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Morris Minor vs VW Beetle

Bugs Life For Th e Good Life Published: 24th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

Tim Brennan of Charles Ware’s Morris Minor Centre says 1000s make great daily drivers and adds around 70 per cent are used as second cars. He recommends a post ’63 model (proper key start, improved heater) with a Marina-based front disc brake conversion as an ideal runaround. Most folk go for the versatile Traveller, with the convertible the next popular pick due to its style plus the fact that it’s a compact four-seater rag top. “The Morris Minor is a very English car – the sort that Shakespeare himself would drive,” he says.

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It must be the name. Decca Records rejected The Beatles, saying at the time that “guitar groups are on the way out”. The rest is history. Similarly, when the Volkswagen Beetle was touted around after WW2, nobody wanted the funny rear-engined, air-cooled bug on wheels. Despite saving the project and beginning production, the British Government didn’t think it had any real future, while Ford considered the whole thing a complete waste of money – as did the French Government. So it was given back to the West German folk – and some 23,000,000 cars later… Well, we all make mistakes! However, if we had taken the Volkswagen on, what would have happened to the ‘British Beetle’ our Morris Minor? Introduced at around the same time, the ‘Mosquito’ as it was code-named had much in common with the Beetle, not least an undying affection with the buying public to this day. Today, these ’Peoples’ Cars’ continue to fi nd new fans as fashionable, low-cost daily drivers. What bug has bitten you though?

Which one to buy?

More choice with the Minor For the average enthusiast, the Morris Minor provides the most buying choice. The VW comes with only two body styles, saloon or convertible, whereas the Brit comes in several forms: two and four-door saloons, a Traveller estate, convertible and even van and pick-up variants. However, you could also have a ‘Beetle’ in different confi gurations if you factor in the Type 3 derivatives such as the 1500 saloon and estate, the 1600 fastback and the 411, which was based on a stretched Beetle fl oorpan for added space. However these Type 3s are pretty thin on the ground and don’t hold the same cachet and values as a proper Beetle. Much the same can be said for the Minor based Riley 1.5 and Wolseley 1500 saloons. While both the Morris and the VW remained fundamentally the same throughout their long and illustrious production runs, mechanically they changed considerably over the years, especially the VW which gained larger windows, 12-volt electrics, bigger engines (up to 1600cc) and revised suspension systems. Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Herbie fan, go for a post ‘67 car and enjoy the better spec and a gutsier 1500cc engine option.

The biggest changes to the Minor concerned the engines and the 1098cc Minor 1000 range from 1962 is the best bet for modern use, not simply due to the perkier and more robust engine but also because the Brit also gained proper fl ashing indicators! If you want an automatic then only the Beetle obliges. Initially it was a semi-auto 1500, but the 1300 and the 1600 (1302/1303) also gained this rare ’clutchless’ transmission but it’s an acquired taste. Type 3 1600s used a fully automatic transmission incidentally.

What’s the best to drive?

The same, but different! Given the fact that both cars were made over 60 years ago, both understandably have a similar vintage feel about them, yet how they go about their business is completely different. Despite their even performance, the Minor feels far swifter and sharper, mainly due to the characteristics of the hard working A-Series engine and inherent low gearing. Factor in the gutsy nature of the 1098cc unit (11bhp over the smoother 948cc) and the Morris feels very brisk in town and on local hops. In complete contrast, the Beetle feels like a slug. The engines are lazy and the gearchange is much sloppier yet the VW performs as well as Minor and is without doubt the best cruiser, care of its higher gearing and low-revving engines. Despite this, the performance difference between say a 1300 and the 1500 isn’t particularly great– at 44bhp it’s only four horses to the good. Similarly, the 1600 ‘Super Beetle’ could only muster 80mph according to tests at the time, although it’s nippier through the gears. Economy doesn’t vary much between the engines either, and quoted test fi gures at the time show that it was hard to better 35mpg in any Beetle. When it comes to handling, the conventional Brit is the most predictable and fun. With its rack and pinion steering and torsion bar front suspension, the Minor still feels delightfully crisp, although roadholding on skinny 145 radials is minimal and requires care, especially in the wet. The VW needs an even more measured drive, wet or dry, and its tail happy antics will give anybody new to oldies a skipped heat-beat or two. Which do we prefer? It depends on the usage. The Morris is the nippier car around town but the VW is the more relaxed and realistic bet away from the urban jungle.

Owning and running

Minor has major advantage There’s no doubt that the Morris Minor is the easiest to maintain at home care of its simple mechanicals, conventional layout and better access to the engine. Add ease and cheapness of parts, plus terrifi c specialist back up and the Minor is surely one of the most inexpensive easy-going classics you can ever wish for. The Beetle was fairly sophisticated in its day and even now requires special tools for certain jobs, although after all these years, respected dodges and wrinkles can get you by. Parts and specialist support is not far short of the Minor’s but the inherent build quality of the Beetle was always far superior – it was, after all, the car which gave Volkswagen the reputation it has lived off ever since! Another point in the VW’s favour is its longer production run which only ended earlier this century. This means that, in theory, you can have a nearly new Beetle and have the best of both worlds, but the Mexican-built Beetles made from 1978-2003 can be hit and miss and the earliest models are held in higher esteem. You’d think that the Germanmade 1302/1302 models of the early 1970s would be good bets thanks to their superior suspension and brakes (the same items that were fi tted to Porsche 924s, in fact) but in bug circles they are not particularly liked, plus they have a strange reputation for serious rust. Models from the 1950s and 60s are loved the most due to their cult status but they’re harder to live with on a daily basis. Another point in the Minor’s favour is its conventional boot, which is more commodious than the front compartment of the VW. The Beetle counteracts this to some extent by having a dropdown rear seat for semiestate practicality. However, this area can only be accessed as you would by letting a rear seat passenger in, so that it limits usability.

And The Winner Is...

It’s not simply patriotism that makes us choose the Morris. While it may lack that hewn from solid feel of the VW, it’s the more pragmatic choice that suits most enthusiasts’ requirements better. That said, we would be reluctant to leave a Moggy completely standard and a 1275cc A-Series lump, discs brakes and perhaps a fi ve-speed gearbox are all conversions that are now widely accepted because they make a good car even better, yet don’t detract from the Minor’s charming character. The Beetle is a motoring milestone and a great car – if you like that sort of thing.



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