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Morris Minor

Major Miracle Published: 25th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Tourers (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?: Always the former
Period optional sunvisor adds to Minor’s charm Period optional sunvisor adds to Minor’s charm
Boot rack more a style thing as luggage capacity is okay Boot rack more a style thing as luggage capacity is okay
Considerable amount of chromework Considerable amount of chromework
A-Series engine is tough, easy to fi x and frugal - 1275 unit a good mod A-Series engine is tough, easy to fi x and frugal - 1275 unit a good mod
Which Minor is for you? Our vote goes on the Traveller (main pic) thanks to its sheer practicality but there’s no doubt the Tourer holds the most style and charm. Nice people own a Morris Minor says petrol-head Chris Evans who owns a drop top! Which Minor is for you? Our vote goes on the Traveller (main pic) thanks to its sheer practicality but there’s no doubt the Tourer holds the most style and charm. Nice people own a Morris Minor says petrol-head Chris Evans who owns a drop top!
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The ‘British Beetle’ is one of the most usable classics you could wish for; mechanically simple, plus cheap to buy and run. After all these years there’s no better, pragmatic, fun-filled classic around than this Morris

Pros & Cons

Style, all round practicality, character, economy, club and spares support
Outright performance, rust, over-priced bangers, rotting Traveller woodwork
£500-£9000+

When somebody as discerning as Dave Richards says that a Morris Minor is ‘all you need’, then take notice. Richards is the ex-rally co-driver who made Subaru Imprezas sexy and successful, helped Honda return to F1 and now owns Aston Martin. Yet, despite having the pick of any new DB, Dave Richards prefers to use the humble Morris (and a Sprite) to potter around in when he’s residing at his weekend west coast retreat. Richards has discovered what Morris Minor fans have known for decades; that this utterly orthodox car still makes a superb runabout that’s as pleasing to use as it is practical. 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 up the baton to give the car almost eternal life. More than 60 years since its launch, the Minor’s appeal is as big as ever. It’s liked by all types of car, lovers irrespective of the size of their pockets and status, because this car is full of character and is very pragmatic. The Minor makes a brilliant choice as a fi rst-time classic and an ideal fi rst car for learner drivers, too.

History

The Minor, codenamed Mosquito, made its debut in 1948 as the series MM, otherwise known as the ‘low-light’, due to the headlamps being mounted low down in the grille. Morris head Lord Nuffi eld called it the ‘poached egg’ when he fi rst saw it. He apparently refused to drive one as well and only congratulated Issigonis on the car once the company had sold a million of them! Designed to replace the old pre-war Morris ranges, the Minor featured some major advances for its time, not least a torsion bar suspension with sharp rack-and-pinion steering. Initially, the Morris 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 arrived onto the market a year later. The main change for the Series II was the adoption of the 30bhp A-Series 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 the engine upped from 803cc to 948cc, and the deletion of the quirky split windscreen. Also, the rear wings were made deeper and a new front swivel set up were fi tted to the suspension. For 1957 the fuel tank was enlarged to a whole six gallons, with the Tourer’s hood now made of 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 cold start warm ups. By the time the 1098cc model arrived in 1962, with its larger brakes, closer ratio gearbox and proper fl ashing 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 introduced, and the clap hands wipers now made parallel, the Minor remained little changed until production ceased in 1971, to make way for the not dissimilar Marina. No less than 480,825 versions of the Minor 1000 had rolled off the lines, 108,000 of which were Travellers. This total includes what are the most collectable of all Minors, the lilac-painted ‘Million’ of 1961, which was built to celebrate a million Minors being produced – only 3550 were offi cially made, so watch for over-priced fakes! The commercial range of vans and pick-ups survived another year, incidentally, while the car survived in New Zealand for a few years longer.

Driving

The real joy of Minor motoring comes not from its speed but from its compact size and crisp handling that teaches you all about rear-wheel drive control. With its pin-sharp steering and torsion independent front suspension (a set up not even a Jaguar couldn’t boast until the E-type), the Minor was way ahead of its time. Today, with modern grippier,slightly wider than standard, radials, this car still handles tidily and predictably in standard trim. With a 0-60 time of, at best, 26 seconds, the Morris is no E-type, but there again it was never meant to do the ton. That said, while the car is adequate for urban motoring, our choice is to go for the 1098cc range, where the 48bhp helps the cars to keep up with the traffi c and cruise happier out of town. Only true MM fanatics should consider an early car, with the feeble sidevalve motor, while the 948 mill is also too short of puff. Another point that can catch out the driver weaned on servo-assisted disc brakes is the car’s all-drum set up. You need to take account of this when stepping out of a modern, but these brakes can be easily upgraded, if desired. Suffolk-based specialist Pops Place says discs without a servo are more than adequate for most purposes; it uses a Ford-based conversion. What makes the Morris Minor so endearing, then and now, is its sheer usability. All versions are reasonably roomy four/fi ve-seaters, the Tourer rag top is one of the most charming chop tops ever made, while the Traveller still makes a fantastic holdall that, with suitable mods (such as a 1275cc engine, Marina brakes etc), can make a decent daily driver on modern roads, a sensible second car or even a good learner car that’s cheap to insure (something that’s of vital importance these days) yet still looks cool to be seen in.

