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The Morris Minor, launched at the 1948 British Motor Show, was the first
complete car design by the then plain Mr Alec Issigonis. He intended it to have
a flat-four engine, like the Volkswagen, but at the right end! The wide engine
bay and the neatly-packaged torsion bar front suspension allowed plenty of room
for the horizontal unit, so when, instead, the vertical side valve four from
the Series E Morris 8 (and the later OHV Austin A Series unit) was installed,
the Minor ended up with really exceptional engine accessibility.
The prototype Minor was called the Mosquito. Lord Nuffield hated it, calling it
a “poached egg”. Even Issigonis wasn’t completely happy with his own styling,
so he had the car sawn in half, and experimented with different spacing of the
two halves, until at 4 inches ( 10 cm , but not called that in Britain then ! )
he decided the proportions were just right. Since tooling had already started
by this time, the extra width modifications had to be somehow slotted in -
that’s why the Minor always had that raised ‘band’ feature along the middle of
the bonnet, and why the early ones had bumpers with extension pieces bolted
into the middle. Since the widened body also meant a wider track, the Minor
became an even better-handling machine that set new roadworthiness standards
for a small British car. The steering quality, with rack and pinion operation,
is still excellent even by the best current standards.
The Minor was available from launch in two and four door saloon form, and as a
two door soft top tourer. In 1953, the much loved Traveller was launched, which
had genuine traditional ash structural framing at the rear. So popular was this
charming ‘retro’ feature that BMC went to considerable trouble to apply genuine
wood, albeit as pure decoration, to the 1960s Mini estate cars.
the most important changes to the Minor, when the A Series engine was uprated
from 803cc to 948cc, a closer-ratio gearbox with an excellent remote-control
gearshift was incorporated, a single-piece windscreen was fitted and the rear
window enlarged. This really established the new Minor 1000 as the ‘poor man’s
sports saloon’ of the mid fifties.
One of the well-known characteristics of the Minor 1000 was a marked staccato
‘raspberry’ from the exhaust on the overrun. One enthusiast who fitted a
straight-through silencer found that this made it even more embarassing, but
that it could be almost completely tuned out by adding a short extension to the
tailpipe, with the side benefit that soot was no longer deposited on the rear
bumper. Which raises the suggestion that someone at Cowley might have
deliberately, even mischievously, tuned that raspberry into the exhaust design
in the first place ?
Through the 1950s, the Minor was BMC’s best selling car, and it became the
first British car ever to reach a million, in 1961. To commemorate this, one of
the motor industry’s first significant ‘limited edition’ models was produced,
371 off, in an unforgettable Lilac paint with white leather seat facings. There
was a chrome ‘Minor 1000,000’ badge instead of the normal ‘Minor 1000’ item.
When Minor production finally wound down in 1971, a total of some 1.6 million
Minors, including Vans and pick-ups, had been made. • It is often said that the
Morris Marina used the Minor torsion bar front suspension, but although the
concept was broadly similar, there were no interchangeable parts, whatever the
original intention may have been.