A quaint, half-timbered classic that’s also exceedingly practical. But is the Minor Traveller a carpenter’s nightmare or a realistic DIY prospect?
When the Traveller was launched in 1953, it was pretty unusual. Estate cars were fairly rare, while small estate cars were almost unthinkable. Even ‘Woodies’ were generally just for the elite to go hunting in on their large, err, estates. The Traveller was a pioneer, albeit one that clung onto ancient technology – for rather than a van with seats and windows, it was a proper, timber-framed utility vehicle based on saloon underpinnings.
By 1953, the Minor was into its Series II guise, using the 803cc Austin A Series engine following the merger of Morris and Austin to form BMC. The Series II was always rather short of gearing, the Traveller even more so. Things improved radically with the arrival of the Minor 1000 in 1956: A 37bhp 948cc engine transformed performance and the gearbox now had a nifty remote lever. Things changed again for 1962, with the engine now up to 48bhp and 1098cc, though it was still referred to as a Minor 1000. The Minor 1000 sold in huge numbers – amazing for what by then was an elderly design. Production finally ended in 1971, with Travellers amongst the last built. The RAF even stashed a few away for later use. In total, over 215,000 Travellers were built.
Traveller prices have been rising for some time, driven both by desirability, but also what can be high restoration costs. You can blow £10,000 making a bad one good without really thinking about it. Therefore if you can find a genuinely good one for £10,000, it makes more sense to buy that one rather than attempt a costly renovation. The high restoration costs are because that wood is a nightmare, aren’t they? Well, not entirely, no.
MORRIS MINOR TRAVELLER BUYING ADVICE
BODYWORK: Clearly woodwork is a potential issue. Not only do you need to watch out for dark spots suggesting rot is beginning, but you need to watch out for bodgery. Have pieces been clumsily let into the frame to avoid having to do the job properly? Get on your knees and inspect the underside too: It’s no good being nice on top if the wood is a mess underneath. The reason these cars are expensive to restore is not because the wood is expensive – £1350 should get you a complete kit with the sides pre-assembled – but due to the sheer amount of labour required. At an hourly rate, the work can quickly acquire a high cost, even though there’s not a vast amount of skill required. Patience is needed, certainly, but don’t be scared to have a go.
When buying though, condition is everything, so check carefully. Does it all actually fit together nicely? Does it sit well over the rear wheelarches? Does the timber look recently varnished? Again – make sure it isn’t just cosmetically nice where you can see it. The most vulnerable areas are immediately in front of the rear wheel, and at the corner behind that wheel. Also, check the rear posts very closely around the rear lights and hinges.
Don’t forget that while the side panels and roof are aluminium, the floor and ‘arches are steel. Watch out for MoT-pass standard welding, which might well hide more rot beneath. Check the spring hangers especially. Sadly, not all areas are easy to inspect. If checking out a project, it’s a good idea to expect the worse when the rear body comes off. Only then can you really see how bad things are. If buying a restored car, you ideally need to see photos of the car with the wood off – it really is better to be safe than sorry…
Otherwise, it’s all the standard Minor stuff, so you need to check around the front suspension mounts, the front floors and footwells, the crossmember beneath the seats and the A-posts. Do check the seatbelts, if fitted: Proper mounts were fitted from about 1961 – designed to go above or below the semaphore trafficator. A more suitable height was used from about 1967 when semaphores were long gone.
ENGINE: Spotting the correct engine can be tricky, and an awful lot of Minors have been upgraded over the years. It’s pretty rare to find a Series II still on the factory-fitted 803cc engine, as progress is so stately. Similarly, it’s not at all uncommon to find a 1275cc A Series engine has been fitted. The 803cc had rather a reputation for a weak bottom end – different, stronger bearings were used with the 948cc capacity increase. With all of them, listen out for a dull knock from the bottom end.
Timing chains can get a bit noisy, but so can neglected or ill-set tappets. One of the quickest signs of engine health is to watch the exhaust, especially on the over-run. Blue smoke suggests it may be rebuild time. Charles Ware’s Morris Minor Centre sells a complete reconditioned 1098cc engine for £864 plus surcharge against your old unit, though it’s an easy engine to overhaul at home if you fancy it – a set of pistons might only be £150 or so. Watch out for overheating – this is easier if someone has retro-fitted a coolant temperature gauge. You can have a look at the coolant with the engine cold though: Sludgy brown or rust-coloured coolant is not encouraging and could mean the block and radiator have begun to silt up. Fitting an electric cooling fan is not a solution in this case.
RUNNING GEAR: The good news is that it’s pretty easy to fit a later engine to an earlier Minor Traveller. You can even carry out a modification that lets you use the ‘magic wand’ Series II gear lever with the stronger 948cc/1098cc gearbox. The 1098cc gearbox is the toughest. Synchromesh failure is fairly common with age, especially with the 948cc engine’s gearbox, so make sure the change from second-to-fourth can be selected easily. First gear never had any. Gearboxes can get very noisy too – first gear always has a distinct whine, but it can positively yowl when worn. The same is true of rear axles – also, beefed up halfshafts are essential if engine power has been increased.
Brakes were never particularly confidence-inspiring, which is why a great many are upgraded. They should at least pull the car up in a straight line – failed wheel cylinders could be the culprit if not. Minors always had servo-less drums from the factory.
The trunnions in the front suspension need regular greasing to keep them happy, or you’re looking at a total spend of around £70 to replace them yourself if play has developed. The ride can feel especially bouncy if the lever arm dampers are worn or short of oil. The steering should be light and pleasant. If it isn’t, something is amiss.
INTERIOR & ELECTRICS: If the interior is tired, ESM Morris Minors Spares sells a complete set of vinyl seat covers for £257, or if you fancy leather, that’s £450. New glovebox liners – they can sag with age – will set you back around £37 each. A pair of new side panels in the rear will cost you £144. As well as aged parts, look out for water ingress. Lift the carpets to inspect the floor.
There isn’t very much electrical equipment, so make sure what little is there is functioning. Halogen headlamps are a useful upgrade, but it’s best to use relays to reduce current flow through aged wiring and the switch itself. Prior to 1961, trafficators were used. Even after this, folk are often tempted to fit more obvious, separate indicators. The larger, combined front units were only fitted from 1963. Incidentally, the 1098cc Minors have a much-improved windscreen wiper set-up that clears more of the screen.
WHAT TO PAY
The best Travellers are commanding strong money now – easily £12,000-plus for something freshly restored or highly original, though you may be able to get a better deal by buying privately. £7000-8000 is said to be more realistic by club experts. You may still snap up a project for a grand depending on what is needed, and a rough-runner with an MoT may be £3000-4000. Big expenditure is unlikely to be far away though.
While early Travellers are rare, buyers still generally prefer the greater usability of later ones, so values don’t vary much due to a car’s age. The only two factors are condition and originality – though modified Travellers also have their fans.
ENGINE: 803cc 948cc 1098cc
POWER: 30bhp 37bhp 48bhp
TOP SPEED: 62mph 70mph 78mph
0-60mph: Slowly… 34.1secs 22.2secs
ECONOMY: 35mpg 38mpg 35mpg