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Morris Minor

Published: 28th Sep 2012 - 1 Comments

Buyer Beware

  • Exterior panels rust most readily on the trailing edges of the front wings and along the bottoms of the doors. These are largely cosmetic problems, but do not underestimate the cost of professional body repairs and paint as it will work into thousands.
  • The condition of the car’s structural elements should be of far more concern – check especially the front chassis legs, central crossmember, leaf spring hangers (especially rear), inner sills and A-post both for rust and poorly executed repairs, the latter caused by the car’s lowly values and impoverished owners.
  • Less critical, but useful as a haggling point, is rust at the bottom of the bootlid, in the trough at the rearmost extremity of the boot itself, and in the floorpans. Repairs are quite expedient and fairly low cost.
  • Mechanical parts for the later cars are cheap and readily available, but the situation for sidevalve and 803cc engines is not so rosy and rebuild projects should be viewed with caution. Conversion to ohv may have to become an option at some point.
  • Oil leaks are not uncommon on all A-Series engines of course, but if substantial quantities of lube are seeping from the bellhousing, then it may be simply that the crankcase breather has become blocked.
  • Engines are also notoriously prone to rattles, often down to worn tappets or timing chains. Both are cheap and easy to replace however.
  • A gearbox that jumps out of gear on the over-run is likely to need fixing soon. One with noisy intermediates can slog on for ages however. If the clutch judders on take-off, check that the engine steady bar is attached and doing its job before dropping the gearbox.
  • New trunnions on old kingpins are unlikely to last too long, so check receipts carefully if you are paying a premium for a car that has been ‘sorted’ in this department.
  • Good secondhand trim is becoming quite scarce. Everything is available new for modest prices, but it can add up, so do your sums carefully if you need (or want) to make extensive changes. A variety of seats can be retro fitted if you aren’t especially interested in originality.
  • Accepted modifications such as front disc brakes, a bigger 1275cc engine, or telescopic damper conversion, will command a price premium on anything but a concours contender and make the car much more usable on modern roads.
  • If the wood on your Traveller has been filled, painted or otherwise bodged, budget on as much as £2000 to have it all replaced. It’s a professional job, too, unless you were good at woodwork at school.
  • There’s no shortage of Minors on the market so have a good look around before deciding on the right car.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    Not fast, but always fun, due to fine handling on modern radials and vast tuning potential

  • Usability: 3/5

    Moderate performance but satisfactory enough for town use. Estates and vans are very practical and popular

  • Maintaining: 5/5

    Superb aftermarket and specialist support plus is a DIYer’s dream. There’s not an easier classic to keep

  • Owning: 5/5

    As cheap as chips to run as a daily or fun classic plus appeals to all classes and pockets

  • Value: 4/5

    Top cars can are becoming dear while cheap ones can be a rotting liability so choose carefully

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You don’t need to own Aston Martin or be Arkwright from Open all Hours to see the appeal of a Morris Minor as a cost effective classic

If you owned the world famous carmaker Aston Martin, what car would you drive? Well, the company’s current owner Dave Richards certainly has his pick of DBs… but when he’s away from work, at his country bolt-hole, he likes nothing more than trundling around in his humble Morris Minor; he says it’s all you need.

Now, it’s fair to assume that Dave Richards didn’t mean that a Morris Minor is the perfect modern all-rounder! But, as a fun second car, or if you’re after an economical practical classic that’s classy yet classless and can easily and cheaply be upgraded for modern use, then you could do a lot worse – just ask radio and petrol-head Chris Evans!

Which model to buy?

Like the VW Beetle, to the uninitiated all Moggies look much the same. However, what model you decide upon all depends on the use you intend to put your car to. Early MM version, with their sidevalve engines, are not only rare, but really far too sluggish for regular use: 27.5bhp equates to a top speed of 60mph and a whopping 36 seconds is required just to hit 50mph from rest. There was no heater option, and visibility out of the split screen is particularly poor, especially in the wet. The 803cc Series II of 1952 was an unhappy marriage of small capacity and low gearing, that saw top speed unchanged, but did at least reduce the 0-50mph dash to a neck-snapping 26 seconds! So, unless you’re a purist, or someone who really likes sidevalves, give the early Minors a miss.

