Morris Minor front three quarters exterior

Morris Minor

BUYER’S GUIDE

Morris Minor Review

This post-war British icon is a deservedly popular and still affordable first classic…

What Is It?

While the second world war still raged car manufacturers quietly looked ahead to more peaceful times and, sometimes covertly, developed the cars they hoped would get the world moving once hostilities ended. In France models like the Renault 4CV and Citroën 2CV emerged from the rubble to become post-war icons, the Volkswagen meanwhile transcending its Nazi-sponsored roots (with a little help from the British army) to become one of the most successful cars of all time.

And back in wartime Britain a car of similar significance was quietly taking shape under the inspiration of Alec Issigonis. Like its contemporaries it was modern in its engineering, affordable to build and buy and simple to run. It too had a distinctive look, in this case inspired by ‘40s American trends and emerged to great acclaim in 1948 before going on to be the first million-selling British car. It is, of course, the Morris Minor.

Corrosive Areas

Headlight surrounds, door bottoms

Front crossmember

Rear suspension spring carriers

Checklist

  • Originally intended to be powered by a flat-four engine, the production MM series Morris Minor eventually launched in 1948 with a version of the pre-war Minor’s side-valve in-line engine
  • Unhappy with the look of the car, Issigonis enacted a last-minute change adding around 100mm or four inches of width with what was effectively a production line cut-and-shut job – on the very earliest cars supplied with the originally scaled bumper this required an obvious extension to its centre section
  • Original cars have grille-mounted headlights; on export models these were moved to the wings in a look quickly rolled out across the rest of the range to establish the familiar Morris Minor ‘face’
  • Series II car arrived in 1952, born of merger with Austin and creation of BMC; various upgrades enacted, including replacement of original engine with the more modern 803cc Austin A-series motor
  • 1954 updates included a switch to the more familiar horizontally slatted grille, new tail lights and a revised dash with central speedo
  • Series III launched in 1956 slashing nearly 20 seconds off the 0-60mph time thanks to a bigger 948cc engine and revised gearing, the larger rear window and one-piece windscreen other obvious changes
  • Series V/Minor 1000 launched in 1962 with 1,048cc engine – look for orange indicators, the semaphore style ones ditched the previous year
  • Originally launched as a two-door saloon or two-door open top Tourer, four-door saloon and part-wood bodied Travellers followed along with pick-up and van variants
  • If buying a convertible look out for cars converted from two-door saloons – some are of decent quality, others may be little more than bodges
  • Unitary construction modern for the time but contains many and various rust traps in the form of double-skinned areas and hollow box sections – check chassis rails, internal crossmembers, front cross members, floor, rear suspension mounts and more
  • External panels also rust but are more easily replaced, with decent availability of parts
  • Signature wooden frame on Travellers is structural so check the condition carefully
  • Kingpin style independent front suspension demands regular lubrication to avoid wearing prematurely – look for evidence of regular maintenance and, if possible, check for play in front wheels with car raised off the ground
  • Early side-valve engines in MM cars lack power and require more specialist upkeep; A-series motors more dependable, well-understood and have decent support in terms of parts and knowledge
  • A-series motors generally robust but look for the usual stuff like significant oil leaks (especially from crankshaft seals), ‘mayo’ under the oil filler cap suggestive of failing head gasket and excessive smoke indicating worn valves; bottom ends can also go but rebuilds aren’t too difficult
  • Gearboxes improved over the various series; non-synchronised first gear can crunch and even worn transmissions can keep going but look for more serious issues like jumping out of gear

How does it drive?

If you’re buying a classic for red-blooded thrills at the wheel it’s fair to say you may need to look elsewhere, all versions of Minor trade on various degrees of ‘slow and steady’, ranging from very slow for the earlier cars. But that’s fine, and hot-rodded examples aside nobody ever bought a Morris Minor for its performance.

That’s not to say it’s not good to drive, Issigonis demonstrated his knack for building fine-handling cars with the later Mini of course. And for a 1940s-era British car the Minor’s unitary body, independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering were all a big step up from what people were used to.

So, a good Minor should be relatively easy and satisfying for a modern-day driver, with relatively crisp controls and no great allowances required beyond the fact that older cars will feel very slow on bigger roads. That’s fine, but if you intend to use your Minor it’s probably worth going for a later 1000 to stand a chance of keeping up with the traffic flow.

What’s good?

Projecting human traits like ‘charisma’ onto mechanical objects like cars is always a dangerous game but, on the flipside, the characters of the people that build them inevitably find some expression there. Accepting that premise the Morris Minor is a very friendly car, both in its looks and for the positive post-war outlook of what it represented as the country rebuilt and entered the Swinging Sixties.

Its long-standing popularity as a starter classic means that, while perhaps a predictable choice, it’s also a well-supported car, with lots of clubs, specialists and knowledgeable owners to help you choose and then run one, its simplicity making it relatively easy to run as a DIY classic.

It’s also a car you can share with friends and family, whichever body shape you choose, so days out can be a more sociable affair than they might be in a sporty two-seater.

What’s bad?

Popularity can be a double-edged sword, and after decades of use as a cheap classic many cars in the market will have accumulated years’ worth of DIY fixes, repairs of varying quality, modifications and more. So, if you crave originality or just want a car that you know isn’t hiding horrors under the skin you may have to look harder than you might imagine. Or pay the premium.

Like any car of its era corrosion will inevitably be the most important thing to look for, rusty structures sometimes leading to literally saggy bodywork evident in wonky shutlines or ill-fitting panels. As always, it’s not the rust you can see that will be the problem and while expertise and parts for making good is available the work required will often exceed the car’s total value, which brings us full circle and explains why many will have been bodged over the years.

Which model to choose?

An early MM version has obvious appeal for its purity of purpose and expression of the original idea. And if that’s important to you has certain appeal. But it’s a more committed and expensive purchase, as well as being more complex to run, and slow enough to make it a bit of a liability on modern roads.

Going the other way, if, like many owners, you’re buying a Minor on the basis it’s an easy first classic there’s no shame in opting for a later car. The ‘60s Minor 1000 came towards the end of the model’s life but combined the lovable looks with performance you can live with day-to-day. For that reason, it looks a solid bet for all but the real fans chasing split screens and semaphore indicators.

Body style will be a personal preference, saloons having the classic look, convertibles a sense of fun and Travellers the charm and practicality.

Specifications – Morris Minor 1000

Engine

1.0-litre four-cylinder petrol

Power

48PS (35kW) @ 5,100rpm

Torque

81Nm (60lb ft) @ 2,500rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

755kg (two-door saloon)

0-62mph

c. 25 seconds

Top speed

c. 77mph

Production dates

1948-1971 (all models)

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