The Morris Major and Austin Lancer are passenger car models produced by the British Motor Corporation of Australia (BMC) between 1958 and 1964. The Morris Major name had been used before by Morris Motors in England, first appearing between 1931 and 1933.
The Major and Lancer evolved though three series (I, II and Elite), with the first incarnations being badge engineered clones of the contemporary Wolseley 1500 and Riley One-Point-Five models then on sale in the United Kingdom. The Austin Lancer was phased-out of production by April 1962. These models were wholly produced at BMC's Zetland plant in Sydney, Australia and were unique to that country, having around 98% local content. Many examples were also exported to New Zealand.
The Morris Major/Austin Lancer/Wolseley 1500/Riley One-Point-Five all shared the same core design which had originally been developed as a possible replacement for the ever-popular Morris Minor by BMC's in-house design team at Longbridge, England. That plan was abandoned due to the Minor's unwavering appeal with the buying public and a Wolseley version was instead unveiled in 1957, followed by the Riley. They were light, close-coupled saloons incorporating the front torsion bar/rear leaf spring suspension, floorpan and superb rack and pinion steering from the Morris Minor. These automotive "quadruplets" were powered by the famous B series power unit (I4,) of 1489 cc. From 1962 the 1622 cc version of this engine, developed in Australia, powered the Major Elite. All were equipped with large, heavy duty drum brakes - by Lockheed for the Wolseley, Morris and Austin and Girling for the Riley. This formula resulted in a popular small-to-medium family car with lively performance, robust build and road manners that were quite above average for the time. The Major and Lancer, as distinct from the sportier and more luxurious Wolseley/Riley cars, shared a similar level of appointment, finish and engine tune with contemporary Morris and Austin models. Although comparatively modest, the Major/Lancer had a generally high level of comfort and quality: it was a modern car offering sound value. The sporting potential of the Major/Lancer was recognised almost immediately and specialist-modified cars were raced successfully at a professional level into the early 1960s.
The Series I Morris Major / Austin Lancer sold reasonably well and was profitable to build due to greatly offset tooling costs and extensive use of shared components. However, BMC quickly invested in the thoroughly re-engineered and subsequently better received Series II Major / Lancer of 1959-62. Thenceforth, the Australian cars became quite distinctive from their siblings. Outwardly, the cars were now longer by 9 inches (229 mm), including an extended wheelbase, tailfins and new front sheetmetal. Series II's styling seems to have been more inspired by American ideas and, to many eyes, this gave the cars a more handsome appearance. Several updates to the original design were introduced, many of these changes intended to make the cars more suitable for the tough Australian conditions and to bolster its competitiveness with top selling rivals such as Holden and Volkswagen. The suspension was strengthened, extra reinforcement of the chassis was added and the interiors were given a front bench seat in place of buckets, ventilation and demisting ducts and a new instrument cluster. Also, the rear axle (a Morris Minor unit which in hindsight was not well-suited to the more powerful engine) had acquired an unfortunate reputation for weakness in Series I. The axle and differential were improved though, sadly, this early failing had already damaged the car's image and that of its maker. Series II's engine retained its single SU HS2 carburettor/SU fuel pump and received a modified oil sump to afford greater ground clearance. The Series II received highly favourable reviews from the motoring press of the time with its sweeping array of detail improvements, enhanced handling characteristics and attractive price earning much praise.
Morris Major EliteIntroduced in April 1962, the Elite was the third and last series for this model, supplanting the Austin Lancer range completely due to a change in BMC's Australian dealer network: there were now "BMC Dealers" only rather than separate outlets for each BMC Marque. It was seen as unnecessary to have two versions of the same vehicle, though a "Series III Lancer" had been considered right up to the Elite's introduction.
The Elite heralded the enlarged 1622 cc engine with greater power, this version now used a Zenith VN carburettor and Goss mechanical fuel pump. Telescopic rear shock absorbers, seatbelt mounting points and uprated front suspension rubbers featured among other technical revisions.
A striking facelift was achieved with only minimal changes to sheet metal; this constituted chrome window surrounds, a new full-width grille closely resembling that of the Mk VI Morris Oxford, and a "rocket" colour flash on the tailfins. Some changes to basic equipment level included a fresh air heater/demister, duo-tone paint in various new plain and pastel colours, brighter interiors and a windscreen washer.
The price was also lowered from the previous Series II list price, this made the already highly competitive Major outstanding value-for-money. Sales were fairly good and warranty claims were the least for any BMC (Aust.) model then to date.
The arrival of the Morris 1100 saw the Major Elite ceasing production in around 1964. A number of examples of all types of Major and Lancer still survive.