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Morris Minor

Bitten By A Mosquito Published: 3rd May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Tourers or convertibles
  • Worst model: Early sidevalvers
  • Budget buy: 1000 four-door
  • OK for unleaded?: No, needs converting/additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): (mm): L 3759 x W 1549
  • Spares situation: Excellent and keenly priced, too
  • DIY ease?: As simple as an old push bike
  • Club support: As good as you will fi nd anywhere
  • Appreciating asset?: Only the top ones
  • Good buy or good-bye?: As a practical easy-to-own classic, it’s the former
Cabin is stark but functional and easy to restore Cabin is stark but functional and easy to restore
A-Series works well in Minor - 1098cc unit best but later 1275cc unit from Midget/Marina provides worthwhile boost A-Series works well in Minor - 1098cc unit best but later 1275cc unit from Midget/Marina provides worthwhile boost
Venture underneath to inspect underside and rear spring hangers Venture underneath to inspect underside and rear spring hangers
Watch for cracked doors - reinforced door mirror mounting helps Watch for cracked doors - reinforced door mirror mounting helps
Floor rot common so lift carpets to inspect. Repair panels available Floor rot common so lift carpets to inspect. Repair panels available
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The ‘British Beetle’ is another bug that’s one of the best starter classics you could wish for. Cheap and simple to buy and run, there can’t be a more pragmatic classic around

Pros & Cons

Style, practicality, character, economy, club and spares support
Early cars’ performance, stark cabin, rust, overpriced bangers
£500 - £9000

Happy birthday to the evergreen Morris Minor which amazingly turns 60 this year. Created by Alec Issigonis, who also went on to pen arguably the greatest car of all time – the Mini, the Minor was just as innovative and radical in its day and went on to enjoy a production run of almost 25 years before the classic movement picked it up to give the car almost eternal life. Today the appeal of the Minor is as strong as ever to all classes and pockets and the car is universally loved for its character and practicality. They are still good value and a brilliant choice as a fi rst time classic. The Minor - or Mosquito as it was codenamed - or the poached egg, as Lord Nuffi eld called it when he first clapped eyes on the car, made its debut in 1948 as the series MM, otherwise known as the ‘low-light’ due to its headlamps being mounted low down in the grille. Designed to replace the old pre-war Morris ranges with some advanced thinking – not least a torsion bar suspension plus sharp rack and pinion steering - at fi rst it was available only as a two-door saloon or a convertible named the Tourer. Those low-set headlamps were relocated to the top of the front wings soon after launch and the four-door saloon had arrived onto the market a year later; the main change for the Series II was the adoption of the 30bhp A-Series 803cc overhead-valve engine in place of the 27.5bhp Morris Eight Series E derived 918cc side-valver. A total of 176,002 MMs were built and 318,351 Series IIs from 1952, 18,000 of the Series IIs being examples of an estate called the Traveller which had debuted in 1953. In 1956 major changes saw the launch of the Minor 1000, with a larger (37bhp 948cc) version of the A-Series unit and the deletion of the quirky split windscreen, plus the rear wings were made deeper and new front swivels were fi tted to the suspension. For ’57 the fuel tank was enlarged to six gallons, with the hood now plastic not canvas. The next year saw the rear suspension leaves reduced from seven to fi ve while for 1959 there were wider opening doors, more foot space between the clutch and transmission tunnel (most welcome) and a combined inlet/exhaust manifold for faster warm ups. By the time the 1098cc Minor 1000 arrived in 1962 (using the evergreen A-Series in 1098cc size plus larger brakes, closer ratio gearbox and flashing indicators replacing the original quaint semaphore design) 644,679 Minors had been produced of which 89,000 were those fantastically versatile Travellers. Apart from yet another air cleaner design (several were tried throughout the car’s life), a fresh air heater made optional and the clap hands wipers now made parallel, the Minor remained little changed until production ceased in 1971 to make way for the Marina. No less than 480,825 copies of the Minor 1000 had rolled off the lines, 108,000 of which were Travellers. This total includes 350 of what are some of THE most collectable of all Minors, the lilac-painted Million of 1961, which was built to celebrate a million Minors being produced – 3550 were made. Watch for over priced fakes of these collectables… The commercial range of vans and pick-ups survived another year, incidentally, while the car survived in New Zealand for a few years longer in component form.

Driving

James Bond Drove That- How's That?

