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World Beaters – Morris Minor

Posted by wp-admin on 17th February 2017

Like the smart Siamese in the IAMS pet food commercial proclaiming himself more than just a cat, the Morris Minor is more than just a car – it’s a way of life. Assembled at one time in near-enough a dozen countries, its reputation has ensured that 43 years after production ended, the Minor still attracts a following from Sidcup to Sri Lanka as a car that makes sense to many owners, not only as a classic pet but as a regular workhorse. Just ask any of the Morris Minor Owners’ Club’s 14,000 worldwide members for a start!

 

But what made the Minor such a world-beater?  After all, cars for the masses aren’t necessarily ones for setting pulses racing. Renault 9s and Nissan Cherries have come, been made in their millions and scrapped without as much as a tear from the motoring public. Every now and again however, an everyman’s car comes along, such as the Austin Seven, Fiat 500, Citroën 2CV or Mini, with a badge on it that says: ‘Buy me, I have charm and individuality’. And this the Minor, with its inimitable jelly-mould looks, had in spades.

 

But it went further than that. Like other great cars in history, the Minor’s conception was the work of one inspired creator – Alec Issigonis, ably assisted by his lieutenants Jack Daniels and Reg Job – rather than a faceless committee. To existing skills as a suspension specialist, Issigonis added an enlightened approach to automotive packaging. He wasn’t afraid to borrow from the better efforts of early-’Forties America for a style that not only looked good but provided decent interior room at a time when small cars were near-claustrophobic affairs with narrow, tapering front compartments. And having conceived a practical envelope for the occupants, Alec ensured it rode and handled well too, with torsion-bar independent front suspension instead of cart springs up for’ard, a wide track and precise rack-and-pinion steering.

 

These factors ensured that the Minor was a pleasure to drive, rendering it a relatively glued-to-the-road revelation in the ’Forties and ‘Fifties, with none of the cornering top-heaviness of, say, an E494A Anglia. Only the corporate diktat of using engines off the shelf – initially Nuffield’s existing side-valve Morris Eight followed by BMC’s 803cc Austin units – restricted the Minor’s potential. Nevertheless with 40mpg easily achievable, the Minor was economical to run during the crucial post-war period of increasingly-taxed fuel and rationing during the mid-’Fifties Suez Crisis, while the extremely worthwhile improvements to the car’s mechanical robustness from 1956 with the 948cc A Series engine and culminating in the 1098cc unit of 1962  consolidated the model’s reputation for ever.

 

The Minor range also offered more choice than other British manufacturers. When production was in full flow there were two or four-door saloons, a convertible, an estate car, van and pick-up. Ford came close to matching this with its 100E line but didn’t have a small convertible, while after 1947 Vauxhall didn’t offer a small car at all until 1963. It was almost the same story at Rootes, whose only tiddler was the Hillman Husky utility before the cheeky little Imp came along in 1963.

 

All good things, however, come to an end or so it seemed in the Minor’s case. It reached the million production mark in December 1960, commemorated by 300-odd pretty lilac models with wheel trims and chromed ‘1,000,000’ digits on the bootlid. But then sales began a long decline, particularly with the convertible. Commercially speaking there could have been a case for discontinuing the model in 1962. That was the year BMC’s 1100 appeared, drawing on the successful Mini experience and thanks again to Issigonis’ touch, taking the small-car FWD packaging a stage further. The appearance of this car and the sharp styling of the rival Anglia 105E and Triumph Herald, both on the scene since 1959, were making the Minor seem old hat.

 

By this time, other manufacturers were extending service intervals, reducing or eliminating grease points and introducing sealed cooling systems. But despite the new arrivals and increasing sophistication of the competition, there was still enough customer loyalty, enhanced by fleet orders from the armed services and police to keep the Minor in production for several more years. It proved the point that come what may, there was a solid body of customers out there who wanted a car with mechanics they could relate to, that were dead easy to work on either at home or any village garage thanks to a roomy engine bay, and above all could be run on a budget. It was these qualities, both at home and abroad that ensured the Minor became a classic almost within its own production span, and has never looked back since.

 

The Minor may have been the sensation of the 1948 Motor Show, but it grew up with some challenging competition, all of which were equally fresh new designs owing nothing to what had gone before. But here’s how, in some respects, we think they fell short of the Minor’s benchmark, without denying the overall qualities and appeal of each.

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