Rumblings, March 1972
• More about the Mexico.—Since we have been driving that enjoyable fun-car, the Ford Mexico, we have kept you advised of how it has served us and of the impressions formed. With the two-door Escort, labelled, incidentally, a 1600GT with no Mexico badge on it, coming to the end of this long-duration test, there is not much to add, because this Ford, for all its notable performance, has continued to serve with typical Dagenham dependability. So, instead of concentrating on its speed and acceleration, its 104 m.p.h. maximum and its ability to get to 60 m.p.h. in 11 1/2 seconds, let us look briefly at other Mexico qualities.
Last Easter, returning from Thruxton, the traffic tangles along A303 and A30 were particularly bad, the M3 not being open and a lot of the dual-carriageways then being incomplete. Being in no particular hurry this did not trouble us, nor did it trouble the Mexico, which is as docile as it is lively. The engine will run satisfactorily at under 2,000 r.p.m., although naturally it will not pull away smoothly in top cog until rather above that speed. Just recently another facet of the Mexico’s good behaviour became apparent. The temperature was 9 degrees below freezing but after two nights and a day in the open the engine started promptly. The Kwik-Fil battery was a bit tired, too, so this commendable sub-winter performance is presumably largely due to the excellent Weber carburation. Under these conditions, with the extra warming-up entailed, and fast running over main roads, the thirst for four-star fuel worked out at 32.4 m.p.g. The heater is so effective that, although the driver was wearing indoor clothes, it had to be backed right off for comfort but the back window, although devoid of a de-mister, soon cleared effectively. Oil consumption has not been properly checked, as various drivers have had the use of this Mexico, but it is in the region of 1,600 m.p.p.
No car is perfect and this extreme-tune version of the utility Escort has badly fitting doors, a firmly gripping clutch which therefore functions less smoothly than the extraordinarily nice gear change, and instruments slightly obscured by the thick rim of the steering wheel. The screen-washer container is too far from the special exhaust manifold to remain unfrozen in cold weather and a trip mileage recorder is an odd omission from a car likely to be used for rallying. Soon after we had taken the car over, a coach driver in the rally town of Machynlleth descended from his cab to ask whether the Mexico, like his Escort, had a noisy back axle. We had to admit that on the over-run it had, but this has improved with use. The Mexico is noisy, rattly and bouncy in the shopping-car context but its willing flow of power makes it very pleasant from the enthusiastic driver’s point of view. The Goodyear G800 tyres enable liberties to be taken on wet roads and in spite of spare wheel and battery being in the self-locking boot, there is reasonable space for luggage. All in all, Ford’s AVO should go on selling lots of Mexicos…
The Ford Mexico has been well publicised through last year’s Castrol Mexico Challenge series of races, won by Gerry Marshall. This year the exciting series takes place again, as follows:—
May 7th—Brands Hatch
May 28th—Brands Hatch (Ford Sport Day)
July 8th—Oulton Park
July 15th—Brands Hatch
August 12th—Crystal Palace
August 27th—Mallory Park
August 28th—Castle Combe
September 10th—Cadwell Park
If you enjoy close-fought racing by cars like those you can buy for £1,218 put these dates in your diary!
• The first Issigonis success.—Sir Alec Issigonis, like Rudi Uhlenhaut, has decided to go on with his engineering beyond retirement age. He is universally associated with that British love/hate car, the Mini, successor to the original Austin Seven, and enlarged derivatives of this popular minibric. So it is all too easy to overlook the post-war Morris Minor, which was Sir Alec’s first successful essay in automobile engineering.
There are so many of these Minors still about that a few recollections of how they fitted into the motoring scene of a decade ago are surely permissible, especially as some of these bulbous vehicles have been performance modified and in their day they achieved some interesting feats, such as the original side-valve version taking rally-driver Ian Appleyard from London for a ski-ing week-end to Geneva, coping with 1,100 miles between a Friday night and Monday morning, which later encouraged him to drive one the 1,067 road miles from Rome to London (flying the Minor across the Channel) at an average of 45 m.p.h. There was also a rather silly stunt at Goodwood in 1952, when o.h.v. Minors covered 10,000 miles in ten days without stopping, servicing being accomplished by docking them on floats, so that the rear wheels never stopped turning—but as Morris Motors claimed that the prototypes had been tested by driving them normally for the same distance in the same number of days, the point of this stunt was diminished, in Motor Sport’s view.
