The following information provides a brief overview of the history of the Morris Minor. It is not a comprehensive guide. There are many well researched books written on the car, not least by Ray Newell. Anyone interested in learning more about these cars would be well advised to begin with his books, which are available from the Morris Minor Owner’s Club shop.
Morris Minor – Early Design
In the early 1940s work began at Morris Motors on design and development of a new small car, which was to be launched when the Second World War ended. This work was carried out in secret, due to a governmental ban on on civilian vehicle production at the time. It was a bold move on the part of Morris Motors given that at the time the outcome of the war was far from certain.
The initial name assigned to the new vehicle was ‘Mosquito.’
The postwar Morris Minor was designed under the leadership of Alec Issigonis, who had been at Morris Motors since 1935. Until being handed the Mosquito brief Issigonis specialised in suspension design. However, he had impressed the company’s Chief Engineer with has advanced automotive designs since his arrival.
Issigonis’ design for the Minor included several ideas that he had proposed for the pre-war Morris Ten. These included independent suspension, inspired by Citroen’s traction avant (produced in 1934 and arguably the world’s most innovative car ever), rack and pinion steering and a unitary design (as opposed to a separate body and chassis). His aim was to design a small vehicle with excellent handling characteristics, combined with maximum interior space. Issigonis also wanted a new flat-four water-cooled engine in the Minor to maximise cabin space, improve engine positioning and vehicle handling.
He was heavily influenced by the design of American cars, drawing on visual design cues from cars such as the Packard Clipper and Buick Super.
The chief draughtsman on project was “Jack” Daniels, who was reportedly described by Issigonis as “the best all-round draughtsman in the country.”
In 1946 the design of the vehicle approached completion. Lord Nuffield (William Morris, founder of Morris Motors) was heavily critical of the new car. He infamously described it as a resembling a “poached egg.” Instead Lord Nuffield preferred to make some subtle modernisations to the pre-war Morris Eight, a car he much preferred.
Morris’ Chief Engineer, Miles Thomas, and Issigonis persevered. At a late design stage Issigonis decided that the vehicle proportions were not quite correct. The car was too narrow to be aesthetically pleasing. He ordered one vehicle to be sawn in half lengthways, and widened by 4″. This is the reason why all Morris Minor bonnets have a four inch strip down the middle.
Alec Issigonis also went on to take the design philosophy of the Minor even further, with the launch of the equally iconic and legendary mini in 1959.
1948-1952 – Series MM
In 1948 the postwar Morris Minor (series MM) launched at the Earl’s Court Motorshow. It was an instant hit with the motoring press and general public. The Motor magazine said it “stole the show.” They went on to describe it as an “astonishing car” during their road tests.
However, by the time it launched a number of changes had been made to Issigonis’ design. Mostly in the name of cost saving. The name Mosquito was gone. Lord Nuffield had strongly disliked this name and there was a feeling at Morris Motors that the public needed a reassuring name to give them confidence in what was a radical new car. The name Minor was resurrected.
Gone was the all-round independent suspension, with leaf springs being implemented at the rear. Also gone was the water-cooled flat-four engine. Instead was the 918cc side valve engine from the pre-war Morris Eight. A reliable, if underwhelming, engine. Top speed was around 60mph and the car returned 42 miles per imperial gallon (mpg). 0-50mph took 24 seconds.
At launch there was a choice of two models, a two-door lowlight saloon and a two-door lowlight tourer (convertible). All models had semaphore turn signals. The starting price was £358. These early models are known as the Morris Minor Series MM.
At the same motor show Morris also launched the Morris Oxford, Morris Six and Wolseley variants of both vehicles. These were scaled up versions of the Morris Minor, incorporating all the same features of Issigonis’ design.
In 1950 a four-door version of the Minor was launched. Originally this was for export only, and from its’ launch had the now familiar raised headlights.
In 1951 all Morris Minors were changed to have raised headlights due to changes in US road safety legislation.
1952-1956 – Series II
In 1952 the Minor was significantly upgraded, as a result of Morris Motors merger with the Austin Motor Company to form the British Motor Corporation (BMC). These versions are known as Morris Minor Series II. The pre-war 918cc side-valve engine was replaced with Austin’s modern overhead valve 803cc A-Series engine from the A30 (the A-Series engine proved so reliable it continued to be used in a variety of vehicles right up until the last Rover mini rolled off the production line in the year 2000!). Consequently, the gearbox, drivetrain and rear axle were all upgraded accordingly. The car’s top speed increased to 63mph, with reported fuel economy around 32mpg.
1956-1971 – Minor 1000
In 1956 the Minor received a comprehensive package of upgrades to ensure it was fit to remain in production for for foreseeable future. The engine was replaced with a 948cc A-Series unit and upgraded gearbox. The 948cc Minor is reckoned by many enthusiasts to be the sweetest A-series engine ever made. Top speed increased to 75mph and the 0-60mph time was cut to just under 30s. The split windscreen was replaced with a one-piece design and the rear windscreen was enlarged, providing better all round visibility. The speedometer was replaced with a large one fitted in the centre of the dashboard.
The British Motor Corporation (BMC) pressed ahead with economies of scale, gradually upgrading items such as the vehicle heater and replacing leather interior trim with cheaper vinyl (with the notable exception of the Tourer).
In December 1960 the Minor became the first ever British car to have sold 1,000,000 units. This was a major milestone and to celebrate it BMC launched the Minor 1,000,000 limited edition model. For reasons known only to BMC, these were standard two-door Minor saloons, each one finished in lilac, with white interior trim. Marmite indeed. The “1000” badges on the vehicles were replaced with “1000000”. These Minor Millions as now quite sought after.
In 1962 the Minor received its final major upgrade, when the 948cc engine was replaced with a 1098cc unit. Effectively this made the car a Minor 1100, however the name Minor 1000 was retained. The front drum brakes were upgraded from 7″ to 8″, which provided better stopping power. Other modernisations included upgrades to items such as indicators, the dashboard fascia and glove boxes.
The last Tourer was built in 1969 and final saloon (at least in Britain) in November 1970. In New Zealand production of completely knocked down (CKD) cars continued until 1974. In 1975 the final new Morris Minor saloon was built in Dublin by the Britons Group.
The Minor was eventually replaced with the Morris Marina, which contrary to modern perceptions of the vehicle sold very well in the 1970s. Its spiritual successor however was the mini, which was also designed by Issigonis using the same design principles. Launched in 1959 the mini remained in production until October 2000 (still running an A-series engine).
We can’t help but wonder if the Minor, particularly the Traveller, had been upgraded with the Marina’s 1275cc engine, a five speed gearbox and disc brakes whether it could have successfully remained in production until around 1980. We think it could have.
Morris Minor Saloon (2 or 4 door) (1948-1971)
Morris Minor Tourer (1948-1969)
Morris Minor (Austin) Quarter Ton Van & Pick-Up (1953-1973)
Morris Minor Traveller (1953-1971)