A Minor History

I’m not going to bog you down in an in-depth account of the postwar Morris Minor. I won’t touch on the Pre-War Morris Minor. Nor will I baffle you with engineering details like the rack and the pinion steering and monocoque chassis. Plenty of other sites out there will do that in great detail.

No, what you need to do know is that when the Minor launched in 1948 it was quite revolutionary. Compared to its contemporaries it drove brilliantly.

The motoring press and public loved it. Not so Lord Nuffield (William Morris), founder of Morris, who described it as “a poached egg.” It could outperform much more powerful cars thanks to its excellent road holding capabilities. In fact, it was so well designed that it’s still an enjoyable drive today, capable of being used in modern traffic. Not bad considering it has been seventy-two-years since it’s launch. 

Timeline:

Early 1940s: Alec Issigonis was tasked with designing a new small car for Morris Motors. If the name Issigonis sounds familiar, it should. He also went on to design the iconic mini, which was launched in 1959.

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Alec Issigonis with one of his minis, around 1973.

December 1943: The first prototype, under the model name Mosquito, was built.

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Low light Morris Minor advert.

1947: Almost ready to go into production, Issigonis suddenly decided the car was too narrow and would be more aesthetically pleasing if it were a bit wider. He sawed one in half from front to back and widened it by 4”. Which is why Minors have that raised part of bonnet along the middle.

1948: The car, now given the resurrected name Minor and known as the series MM, launched as a two-door saloon and convertible (tourer) fitted with an existing Morris 918cc sidevalve engine. Top speed, at a push, 62mph. The car had a bullnose design and low positioned headlights, taking its design cues from American cars of the 1940s like the Packard Clipper.

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1940s Packard Clipper. Note the bull nose and split screen.

1951: The Minor’s headlamps are raised to meet US road safety standards. Issigonis was said not to be keen on the change to the appearance of his little car. Ironically, having altered the car for US market  demand there slumped as American motorists shunned it. They craved larger, more powerful cars.

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Split screen Minor advert.

1952: Morris merge with Austin to create the British Motor Corporation (BMC). The Series II Minor launched with the Austin 803cc a-series engine taken from the Austin A30. Although a smaller engine it was slightly more powerful. In a famous test one of these Minors was driven 10,000 miles in just ten days at Goodwood. It averaged 45mph and 43mpg. The a-series engine proved very reliable and went on to be used by the British Motor Corporation/Austin Rover/Rover Group until the year 2000, when the last proper mini rolled off the Longbridge production line.

1953: The Morris Minor van, pick up and Traveller launch. The Traveller had an exposed structural timber frame to the rear.

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Morris Traveller advert. Note further  American styling influences.
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Advert for van and pick-up.

1955: The speedometer is moved to the now familiar position in the centre of the dashboard.

1956: Morris Minor 1000 launches and replaces the series II. It has a 948cc a-series engine. The split screen windscreen is replaced with a one piece windscreen. The clap hand wipers initially remain unchanged from the split screen days. Top speed of the new Minor 1000 is 74mph.

One-millionth Morris Minor, Oxford, 1960
Issigonis at the wheel.

1960: A year after the launch of the mini, the Morris Minor becomes the first British car ever to roll 1,000,000 off the production line. 350 special edition Minor 1,000,000 cars were produced. For reasons known only to Morris all of them in a lilac colour with white seats! Lord Nuffield eats his poached egg and thanks Issigonis.

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Minor 1000 colour advert.

1962: The Minor 1000 receives a 1098cc a-series engine. It was not as refined as the 948cc, however it delivered 30% more power and provided greater cruising ability and improved fuel economy.

1963: Front seatbelts are fitted as standard due to forthcoming changes in British law.

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1965 Morris Minor advert

1969: Last convertible is built.

1970: Last Minor saloon built.

1971: Last Minor van and traveller built.

In total 1.6m Minors in various guises were built.

As of March 2020 there are approximately 14-15,000 left in the UK, most of them still roadworthy. They continue to enjoy a cult following. Not just in their native British land, where they are known as “Moggies”, but also in places like Australia and New Zealand, where they are known as “Morries”. There is also a following in other European countries and the United States.

They remain both affordable and highly practical classics. There is an excellent after market for spare parts and body panels, meaning they can be continue to be maintained with a little loving care. There are numerous Minor specialists providing vehicle restoration and sales services.