a servo may help with pedal loads. In fact, Havard says discs are a “waste of money” for many drivers. However, it’s worth trying a car with disc brakes at the front to see how you like them.

Gearbox parts can be hard to obtain so you may need to use a Midget unit. Some get round this as well as their inherent weakness by fitting a Ford Type 9 unit; as this offers five gears with good intermediate ratios (Vitesse is developing a Mazda MX-5 ’box – see News-ed). Such conversions are very popular – even if it does intrude on floor space – as it gives the car the ability to cruise happily at 70mph but is only effective if the engine is tuned to around 60bhp to pull that ratio – another reason for a 1275cc swap. A cheaper alternative is to use a taller axle ratio from a Midget.

Just £314 buys a full Spax telescopic damper conversion kit from ESM Minor. Polybush the front end for £116 and these upgrades will take care of the suspension.

The primitive nature of the electrical system also doesn’t lend itself to modern driving conditions, so it’s worth converting to an alternator for £60 if anticipating using the car more frequently, as well as fitting halogen headlamps (£40), two speed wipers (£112), and an electric screen washer system (£30). If you intend to have such upgrades perhaps a new wiring loom at £100 is also a pretty wise investment. Even if you don’t want to mod your Morris, fitting electronic ignition (£30) has to be a good thing. One particular priceless ‘improvement’ is your lifestyle thanks to a brilliant club and show scene!

What To Look For

Body and chassis

  • It doesn’t matter how good a Minor looks on the surface – there’s a good chance it’ll be hiding major structural corrosion somewhere, because they rot from the inside out. Also it doesn’t really matter how good the car appears elsewhere, if the car’s structure is shot it’s usually fit for parts only.
  • Thanks to excellent panel availability, if the outer panels look a bit ropey you needn’t be too concerned about sourcing replacements, although the cost will add up if a lot of work is needed. If it looks tatty on the outside, there’s a good chance the monocoque to which they bolt is in need of some serious TLC …
  • The Traveller’s woodwork is structural; it’s not possible to patch it up or do a section at a time. That means doing the whole lot in one go, which costs around £2500, which is similar to cost of a proper central cross member and sill repair.
  • The rear spring hangers are one of the most important things to look at because repair is so complicated. A lasting repair can take up to a day for each side (£300), but the whole underside needs close inspection – especially the rear chassis extensions and front chassis legs. In the latter case these extend either side of the engine and have a habit of rusting from the inside out. Once you can see rot it’s time for the whole leg to be replaced.
  • Cover panels on the underside of the floorpan were popular in the 1980s – great for hiding problems but not so good at solving them. These will probably have been replaced by now – if not, whatever original metal was behind them will probably have rotted away.
  • Other common rot spots include the sills and doors, the latter rotting along the bottom edge and across the underside. Finding original replacement doors is difficult, although they can be rebuilt because good quality repair panels are available. Vans, pick-ups and four-door saloons used the same doors as each other while a different version was fitted to Tourers, and Travellers. New Heritage wings cost £250.
  • It’s possible to buy a kit to convert a two-door saloon into a drop-top. Done properly, there’s no huge cause for concern, but not all cars are converted safely and sometimes such hybrids are palmed off as genuine cars – and priced accordingly!

General

  • It’s not so much that there’s a lot to check on a Minor or that it is unreliable but to do the car justice, if you want comprehensive advice on vetting a car then visit our website (see below). We’d certainly advise on contacting an owners club and having a chat as they know where the best cars lurk and we’d drive a few to gain a datum – standard and modified.
  • There’s a veritable cottage industry in Morris Minor specialists and this includes companies which can make you a ‘new’ one to your spec which may prove to be the best policy if you intend to keep yours for a long time. Charles Ware is perhaps the best known for this (http://www.morrisminor.org.uk), the breadth of improvements and bespoke builds are amazing – you really can make a Morris Minor to suit you!

Engine

  • Although the sidevalve engine is reliable enough sharing much with the Morris Eight Series E, the 918cc unit’s condition can suffer as a result of owners not knowing how to maintain the engine properly. Exhaust valves burn out as a result of incorrect tappet adjustment because they’re not easy to set correctly.
  • The next engine fitted was the 803cc version of the A-series. Unless you’re happy to amble along at pedestrian speeds these units are best avoided, although if the powerplant is tired it could be the perfect chance to drop in a larger unit.
  • The first of the really usable engines was fitted to post-1956 cars, in the form of the 948cc A-series unit. Incredibly durable and reliable, these motors will rack up 150,000 miles quite happily if looked after and are the sweetest runners of the three A-series capacities used.
  • When an A-Series does start to wear out the first signs will be exhaust smoke under power, noisy tappets and reduced performance. There may also be big-end knocks when the engine is started, timing chain rattle and an oil light that’s slow to go out because of the reduced oil pressure. They’re an easy engine to repair and inexpensive to replace.

Running gear

  • The only model that has reasonably good gearbox parts supply is the 1098cc car, with the 803cc and 948cc versions having very patchy availability; even the casings were different.
  • The rear axle and propshaft are reliable, but at some point the diff will wear out. You can tell that replacement is imminent if it gets noisy when you lift off once up to speed, so expect to pay £350 for a rebuilt unit; a recon gearbox is more like £500.
  • Trunnions and swivel pins at the front wear out unless they’re greased at least every 3000 miles or three months – although twice as often as this, if possible, is desirable. If they’re allowed to wear enough the swivel pin will pull out of the trunnion altogether, although this will probably only happen at parking speeds when the loading on the suspension is at its highest. But with a new kingpin leg including both top and bottom trunnions costing well under £100, it’s not the end of the world.
  • The rear suspension is primitive but easy to service. It’s worth checking that the leaf springs are in good order – especially front mounting. If you do decide to convert the front suspension to telescopic dampers, for which you’ll expect to fork out £75 per side; it’s also worth fitting an anti-roll bar as well.
  • The brake master cylinder lives inside the chassis rail, and the front suspension has to be partly dismantled to get at it. Consequently, it suffers neglect because it’s out of sight it’s also usually out of mind. But swapping old for new isn’t a problem and at just £50 for a new unit it’s not a costly exercise. If a disc conversion has been carried out, was it a kit or a DIY hotch-potch of parts?

Three Of A Kind

Austin 1100/1300
Austin 1100/1300
If you want an Austin with the period charm of the Minor you’re better off tracking down the Minorbased Riley 1.5 or Wolseley 1500. The later 1100 and 1300 were up against the Minor in its dotage and being more modern these cars are more usable with a roomy cabin plus a brilliant ride and handling.
Ford Anglia 105E
Ford Anglia 105E
After the 100E that came before, the 105E was a revelation with its bold styling and overhead-valve engine that was easy to tune. It still is, so squeezing a few extra horses out of it is simplicity itself, and as with the Minor there’s an estate option so practicality is on the menu – if you can find one that is.
Triumph Herald
Triumph Herald
With its all-round independent suspension, choice of saloon, coupé, estate or convertible body styles there’s a Herald for everyone. Early 948cc cars are breathless (and rare) but later Heralds with 1147cc or 1296cc four-pots are more usable, especially if they’ve had an overdrive conversion.

Verdict

Minors are more than merely cars, they become part of the family so be warned – one will quickly worm its way into your heart and household. They are so practical and pragmatic and yet always fun too that, with suitable upgrades, turns one into a viable urban daily driver. Easy to own and maintain with fantastic specialist and club support, there’s well over 5000 still around so take your time when making the not so minor decision to own one. Just don’t get a cheap but rusty one warn the experts.



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