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The Morris Minor was designed by Alec Issigonis and was introduced at the Earls Court Motor Show in September 1948. More than 1.3 million Morris Minors were produced between 1948 and 1972. Initially only two models were available, a 2-door saloon and a convertible, known as a ‘tourer’. The minor was a relatively roomy car with excellent handling and cornering and within the means of the working man.
This iconic British car was manufactured in three series, the original car, the MM, was produced from 1948 until 1953 as a 2-door saloon, a 2-door convertible and from 1950, as a 4-door saloon. At some point, close to the model’s launch, Issigonis decided that the car looked too narrow and had a preproduction model cut in half from front to back, and moved apart until the shape looked aesthetically pleasing. This meant the car needed to be 4 inch wider and so a fillet strip was added to the centre which remained visible on the bonnet right until production ended.
Early cars had the headlamps set into the grill, which didn’t meet safety requirements for export to The United States and so when exports began in 1949, the headlamps were mounted higher on the wings. This became the standard position for all Minors in 1951. The car was powered by a 918cc Morris sidevalve engine.
In 1952 the Series II was introduced with an updates 803cc Austin designed A-series engine. An estate version, the ‘Traveller’ was introduced along with van and pick up models. The traveller featured an external varnished ash wood frame, which was structural, giving the car its iconic appearance. In 1954 the grill and dashboard were redesigned.
The Morris Minor 1000 was a 1956 update with the engine capacity increased to 948cc. The two-piece split windscreen was replaced by a modern curved one-piece unit and the rear window was enlarged to increase visibility. In 1961 the semaphore style trafficators were replaced by flashing directional indicators
In 1961 the Morris Minor became the first British car to sell more than a million and this was celebrated with a limited run of 350 two-door saloons in distinctive lilac paintwork and a white interior. The badge was modified to read Minor 1000000 instead of Minor 1000.
A final update took place in 1962 giving the car a 1098cc engine along with other minor changes.
History in Depth
The First Morris Minor
The Morris Minor we all know and love was not the first car to bear the name. The first Morris Minor was launched on the first of September 1928. It was designed to compete directly with the Austin Seven. The little fabric bodied car was innovative in the fact it had an 847cc overhead camshaft engine. This sporty little engine eventually gave rise to the first MG Midget. By 1931 a new Minor was in production which featured a side valve engine instead of the ohc version and a new lower price tag of £100. Sadly this Minor was only in production until 1934 during which the depression hit and Morris saw it’s market share fall from 51 percent down to just 27 percent. The Minor was replaced by successive versions of the Morris 8. The Minor name lay dormant until after the Second World War.
Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis
Alec Issigonis will be remembered as one of the most innovative car designers of all time. He was born in 1906 in Smyrna, Turkey. His father a naturalised British subject of Greek decent, ran a marine engineering business and his mother was the daughter of a wealthy Bavarian brewer. The Issigonis family fled to England in 1922 to escape the Turkish invasion of Smyrna. Sadly Alec’s father died, en route, in Malta.
It was Alec’s mother’s intention for him to go to art school but he decided to take a three-year engineering course at Battersea Polytechnic. He was offered a job with the Rootes group at the Humber drawing office at Coventry. Here he worked on the Evenkeel independent suspension design.
After two years he met Robert Boyle, chief engineer at Morris, who offered him a job at Cowley, where he developed an independent suspension system for the series M10 which, incidentally, was to be Morris’ first monocoque constructed car. The M10 saw production in 1938 but without Issigonis’ new suspension or the rack and pinion steering system he had also designed. These concepts were also due to be used in a new small MG saloon which was to enter production in 1940 but the outbreak of war in September 1939 meant that the car was not produced until 1947.
With the outbreak of world war II, Issigonis was set to work designing a variety of military vehicles, including an amphibious tank!
In the early 1940s Miles Thomas, the Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of The Nuffield Organisation, expressed an interest in developing a new small car to go into production after the war. This task was given to Issigonis.
It was well known that Issigonis had a strong belief that a car should offer as much payload as possible in the minimum of space (a concept he successfully took to the extreme with the 1959 Mini).
Alec Issigonis was taken out of the drawing office at the Cowley works and given his own development shop. He was allocated two draughtsmen to turn his ideas into drawings. Reg Job drew up the body designs and Jack Daniels, the running gear. Issigonis was famed for producing quick sketches of his designs on anything that came to hand. It was left to Job and Daniels to translate these ideas into workable drawings.
