Morris Minor vs. Volkswagen BeetlePublished: 7th Mar 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!
Essex-based VW Bullibarn says there’s an even split between standard and modified cars with pre-1302 models the most desired even if the ‘Pregnant’ versions are the best developed as are Mexican models although poor rustproofing means they can look tattier than older bugs. Brighton-based VW Heritage is the outlet for VAG’s classic parts line and holds some 45,000 references with 35 per cent UK made. It says most Beetles are modified to some degree, if only to make them better for modern needs plus claims resto standards are better than ever. Zak Ware says there’s a great sense of community among Minor specialists to have parts made but a full restoration remains a big job, especially on barn finds and ‘Five-speed’ quotes are soaring due to lack of Type 9 boxes
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They were launched around the same time, are similarly styled and both offer excellent low cost classless classic motoring. But is it the Beetle or a Mosquito which has bitten you the deepest?
Do you like insects – of the automotive kind that is? Volkswagen had its Beetle while we had the (Morris Minor) Mosquito and both formed undying affection with their respective owners to this day, becoming part of the family.
When Volkswagen was touted around after WW2, nobody wanted this funny rear-engined, air-cooled bug on wheels (the name ‘Beetle’ was coined by Americans). Despite saving the project and starting production, our Government didn’t think it had any real future, while Ford (who usually knows where the wind blows) considered the whole thing a complete waste of money – as did the French Government. So it was given back to the West German folk – and some 23,000,000 cars later…
However, if we had taken the Volkswagen on, what would have happened to our Morris Minor, the British Beetle? Introduced at around the same time, ‘Mosquito’ as it was code-named, competed with the German as ‘Peoples’ Cars’ where, seven decades on, both continue to find new fans as fashionable, low-cost daily drivers. What bug have you caught though and is there a cure?
Which one to buy?
Patriotism or pragmatism?
For the average classic enthusiast, our Minor provides the most buying power. The Volkswagen comes with only two body styles, saloon or convertible, whereas the Brit comes in several forms: two and four-door saloons, Traveller estate, convertible and even van and pick-up variants. Well, doesn’t it?
Not quite, because you could also have a ‘Beetle’ in different configurations if you add the Type 3 derivatives such as the 1500 saloon and estate, the very neat 1600 fastback (pictured overleaf) and the 411, which were all based on a stretched Beetle floorpan for added space and comfort. However, while extremely popular in the US, Type 3s are pretty thin on the ground over here yet rarity does not mean they hold quite the same cachet and values as a proper Beetle although are finding favour with the customising crowd.
Much the same can be said for the Minor-based Riley 1.5 and Wolseley 1500 saloons, which are also the larger, more powerful and luxurious yet not as popular alternatives to its downmarket relation. While both the Morris and the VW remained fundamentally the same throughout their long and illustrious production runs, mechanically they changed considerably over the years, especially the VW which gained larger windows, 12-volt electrics, bigger engines (up to 1600cc) and revised suspension systems over the years.
Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Herbie fan, go for a post ’67 car and enjoy better spec and a more acceptable 1500cc engine option for today’s roads. If you want an automatic, only the Beetle obliges. Initially, it was a semi-auto ‘1500,’ but the 1300 and the 1600 (1302/1303) also gained this rare ’clutchless’ transmission even if it remains an acquired taste. The Type 3 1600s used a fully automatic transmission, incidentally.
The biggest changes to the Minor concerned their engines and the 1098cc Minor 1000 range from 1962 is the best bet for modern use, not simply due to the perkier and more robust engine but also because the Brit also gained proper flashing indicators as well!
Apart from the lilac-coloured ’Million Minors’ of 1961, only one trim level was provided by Morris where the Beetle had more choice as you’d expect from a car that was still in production until 2003, plus there were special offshoots like (1.3) GT and Jeans variants in the 1970s, when the ‘Pregnant looking’ bigger-engined 1303 variants were also made. Surprisingly, despite their many improvements (such as disc brakes and improved suspensions) these upmarket bugs are generally avoided in favour of the purist look.
Price-wise, Beetles can be significantly dearer with original split-screen variants selling in excess of £20,000, if concours, followed by the ‘oval’ rear window cars comfortably over ten grand, with good cars around £8-9000 which is going rate for top 1960-’78 models (and more for convertibles) but the 1302/1303 post the best value at £4-5000; rarer Type 3s now fetch more than these ‘Pregnant’ Beetles.