Prices

Values are all over the place, although most cars are still highly affordable. The number of models is bewildering but, as a rule of thumb, the most desirable (and practical) Minors are the 1000 Traveller and Tourer, where mint examples will set you back around £6000 – we’ve seen truly concours ones go for a lot more and the days of the ten grand Moggie can’t be far off. Between £2500 and £4500 appear to be the typical outlays for a decent presentable runner, anything less (and there’s a lot of tat around for £1000) and it’s going to need signifi cant work, if not now then certainly in the future. It’s calculated that the average age of a Minor is 45.9 years, with convertibles the oldest at 47.3, so a restoration or two has probably been carried out on the majority. While it’s not diffi cult, and there are plenty of parts around and good club support, it may not be fi nancially sound, so buy the best you can from the outset; there are some lovely well-cared-for cars out there.

Improvements

The Minor isn’t a bad performer, considering its age, but we’d be a lot happier with a car, once some of the club-accepted mods were added to the mix. 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. Morris 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. Some of these use Ford Sierra components and it’s a mod we heartily recommend, for around £600 fi tted. Handling benefi ts from uprated dampers and lowered rear springs withthe torsion bar suitably adjusted. You can fi t more modern telescopics over the lever type, but it’s not strictly necessary for everyday road use. As even the quickest 1098 car could only just break the national speed limit, a bit more pep is welcome, and that evergreen A-Series is so tunable. Taking the unit to MG Midget spec is a logical step, but rather than Stage One this, or tweak that, simply fi tting the lustier 1275cc engine from a Marina or (65bhp) Midget works a treat (you can even use the block and fi t the top end of the smaller unit if funds are tight, or if you want to keep the single carb look). The stronger later gearboxes from either of the above cars are desirable, but a lot of enthusiasts now buy a kit to adapt the Ford Sierra fi ve-speed ‘box, which can bolt straight on and make cruising a lot more restful, with better suited intermediates at the same time. Wilder conversions include the 1970s 80s Fiat twin-cam unit (a dedicated fi tting kit is available), the Rover K-Series and even the company’s V8! Strangely, fi tting the BMC B-Series isn’t simple, as it has 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 badly and many cars have been fi xed on a rolling-repair basis. It doesn’t 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 chance the monocoque is in need of serious TLC – work that’ll be expensive and perhaps outweigh the car’s real value.
  • The 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 at least £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 but it‘s better than now’t.
  • The rear spring hangers are one of the most important things to look at because repair is so complicated and labour intensive. The whole underside needs close inspection, especially the rear chassis extensions and front chassis legs. 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 cross-member is another known structural 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 difficult, 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 cars. You can even convert a Traveller into a van or pick-up, if the mood takes you.
  • Although the sidevalve is reliable enough and quite nice to use, it’s gutless and not very 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 correctly.
  • 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, these motors will rack up 150,000 miles quite happily and are the sweetest of the A-Series trio if not especially lively.
  • When the unit does start to wear out, the fi rst signs will be exhaust smoke under load, noisy tappets and poor 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 lowly 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. However, the gearbox will have a hard time and the brakes would need to be upgraded to suit too.
  • 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 in 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. A Midget gearbox, is the same unit.
  • Why not slot in a Ford Sierra fi ve-speeder, which costs around £1500, 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 rebuild.
  • Suspension and steering trunnions and swivel pins at the front wear out, unless they’re greased regularly. If bad, the swivel pin will pull out of the trunnion altogether, although this will probably only happen at parking speeds. A new kingpin leg, including both top and bottom trunnions, costs some £75.
  • At the rear it’s worth checking that the leaf springs are in good order, especially the front mounting. Dampers don’t last long and new ones can yield a considerable improvement.
  • Drum brakes all round was the norm for all, and if in good condition is okay for the job. But it’s worth upgrading to discs at the front
  • 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. Spongey hard to bleed brakes is the clue but swapping old for new isn’t a problem and, at just £50 for a new unit, it’s not exactly 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 less than £150, while a carpet set can be yours for £60 or so. Series I /II cars were trimmed in leather, while the later cars used vinyl – but if you fancy a bit of hide in your later car it’s easily done, ifnot especially cheap at over around £300 – try Newton Commercial as a starter.

Three Of A Kind

Wolseley 1500
Wolseley 1500
The overlooked, bigger, upmarket brother to the Minor that shared many parts, but with more performance and a plusher interior. Lacks Minor character, but sportier Riley 1.5 offshoot compensates. Restoration isn’t as easy as it is with the Morris and these cars have never really ‘caught on’. Good value though.
Morris Marina
Morris Marina
Well why not? It uses the make up of the Minor with some useful refi nements such as bigger engines, better brakes and a fair bit more room, especially the estate. The TC version could be seen as a four-door MGB. Later cars became Itals and there are some around, but they all lack the Minor‘s cred and character.
Volkswagen Beetle
Volkswagen Beetle
The German rival that ran parallel with the Minor until 1971 and, of course, lasted for another three decades! Better built than the Brit, with similar performance but better cruising, if not handling. A far more limited range of body styles to choose from, if you discount the Type 3 and Type 4 saloon and estate offshoots.

Verdict

Few classics mix business with pleasure like the Morris Minor. It’s an economy fun car that can still knuckle down to household chores and cost pennies to run leaving the owner with a smile on his or her face. Like all good classics, the Minor is utterly classless and unpretentious so inevitably becomes part of the family while some owners couldn’t envisage life without one. And Dave Richards isn’t the only Aston owner who doesn’t mind being seen in a Morris Minor; James Bond drove one in Thunderball!



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