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Morris Minor

Major Minor Published: 27th Jul 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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One of the most practical and pragmatic yet delightful classics ever and one that can be used as daily driver thanks to magnifi cent specialist and club support. Sedate performance but car can easily be uprated, which means that totally original examples are becoming rarer

The 1948 Earls Court Motor Show must have been an amazing place to be at, what with the Land Rover S1, Jaguar XK120 and Morris Minor all being unveiled there. All three have gone on to become icons, but only one is within reach of the enthusiast on a budget – the Minor.

There isn’t another classic like the Morris Minor – and there probably never will be. Available with a range of engines and body styles, the Minor is served by a brilliant club and a band of excellent specialists – and thanks to a host of upgrades, it’s possible to run one of these charming machines on an everyday basis. The ideal starter classic for new drivers or potentially a classic Q car with the correct upgrades, the Minor offers practicality, affordability, ease of maintenance and comfort too.

This really is the classic that has it all.

HISTORY

In the latter stages of the Second World War, Alec Issigonis was working on a new family car for Morris. Called the Mosquito, this was to be an innovative car from one of the most ingenious of all designers. There would be monocoque construction and a flat-four engine driving the front wheels.

Coil spring and wishbone suspension would feature at the front and it would have rack and pinion steering. Then the piggy bank was raided and it was clear that a less adventurous design would have to be substituted – cue the 918cc side-valve engine seen in the Series E-Morris, driving the rear wheels. The first prototype even retained the Series E’s dimensions, which meant that because of the space-robbing wings and sills, there was hardly any interior space. An extra four inches was spliced into the middle of the car and the Minor was born – or the poached egg, as an unkind Lord Nuffield called it on first viewing.

After some hasty changes to revise the proportions the Minor made its debut in 1948, as the series MM, otherwise known as the low-light because of its headlamps being mounted low down in the front grille. The press and public went wild, all madly enthusiastic about the Minor, which made its competitors look dated overnight. At first it was available only as a two-door saloon or a convertible named the Tourer.

1952 But by the time the Series II arrived there was also an estate called the Traveller. The low-set headlamps had been relocated to the top of the front wings in 1949 and the four-door saloon had arrived onto the market a year later, so 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-valve unit that had previously been fitted. 176,002 MMs were built and 318,351 Series IIs, 18,000 of the Series IIs being examples of the Traveller which had debuted in 1953.

In 1956 there were major changes to the car, with the launch of the Minor 1000. Not only was a larger (37bhp 948cc) version of the A-Series engine but the split windscreen became a single piece unit and a larger rear window was also fitted.

1962 By the time the 1098cc Minor 1100, 644,679 Minor 1000s had been produced of which 89,000 were Travellers. This includes 350 of what are some of the most collectable of all Minors – the vivid lilac-painted Million of 1961, which was built to celebrate a million of them being produced. The 1098 Minor boasted 48bhp and the front drum brakes were increased in size to rein in the extra power but apart from detail changes little altered by the time production ceased in 1971 after 480,825 cars, 108,000 of which were the super practical Travellers.

DRIVING AND PRESS COMMENTS

This is one of the areas where the Minor shows its age; after all, with a chassis designed in the 1940s, there’s only so much you can expect dynamically. That’s not to say the Minor is poor on the road though – just that there’s room for improvement, so it’s worth investing in some of the tweaks listed separately. Areas like the brakes and suspension are worth upgrading, and with off-the-shelf kits so easy to source, there’s no reason not to.

When it first appeared the Minor turned the small car market on its head. Here was a machine that was more spacious than most rivals, and quick enough at the time. Indeed, while those early sidevalve cars are now held up as painfully slow, when Motor tested one of the first off the line, it stated that “the performance figures reproduced are so exceptionally good, especially in regard to the combination of rapid acceleration through the gears with notable economy, that we do not doubt that they will be regarded with suspicion in certain quarters”.

Showing how standards have risen inexorably over the past 65 years, Motor’s testers also noted that the Minor was very refined and the gearbox all but silent. Few current owners would agree with that, but they would no doubt be in accord with the view that the Minor offers brilliant practicality with its spacious cabin and excellent visibility.

When the split-screen variant gave way to the Minor 1000 in 1956, Motor was even more enthusiastic, claiming that “The Nuffield engineers have produced an outstanding little vehicle… The little car feels from the start like a thoroughbred. The rack and pinion steering is beautifully light and precise. The suspension is firm at speed but the ride is never harsh. The brakes are fully up to the performance potential, and a deliberate attempt to induce fade on a three-mile descent proved fruitless”.

Confusingly, when Morris slotted a 1098cc engine into the Minor it continued to be sold as the Morris 1000. What was fascinating was how Motor’s testers had hardened their attitudes towards the Minor; it was obvious that this lightly revised car was getting rather long in the tooth.

Gone was the euologising over its brilliance, with the review filled with a stream of criticisms instead. No longer was the mag impressed by the Minor’s visibility, packaging, driving position, ergonomics and handling. But at least they still loved the Minor’s steering, gear change and performance with its new, bigger engine.

