Before the Mini left its mark as one of the most iconic cars to ever come from Britain, Sir Alec Issigonis had already established a reputation for brilliance with the Morris Minor. The first car built in the United Kingdom to sell more than one million units, the landmark Minor has been hailed as a design classic that combined an essential English character with utility and performance at an affordable price.
The first truly global British car, the Minor debuted at the London Motor Show at Earl’s Court in 1948 with a blend of qualities that made it the perfect car for a world still reeling from the effects of World War II. The original MM series was sold until 1953 and would eventually encompass a range of two and four-door saloons along with a convertible touring car. The front suspension used the torsion bar layout from the Morris Oxford and adopted a similar semi-monocoque bodyshell. The 918-cc engine was sourced from the Morris 8 and although horsepower was initially limited (27.5 bhp) it was an economical unit that delivered almost 40 mpg.
The MM was an unqualified success with more than 250,000 cars sold and as the size of the engines increased the performance grew as well. The ubiquitous A-series engine made its debut in 1952 after the Austin merger resulted in BMC. Despite lower specific output, the new engine felt like an improvement and would go on to power successive generations of the car. The popular Traveller was also introduced in 1952 and featured an external ash frame for the rear bodywork and two barn-style doors. Commercial versions soon followed and the Minor name encompassed several varieties of unique cars. The Series II Minors with the A-Series engines offered spritely performance and even better handling than earlier cars equipped with the side valve engines.
The 1000 series cars debuted in 1956 with the 948-cc engine and one-piece windscreens. Detail changes occurred on a regular basis to keep the car fresh and the market continued to buy the car in increasing numbers. The million mark in sales was reached in 1961 with 350 special edition cars built to commemorate the occasion. The next year saw an even larger version of the A-series engine (1098-cc) along with revisions to the interior and improvements to the heater. Amazingly, even though the Minor was born in 1948 just years after the end of the war it managed to live long enough to see men walk on the moon and then some. Although the convertible and saloon cars were withdrawn from the market in 1969 and 1970 respectively, the Traveller and other commercial versions soldiered on until 1972 with more than 1.6 million cars manufactured in total.
Much like the Volkswagen Beetle to which the Minor is inevitably compared, the Minor exhibits a build quality that belies its affordable price tag. Despite a Spartan interior – again like the VW – the Minor’s cabin is welcoming and capable of carrying four adults in reasonable comfort. The seating position is much more comfortable than in the Mini although the steering wheel is placed at an odd angle that takes some getting used to. The instrument panel is dominated by a centrally mounted speedometer – with an integral fuel gauge – and flanked by twin glove compartments with a generous parcel shelf located below the dashboard.
While no one will mistake the Minor for a proper sports car, once the top is stowed it does a fair imitation given the deliberate acceleration (although it is no worse than in a similar vintage Beetle) and comfortable ride. While most Minor’s suffer from some balkiness while shifting, this example is easy to row through the gears with only the slightest hesitation present in second when rushing the synchros. With more torque than a Beetle, the Minor is more fun to drive and is the more unique mount (especially in Southern California where old VWs are plentiful).
Somewhat of a time capsule, this particular Morris was sold by British Motor Cars in San Francisco, California and has remained in the Golden State its entire life. While not a showpiece, there is enough patina present to make it look interesting, but not enough wear to set one’s thoughts to restoration. All in all, a better alternative to a convertible Beetle or Fiat 500, the Minor makes the ideal beach cruiser or weekend driver with room for friends and children.
Sampled – This 1961 Morris Minor Convertible is from the stable at Chequered Flag International in Marina Del Rey, California and displays its original black over red color scheme and California black plates. With a reported mileage of only 54,159 miles it seems to have led a pampered life. Some minor sorting could be done on the odd weekend or two, but this seems to be a great example of an all too rare English convertible.