The Editor Returns — Temporarily — To a Car with Water-Radiator, Back Axle and Propeller Shaft and Enjoys Exceptional Performance and Road holding.
It was with considerable interest that I went to Cowley to collect for test a Morris Minor 1000 four-door saloon, because, possessing outstanding handling qualities for a British car in 1948, these remain today sufficiently advanced for the Minor, endowed with a more powerful 948-c.c. engine and close-ratio gearbox, to take on the guise of an attractive small sporting car.
It is not a refined or even a particularly well-finished vehicle but it does get along exceedingly well for an economy-style saloon of modest engine capacity. This noteworthy performance, coupled with much-above-average handling characteristics, render the smallest Morris a car of great appeal to those drivers who do not mind a fairly high noise level if urge is supplied as well.
After endowing the Issigonis-designed Minor with a 948-c.c. sidevalve and an 803-c.c. o.h.v. engine the B.M.C. engineers have settled for the present 63 by 76mm., 948-c.c. push-rod o.h.v. unit with a compression-ratio of 8.3 to 1, which is quite high even by sports-car standards. It responds to the throttle like a racing unit. This results in an output of 37 b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m., which propels the 15½-cwt. saloon at over 70 m.p.h. and enables it to reach 60 m.p.h. from rest in a fraction over 31 sec.—or in 28 sec. with a well-tuned example vide current B.M.C. advertisements. Such acceleration, 50 m.p.h. coming up in just over 18 sec., is achieved by allowing the engine to rev, freely, upward gear changes being made at 21, 33 and 58 m.p.h., respectively. The surge of firm, willing power which results is good to feel and the engine seems “unburstable,” the only effect being the intrusion of valve-crash as peak r.p.m. come up in each gear.
This acceleration, together with maxima of 33 m.p.h. in second and 60 in third gear, converts pleasantly into high average road speeds, aided by the compact dimensions and quick steering of the Minor. An indicated cruising speed of 70 m.p.h. is quite usual in the latest Minor. There is a good deal of engine noise when driving in this fashion and an exhaust burble on the over-run, but regarded as a sporting car these are not objectionable characteristics.
The handling qualities are not so rare today as when the modern Minor was first introduced, but they remain an exceedingly attractive feature of the little car’s make-up. The rack-and-pinion steering is light and smooth and quickly responsive for rapid changes of direction. An irritating amount of high-frequency kick-back is experienced on all save very smooth roads, rather as on a pre-war Lancia, only less consistently. This is less severe at low speed but braking accentuates it. The dished wheel is rather large and set at an inconvenient angle, while, although only 2½ turns are required from one full lock to the other the turning circle is so small (33 ft.) that on tight corners a slightly higher ratio would be appreciated. There is general body tremor rather than column judder. Mild castor action is provided.
The Morris Minor can be cornered as enthusiasts like to corner and only at really high speeds do the rear wheels slide or the body lean over slightly. The tendency is oversteer but to only a slight degree devoid of excessive rolling or vicious lurching, so that it becomes habitual to throw the car round open curves and corners to the accompaniment of some embarrassing protests from the 14 in. Dunlops on the sharper ones. Severe rear wheel tramp occurs when driving on the absolute limit. The rear suspension is fairly hard, having been stiffened in the present Minor, and over roughish surfaces noticeable tremor is conveyed to the body shell, mainly in the region of the parcels-shelf, while undulating surfaces taken fast result in considerable up-and-down movement, with a tendency to wallow. The back-seat occupants, in particular, notice the hard ride. To the question, is i.r.s. necessary ? it can be remarked that bad roads cause the rigid cart-sprung back axle to tramp, probably accentuating the up-and-down motion, and there is that wheel tramp when cornering really fast. This is not to suggest that the car cannot be placed and cornered very accurately—it can, and this accuracy of handling, lightness of steering and ” flat” cornering form, with the notably brisk performance, the major appeal of the Minor 1000. In the same category is the excellence of the gear change. The rigid central remote lever swops the cogs as rapidly as it can be moved if you don’t mind over-riding the synchromesh and the light precise action and short movements are a joy. A midge in the otherwise clear ointment is that the lever could with advantage be a few inches longer, but as a proprietory extension can be purchased for a few shillings this isn’t serious. Nor is the flexibly-secured knot (knob) more than unusual to handle. In brief, an admirable gear change. From rest, first and second gears were sometimes difficult to engage.