By 1942 Issigonis had produced a scale model of the new car and from this had drawings made. From these drawings a hand made prototype was created. By December of 1943 the completed prototype, known as the Mosquito, was ready for the road. The Mosquito had distinct American styling, looking very much like a scaled down version of a 1941 Packard Clipper.
When Lord Nuffield saw the Mosquito prototype he was said to be furious, likening it to a poached egg. Lord Nuffield was a traditionalist and expected all Morris cars to have an upright grille and separate running boards. He had quite a dislike for Issigonis, refusing to call him by his name and only referring to him as “that foreign chap”.
Naturally, the car was of unitary construction and incorporated Issigonis’ Rack and pinion steering and independent suspension. Issigonis had been impressed with the torsion bar suspension of the Citroen Traction Avant and has used a similar system in the Mosquito. One advantage of the steering and suspension systems that were used on the Mosquito was that they were compact and fitted with Issigonis’ idea that space should be used for payload rather than mechanics. A compact flat four engine was also being developed. Issigonis reasoned that opposing cylinders would mean that the engine block could be effectively half as long as a traditional in line block, and that being horizontally opposed, this would mean the engine height was reduced substantially. This effectively reduced the centre of gravity of the car. Sadly, very little is known about the design of this engine.
The Mosquito also broke with tradition by the use of 14-inch wheels. Most cars of the time used 16 or 17-inch wheels. Although Issigonis maintained that the reason for smaller wheels was aesthetics, smaller wheels, meant smaller wheel arches which mean less intrusion on payload space. The wheels and tyres for the car had to be specially manufactured by Dunlop.
The Mosquito was ready for the road but, due to the ongoing war, there was still no domestic car production. Issigonis spent the intervening years refining and perfecting the prototype.
In 1946, with the war ended, Morris’ main priority was getting back into production by reviving its pre-war Series E 8hp and Series M 10hp models. As the pre-war cars were selling well there was no urgency to get the new models into production.
Of course the car did go into production but not without a few changes. One being the engine. Several factors led to the flat four engine being dropped, problems with vibration in the new unit still hadn’t been solved and the British system of taxation meant it was more cost effective to use the 918cc traditional 4 cylinder side valve engine from the Morris Series E 8hp. This was successfully fitted into a prototype with a little modification to the steering system. Lord Nuffield also objected to the name Mosquito and this was dropped in favour of resurrecting the Minor name.
Issigonis wasn’t entirely happy with the Minor’s appearance. The Minor was only 57 inches wide and he thought it looked too tall and too narrow. He therefore had one of the prototypes cut down the middle and the two halves moved apart until it looked pleasing to the eye. It was the left to Reg Job to redraw the body to incorporate the extra 4 inches to the width. On the final car, the only place this could be seen was on the bonnet, which had a raised section down the centre. Some parts had already gone into production, including the bumper bars and valance. These were cut in half and metal strips inserted to make up the extra 4 inches in width. These fillet plates can clearly be seen on early Minors. This also meant an increase in track which could only improve the car’s already exceptional road holding. It also meant extra space for passengers and luggage.
By 1948 a total of eight prototypes had been produced, and from inception to production the basic shape had changed very little.
Production of the body shells started at Nuffield Metal products in Birmingham in July 1948 and the first car rolled off the production line on September 20th 1948. Two body styles were produced, a two door saloon and a tourer. An example of each was prepared for the forthcoming British Motor Show at Earls Court. Due to the war, it was to be the first Motor Show to be held for ten years. The Minor was launched alongside two other new stable mates, the 1.5 litre Morris Oxford, Series MO, and the 2.2 litre Morris Six, Series MS, as well as the upmarket Wolseley versions of these. There was, however, no Wolseley version of the Minor, although evidence exists that there was a prototype Wolseley Minor and a prototype MG variation.
It was expected that the Minor would take a backseat to the MO and MS at the launch but instead it was an instant success with both the public and the press. Moto magazine dubbed it “the show sensation”.
Morris had underestimated the demand for the new model and had based production figures of those for the Morris 8, the car it had replaced. These figures allowed for 400 cars to be built per week. Additional lines were built to allow production of 1,000 cars per week. At its peak, in later years, production rose to 3,000 cars per week.
The Morris Minor Series MM
The Minor Series MM was produced between 1948 and 1952. The first cars sold for £358 10s 7d and were very basic. There was a single windscreen wiper on the driver’s side (passenger side wiper was an optional extra) and only a driver’s side sun visor. There was also only one taillight situated on the offside, the nearside had only a reflector. At this time British cars had, by law, to be fitted with the curious dip-and-switch system, which dipped the nearside beam and switched off the offside lamp.
