Morris Minor Buying Guide

Buying Advice

This is aimed at people new to Morris Minors. Some of the advice applies to classic cars in general.

So you’ve fallen head over heels in love with the adorable little face and gorgeous sweeping curves of the Morris Minor? The sound of the old a series engine. The pitch perfect acoustic bumbling note from the exhaust. The slightly musty aroma, a signature of many a classic car.

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An adorable face.

Or maybe in a digital age where everything is connected you just crave a more simple way of getting from A to B? One that’s free from all the modern trappings of excess.

Well good news is that there are plenty of Morris Minors to choose from. Saloon, Traveller (an “estate” in modern terms), Tourer (“convertible”), Van or Pick-Up. Take your pick. That’s before we even consider whether you want a split windscreen and what size of engine you want. There is a Minor model to suit almost any taste and budget. I have written a brief history of them too, which may be of interest.

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A Minor for everyone.

Spare parts are still readily available and inexpensive (though quality varies) from several good stockists.

There is an Owner’s Club with a healthy membership and – if you’re interested – a busy annual classic car show/run calendar. The Owner’s Club also has a relatively new youth section for owners under 25.

In fact, for young people the Minor offers a great way into motoring and in many ways is the perfect first car. Insurance prices are rock bottom, most will average 30-40mpg and as I’ve already said spare parts are inexpensive. Plus, with a little time and effort you can learn to do routine work to the car yourself which will save you on costly garage bills.

If properly looked after they are very reliable little cars. Carry the right spares and even if you do have a breakdown chances are you’ll be back on the road in no time.

On top of all that the Minor will draw more admiring glances and comments than any other new small car on the market today. Guaranteed.

Interested? This is a buying guide based on the research and knowledge I’ve gained while I searched for Doris.

First Considerations

Even the “newest” Minors are now at least fifty years old. Ask yourself whether you’re prepared to properly look after such an old car. If you are the type of person that just wants to add fuel and go, a Minor is most definitely not for you.

What kind of annual mileage will you do? What roads do you drive on? Cars in the 1960s were not expected to do 20,000 miles per year. If you’re going up and down the country every week it’s certainly possible to use some Minors, but maintenance will be frequent.

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Lubrication Chart

Have a look at the lubrication chart and consider what is recommended every 1,000, 3,000, 6,000 and 12,000 miles. Not to mention checking the engine oil every 250 miles.

You’ll need somewhere to keep engine oil, a grease gun and grease, hypoid oil, a car jack and a couple of axle stands. As well as a few tools for starters. If you’re really stuck for space the boot will do.

The Minor has a mix of imperial AF and Whitworth sized fittings on it. So you’ll need those spanners and sockets, as well as an imperial feeler gauge (for cars with contact points) and a 3/8 Whitworth wheel brace for removing the wheel nuts. Auto jumbles and eBay can be a good place to look without breaking the bank.

They don’t come with any safety features at all, except perhaps seatbelts (often only in the front). Low speed accidents and you’ll probably be fine. That said, you’ll drive it much more carefully than a modern eurobox. It comes down to your individual attitude towards risk. Nothing is without risk. People don’t buy classic cars because they want to feel safe. Some people even like that slightly naughty feeling they get from driving classics with no seatbelts fitted (which is perfectly legal, in case you’re wondering).

A garage is ideal for storing it, and/or a driveway. Public road will do, but consider where you’re going to jack it up to do maintenance. Some people do this on public roads, but if you live on a busy road it may not be practical. No Minor is worth being mashed in overalls by a passing taxi.

Engine Size?

Original Morris Minors with their 918cc sidevalve engines will be underpowered for most modern traffic, as will be the 803cc a series engine.

For usability think “Minor 1000” (948cc or 1098cc a series). Neither are quick. The latter is less refined but gives better cruising speed. 60mph is realistic. 948cc is fine for around town driving or leisurely pace.

You can also find some with 1275cc engines fitted, donated from other cars such as the mini. These will keep up well with modern traffic and cruise at 70mph. If you don’t mind the noise that is.

Most Minors have factory fitted four speed gearboxes. There is no synchro for first gear, so make sure you’re at a complete stop before attempting to select first. Some have been fitted with five speed gearboxes. The best of which is the Ford Type 9, which comes from a Sierra. It works and fits well with the Minor’s a series engine without much modification. This makes motorway cruising quieter and improves fuel efficiency.

Budget

You could be anything from a few hundred pounds for a rotten heap to over £20,000 for a Minor. Buy the best you can afford, unless you want a project.

Generally speaking anything under £2,000 is probably going to require quite a bit of work. Fine if you have the skills or know someone, but if you don’t then the cost of welding and new body panels can quickly spiral and leave you with an eye watering repair bill.

In terms of value, Minor cars go like this from least valuable to most valuable: four door saloon, two door saloon, traveller, tourer. As for vans and pick-ups, honestly I’m not entirely sure where they fit in. Probably somewhere around the traveller price point.

£4000-£5000 should get you a saloon in decent condition, which may have been restored a few years ago. £10,000 would get you one in fairly top notch condition. If you want one that’s had a full nuts and bolts restoration, budget £20,000.

For a traveller or tourer these figures may be a little higher.

A lot depends on the individual car and in some respects a Minor is worth as much as someone is willing to pay. Many will have modifications or improvements that add value and make them more usable.