The Morris Minor is proof positive that a classic needn’t be fast to be fun. In standard trim the car is naturally no ball of fi re, but the real joy of the Minor comes from its compact size, crisp handling that teaches you all about rear-wheel drive and a gutsy A-Series engine – ingredients which seem well suited to today’s Gatso-infested roads. With its pin-sharp steering and torsion independent front suspension, the Minor was way ahead of its time and with modern grippier radials, handles well enough in standard trim. Our choice is to go for the 1098cc range, which is fairly brisk and can cruise a lot happier out of town. Only MM fanatics should consider an early car with the feeble sidevalve motor while the 948 is also too short of puff when laden for modern roads. 0-60mph on the 1098cc car is some 24 seconds, and half a minute plus for the 948 cars incidentally. Another weak point can be the standard drum brakes which you need to take into account when stepping out of a modern, but these can be easily upgraded if desired. What makes the Morris Minor so endearing - then and now - is its sheer usability. All versions are roomy four/fi ve-seaters while the Traveller makes a fantastic holdall that with suitable mods (1275cc engine, Marina brakes etc) can make a decent daily driver on modern roads. But even in standard trim a Minor is pure penny-wise fun on wheels, where up to 40mpg is on the cards.

Prices

The number of permutations and combinations is bewildering, but as a rule of thumb the most desirable (and practical) Minor is the 1000 Traveller, mint examples of which will set you back around £6000 - and we’ve seen truly concours ones go for a lot more – and the days of the ten grand MM can’t be far off. Least desirable are the saloons, especially in 803cc and sidevalve guises. Our advice is to try a sidevalve or 803cc car before buying one because they might be quaint, but they’re also very slow! Perhaps the most fun of the lot is the rare Tourer, a really nice example fetching £5500 while a usable runner can be picked up for just £1200 or so. Having sad that – beware! There’s a lot of tat around for this money – and not all Moggies are collectable…

Improvements

The Minor enjoyed a fairly good run in motorsport in its day and as good as the standard road car still is, we’d be a lot happier with one after some now clubaccepted mods. If the now nearly extinct Morris Marina had any good points then one was its Minor make-up, which ensures a lot of parts straight swapping. Marinas have been robbed of their front disc brakes for years, so you’d be hard pressed to fi nd any now. Happily bolt on conversion kits are available from Minor specialists and it’s a mod we heartily recommend. Handling benefi ts from uprated dampers. You can f i t more modern telescopics over the lever type, but it’s not strictly necessar y for road use. Engine tuning isn’t strictly necessary either, but as even the quickest car could only just break the 70mph speed limit a bit more pep is welcome and that evergreen A Series is so tunable. But rather than Stage One this or tweak that, simply fi tting the lustier 1275cc engine from a Marina or Midget works best (you can even use the block and fit the top end of the smaller unit if funds are tight or you want to keep the single carb look). The stronger later gearboxes from either are desirable, but a lot of enthusiasts now buy a kit to adapt the Ford Sierra five-speed ‘box which can bolt straight on and make cruising a lot more restful. Wi lder conver sions include the 1970s/80s Fiat twin cam unit (a dedicated fitting kit is available), the Rover K-Series and even the company’s V8! Strangely, fitting the BMC B-Series isn’t simple as it’s a longer block and needs a lot of bulkhead reworking

