(first posted 7/9/2015) Last September, CC looked at the Morris Marina, and I concluded that it was too little, too late. If BL didn’t know it was inadequate and always going to be inadequate, then they were obviously asleep at the wheel.
I’ll let you read the earlier Marina CC for my full review and impressions, but the key points are that the car was cobbled together with a complete pick’n’mix of BL components – engines from the Austin-Morris 1300 (Austin America), the Austin-Morris 1800 Landcrab or the MGB with twin carburettors, Morris Minor front suspension, a Triumph gearbox, simple semi elliptic spring rear from, well, just about any Morris William Morris himself would have recognised, a rather cheap looking interior which was not improved by the plastic wood, all covered by a contemporary but not special style and featuring some very 1970s colours.
Some of this was understandable – BL had inherited next to nothing in terms of potential new product from BMC and needed something quickly to tackle the Ford Escort and Cortina. BL had ambitions (in hindsight, wholly unrealistic ones) to compete in the main market with conservatively engineered but high style cars under the Morris brand cars, and technically advanced cars under the Austin brand. One to compete with Ford, one to compete with Citroen and Renault, if you like.
That might be why the Marina was too large to compete effectively with the Escort and too small to compete with the Cortina Mk 3. But BL had Roy Haynes on board, from 1967, direct from Ford and fresh from defining and leading the styling on the Ford Cortina M 2. Didn’t he know the Mk 3 was going to be bigger? Surely?
The Marina was an almost exact match size wise for the Cortina Mk 2, a 1966 car. It was launched with much—I was going to say excitement but I just can’t—publicity in the spring of 1971, just a few months before the Cortina Mk 3. What timing.
And then there are other things about the Marina that elevate it to Deadly Sin status – for example, the doors of this coupe version are shared with the saloon, the estate and the van, with the consequent restriction on access to the rear that implies. Not that you’d want to spend too long in there, unless you had a strange plastic seat fetish.
The styling of the Coupe had other issues too – a big bulging rump rather than a tight tidy rear end like the Capri. Yes, this car was the closest BL got to competing with the Capri, as well as the Cortina saloon.
And to cap it all, the colour of this example is not exactly great either. The nicest way to describe it is probably mouldy mustard. No doubt BL had a great sounding name for it, but mouldy mustard fits better.
Driving the car was more of a demonstration of understeer than anything else – it understeered more than a Beetle oversteered – with a poor ride to match. Build quality was, well, BL’s usual.
North America was not exempt – this saloon version, badged as an Austin Marina, was seen by K Forrest in Ontario.
At least the home market did not have 5 mph bumpers.
So, an inadequately engineered, wrongly sized and awkwardly styled car, with poor road manners and indifferent build quality.
But it was, by far, the most interesting car in that supermarket carpark. Who can resist staring at others’ sins?