The Minor 1000 of September 1956 is a more usable car, with a capacity hike to 948cc (ohv) combining with a better gearbox, and taller back axle, to make 70mph a realistic proposition. This also cut the 0-50mph time to a less stressful 18 seconds, but the cars still took nearer 30 seconds to crack the yardstick 60mph. The one-piece curved front screen introduced at the same time is also an advantage for regular use, affording better visibility.

But, without a doubt, if you plan to use your Minor on a regular basis in modern cut and thrust traffic, then you will appreciate the added power of the 1098cc engine introduced in October 1962. It was still badged as a Minor 1000, but the figures were now down to 16 seconds, 25 seconds and 77mph. Believe us, even if you’re not a speed freak, you’ll welcome the extra urge, even if this unit lacks the sweetness of the smaller predecessor.

The other major considerations are body type. The saloons were available in both two-and four-door variants, although choosing between them really comes down to personal preference, and finding the best car on offer for your budget.

The Traveller is arguably more practical and stylish, offering a large and easily-loaded luggage bay and commanding a premium of up to 25 per cent over equivalent saloons. The ash wood that is such a feature of the model is not merely cosmetic, though, and long-term ownership demands more annual maintenance if the considerable cost of replacing the frame is to be delayed.

The convertibles are also extremely practical and desirable. The biggest thing to watch out for here is that you are not paying top money for a converted saloon. There is nothing wrong with such vehicles, providing the work has been carried out properly, but you should be able to negotiate a price reduction of around 20 per cent compared to the factory-built equivalent Minor.

Standard or modified? There are an awful lot of modded Minors out there, running around with worthwhile improvements such as a 1275cc engine, front disc brakes and even five-speed transmissions. Now, while this may upset the purist, all of the aforementioned alternations make for a better car but without diluting the Minor’s character and may suit your needs a lot better.

Behind the wheel?

For a small car, the Minor has surprisingly ample room for four adults. The high roof and thin pillars impart an airy feel, and the high sides induce a feeling of security, rather than claustrophobia you can get in a modern. The seats are reasonably comfortable, although some people will find the low backs and lack of lateral support not to their liking, but at least full trim kits are readily available (try Newton Commercial for these).

The seating position and the layout of the controls is generally very easy to adapt to, plus there’s some hidden added adjustment to the front seats if you get your spanners out.

The Minor’s road manners were a revelation in 1948, and they are still a pleasure today. The rack and pinion steering is so light and precise that it’s a lesson to many modern powered set-ups for sharpness. The torsion bar independent front suspension is also a delightful piece of engineering, 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, however, the back end can hop around with zeal, if driven hard through the corners, but it is generally easy and good fun to drive through.

Obviously a standard Moggy is no scalded cat and, with a top speed just over the legal limit, keeping up with the flow will be hard going as an out of town daily driver. A taller axle ratio helps of course, although acceleration will suffer; it’s best to go for the five-speed conversion which uses the Ford Sierra gearbox even if it will leave you with little change from £1500.

The brakes were hydraulically operated drums all round from the beginning. Again, they are adequate for the engines they were originally mated to, and the road conditions of yesteryear, but have little in reserve for today’s use. If you find them less than assuring, the 8in front drums introduced with the 1098cc engine increased the swept area by almost 25 per cent, while units from the Riley 1.5 are usefully larger again. That said, a disc brake conversion is now seen as the best policy and nut-and-bolt kits are available.

The daily option?

Morris Minors vie with MGBs for the title of ‘most practical daily classic’. Certainly, the power and handling of a 1098cc car fitted with radial tyres makes it perfectly feasible as your only transport. The higher gearing on these cars also makes them feel less stressed. Ford Sierra-based five-speed gearbox swap is proving very popular within Minor circles, and is an accepted club mod, but does carry a hefty price tag. But, add a later, lustier 1275 A-Series engine and you have a perfect practical classic for today, that’s bound to improve on the 35mpg a good one returns simply because the engine’s better performance means it won’t be used so hard.

Luggage space is very good on the wonderfully versatile Traveller, but less generous on the saloon. The rear seat back can be laid down if needed, giving a surprisingly practical space for the occasional large load, although the Traveller (and the van or the extremely rare pick-up) are satisfyingly versatile and such good second car run-abouts that you’ll happily ditch that Fiesta on HP!



User Comments

This review has 1 comments

  • I been into classic cars for over 45 years from Austin seven to R.R. The Morris Minor is the most delightful !

    Comment by: Pete     Posted on: 13 Nov 2012 at 09:38 PM

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