If you plan on using the car every day some useful upgrades you may want to consider on your car are: electronic ignition (this replaces the original contact points and condenser), an alternator,  disc brakes (original drums can suffer from brake fade and require regular adjustment), flashing indicators (most cars have now been fitted with these, if they didn’t come when new), a heated rear windscreen and a radio.

If you’re unsure what a car you’re interested in is worth then I suggest you head to the Owner’s Club forums, post lots of pictures and ask people there what they think.

It’s worth remembering that while a modern car will lose value over the time you own it, a Minor will retain its value if you look after it. In fact, it may even be worth more should you decide to sell it on in a few years.

What to look for?

If the car has been previously restored find out who did it and how many miles it has done since restoration.

If it’s been restored by a respected specialist you’ll know it’s been done properly and there should be a paperwork trail to verify everything.

The first place you want to look – in my opinion – is underneath the car. Rust is the biggest enemy of the Morris Minor. Ideally get the car on a ramp, or at least jacked up (supported on axle stands if you’re going under it!). I’ll work on the assumption you’re not after a restoration project.

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Tidy at first glance, but hiding a lot of rot underneath (see below).

 

Check the floor pan, the cross members, the sills and the chassis legs for rust. Unscrupulous sellers will paint over it to hide it. Have a poke with a screwdriver and check it’s all solid. Another key area, likely to have rotted or been welded, is the area where the rear suspension mounts to the chassis. Check the leaf springs (suspension) at the rear of the car. Make sure it’s all solid. The springs and underside should ideally be coated in grease/waxoyl or similar.

Look inside all wheel arches for signs of rust. A well looked after car will have protection sprayed in there to keep rust at bay.

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A greased upper trunnion.

Check the upper and lower front trunnions. As per the lubrication chart it’s essential these have been regularly greased. Grease should be visible. If they look dry it’s a sign of neglect and they will rapidly wear out. Worse case scenario a front wheel falls off at low speed. No, I’m not joking. You can check if they or the wheel bearings are worn by trying to move the front wheels vertically, horizontally and in/out while the car is jacked and feeling for any play. If trunnions do need replaced the good news is they’re not expensive.

Feel the prop shaft for any movement.

Check the rest of the grease points as per the lubrication chart for signs of grease too.

Inspect the rubber seals round the windows. If neglected they’ll look brittle. Whilst they can be replaced, it’ll cost you. The rubber is cheap but garage labour rates may not be. If left brittle chances are your car will let in water.

Other common rust areas are the wheel arches, bootlid and scuttle panel and where the roof joins to the body. To name a few.

For Travellers also inspect the timber frame. It’s structural, so it’s of great importance. Replacing the timber is a costly job.

Check the engine oil is nice and clean and at the appropriate level on the dip stick. It should run without any rattles and without smoke at the exhaust.

Check the service history paperwork if there is any. If the seller services the car themselves ask exactly what they do and when. You’ll quickly get an idea if the car has been properly looked after. A genuine enthusiast will probably quite happily go into detail.

Ask if the car has been converted to unleaded. If not, what kind of use has the car had and has lead substitute been used? If unleaded has been used without any lead substitute then the valves could be worn. Over the decades some deposits of lead will have built up and offered the valves limited continuing protection. 

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Fuel hose suitable for ethanol E10

Has the fuel hose been replaced to take into consideration modern petrol with 5% ethanol content? (Note, this rises to 10% next year). Ethanol is a highly corrosive substance now added to petrol that will dissolve old type rubber fuel hoses found on classic cars. It’s not expensive to replace them but it’ll save you a job.

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An original 6.5 gallon Morris Minor fuel tank being cleaned up.

Check the fuel tank for leaks. Is there a strong smell of petrol in the boot? If so run your finger around where the fuel tank sits in the boot and sniff it. If there’s petrol on your finger you have a leak and may require a new fuel tank (£270 new). Moisture tends to effect the top of the tank and sender unit (that little round bit in the photo of the fuel tank, which sends the fuel level reading to the fuel gauge).

Inside the car absolutely everything can be replaced or restored if it’s looking tatty, though again it comes down to how much you want to spend. Restoring a pair of old front seats alone could set you back £1000 if you get a professional to do it for you. You can buy kits for less and do it yourself to save some money though.

Test Drive

The car should pull well through all the gears and there should be no strange noises or rattles. It should brake in a straight line. Electrics should all work.

Private or Dealer?

You have more of a comeback if a car was  sold not as described when you buy from a dealer. However, many dealers sell Minors at eye watering prices. Make sure the dealer isn’t selling on behalf of a private individual and taking a cut. If they are you’re not protected in the same way as if the dealer is selling the vehicle.

If you buy privately you will certainly pay less and get a better car for the same money, but it’s not without risk. Unscrupulous sellers are out there, my last Minor Oscar is testament to that.

I would strongly recommend joining the Owner’s Club and looking for a car that a club member has decided to sell. They’ll probably be asking a realistic price and chances are the car will have been well cared for. Plus you can speak to other members on forums and ask their opinion.

Most importantly, listen to your gut. If you have any doubts about the Minor you’re looking at then walk away. There are plenty of others.

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Good luck finding your dream car. If you do buy one please get in touch with some photos and let me know how it went!