Minors prices are holding strong too so expect to pay between £3-6000 for a really nice saloon but convertibles, Traveller and even commercials can go for double if really special. There’s no shortage of bugs, especially Beetles, so be picky and beware of the temptation of a cheap restoration project which invariably exceeds the model’s value. Repairing the structural timber fame on Minor Travellers can relieve you of £3000 if repaired professionally, for example, with a full wood kit accounting for almost half the expense.
What’s the best to drive?
Similar yet different
Given the fact that both cars were made over 70 years ago, both understandably have a vintage feel about them, yet how they go about their business is completely different. Despite having the smallest of engines, the Minor feels the swifter and sharper, mainly due to the lusty characteristics of the hard working A-Series engine and inherent low gearing employed.
Factor in the gutsy nature of the 1098cc unit (11bhp over the smoother 948cc) and the Morris feels pleasingly brisk in town, whereas the bug feels like a slug. However, on the open roads the lazy Beetle comes into its own where the VW’s higher gearing and low-revving engines means they can be – and still are – cruised flat out on the Autobahns.
Strangely, the performance difference between say a 1300 and the 1500 engine isn’t particularly great – at 44bhp it’s only four horses to the good, for example. Similarly, the 1600 ‘Super Beetle’ could only muster 80mph according to tests at the time, although it’s far nippier through the gears.
Economy doesn’t vary much between the engines either, and quoted test figures at the time show that it was hard to better 35mpg in any Beetle.
When it comes to handling, the conventional Brit is the most predictable of the pair as well as fun. With its rack and pinion steering and torsion bar front suspension, the Minor still feels delightfully crisp (the Riley 1.5 spin off was a popular racer), although roadholding on skinny 145 radials is minimal and requires care, especially in the wet. The VW needs an even more measured drive, wet or dry, as its tail happy antics will give anybody new to oldies a skipped heart-beat or two, especially pre 1302 versions which sported a front suspension carried over to the Porsche 924.
Which do we prefer? It depends on the usage; the Morris is the nippier car around town but the VW is the more relaxed and realistic bet away from the urban jungle although bear in mind that many Minors are now uprated to make them better suited for today’s roads, such as 1275cc engines, five-speed transmissions and disc brake conversions, all of which vastly improve the Morris yet without diluting their character.
Owning and running
By and large, it’s a case of swings and roundabouts and overall there’s not much in it. There’s little argument that our Morris is the easiest to maintain at home care of its simpler mechanicals with an utterly conventional layout boasting better access, particularly to the engine. Add ease and cheapness of parts, plus terrific specialist back up, and the Minor surely must be one of the most inexpensive easy-going classics you can ever wish for.
Designed by Dr Porsche no less, the Beetle was fairly sophisticated for its era and even now requires special tools for certain jobs, although respected dodges and wrinkles can get you by. Parts and specialist support is easily on par with the Minor’s but the inherent build quality of the German was always demonstrably superior – it was, after all, the car which gave Volkswagen its famed reputation and it has dined out on ever since!
Another point in the VW’s favour is mammoth production run meaning that, in theory, you can have a nearly new Beetle and have the best of both worlds. That said, the Mexican-built Beetles made from ’78-’03 can be a but hit and miss. You’d think that the 1302/1302 models of the early 1970s would be good bets thanks to their superior suspension and brakes, both deemed good enough for Porsche but in bug circles they are not particularly liked, plus they have a strange reputation for rusting. Models from the 1950s and 60s are loved the most due to their cult status even if they’re harder to live with on a daily basis.
A point in the Minor’s favour is its conventional boot, which is more commodious than the front compartment of the VW. The Beetle counteracts this to some extent by having a dropdown rear seat for semi-estate practicality albeit an area that can only be accessed as you would by letting a rear seat passenger in, so limiting usability. Type 3s are orthodox.
While the Minor was discontinued in 1971, just five years later Charles Ware started his business into preparing and restoring them, which, in turn, has led to a thriving cottage industry that’s still evolving as well as an excellent Owners’ club, formed around the same time. Along with other specialists, Ware (now fronted by his son Zak) can build you a new Minor to order in original guise or with the accepted upgrades mentioned earlier.
And The Winner Is...
Neither – or both, depending how you wish to look at it. This pair enjoy cult followings among their owners and fans and so it’s difficult to be subjective when choosing what’s the best buy. That said, in stark terms, the Minor must make the more logical pick when it comes to maintaining one at home due to its simpler mechanical design and the ability to mix and match parts from other BMC offerings. But since when has such pragmatism ever influenced a true classic car enthusiast? Beetles command a superb following,especially among younger enthusiasts and you only have to go to a dedicated VW show to see how much they are still loved – and probably always will be.
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