What Issigonis so cleverly incorporated into the Morris Minor which went into production in 1948 was a rigid body shell, an ingenious layout of torsion-bar i.f.s. later copied by many other designers, wheels an inch or two smaller than those in common use, and a weight-paring to under 1,600 lb. which remained remarkably consistent throughout the development of the car. He also devised a two-bearing water-cooled flat-four s.v. engine in 800-c.c. and 1,100-c.c. sizes, with a three-speed gearbox. In the event Morris Motors forced their 11-year-old Series-E four-cylinder 848-c.c. s.v. power unit on him for his prototype Mosquito, saying his crankshaft wasn’t properly supported and the smaller engine underpowered, but one suspects economics prevailed.
It is said that the experimental Mosquito was literally cut in halves and its two parts moved about until an acceptable appearance was achieved. On October 8th 1948 the result, called the Minor, was in production at Cowley. Two years later a four-door saloon tourer joined the two-door saloon and tourer and in 1951 a water pump was tacked onto the engine so that a heater could be fitted and the exhaust valves be less liable to extinction through the fast driving the Minor’s outstanding road-holding made such an easy accomplishment.
For 1953 the Minor acquired the Austin A30’s 803-c.c. o.h.v. engine, at first in the four-door saloon, then for all models, being re-classified the Series H instead of the MM, and the performance was lifted from 62+ m.p.h. and 0-50 m.p.h. in approx. 24/29 sec. to 72 1/2 m.p.h. and 18.7 sec. in 1957 by the installation of the enlarged bore, siamesed-cylinder 37-b.h.p. 948-c.c. engine—hence the Morris 1000, the bodyshell of which weighed 466 lb., the power unit 263 lb. The Series II version had been offered in Traveller estate-car and 5-cwt. van versions and those who continue to use Travellers will tell you that the comparatively high roof enables loads to be carried which simply will not go into a Mini Traveller, in spite of f.w.d. giving a low floor…
By the time Issigonis’ ingenious Morris Minor was in full-scale production, one was being made. every nine hours, during which some 20,000 pieces were assembled into a complete car. It was estimated that if the depreciation of the £ was taken into account the Minor selling for £280 in 1948 was undercut by the 1960 Morris 1000, which cost £416, but the corrected price of which was £254. Incidentally, the original 918-c.c. s.v. engines were made by Morris Engines, Coventry, to a total of 171,000, the 801-c.c. o.h.v, engines at Longbridge, where 322,000 were made for the Morris Motors branch of BMC, this A series BMC engine being the first in the UK to be made on transfer machines.
By January 1961 one million Minors had been built, in just over 12 years. Ford, of course, had turned out a million Model-Ts by 1922 after approximately 13 years, the VW Beetle reached this target after ten years, while Renault made a million Dauphines by 1960, in four years exactly. It took five years to churn out one million Mini-Minors.
The Morris Minor may now have just about ceased to be, but until last September it was still going strong, at the rate of about 735 a month and was being sold to Police Forces for use as Panda, or Noddy, cars. It must be forever remembered as the first British small car to incorporate new standards of safe handling, largely by reason of its ingenious Issigonis front suspension layout, which one talented engineer referred to as “A simple yet effective design of enviable mechanical elegance”.
VW versus Model-T
Volkswagen anticipated by the middle of last month the VW Beetle would have exceeded the claimed output of the Model-T Ford, which is 15,007,033 vehicles. They spoke of “shattering” this record but it must be remembered that the outlet for cars, and production techniques, were rather different in 1909, when the famous Ford appeared, from those prevailing in the post-war years of Beetle production, although against this the Beetle is not made as a commercial vehicle, whereas the Model-T came in 7 1/2-cwt, and one-tonner forms. Incidentally, Volkswagen (GB) Ltd. refer to the Model-T being “virtually unchanged during the 19 years it was produced”, whereas “over 3,000 mods. have been made to the Beetle”—but the authors of an American book about the development of the Model-T will probably dispute this.—W. B.