How do you write something fresh about a perennially popular car first launched in 1948? That’s the question I’m mulling over as I enjoy my morning cup of coffee, which will hopefully have the desired stimulant effect.
You know, a full English breakfast would go down a treat with this coffee. Bacon. Sausage. Egg. Potato scone. Beans. Mushrooms. Yum! I digress, but the Morris Minor is as British as that Sunday morning fry up – and every bit as enduring.
We will overlook that it’s chief designer, Alec Issigonis, was actually born in the Ottoman Empire. Not to mention that the bullnose styling cues were a foreign influence too, reportedly taken from the American Packard Clipper.
Returning to the subject of breakfasts, and I’m sorry if this post is making you hungry, the Minor was described upon it’s launch as a “poached egg” by Lord Nuffield (William Morris). Now to me that sounds delicious, little looks or tastes better than eggs Benedict after all, but Lord Nuffield certainly did not intend it as a compliment.
The plucky little Minor, affectionally referred to as Moggies or Morries depending on where you are in the world, was a motoring revolution.
Smaller than the outgoing Morris Eight, yet more spacious on the inside. Adequate seating for four adults. A giant leap forward in steering rack design provided the driver with light, precise steering. Road hold was so good that at its launch the Minor would leave larger more powerful cars long behind because of how well it cornered. Or should I say corners? It’s still very good today, even if the back end is a bit skittish by modern standards.
It’s no wonder the motoring press and public loved it.
It remained in production for an impressive twenty-six-years, fundamentally unchanged. Most cars these days wouldn’t last six years without a facelift. In fact, the only proper facelift the Minor received was the raising of its original low light headlamps. Even that was for US road safety law, rather than cosmetic reasons.
There were saloons, estates (travellers), convertibles (tourers), pick-up trucks and vans (commercials). An adaptable design making the car extremely practical. An idea copied ever since.
It was the first British car to sell a million units. To celebrate 349 Minors “millions”were made, the first car in the UK to have a special edition. For reasons known only to British Motor Corporation however, all of them a were garish shade of lilac with white interior. Marmite indeed.
The Minor paved the way for its eventual successor, the mini. Of course I’m not talking about that bloated, overweight modern MINI. The original mini managed over forty years in production from 1959. Designed by the same man, it successfully took the simplistic design principles of the Minor to the extreme. Some feat.
What is it that still keeps the Minor close to people’s hearts? No doubt childhood family car memories for many of their ‘older’ drivers.
For others it’s childhood memories of a different sort. I loved watching ITV’s Heartbeat on a Sunday evening, calling out the names of all the cars I saw on screen and enjoying the ‘60s music soundtrack. I named one of my Minors after a Heartbeat character, Oscar (Blaketon).
Perhaps others are drawn to the Minor for it’s simplicity. In a digital always-on age, where so many objects seem to shout for your constant attention, it’s refreshing to have a car that’s just a car. No aids. No distractions. A rewarding way of slipping into life at the slower pace of a simpler bygone era.
Salesmen today like to ask “what features do you love in a car?” They look a bit perplexed when I reply “four wheels, an engine and a steering wheel.” The truth is you need little more.
The Minor has stood the test of time in a way that so many cars that followed it have not. Sure, it had it’s flaws. For example, I’d wager more Minor boots let in water than don’t. And if you don’t take good care of them they will rot, just like every other car of it’s era.
That said the Minor now comfortably outnumbers many mainstream production cars of the 1990s – spares are much easier to source too. Many parts are still manufactured. And it’s much easier to work on than modern machinery.
In fact, it’s so simple and spacious to work on it really is a joy. Whilst the mini shares much of its DNA with the Minor, it’s a harder car for a novice to work on because everything is so snuggly packed in.
I often wonder, with cars as groundbreaking amd enduring as the Minor and mini, how did British car manufacturing manage to drive itself into the ground? That is a massive question with a very lengthy and complex answer, but in simple terms I think the sad truth is the cars that came after were just never as good. Some Rover models being the notable exception.
Anyway, returning to my original question. How can I write something fresh about a perennially popular car launched in 1948?
Honestly, I’m not sure that I can.
Instead, as I sip my morning coffee and consider my breakfast options, I think I’ll have a poached egg. I do love them.
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