The clutch is light, but some care is required to avoid a jerky start, partly because the engine opens up so willingly and partly because the clutch pedal travel is quite short, with considerable free-movement. There is not much room to park the left foot and all three pedals are of a rather mean size. The gearbox is commendably quiet, except for occasional vibration from the lever.
The Lockheed brakes are adequate without being outstandingly powerful, firm pressure being called for in emergencies but they are absolutely vice-free. The hand brake lies horizontally between the seats and could hardly be better placed, its action and effectiveness being equally praiseworthy.
Forward visibility is reasonably good although only the offside wing can be seen. The big back window is appreciated, along with the new undivided wrap-round (Triplex toughened glass) screen, and the big central mirror affords a fine view. The self-parking screenwipers only function with the ignition circuit and the blades have the unhappy shortcoming of moving in opposition.
The interior appointments and finish of the body are not inspiring. The shape has changed little since the car was introduced some ten years ago, apart from a fairly recent face-lift.
The front seats are of bucket-type, well padded, comfortable and with squabs that hold the occupants securely; only the driver’s seat slides, and is stiff to move. I was not very pleased when I caught my ankle on the crude metal adjuster lever protruding from under the seat, and became really cross when, removing a notebook from the under-facia shelf, I cut my hand on a straggle of wire.
The facia treatment is exceedingly simple. The metal expanse contains a central 80-m.p.h. speedometer with total mileage recorder (no trip), and in this are warning lights for ignition, oil, headlamps beam and direction indicators. Four pull-out black knobs with white lettering look after choke. wipers, lamps and starter and the ignition-key, which also locks doors and luggage boot, is separate. A stalk protruding very conveniently from the right of the steering column operates the non-self-cancelling direction-indicators and its extremity the horn. This is a commendable attempt to follow Continental practice but the horn button is far too stiff; it can be operated by the right index finger with the hand still on the wheel but one is apt to move the lever. The note is not such as to make a sensitive driver want to blow the horn, but is usefully penetrating. The switch for panel lighting is below the facia.
There are no door pockets and although a full-width parcels-shelf is provided under the facia this is set too far forward for easy access and small objects placed at the driver’s side soon by-pass the centrally-located heater and park themselves out of his reach. The edge of the shelf is crash-padded but as it is recessed this constitutes a nonsense. There is a shallow parcels space behind the back seat.
The back seat holds three if need be and its squab folds down to form a useful luggage platform, access to which is either through the back doors or by folding forward the front-seat squabs. All four doors trail and have pull-out external handles. There is a lock in the driver’s door. The front doors incorporate ¼-windows with rather crude (and not thief-proof) but easy-to-operate catches. These are matched by fixed ¼-lights in the back doors. The front window handles call for only 2¼ turns, up-to-down, the rear ones just under 2¾ turns. The doors shut “tinnily” but the body is well sealed, judging by the reluctance of a door to shut with all the windows closed. Egress from the front compartment would be much improved if the front doors were made to open more than 45 deg. Each door has a simple leather “pull.”
Reverting to the facia, there is a lidded, lined but not lockable cubby hole of generous dimensions on each side of the speedometer, the lid of the off-side one somewhat obstructed by the steering column. Alas, the lids have crude flanges with sharp edges. A roof lamp is provided, within reach of the front occupants only; it does not light up when the doors are opened, There is a swivel-out ash-tray on the facia and another rather crude one on the floor for the back-seat passengers. Below the speedometer is the fuel gauge.
