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Fancy owning a motorsport legend for road and track use? Paul Davies looks at true classics that made their name on stages and circuits, and still provide a fine drive today
The Mini Cooper S, Austin-Healey 3000, MG B, all famous competition cars from the BMC and (later) British Leyland motorsport team. What came next? Oh yes, the Morris Marina! You mustn’t blame BL too much. And make a note that the car did record some very worthwhile results on both UK and international rallies – and for a time had the distinction of being the car of the highest ever non Scandinavian finisher on the Rally of the 1000 Lakes in Finland. Now, people are taking another look at the Marina and say that - just perhaps - it’s not all bad. The Marina was Leyland’s answer to the Ford Cortina: good reliable transport for four people, at an affordable price. It was never supposed to be a rally or a race car. It was basic, with a two-door coupe or fourdoor saloon bodyshell and either 1.3 or 1.8-litre power; you could even have a 1.8TC version with the same engine as the MGB. Very conventional (after the Mini, Maxi, Allegro and 1800) with the engine at the front, in-line, driving the rear wheels. The front suspension relied on torsion bars for springing, the rigid rear axle was on cart springs. In short, it was a rebodied Morris Minor. After the success of the 1970 World Cup Rally (2nd, 4th and 10th places overall, three class wins) BL supremo Lord Stokes did the decent thing - and closed the competitions department, although driver Brian Culcheth was retained for ‘promotional purposes’. Soon Team Castrol was formed, rallying with first the Triumph 2.5 PI and then the humble Morris Marina. Culcheth and Willy Cave were entered for the 1971 RAC Rally in a Special Tuning prepared Marina, winning the 1300cc class. Ford competitions manager, Stuart Turner (formerly of BMC), was famously wrong-footed here, because he thought the Marina was to be 1.8-litre and so didn’t field one of his Escorts in the small class! With the 1275cc A-Series engine tuned like a Sprite to give around 95/100bhp the Marina was only averagely quick but reliable. Culcheth was the man to make it work, claiming 2nd on the Cyprus Rally in ‘72 (with Johnstone Syer) and 6th the following year. His 16th overall and class win on the 1000 Lakes in ’73 was the stuff of legends, the top Brit position only being beaten in ’82 when Russell Brookes came 6th in a Vauxhall Chevette. Pat Ryan was the other Marina man. The moustachioed Midlander was blindingly quick on British national rallies - it was usually a class win or an accident - until BL put him into its other lost cause of the time, the Allegro! Special Tuning built a Rover V8 Marina for the 1972 World Cup Rally but - predictably - the rear axle broke. Truth was ‘though, the Marina was too heavy in 1.3 form to ever beat an Escort, and just too heavy, full stop, in 1.8-litre guise. Anyone who tried to drive a 1.8 also quickly soon learnt about the dreaded Marina plough on understeer! The last official fling for the 1.3 Marina was the 1975 RAC, when Phil Cooper and Andy Marriott finished 4th in class. But by then the Dolomite Sprint and the TR7 were gaining favour in the newly formed BL team.
Morris Marina Summary
Total (1.3, 1.8, 1.8TC): 953,576
Engine: Four-cylinder, in-line, pushrod. A and B-Series 1275cc (58bhp); 1798cc (90bhp); 1798cc twin carb (95bhp).
Drive: Rear wheels.
Suspension: Front, independent with torsion bars and lever shock absorbers; Rear, live axle with half elliptic springs and tubular shock absorbers.
Brakes: Disc/drum (optional on some) front; drum rear.
Steering: Rack and pinion.
Claim to fame
A most unlikely rally car! Numerous class wins on International and UK rallies. 2nd o/all Cyprus 1972, 16th o/all 1972 1000 Lakes.
Brian Culcheth, Pat Ryan, Phil Cooper, Jumping Jeff Williamson (rallycross), Major Helmsley (World Cup Rally), a certain Paul Davies..er, that’s all.
Where to buy
Almost anywhere, local paper, specialist ads, eBay. Classic Cars For Sale, Morris Marina Club website.
What to look for
Rust everywhere, worn steering and suspensions, low oil pressure, worn synchros. And utter neglect!
What to pay
A bargain basement car, three figures should get a runner suitable for a decent motorsport project.
Morris Marina Owners Club: www.morrismarina.org.uk
Won’t beat a Mini at anything, but a dirt cheap fun car that can be had in production car trials and on navigational rallies. Try drag racing with V8 power!
Maintenance, tuning and sport
Tuning parts readily available for A and B-Series engines. Brakes and suspension components can be Sprite/MGB-based. Good 1275cc engines can give 100bhp with modded head, cam and big SU carbs. Period top cars had exotic eight port cylinder head and four - yes four! - Amal carbs.
Competitive Rating: 3
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