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Motoring: Morris Minor - 1948

The Morris Minor was launched at the Earls Court Motor Show held in September 1958, which was the first Motor show to be held in Britain for ten years. If it had not been for Jaguar's launch of its XK120 sports car at the same show the Morris Minor would have been the car of the show. The new Morris was a completely new model, code named called Mosquito, which had been designed over the war years by a team led by Alec Issigonis who was to be even more famous in later years for designing the Mini.

It was deemed a revolutionary design and indeed it was when compared with the pre-war designs still being offered by Ford, Austin and Standard. When compared with competitor products in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, it excelled as a roomy vehicle. The Minor was a delight to drive, having superb handling and steering, but from its early days suffered from not having a suitably powerful engine. When a half decent engine/gearbox combination was provided (Minor 1000) it was almost too late because the Mini was just round the corner.

Over 1.6 million Morris Minors were eventually produced, mainly in Cowley, Oxfordshire, a lot were exported around the world, with many variants of the original model. Production continued in Birmingham through to 1971, with the commercial variants and Traveller, and it remains a well loved and collected vehicle. It also became a popular basis to build a hot rod on, because of the transatlantic styling that resembles a late 1940's Chevrolet. It was also lightweight and rear wheel drive, with the possibility of swapping in (among many other engines) the Rover K-Series engine or the Fiat Twin Cam. The Morris Minor was potentially a world beating car and if it had had more development could have been as successful as its contemporary the VW Beetle.

The original Minor MM series 1 lasted from 1948 until 1953. It included a pair of 4-seat saloons, 2-door and 4-door, and a convertible 4-seat Tourer. The front torsion bar suspension was shared with the larger Oxford MO, as was the almost-unibody construction. Although the Minor was originally designed to accept a flat-four engine, with four distinctive gaps in the engine bay to accommodate it, late in the development stage it was substituted for a 918cc side-valve straight-4 producing 27.5 hp (21 kW). This little engine pushed the Minor to just 64 mph (103 km/h) but delivered 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km).

Early cars had a painted section in the centre of the bumpers to cover the widening of the production car from the prototypes. The widening is also visible in the creases in the bonnet. This last minute change took place as production was winding up because Alec Issigonis was unhappy with the look of the car. He had a production car cut in half and kept moving the two halves away from each other until the car looked "balanced", which ended up adding four inches (102 mm) to the car's width.

Exports to the United States began in 1949 with the headlamps removed from within the grille to be mounted higher on the wings to meet safety regulations. These became standard on all Minors for 1951.

When production of the first series ended, just over a quarter of a million had been sold with a surprising 30% being the convertible Tourer model. In 1952, the Minor line was updated with an Austin-designed 803 cc overhead valve A-Series engine replacing the original sidevalve unit. The engine had been designed for the Minor's main competition, Austin's 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 mpg (6.5 L/100 km).

An estate version was introduced, known as the Traveller (a Morris naming tradition for estates, also seen on the Mini), along with van and pick-up versions. 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 bodystyle. Rear bodies of the van versions were all steel. The 4-seat convertible and saloon variants continued as well. The grille was modified in October, 1954, and a new dashboard with central speedometer was fitted. Almost half a million examples had been produced when the line ended in 1956.

The car was again updated in 1956 when the engine was increased in capacity to 948 cc. The two piece split windscreen was replaced with a curved one-piece one and the rear window enlarged. At the same time the semaphore-style trafficators were replaced by the more modern flashing direction indicators then becoming the norm for the UK market. An upmarketcar based on the Minor floorpan but with larger BMC B-Series engine was sold as the Riley One-Point-Five/Wolseley 1500 beginning in 1957: a version, with tail fins added, of this Wolseley / Riley variant was also produced in Australia as the Morris Major. In 1961 the Morris Minor became the first British car to sell over 1,000,000 units.

To commemorate this event, a limited edition of 350 two-door saloons were 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 Minor 1000 gained an even larger engine, 1098 cc) in 1962. It could now reach 77 mph (124 km/h), yet consumption was down to 6.2 L/100km (38 mpg). Other modifications included a new dashboard layout (a lidded glove box on the passenger side, an open cubby hole in front of the driver), a different heater, plus new, larger tail/flasher and front side/flasher lamps.

Van versions were popular with the British Post Office, and some of these had front wings made of rubber, in order to cope with the sometimes unforgivingly busy situations in which they were expected to work. During the life of the 1000 model, the car began to seem dated, and production declined. The Tourer was deleted in 1969, with the saloon line gone the next year. 1971 was the last year for the Traveller and commercial versions. Nearly 850,000 Minor 1000s were made in all. The car was officially replaced by the Morris Marina, which replaced it on the Cowley production lines, but for the management of what had, by 1971, mutated into the British Leyland Motor Corporation, the Morris Marina was seen primarily as a 'cheap to build' competitor to Ford's top selling (and in many respects conservatively engineered) Cortina, rather than as a replacement for the (in its day) strikingly innovative Morris Minor.

The story of the Morris Minor, its lack of development, and poor management mirrors the overall poor performance of the British motor industry from after the war to the shameful sale of Rover to BMW. Initially, although the Minor was a revolutionary design, well received by both the public and motoring press it was not liked by Morris Motors founder and owner Lord Nuffield (William Morris) who is alleged to have likened it to a poached egg. His lack of enthusiasm did not bode well for the future of the Minor and subsequent reorganisations in the Motor Industry sealed its fate as one of Britain's great missed opportunities. During its 23 year production run a total of 1,619,857 Morris Minors were produced including 326,627 vans and pickups.

Morris Mosquito - Minor prototype

Series 1 Tourer

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