Inside the car was relatively comfortable. Seats were upholstered in ICI’s new Vynide in a beige colour with contrasting piping. The dash was finished in gold with the speedometer in front of the driver and an American style chrome grille in the centre of the dash. The dash was designed to be used for both right hand drive and left hand drive and so the speedometer hole on front of the passenger was filled with a Morris badge or the optional Smith’s clock.
The Series MM used the ageing engine from the Morris 8. This engine had the thermo-syphon type cooling system, which had no water pump and so it was impossible to fit the car with a heater. Also, mainly due to this 27.5bhp engine, the Minor could not be described a quick but it was quite efficient. With a top speed of only 62.3mph, the Minor returned 40.5mpg.
There were, of course, many changes in the life span of the Series MM. In early 1949 cellulose paint was dropped in favour of synthetic and at the same time the Minor got two rear lights. By June of the same year the rear lamps were replaced with larger units. The chromed window surrounds had disappeared by late 1949 in favour of cheaper painted channel. By mid 1950, two sun visors had become standard.
1950 also saw one of the first major changes to the Minor. Most Minors were exported in the drive to ‘export or die’, and around 75 percent of early production found its way overseas. One major market was America and recent Californian lighting regulations outlawed the low mounted lights of the Minor. This brought about the wing mounted 7-inch headlights we are all familiar with. With the headlamps no faired into the wings the profile of the Minor was changed forever. Issigonis regarded this as ‘vandalism’ and said it spoiled the clean lines of the car.
The four-door Minor started life as early as 1946 but was only launched at the 1950 Earls Court Show. These cars had two windscreen wipers, self-cancelling trafficators and an interior light. These features also found their way to the two door models. Around about this time Morris finally ran out of its split bumpers and so the four-door Minors were the first to get one piece units. The four-door model was three quarters of a hundredweight heavier than the two-door, which showed in its performance a top speed of 60mph.
In late 1950 the engine was revised and the cooling system got a pump enabling the cars to be fitted with a heater for the first time. The bonnet of the Minor was redesigned in 1951, being extended back towards the windscreen.
In mid 1951 the tourer was renamed the convertible and the removable side screens were replaced by fixed glass windows.
The Morris Minor Series II
The Minor Series II was produced between 1952 and 1956. The main difference between the MM and the Series II was the new engine. A merger between Morris and Austin in 1952 created BMC and this meant immediate changes for the Minor. An 803cc OHV Austin A30 engine was planted into the Minor’s engine bay. Although a smaller engine it had a greater power output, 30bhp as opposed to the 918cc side valve’s 27.5bhp. This A series engine had a good record for reliability, and it’s derivatives were still used in new Minis and Metros until the early nineties. There were very few outward differences on the Series II. The range gained the hubcaps with the M in the centre, first seen on four door Series MM Minors, but the main difference was the new raised bonnet badge.
It was this model that took part in the famous road test carried out by the Experimental Department of the Nuffield Organisation. A production Minor covered a year’s worth of motoring (10,000 miles) in just 10 days! The test was carried out at Goodwood road circuit and a team of six drivers put the car through its paces non stop for the duration. The Minor was driven an average of 45mph and returned an average of 43mpg. There were some slight alterations to the car – a larger fuel tank was fitted and the rear seats specially hinged so that the drivers could get in and out, through the boot, while the car was still in motion. At these change over times and when the car needed servicing, it was driven into a mobile servicing bay, a hollow trailer with platforms at either side, which was towed by a modified Morris Oxford. Once in the bay, the oil, water and tyres could be maintained. The rear wheels could even be changed with the car still propelling itself by lifting and braking the wheel to be changed, while still being driven by the other.
Early 1953 saw the introduction of the light commercial vehicles. The range comprised of a pick up and a van which were built on a separate chassis.
The range was completed in late 1953 with the introduction of the Traveller. Although this was of the same monocoque construction as the saloon it had an exposed, structural ash frame with aluminium panels.
1955 cars got a much needed facelift. Out went the ‘cheese grater’ grille to be replaced by a more modern horizontally slatted unit. Sidelights were repositioned from the grille surround to the base of the wings. The gold painted dash was replaced with a simpler affair with a large central speedometer.
