The Morris Minor is a British economy car that debuted at the Earls Court Motor Show, London, on 20 September 1948. Designed under the leadership of Alec Issigonis, more than 1.3 million were manufactured between 1948 and 1972. Initially available as a two-door saloon and tourer (convertible), the range was subsequently expanded to include a four-door saloon in 1950, a wood-framed estate (the Traveller) from 1952 and panel van and pick-up truck variants from 1953.
The Minor was manufactured in three series: the MM (1948), the Series II (1952) and finally the 1000 series (1956).
Sir Alec Issigonis' concept was to combine the luxury and convenience of a good motor car at a price affordable by the working classes. The Minor was a roomy vehicle with superior cornering and handling characteristics. Internal politics inside BMC, the owner of Morris, may have led to the limited North American sales. The Minor prototype had been known as the Morris Mosquito. More than 1.3 million of the lightweight, rear-wheel drive cars were eventually produced, mainly in Cowley, Oxfordshire, becoming Britain's first million seller, and exported around the world, with many variants of the original model. Production continued in Birmingham, England until 1972 (for the commercial variants and estate only). The last Morris Minor (commercial) was assembled at Stoke, Nelson, New Zealand in 1974.
The Minor has been described as typifying "Englishness", a "British icon" and a "design classic".
The original Minor MM series lasted from 1948 until 1953. It included a pair of four-seat saloons, two-door and (from 1950) a four-door, and a convertible four-seat Tourer. The front torsion bar suspension was shared with the larger Morris Oxford, as was the almost-unibody construction. Although the Minor was originally designed to accept a flat-4 engine, with four distinctive gaps in the engine bay to accommodate it, late in the development stage it was replaced by a 918 cc (56.0 cu in) side-valve inline-four engine pretty much unchanged from the outgoing Morris 8, and producing 27.5 hp (21 kW) and 39 lbf·ft (53 N·m) of torque. This little engine pushed the Minor to just 64 mph (103 km/h) but delivered 40 miles per imperial gallon (7.1 L/100 km; 33 mpg-US). Brakes were four-wheel drums.
Early cars had a painted section in the centre of the bumpers to cover the widening of the production car from the prototypes. This widening of 4 inches (102 mm) is also visible in the creases in the bonnet. Exports to the United States began in 1949 with the headlamps removed from within the grille surround to be mounted higher on the wings to meet local safety requirements. In 1950 a four-door version appeared, initially available only for export, and featuring from the start the headlamps faired into the wings rather than set lower down on either side of the grille. The raised headlight position became standard on all Minors in time for 1951. From the start, the Minor had semaphore-type turn indicators, and subsequent Minor versions persisted with these until 1961. An Autocar magazine road test in 1950 reported that these were "not of the usual self-cancelling type, but incorporate[d] a time-basis return mechanism in a switch below the facia, in front of the driver". It was all too easy for a passenger hurriedly emerging from the front passenger seat to collide with and snap off a tardy indicator "flipper" that was still sticking out of the B-pillar, having not yet been safely returned by the time-basis return mechanism to its folded position.
Another innovation towards the end of 1950 was a water pump (replacing a gravity dependent system), which permitted the manufacturer to offer an interior heater "as optional equipment".
When production of the first series ended, just over a quarter of a million had been sold, 30 per cent of them the convertible Tourer model.
A tourer tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1950 had a top speed of 58.7 mph (94.5 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–50 mph (80 km/h) in 29.2 seconds for the 1,098 cc engine. However, the 918 cc engine did 0–60 mph in 50+ seconds. A fuel consumption of 42 miles per imperial gallon (6.7 L/100 km; 35 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £382 including taxes.
Minor Series II
In 1952, the Minor line was updated with an Austin-designed 803 cc (49.0 cu in) overhead valve A-series engine, replacing the original side-valve unit. The engine had been designed for the Minor's main competition, the Austin A30, but became available as Austin and Morris were merged into the British Motor Corporation. The new engine felt stronger, though all measurements were smaller than the old. The 52 second drive to 60 mph (97 km/h) was still calm, with 63 mph (101 km/h) as the top speed. Fuel consumption also rose to 36 miles per imperial gallon (7.8 L/100 km; 30 mpg-US).
