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Morris Marina

Published: 28th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Morris Marina
Morris Marina
Morris Marina
Morris Marina
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Take a Morris Minor and improve it and what do you have? Why the Marina of course… Here’s what went so wrong for BL!

Sheep made monkeys out of the new Marina. And BL

Morris Marinas – don’t you just love ‘em? Apparently yes according to one road test in the mid 70s which commented. “Since the Marina was introduced in May 1971, it has had a fairly successful career in spite of a cool reception from the motoring press and others.” The reason was because the lords and ladies of the motoring media could never see the attraction of what effectively was a re-bodied and up gunned Minor. Yet the humble paying public could. ADO28, as it was known, was the first carBLMC fall guy Lord Stokes could get his teeth into after his Leyland lorry company gobbled up the ailing BMC empire. Ever the pragmatic operator, Stokes recognised that there was nothing profi table in the front drive, liquid suspended portfolio BMC prided itself on and needed something sweet and simple to entice the lucrative fl eet market – and fast. So, given its endearing popularity, what better than a revamped Morris Minor in sexier 70s clothes? Developed in double quick time, Stoke’s understandable haste played a major part in the Marina’s downfall yet it survived in various forms for well over a decade before it was replaced by the Maestro/Montego family in 1984. The Mar ina’s dreadful handl ing exposed at launch has been well documented over the years and quickly cured by new front suspension geometry before they reached the showrooms in bulk. But the car’s ill-fated fortunes were cemented long before then. Even the originalbrochure was a huge cock up! Apparently at a pre-launch presentation, an image came on the screen of the car BL pinned its hopes on, pictured stylishly on grassland with sheep grazing merrily behind it. What’s wrong with that you ask? Nothing. Well, not if the caption hadn’t read ‘Beauty with brains behind it’. Even after thousands had been printed it wasn’t spotted until one manager put his head above the trenches and said get rid of the sheep or “we’ll be the laughing stock of the industry.” But laugh at the Marina they all did anyway even though it was an entirely decent car if way behind the times. The two year plan was to get the car onto the driveways in 1970 but by the time it was launched in early ’71 the homely Ford Cortina MK2 (Marina’s main target) had evolved into the sophisticated and stylish MK3. Only the dear old Hillman Hunter was as outdated. But people power not only saved the Marina, it made this family favourite prosper.The still chronic handling (amazing since the Minorderived set up worked well enough on the original car!) didn’t bother the typical sedate British buyer and nor did the ancient BMC 1.3 and 1.8 engines which didn’t need to be revved to perform adequately. Indeed, the B-Series 1.8-litre models were quite spry performers and in 95bhp TC form was likened to an MGB for family guys. And what’s wrong with that? With an excellent estate and a van plus a pick-up added to the mix as early as 1972, the Marina had woven itself into the fabric of our motoring life. Come the mid 70s, the date the Marina was originally planned to be replaced, a revise was sorely needed. Of course, being BL, Marina only received a halfhearted one.

The Series 2, launched in October ‘75, looked similar save for the usual tacky 70s bling carmakers loved. Alas substantial changes to the chassis were incorporated, comprising front and rear anti-roll bars, redesigned front swivels,repositioned rear damper location and a betterlocated steering rack. However even these major revises failed to move the game on against vastly improving competition and the usually sympathetic Motor fi nally had enough. Testing a new swanky 1.8 Special in ‘76 (with its new odd dash layout that angled the radio away from the driver) it complained of the car being rougher riding and harsher than the original even if the handling was a bit tauter. “Leyland can – and must – do better than this to meet the foreign opposition” was the damming verdict. Two years later the venerable old B-Series engine was pensioned off in favour of the new fangled O-Series ohc engines that also found their way into the much underrated Princess atthe same time.  Despite a period of development dating back to the 1960s, in 1.7-litre 78bhp size it showed little gain over the old 1.8. One magazine even reckoned that the 0-Series was the only overhead camshaft engine in production to display overhead valve tappet noise! Two years later and after almost a decade in the showrooms the Marina was replaced by the Ital, so named in honour of the Italian stylist parachuted in to inject new life into what was now a very old and tired design. This was a year after Ford had introduced the MK5 Cortina. Why did BL bother when mostly all it did was to make the quite good looking body (designed by ex-Ford man Haines) garish.

In the real world…

While the motoring rotters were having a fi eld day knocking the Morris, private buyers were far more affable to the old soldier. For many it provided worthy low cost transportation while the DIY fraternity couldn’t wish for an easier car – after all it was virtually a Minor with a Triumph gearbox. The Coupe was quite smart looking and roomier than rival fastbacks such as the Capri while the estates were very commodious and handy. Those in the know knew that a second-hand Marina 1.8TC (rebadged GT in 1975) gave them all the characteristics of an MGB but in a cheaper, roomier, easier to insure saloon or coupe package. Today, even though a nearly 700,000 Marinas and more than 150,000 Itals were made there are sadly few left. In truth the Marina was no better or worse than many of its rivals during the 1970s. Look at the Marina as a more modern Minor with all its simplistic benefi ts if not character and its critics may one day change their tune – rather than drop a piano on one like Top Gear prefers to.

When The Car Was The Star

Sid James smiling with pride at his new Marina 1.8 Coupe in Carry On At Your Convenience – does cinema get any better than this. The fi lm was shot in early 1971, making it one of the very fi rst pictures with Morris Marina product placement. Meanwhile, Sweeney fans may remember Det-Sgt. Carter’s wife being killed by a Marina 1.8 and the 1975 episode ‘Country Boy’ in which D.I. Regan takes an instant dislike to a new colleague for a) having a degree, b) hailing from Bristol and (possibly worst of all) c) driving an orange Morris Marina 1.3 De Luxe. The Professionals even managed to stage a car chase with a 1.8 Estate but for Marina starring roles try the cult 2001 fi lm Scotland PA, a US re working of Macbeth with an Austin (as all American market models were badged) Marina Coupe and the fi rst series of Lou Grant, in which the crusading journalist drives a gleaming 1973 model. Oh yes.

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