What To Look For

  • It doesn’t matter how good a Minor looks on the surface, there’s a good chance it’ll be hiding structural corrosion somewhere because they rot from the inside out and many cars have been fi xed on a rolling repair basis. It doesn’t really matter how good the car is elsewhere, if the car’s structure is shot it’s fi t 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 is in need of serious TLC - work that’ll be expensive and possibly outweigh the car’s real world value.
  • Traveller’s woodwork is structural and an MOT fail point; it’s not possible to patch it up or do a section at a time, although some owners try to bodge it! That means doing the whole lot in one go, which costs around £2000. Look for softening wood and discolouration. Ideally it needs checking every year and re-varnishing every two years to keep it in good shape. Creosote and ordinary gloss is a horrid bungle.
  • The rear spring hangers are one of the most important things to look at because repairs are so complicated and labour intensive. 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 evidence of rot it’s time for the whole leg to be replaced, at a cost of £100 plus fi tting. The front crossmember is another known rot spot.
  • Cover panels on the underside of the fl oorpan were popular in the 1980s - great for hiding problems but not so good at solving them. These will probably have been replaced by now, but if they haven’t, whatever original metal was behind them will probably have rotted away a long time ago.
  • Other common rot spots include the sills and the doors, inner front wings (check carefully under the bonnet) the latter rotting along the bottom edge and across the underside. Finding original replacement doors for any Minor is diffi cult, 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 fi tted to Tourers, Travellers and two-door saloons. Whichever version you need, expect to pay around £150 for a decent door.
  • It’s possible to buy a kit to convert a two-door saloon into a drop-top. Done properly there’s no cause for concern, but not all cars are converted safely and sometimes such conversions are passed off as genuine.
  • Although the side-valve engine is reliable enough, it’s gutless and not easy to source spares for. Sharing much with the Morris Eight Series E, exhaust valves burn out due to incorrect tappet adjustment as they’re not easy to set.
  • The fi rst of the really usable engines was fi tted 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 and are the sweetest runners of the three A-Series capacities used, if a tad slow. When the unit does start to wear out the fi rst 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 poor oil pressure. If you’re not too worried about originality, it’s worth putting a later 1275cc powerplant in, as it just slots into the engine bay without any mods. But the gearbox will have a hard time because of the extra torque - and the brakes would need to be upgraded to suit too (not diffi cult).
  • The synchros are the fi rst thing to go with any Minor gearbox. Once the teeth become chipped the gearbox will become especially noisy and it’ll start jumping out of gear, especially second. The only model that has reasonably good gearbox parts supply is the 1098cc car and parts supply for the sidevalve-engined cars is poor. If you’re looking for a replacement for a 1098cc car and you’re offered a decent Midget gearbox, your prayers have been answered because it’s the same unit.
  • Why not slot in a Ford Sierra fi ve-speed unit, which costs around £1000 including fi tting? It’s fast becoming an accepted mod, even within club circles as the extra cog with its taller top gear makes the car more usable with the ability to cruise at 80mph.
  • The rear axle and propshaft are reliable, but at some point the differential will wear out. You can tell that replacement is imminent if the unit gets noisy when you lift off once up to speed, so expect to pay £300 for a rebuilt unit.
  • Suspension and steering 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 just £75, it’s not the end of the world if both sides need to be replaced.
  • The rear suspension is primitive and the most useful thing you can do is swap worn lever arm dampers for modern telescopics, which will typically cost you £100 per side. At the rear it’s worth checking that the leaf spring is in good order, especially its front mounting. If you also decide to convert the front suspension to telescopic dampers, for which you’ll expect to fork out £75 per side, it’s also worth fi tting an anti-roll bar to get the full benefi t.
  • Drum brakes all round was the norm for all Minors, and if in good condition the system is okay for the job. But it’s worth upgrading to disc brakes at the front for around £375 or fi tting a servo (for £135) to make things easier in modern traffi c. Failing this, Marina bits bolt straight on but these latter day Minors are virtually extinct!
  • The brake master cylinder lives inside the chassis rail, and the front suspension has to be partly dismantled to remove it. Consequently it suffers after a while and 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.
  • Not only is just about everything available for the interior, but none of it is very expensive. A new hood for a Tourer is just £120 while a carpet set can be yours for £60 or so. Series I and II cars were trimmed in leather while the later cars had vinyl trim - but if you fancy a bit of hide in your later car it’s easily done, if not especially cheap at over £250.
  • The Minor’s electrical system is incredibly simple, so there’s little to have to worry about. It’s worth converting to an alternator for £95 as well as fi tting halogen headlamps (£40) and an electric screen washer system (£30).

Three Of A Kind

Wolseley 1500
Wolseley 1500
Bigger, upmarket brother to the Minor and shared many parts but with more performance and a plusher interior. Lacks Minor character, but sportier Riley 1.5 largely takes care of that. Restoration isn’t as easy on any as it is with the Morris car.
Ford Anglia 105E
Ford Anglia 105E
The Anglia is steadily creeping up in appreciation and value. Lacks breath of choice and character of the Minor but is cheap, easy to maintain and simple to uprate for modern use. Estates are hard working and 1200 engine is almost essential these days.
Morris Marina
Morris Marina
Well why not? It uses Minor make up with some useful refi nements such as better engines, stronger brakes and a lot more room. 1.8 models are lively and frugal, TC is a four-door MGB. Scarce, but later cars became Itals and there are some around.

Verdict

There are few classics that are seen in everyday use more frequently than a humble Morris Minor, and that’s for a good reason. Not only are they reliable, durable and easy to use, but a few sympathetic upgrades make them a viable alternative to a modern car. If you’re new to classics and want to be seen in something fun, classy and almost cool, try this Morris. Why, even James Bond drove a white convertible briefl y in the fi lm Thunderball. Enough said.



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