Alec Issigonis’ automotive design skills were nothing short of inspirational and although his ability to create a spacious, family car with a small footprint would be immortalised with the Mini, it was the post-war Morris Minor that appeared first on the scene bearing his name.
Launched in 1948, Issigonis’ creation had laid down its roots some years earlier under the Mosquito prototype moniker, but like other vehicles launched around the same time, this was very much an effort to get a post-war motor industry moving once again; affordability and an emphasis on providing family transport were key to its success.
Notable to its revolutionary claims was the fact that the Morris Minor Series MM was of monocoque construction – doing away with the more traditional combination of a separate chassis and body, but it was also Issigonis’ inclusion of independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering that offered more than just a nod to more technically advanced vehicles such as Citroën’s Traction Avant.
Original plans for a flat-four, water-cooled engine were shelved in favour of an improved version of the Morris Eight sidevalve engine, but this also helped keep the price down and when paired with the well-designed yet far from ostentatious interior and trim, resulted in an affordable family car that still made the new owner feel very special.
Although Lord Nuffield himself was not a fan of the Morris Minor – likening the initial saloon design to a ‘fried egg’, the vehicle was a huge success. Two-door saloon and tourer versions were initially available, followed quickly by a four-door saloon, but it would take until 1952 for the first major changes to come to market with the launch of the Series II.
Visual styling upgrades included a move from the front grille to the wings for the headlights, but arguably it was the expansion of the range that broadened the appeal – first with the introduction of the Traveller, complete with its external wood frame and estate body style and then the launch of the commercial models in both van and pickup form that would result in considerable sales to trade and official service markets.
The sidevalve engine was also replaced by an overhead-valve version which resulted in slightly more impressive (although still relatively sedate) performance figures, but with enviable economy, aerodynamic styling and excellent handling, the Morris Minor – later referred to as the Morris 1000 with the introduction of the 998cc engine – was a difficult to beat package that made its mark on the motor industry until its demise in 1972.
Compared to earlier versions, the 948 and 998cc-powered models were comparatively spritely – the latter being introduced largely to coincide with the introduction of the motorway in the UK.
Although the 0-60mph figures would never trouble anything with sportier ambitions, the saloon feels pretty nimble and the rack and pinion steering offers a pleasant experience when fitted with appropriate tyres, thanks to the large, thin-rimmed steering wheel.
Whilst the gearlever offers a long throw, changes are perfectly pleasant once familiar with the setup and anyone well-versed with the Morris Minor will know too well the trademark exhaust note on the overrun when moving up through the gears. The Minor is all about charm and although various modifications have been offered through the years – from twin-cam engines to Marina-based braking and axle conversions – one can argue that a well-maintained, original specification car is more than capable of offering the perfect experience.