PRICES

There are so many variations on the Minor theme that setting accurate valuations is quite a task. The earliest cars, with sidevalve or 803cc engines, are something of an acquired taste, which is why they tend not to be very desirable in standard form – they are unbearably pedestrian and every journey becomes an event. However, in mint condition such early Minors will always find a buyer – or if sympathetically upgraded to retain that period charm while also being much more usable.

As a result it’s the 1.0 and 1.1-litre cars that are the most desirable, with the Traveller fetching the most money. It’s the most practical and the most usable, and it’s easy to get £12,000 for a really nice car – the Tourer isn’t far behind, with superb examples of these changing hands for over £10,000 – in fact one recently reached £17,400 at an auction!

This leaves the saloon, in two and four-door forms. These tend to top out at £8000 or thereabouts, although exceptional early cars will fetch more. Usable saloons start at £1500 or so. If you’re looking for tatty but usable Tourer and Travellers, you really need to be spending upwards of £3000 if you’re to buy something that isn’t a liability. Spares are reasonable. ESM of Sussex sell recon engine blocks for £375, a full disc conversion kit for under £390, suspension trunnions £88.50 etc. Go to http://www.morrisminors.com.

IMPROVEMENTS

If you’re not too worried about originality it’s worth fitting a 1275cc powerplant, as it just slots into the engine bay without mods. The gearbox won’t find it any tougher than with a 1098cc unit – although it’s not that happy even with the smaller engine so perhaps have it overhauled.

Drum brakes all round was the norm for all Minors, and if in good condition the system is okay for the job but a servo may help. The brakes are generally upgraded usually with Marina or Sierra discs but larger drums from a Riley 1.5 can be used instead. However it’s worth upgrading to disc brakes at the front and fitting servo assistance (for £350 or so) to make things easier in modern traffic conditions.

Engine swaps are common, with Rover K-series, Fiat twin-cam and 1275cc A-Series units the most popular. The K-Series unit is best avoided as it’s not a reliable powerplant and there’s so much involved (such as sorting the fuelling and electronics plus upgrading the brakes and suspension); the total bill is usually £8000-10,000. Fiat twin-cam power was also popular once, but usable engines are now rare and nobody is producing the fitting kits any more. The conversion was also an acquired taste as it’s somewhat extreme thanks to the amount of power on offer; again, the conversion necessitates various other upgrades to make it safe.

Some owners get round the parts supply situation and the inherent weakness of the gearboxes by fitting a Ford Sierra unit; as this also has five gears with a taller top gear it makes the car more usable with the ability to cruise at 80mph but it’s a £1500 conversion.

The primitive nature of the electrical system also doesn’t lend itself to modern driving conditions, so it’s worth converting to an alternator for £60 if you’re anticipating using the car every day, as well as fitting halogen headlamps (£40), two speed wipers £112 and an electric screen washer system (£30). A priceless improvement is your lifestyle thanks to a brilliant club and show scene!

What To Look For

GENERAL

• It’s not so much that there’s a lot check on a Minor or that it is unreliable but to do the car justice, if you want comprehensive advice on vetting a car then visit our website (see below). We’d certainly advise on contacting an owners club and having a chat as they know where the best cars lurk and we’d drive a few to gain a datum – standard and modified.

• There’s a veritable cottage industry in Morris Minor specialists and this includes companies which can make you a ‘new’ one to your spec which may prove to be the best policy if you intend to keep yours for a long time. Charles Ware is perhaps the best known for this (http://www.morrisminor.org.uk), the breadth of improvements and bespoke builds are amazing – you really can make a Morris Minor to suit you!

Three Of A Kind

AUSTIN 1100/1300
AUSTIN 1100/1300
If you want an Austin with the period charm of the Minor you’re better off tracking down a A40 Dorset or Devon. The later 1100 and 1300 were up against the Minor in its dotage and being more modern these cars are more usable with a spacious cabin plus a brilliant ride and handling. Prices are typically lower.
FORD ANGLIA 105E
FORD ANGLIA 105E
After the 100E that came before, the 105E was a revelation with its bold styling and overhead-valve engine that was easy to tune. It still is, so squeezing a few extra horses out of it is simplicity itself, and as with the Minor there’s an estate option so practicality is on the menu – if you can find one that is.
TRIUMPH HERALD
TRIUMPH HERALD
With its all-round independent suspension, choice of saloon, coupé, estate or convertible bodstyles there’s a Herald for everyone. Early 948cc cars are breathless (and rare) but later Heralds with 1147cc or 1296cc four-pots are more usable, especially if they’ve had an overdrive conversion.

Verdict

There are few classics that are seen in everyday use more frequently than a Minor, and that’s for a good reason. Not only are they reliable, durable and easy to use, but with a few sympathetic upgrades they make the perfect alternative to a modern car, especially as a second car for general run-about use. The Minor is delightfully understated but don’t buy one if you’re a shrinking violet or just like to travel incognito, because you have to be prepared to get stared at wherever you go – people recognise and covet these cars. Just like you.



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