An estate version was introduced in 1952, known as the Traveller (a Morris naming tradition for estates, also seen on the Mini). The Traveller featured an external structural ash (wood) frame for the rear bodywork, with two side-hinged rear doors. The frame was varnished rather than painted and a highly visible feature of the body style. Commercial models, marketed as the Morris Quarter Ton Van and Pick-up were added in May 1953. Rear bodies of the van versions were all steel. The 4-seat convertible and saloon variants continued as well.
A horizontal slat grille was fitted from October 1954, and a new dashboard with a central speedometer was fitted. Almost half a million examples had been produced when the line ended in 1956.
The Motor magazine tested a four-door saloon in 1952. It reported a top speed of 62 mph (100 km/h) and acceleration from 0–50 mph (80 km/h) in 28.6 seconds. A fuel consumption of 39.3 miles per imperial gallon (7.19 L/100 km; 32.7 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £631 including taxes.
- 1952–56: 803 cc A-Series inline-four, 30 hp (22 kW) at 4,800 rpm and 40 lbf·ft (54 N·m) at 2,400 rpm
In February 1961 the Morris Minor became the first British car to sell more than 1,000,000 units. To commemorate the achievement, a limited edition of 350 two-door Minor saloons (one for each UK Morris dealership) was produced with distinctive lilac paintwork and a white interior. Also the badge name on the side of the bonnet was modified to read "Minor 1,000,000" instead of the standard "Minor 1000". The millionth Minor was donated to the National Union of Journalists, who planned to use it as a prize in a competition in aid of the union's Widow and Orphan Fund. The company, at the same time, presented a celebratory Minor to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, but this car was constructed of cake.
The final major upgrades to the Minor were made in 1962. Although the name Minor 1000 was retained, the changes were sufficient for the new model to be given its own ADO development number. A larger version of the existing A-Series engine had been developed in conjunction with cylinder head specialist Harry Weslake for the then new ADO16 Austin/Morris 1100 range. This new engine used a taller block than did the 948 cc unit, with increased bore and stroke bringing total capacity up to 1,098 cc. Although fuel consumption suffered moderately at 38 mpg, the Minor's top speed increased to 77 mph (124 km/h) with noticeable improvements in low-end torque, giving an altogether more responsive drive. Other changes included a modified dashboard layout with toggle switches, textured steel instrument binnacle, and larger convex glove box covers. A different heater completed the interior upgrade, whilst the larger combined front side/indicator light units, common to many BMC vehicles of the time, were fitted to the front wings. These now included a separate bulb and amber lens for indicators while larger tail lamp units also included amber rear flashers.
- 1956–62: 948 cc A-series inline-four, 37 hp (28 kW) at 4,750 rpm and 50 lb·ft (68 N·m) at 2,500 rpm
- 1962–72: 1,098 cc A-series inline-four, 48 hp (36 kW) at 5,100 rpm and 60 lb·ft (81 N·m) at 2,500 rpm
Decline and replacement
During the life of the Minor 1000 model, production declined. The last Convertible/Tourer was manufactured on 18 August 1969, and the saloon models were discontinued the following year. Production of the more practical Traveller and commercial versions ceased in 1972, although examples of all models were still theoretically available from dealers with a surplus of unsold cars for a short time afterwards. According to Newell (1997), 1.6 million Minors were made in total and Wainwright (2008) even claims that 1,619,857 Minors of all variants were ultimately sold.
The Minor was officially replaced on the Cowley production lines by the Morris Marina (ADO28), which was developed primarily as a response to Ford's top-selling (and in many respects, conservatively engineered) Escort. Building a mid-sized car capable of volume sales (particularly in the lucrative fleet-buying market) was becoming increasingly key in generating healthy profit margins, and was an issue BMC had consistently failed to address in the past. The Marina was developed under the watchful eye of British Leyland management, and used a floor plan and running gear deliberately similar to the Minor to streamline production changeover and minimize the financial outlay associated with chassis development and retooling.
