TRUSTY FAMILY STEED: Much sought after today, the affordable Morris Minor saloon (pictured here), convertible, or perhaps even the rare Traveller, became instant classics. Image: DAVE FALL
It’s hard to believe that the venerable Morris Minor will celebrate 66 years of being on September 20 2014. I can’t imagine there can be many families who didn’t have an aunt, uncle or granddad who didn’t own one of the most reliable vehicles to have come from post-war Britain.
In England, when I was a kid, not that many people owned a car and those who did were well-known in the community
It was a status symbol - the district nurse had a much-battered, black Morris Minor with red leather-look upholstery; the local vicar two or three streets away had a steel-grey Series II example, while the local newsagent had a station-wagon variant called a Traveller – and would often tell my dad: “It’s done more than a million kilometres, you know.”
‘REVERENTLY KNOWN AS MINORS’
All Morrises of this type, incidentally, were known reverently as Minors.
Dad and ‘Smithie’, our local newsagent, got along famously. The Fall family apparently spent more on car magazines while subscribing to the Exchange & Mart (a dedicated motoring classified mag) than anyone else in the neighbourhood.
By the time I turned 16 Smithie could have retired on the motorcycle magazines supplied to me and eagerly read each week by yours truly.
We ran the local Jowett car agency and general garage in town and got to know most of the car owners who called in for petrol and a friendly chat. It was rare for any Morris Minor to need more than a 'lube and tune' to keep them trouble-free for another six months or 5000km – they were robust and rarely gave trouble.
First shown at the Earls Court Motor Show in London on September 20, 1948, the Morris Minor was the brainchild of Alec Issigonis, that’s right, the same man who introduced the Mini Minor series 11 years later in 1959.
The cars were assembled in Cowley, Oxfordshire though also shipped in semi-knocked down form to other parts of the world, including South Africa. The Minor was an instant success. In two- and four-door guise the first Series (MM) lasted until 1953 – there was even a convertible version – interestingly, this model accounted for 30% of UK sales.
I always knew the British were a weird bunch with their predilection for sun worship – if any were to be found – as they motored along.
Under the bonnet was a 918cc four-cylinder side-valve engine that could haul the Minor along at more 100km/h but, more important, would always return seven litres/100km or better. Incidentally, the first motorway in Britain only came along in 1959 (known as the M6), so speed remained of secondary importance to most post-war motorists.
Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation year (1953) saw the introduction of a decent-sized, OHC (overhead cam) “A-Series” one-litre engine fitted to the Minor. Amateur tuners of the day could now extract some decent speed and better the stock-standard 0-100km/h acceleration time of about 50 seconds.
An estate version came along, called the Traveller, and it’s this ‘Woodie’ model that usually command the highest prices when Minors come up for auction.
SPECIAL EDITION MORRIS
In 1961, 13 years into the production run, the Morris Minor achieved the accolade of becoming the first British car to sell more than a million. To celebrate 350 especially commissioned Minors were produced with '1 000 000' badges on the bodywork instead of the normal Morris 1000.
The factory called the colour lilac – but I’ll swear on my death bed they were pink with contrasting(!) white upholstery. If you’ve got one of these tucked away in a garage somewhere feel free to contact OLX... but don’t bother calling me!
Simple to repair and easy to keep running – so long as you greased regularly the front suspension kingpins and numerous other moving parts to be found throughout the undercarriage – the Morris Minor continued in production until 1971.
By then it had even more power - an 1100cc motor, a fresh new-look dashboard (all that meant really was a lid was put on the glove box and huge, round tail lights.
The Morris Minor really was a jewel. A classic case of the right car at the right time.
More classic-car columns by DAVE FALL:
Happy 40th birthday VW’s Golf Mk1
What a Triumph: Bonneville T120's 55th birthday
Born to be styled: Happy Birthday Mini!