As the car tested was the de luxe version there were twin anti-dazzle visors (but these are not transparent nor has the passengers’ visor an inset morror), over-riders on the bumpers, the heater, and leather-covered seats, which increases the price by £30. Normal upholstery is Vynide, with pile carpets, the latter secured only at the front.
The lockable lid of the luggage boot lifts (and requires propping-up) to reveal a generous space for baggage on a shelf above the tools and spare wheel, an admirable arrangement. There is ample space for a large suitcase, smaller cases and the inevitable odds and ends. The base-depth is 29 in. but there is no bulkhead, so with the seat-squab folded down bulky objects can be accommodated laterally.
The bonnet is released by pulling a bent wire handle under the facia and releasing the usual safety catch, and it props open automatically. High praise must be bestowed on the accessibility of junction box, fuses, the Lucas battery, Champion plugs, distributor and inclined S.U. carburetter with A.C. air cleaner. The dipstick is mildly obstructed by the plug leads and is close to the block.
The engine starts easily and with very little choke and soon warms up. In spite of the high compression-ratio no “pinking” is evident, using good quality petrol, nor is there any running-on after the ignition has been cut. Indeed, it is possible to treat the Minor 1000 as a top-gear vehicle, the engine pulling away very reasonably from 20 m.p.h. in the 4.55 to 1 top gear. It has a very purposeful way of running which creates the impression that it will go on for ever and it is a commendably smooth power unit with very little of that unpleasant suggestion that it is flexibly mounted. On the car tested a five-gallon tank was fitted, so that after about 170 miles the gauge read zero and you sought a filling station. The capacity has since been increased to 6½-gallons. Driving fairly hard the consumption came out at 38.3 m.p.g. Really fast driving did not increase this to below about 37 m.p.g. and a gallon of Cleveland Discol lasted for just over 42 miles, negotiating heavy main road traffic.
I drove the Minor 1000 for a total of over 760 miles in less than a week, adding no water and just over a pint of oil. The headlamps are adequate (but required adjustment) and the foot-dipper switch conveniently placed. The tiny fuel filler will not accept full-speed delivery from a pump without blow-back. After 10,000 miles the body was generally free from rattles but there were a few in the region of the facia, including an untraceable but irritating tinkling, and the exhaust pipe sounded as if it fouled the chassis. Not a trace of free-movement had developed in the steering.
Those who seek a refined small car may find the noise-level, and steeling-wheel tremors tiring on long journeys but the enthusiast will not be troubled by these things. Wind-noise, moreover, is commendably low.
To keen drivers the performance of the Morris Minor 1000 makes a strong appeal and with the availability of twin-carburetter conversions by Alexander-Laystall, etc., this little car, which is still in the economy class, is definitely one for your short-list of desirable possessions. A decently-tuned example will accelerate through the gears from a standstill, to 30 m.p.h. in 7.2 sec.. to 40 in 12.2 sec., to 50 in just over 18 sec. and to 60 in a shade over 31 sec. and the mid-range pick-up is also very good, 10-30 m.p.h. in third gear occupying 8.3 sec., 20-40 m.p.h. 9 sec, and 30-50 m.p.h. a matter of 11¼ sec., while in top gear you can get from 10-30 in just over 13 sec., 20-40 in 13.1 sec., 30-50 in 15.4 sec. and 40-60 in 22.3 sec.
Those who seek a conventional small car and are forced to consider first cost and fuel economy but who do not wish to put up with mediocre performance because of these morbid financial intrusions will find the Morris Minor 1000 the answer to their requirements. It performs as well as many far bigger, thirstier vehicles and its appeal increases the faster you drive it. It really is outstandingly safe and fast for its size and price. The price of the de luxe four-door saloon is £694 7s., the ordinary two-door version is available for £625 7s., both inclusive of p.t. — W. B.