The spiritual successor to the Morris Minor was arguably the ADO16 Austin/Morris 1100 range, which had been launched in 1962 and aimed at the same small family-car market (and actually replaced the Minor in some export markets such as Australia and New Zealand). The crisp styling, hydrolastic suspension and innovative front-wheel drive system (itself a "scaling-up" of the Mini principle) made ADO16 a worthy successor to the (in its day) strikingly forward-looking Minor. However, due to the British Motor Corporation's commitment to both the Morris factory at Cowley, and Austin plant at Longbridge – in addition to a healthy demand for both products – production of the two cars continued in parallel for nearly ten years. Ironically, production of ADO16 only outlasted that of the Minor by three years or so, before being axed in favour of the innovative, export-oriented yet under-developed Austin Allegro in 1974.
Despite the four major updates of the Minor in its 23-year production run, very few actively designed "safety features" were ever engineered into the Minor's design. Provisions were made for seat belt fittings in the early '60s, but the rigid structure of the car's monocoque body made it dangerously unabsorbent to impact. For a short time in 1968, the thickness of the steel used in the bonnet and doors was decreased from 1.2 mm to 1.0 mm to act as a form of crumple zone, but as the wings continued to be made of 1.4 mm mild steel, the modification was pointless and ineffectual and was reversed in 1969 as it increased passenger compartment crush in collisions.
The Mark II model changed from the "lowlight" model to comply with Canadian lighting standards, with higher and brighter headlights to increase visibility in fog and during dark Canadian winters.
Australian models, and tourer models made in Britain and exported to Australia, featured safety glass windscreens and safety glass windows, to comply with local regulations. Australian models also had blinking indicator lights in addition to the standard trafficator arms on the indigenous Minor 1000.
Morris quarter ton van and pick-up
Closed van and open flat-bed ("pick-up") versions of the Minor were built from 1953 until the end of production. They were designed for commercial use with small businesses, although many made their way to larger corporations. Van versions were popular with the General Post Office, the early versions of these (to around 1956) having rubber front wings to cope with the sometimes unforgiving busy situations in which they were expected to work. Both the van and the pickup differed from the monocoque construction of the Saloon and Traveller variants by having a separate chassis. They also differed in details such as telescopic rear dampers, stiffer rear leaf springs and lower-ratio differentials to cope with heavier loads.
The commercials versions were initially marketed as the Morris Quarter Ton Van and Pick-up with a Series III designation applied from 1956. The names Morris 6cwt Van and Pickup was used following the introduction of the 1098cc engine in 1962 and 8cwt versions were added in 1968.
With Austin and Morris both part of BMC, the Minor-based Morris commercials were also marketed as the Austin 6cwt and Austin 8cwt.
Morris Minor today
Today the Morris Minor and 1000 are among the best-served classic family-sized cars in the old vehicle movement and continue to gain popularity. The enduring affection for the "Moggie" (also a common British nickname for an undistinguished cat, or a Morgan) or "Morrie" (as it is often known in Australia and New Zealand) is reflected in the number of restored and improved Morris Minors currently running in Britain, Australasia and in India. In addition to more powerful engines, desirable improvements necessitated by the increase in traffic density since the Minor was withdrawn from volume production include the replacement of the original equipment drum brakes with discs. Other important upgrades include the 1,275 cc (77.8 cu in) version of the A-series engine, derided by Morris Marina enthusiasts as a key reason why many Marinas were scrapped, and the similarly sized Nissan A engine, which shares all common dimensions to the Morris Minor engine, except piston size. Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson once stated that the Morris Minor is Britain's Volkswagen Beetle. There is still a great parts backup for these cars, and parts are cheap compared to modern day cars.
Replacement panels for the Morris Minor were still being built in 2002 by the Durable Car Company in Sri Lanka.
Media and Celebrity Connections
- The most famous Minor may well be the tatty 1000 driven by antiques dealer, Lovejoy, in the television series of the same name.
- The Minor was also the car of choice for Nurse Gladys Emmanuel in Open All Hours, who drove a white 1000 saloon, and for Sgt. Oscar Blaketon in Heartbeat, who drove a grey Traveller.
- A 1000 had a significant role in the 1970s sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. A model was made by Corgi Classics
- Broadcaster Chris Evans owned/owns a white 1000 convertible.
- All the vehicles in the The Borrowers (1997 film) are the many production variants of the quintessentially English Morris Minor, including the villain of the piece having a black stretch Morris Minor.
- A Morris Minor Traveller briefly appears in the 2011 film The Muppets.
- As part of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party's 1992 manifesto, Morris Minor production would restart, with the original chrome and split windscreen, as well as an 1100 cc engine.