The 1948 Motor Show at Earls Court saw the introduction of a number of new British cars. The star of the show at the time had to be the glamorous Jaguar XK120, a powerful, desirable and very fast sports car that is fondly remembered by motoring enthusiasts.
However, a little family car by the name of Morris Minor, designed by one Alec Issigonis (later to achieve further fame for designing the Mini) was destined to make a lasting mark on British motoring, continuing in production into the 1970s, with many examples still in daily use today.
Issigonis's creation (originally designated the Mosquito) was a small and basic four-seater saloon or convertible. Most of the production at first went straight for export mostly to Australia, which was perhaps not a bad thing as a heater was not available, even as an option, until 1950! It was a modern car in most respects, and Issigonis had wanted to fit the car with a brand new flat four engine. However, he was overruled by Morris management who saved money by fitting an antiquated 918cc side-valve engine (the evidence that the Minor was designed for the flat four can be seen from the excellent access afforded to the standard engine).
For the 1950 Motor Show, a new shape was forced on Morris by Californian regulations that stipulated a minimum height of 24 inches for the headlights. This meant that the lights had to go into raised 'pods' in the wings, and gave the car the familiar outline it has today.
The next development was the introduction of Austin's A-series engine to replace the outdated and underpowered side-valve. Although it boasted only 803cc, it was slightly more powerful and produced more torque than the engine it replaced, and endowed the car with better acceleration. It is a mark of how good the A-series was (although it might also be read as an indictment of the British motor industry) that the basic engine design continued in use right up until the demise of the Mini in the first year of the 21st Century!
The new A-series powered Minor was designated the Series 2, and was introduced gradually, taking over from the last side-valves in 1953, at which time an estate version (with a timber frame from the front doors back) was introduced. This was called the Traveller. 1953 also saw the introduction of commercial van and pick-up variants.
In 1956, the Minor was given a boost with the expanding of its engine to 948cc. This gave the little car genuine 70mph performance and the new model was called, with only a little exaggeration, the Minor 1000. At the same time, the old split screen was dropped in favour of a single piece screen and a new dashboard fitted. The car now looked much as it would for the remainder of its production run, although there were minor - pardon the pun - modifications.
In 1960, the millionth Minor was produced, celebrated with a limited run of 350 'Morris Minor 1000000s' which were painted a garish lilac colour with a white interior. Apart from the arguably rather tasteless colour scheme and 'Minor 1000000' badges, these were standard two door saloons, and many of them still survive.
In 1962, the Minor saw its last significant change when the A-series engine's capacity was increased to 1098cc. This was accompanied by improvements in the transmission - a larger clutch to cope with the increase in power, along with higher gearing to allow more relaxed cruising. In addition, the front brakes were increased in diameter from 7" to 8".
The Beginning of the End?
The Minor was now looking increasingly old-fashioned. Sales began to fall off, and no further development was attempted. The energies of the parent company, BMC1, were put into the Austin/Morris 1100 (and later 1300) range, which was of similar size to the Minor but was more technically advanced. BMC throughout the 1960s produced rival ranges of cars and effectively competed with themselves. Once BMC was taken over by Leyland the writing was on the wall, and the convertible was the first model to be axed in late 1969. A year later, the two and four-door saloons followed, and the Traveller was last to go in April 1971.
The Minor, however, has refused to die! Many are still in everyday use, even though the youngest is nearly 30 years old. It is an ideal starter classic. As the history above demonstrates there is a variety of models - two and four-door saloons, two-door convertibles and estate cars, vans and pickups can all be found for sale. A mechanically and structurally sound saloon can be bought for well under £1000 and will be more than capable of serving as a day-to-day car. Minor 1000s can cruise up to the motorway speed limit and keep up with town traffic, and will still return better than 35 miles per gallon. For those who want to really impress the neighbours, £3000 will comfortably buy a Minor that is literally as good as new.
As standard, they require lead replacement petrol or the use of an additive, but converted cylinder heads are easy to find and fit to allow the use of unleaded fuel. Parts to keep them on the road are readily available by mail order from a variety of specialists, who will normally provide the parts next day, and they are generally much cheaper than parts for modern cars.
The Minor has a simple layout, and is easy to work on; access is mostly excellent and only a limited tool-kit will serve for the majority of maintenance and repairs. There is also the large, thriving and welcoming Morris Minor Owners' Club which is packed with Minor owners who are always willing to help - Minor owners tend to be a friendly bunch, it's that sort of car. A professional magazine packed with information and regular shows and meetings are among the benefits.
Although the standard car is well capable of standing up to the rigours of daily use, some owners prefer a more up-to-date motoring experience. They too are catered for. The 1300 A-series engine fitted to the Morris Marina and Ital is a straightforward fit, and many specialists offer the conversion. A five speed gearbox can be installed, and having made it go better it makes sense for the handling and braking to be updated to match, and this too is no problem - kits are available to improve the suspension with telescopic shock absorbers, and to help stop the car with disc brakes.
Many owners, however, are happy with the Minor just as it came out of the factory. The President of the Merseyside Branch of the Owners' Club was recently featured on TV with his 1955 Series 2 Minor. He was pleased to report that his Minor had just completed 500,000 miles, during which time it has never broken down, or been off the road, welded, restored or resprayed. He's happy with his car. What are you waiting for?