The Morris Minor 1000s
1956 brought one of the most radical transformation to the Morris Minor. The Minor emerged with a new larger one-piece windscreen, which was larger than the split screen but, curiously, it retained the split screen wiper mechanism. The rear window was also enlarged giving the Minor excellent all round visibility. The rear wings had a smaller wheel cut out which made the car look somewhat more solid. A new version of the A series engine was fitted along with a new gearbox. the 948cc unit gave an power output of 37 bhp and a top speed of 74mph. Morris Minor badges were replaced with Morris 1000 ones on the boot lid and sides of the bonnet. Inside, the glove boxes gained lids, although this was practically useless on the driver’s side. The wire steering wheel was discarded and a black dished wheel took its place. A smaller gear stick was positioned further back and a new handbrake lever was fitted. Turn indicators were operated from a stalk on the steering column as opposed to the under dash switch of previous cars.
In March 1957 the five-gallon fuel tank was upgraded to a capacity of six and a half gallons. This meant that the fuel tank encroached a little into the boot well. The same year, the traveller gained a canvas roof lining as opposed to the Rexine board fitted to earlier Travellers. The convertible’s canvas hood was replaced by ones made from plastic. Saloons and convertibles got a softer ride by having the rear springs changed from 7 leaf to 5 leaf types. But this was at the expense of handling.
1959 saw changes that mainly effected the interior. Better upholstery and a wider under-dash parcel shelf were the most obvious differences. The horn was moved to the centre of the steering wheel, which was a great improvement over the stalk mounted affair. The indicator stalk was now self-cancelling and had a large green repeater light fitted to the end. Road wheels and grilles on all Minors were now painted pearl grey.
December 22 1960 saw a milestone in the history of the Morris Minor, The millionth car rolled of the production line at Cowley. To celebrate this, Morris created 350 Minor Millions. Painted in a strange choice of lilac with off white upholstery, all Millions carried special MORRIS 1000000 badges in place of the usual MORRIS 1000.
No real changes came about until late 1961. At long last trafficators gave way to flashing indicators, although these were incorporated in the existing tail lamp and side light units. Leather upholstery on the deluxe Minors gave way to two-tone Vynide trim. The standard models got the same style upholstery but in a single colour. For some reason, the glove boxes lost their lids again!
In 1962 production started on the Austin and Morris 1100 and at this time BMC decided to rationalise the range of engines used in their cars to just three different sizes. New Minors were fitted with a traditional in line version of the transverse engine used in the new 1100. The new engine had a 30% increase of power over the old one. A bigger clutch was mated to an improved gearbox to handle the extra power. To aid stopping the Minor was now fitted with 8-inch front brake drums.
The final drive gearing was raised from 4.55:1 to 4.22:1 to give more relaxed cruising and better economy but at the expense of top speed.
1963 saw an improved windscreen washer system and finally wipers that worked in the same direction. There was now also a key operated lock in both doors! New, larger light clusters, front and rear, were also introduced, the front ones having separate sections for the sidelights and indicators. Seat belts were also fitted in Britain in anticipation of 1964 legislation.
New interior trim was introduced in 1964. The stitching in the upholstery had gone in favour of cheaper bonded vinyl. The Speedometer was given a black face and was set in an anodised aluminium plate. A new two spoke steering wheel was fitted to match those fitted to the Mini and 1100. The passenger glove box was given its lid back.
1965 saw a few safety features fitted to the Minor. The rear view mirror was given a plastic edging and foam padding was fitted to the parcel shelf bar to protect knees in case of impact. The sun visors were made from a crushable material hardly on the scale of airbags and side impact bars!
The old push button starter had finally given way to a combined ignition and starter switch. And the boot lid gained a telescopic stay.
The next changes came in 1967, but only with the introduction of sealed beam headlamps. The following year saw new colour options but nothing more.
In 1968 BMC became part of British Leyland, which seemed to signal the beginning of the end for the Minor. In June 1969 the last convertible came off the production line. Traveller assembly was moved to Adderley park in Birmingham in July of that year.
Strangely in 1970 optional reclining front seats were introduced. One wonders why they bothered considering the fact that the convertible had already ceased production and that the saloon was about to suffer the same fate. Some cars were fitted with alternators rather than dynamos. On the 12th of November 1970 the last saloon was built.
In 1971 some Travellers were fitted with steering locks. It is assumed that these were fitted to some export models and that excess stock was being used up. Production of the Traveller continued but only until April 1971.
The final Minor to be produced was a GPO van which rolled off the line in December 1971.
In just over 22 years of production some 1.6 million Minors were made.