Not meaning to sound louche, but who can resist a well-groomed Minor? Of the Morris variety, of course, lest anyone reading this harbour any doubt. I came upon this one, almost literally, as I strolled near the Imperial Palace, on a superb late September afternoon last year. Shapely yet diminutive – a potent combination for this petite anglaise that is the most popular classic of all in its home country and has quite a following abroad. All the way to Japan, apparently.
The history of the Morris Minor, devised and ambitiously engineered by the famous Alec Issigonis in the mid-‘40s and built down to a reasonable spec by the Nuffield group, has been gone into quite enough by the likes of Roger “Our Man In GB” Carr and many others (full reading list at the end of this post, as per usual.)
So without reinventing the wheel, just a couple of dates: Morris Minors was made from 1948 to 1971 and went through many changes. Early cars featured a very peculiar nose treatment that was (fortunately) gradually abandoned on all versions by early 1951. The Minor was initially launched as a two-door saloon and convertible (sorry: “tourer”!); van, pickup, woodie estate and four-door variants were soon added to the catalog.
There was literally a Minor for every use. No wonder this became the first British car to reach the one-million mark, which it did in 1960. This year was pretty much the model’s mid-life, or “peak Minor,” if you will.
The Minor 1000 was launched in 1956 and featured a number of innovations. Two important ones were the one-piece windshield and fitting a larger (but still only 948cc) 37hp A-series engine mated to a new gearbox in the evermore popular Morris, bringing the 0-60mph time down to 31 seconds. Our feature car is a Minor 1000 that I’m guesstimating could be a 1959 saloon.
In 1961, they took away the semaphores (they took their sweet time about these things) and the engine grew to a whopping 1.1 litres by 1962. The gradual BMC-ization of the Morris Minor was taking place, with more and more components being sourced from the conglomerate’s extensive parts bin.
Yet the Morris kept on keeping on through the ‘60s, despite the upstart Mini giving the RWD mid-‘40s streamliner a bit of a generational challenge. The Minor held on until 1969, when body variants started to disappear one after the other. The saloons lasted until 1970, but the van and estate made it to 1971 before bowing out to the inevitable, as well as abominable, Marina.
Folks of my generation who were brought up in the UK usually have fond memories of Morris Minors, as they remained quite ubiquitous even in the ‘80s, when we were impressionable children. I have heard people – and I mean normal, non-petrolhead people – wax lyrical about their grandparents’ Traveller, the postman’s van or their neighbour’s Moggie tourer.
I was not raised in Britain, but spent most of my younger years on the other side of the Channel, so I never developed the Proustian feelings some of my British friends have with these cars. But I can understand. The first old car that marked my psyche, back when I was about 7 or 8, was the Peugeot 203. And this four-door Minor is a decent 203 substitute, as the two cars are not dissimilar. The Morris is smaller and I’m more partial to the Peugeot’s fastback rear end, but they both debuted in the same year and certainly look like it (unlike, say, the Citroën 2CV).
Having spent a few years in Britain in the late ‘90s myself, I got to know the importance of the Morris Minor and appreciate how much they are loved by virtually everyone. They are like the Beetle in that sense – young and old, male and female, gearheads and pedestrians, everyone smiles when a Minor passes by. That’s a rare gift.
I haven’t been to the UK in years. I have family there, so it’s very likely that I’ll go back at some point. I just hope that some of the Britain I knew and loved remains, the last ten years (and especially the last two or three) notwithstanding. Are people still generally tolerant, witty and good-humoured? Is the brew still strong and hot, the cows mad, the Stones rolling and the dick spotted? And are there still a few Minors puttering about?
Well, as long as I can find the odd British CC, drink an occasional G&T and watch the original Italian Job or Withnail and I whenever I get the urge, I can wait. A little Blighty goes a long way, as this Minor shows.
Road Trip Outtake: The Cars Of Daylesford, Victoria, Part 2 – Morris Minor, by William Stopford
Dash-Cam Outtake: Morris Minor – Easy Does It, by Yohai71