Matters of moment, May 1971

The Amalgamated Drawing Office 28

We expected the just-announced Morris Marina (or ADO 28) to be an enthralling car, for it is the first completely new model to emanate from the great British Leyland Motor Corporation and Lord Stokes expressed complete confidence in it when presenting it on a sort of “but wait for the ADO 28” basis.

In this His Lordship may be entirely justified; we are bitterly disappointed. Lord Stokes’ justification of this new Morris range, engineered by Harry Webster in 30 months and propelled on its way by George Turnbull, Deputy Managing Director of the BLMC, must be based on his desire, entirely sensible and patriotically laudable, to build cars which will win back, from Ford, Chrysler-Avenger and GM-Vauxhall, sales to fleet users, car-hire organisations and, perhaps, the average-buyer of a private family saloon.

We must hope that, with the Marina, this object will be achieved, for complete replanning of production facilities at Cowley and a new gearbox factory at Longbridge (able to gush out over 6,500 units each week) has cost the Corporation a cool £45-million. Motor Sport’s disappointment stems from the out-dated engineering features of this brand-new BL vehicle. It is obviously the view in Cowley and Berkeley Square that the big buyers, the boys with the brass, shop for dull, so-called-conventional, saloons. These experts in the Industry may well be right. If they are, this is a sad reflection on the lack of initiative shown in 1971 by the majority of the Nation’s car-buyers—and the Marina has to sell outside Britain.

Remembering that since the War the BMC has made a fantastic success of technically-advanced small- and medium-sized cars, introducing front-wheel-drive, transverse power units, “undersized” wheels, Moulton rubber and Hydrolastic suspension, automatic transmission with 850-c.c. engines, and so on, the Morris Marina can only be regarded by private enthusiasts, if not by fleet and car-rental buyers, as a giant step backwards.

We are told that the new cars with the royal-sounding name are expected “to rival the existing range of Minis, 1100/1300s, Maxis and 1800s (and, adds BLMC, the sports cars) for the top-selling spot in the UK market”, which enviable position the 1100/1300S topped last year. But the fact is that the customers are asked to choose between f.w.d. and r.w.d., Moulton suspension and what is unkindly referred to as cart-springing, between space-saving the Issigonis way and a type of structure going back almost to the beginning of the animal-less carriage, as contrived in the dark ages by Panhard et Levassor, between o.h.v. and o.h.c., 4- or 5-speed gearboxes….

Why? Is this an admission that all the ingenious techniques of BMC represent such advanced and finnicky engineering that they are unsuitable for the hard-slog and keen-economics of fleet users? Is the modern car-owner thought to be so dull that he and she will be content to buy cars which might have been conceived at any time in the last 25 years? Or was BL so concerned to offer exceptional value-for-money in its fight with Ford-Chrysler-GM that it decided the Marina had to be simple in the extreme, old-fashioned and unambitious, in order to compete (one hopes successfully) against those other makes its appearance so closely resembles?

If this is the truth, we must wish Lord Stokes and his shareholders the best of British luck, and a hasty Good Day. Because those of us who waited avidly for the results of three years’ striving within the great Corporation, anticipating a covetable new motor car, cannot fail to feel disillusionment with the Marina, as it appears on paper. The three models rely, respectively, on the 1,275-c.c. A-series BMC engine, the 1,798-c.c. B-series engine, and the 1,798-c.c. B-TC-series engine, all ancient push-rod power units, as used for the BMC 1300 range and Mini GT, the BMC 1800s, and the MG-B and MG-B GT, but, it seems, somewhat de-rated in the larger size. For whereas the Austin/Morris 1800 develops 86 1/2 b.h.p. at 5,400 r.p.m. and gives 101 lb./ft. torque at 3,000 r.p.m., vide the 1970 SMMT Motor Show catalogue, the Marina 1800 pokes out 82 1/2 b.h.p. at 5,250 r.p.m. and 98 1/2 lb./ft. torque at 2,000 r.p.m., and while an MG-B is credited with 95 b.h.p. at 5,400 r.p.m. and 110 Ib/ft. torque at 3,000 r.p.m., the Marina TC gives 94 1/2 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. on a slightly higher c.r., and 105 lb./ft. torque at 2,500 r.p.m.

No need, perhaps, to make much of that but surprise cannot be suppressed that what has been done in this long-awaited and proudly-proclaimed ADO 28 has been to turn these old long-stroke four-cylinder engines through 45°—eschewing the o.h.c. valve operation used for the Maxi, and for the Triumph engine sold to Saab and developed for Stag. Similarly, in terms of springing. Where something exceptional from the drawing-board of Alex Moulton was anticipated, even i.r.s., what do we find? That the Marinas sit on 1/2-elliptic leaf-springs at the rear, with torsion bars at the front, the latter used almost immediately after WW2 on then-new cars like the Armstrong Siddeley Lancaster and Jowett Javelin.

Nor do we feel thrilled about “a few added bonuses” (to quote BL) like stalk controls for lights and wipers, electric screen-washer, a powerful heater-fan, throughflow ventilation, safety steering column, child-proof locks and a steering-column lock, etc., because these are customary in most modern cars—although perhaps not at the price of these new Morrises. (Reclining front seats, radial-ply tyres on the 1300s, an alternator, reversing lamps, heated back window and cigarette-igniter, etc., are, however, extras.)

Nor, for that matter, are we excited (though interested) that the new bridge between the two Cowley factories where the ADO 28 is made is 2,350 ft. long. An automatic gearbox is also listed as an optional extra, although it might be thought a desirable standard arrangement for fleet users of the 1970s. The expectations of a five-speed gearbox or perhaps the first BMC-type transverse-six-cylinder engine for ADO 28 (as in the Australian Kimberley and Tasman) have not materialised; and, as already observed, there isn’t even o.h.c. valve gear, such as Ford now use for their larger four-cylinder engines.

Nor do these new Marinas, which, by the way, steal from current 1100/1300s the Morris name, for in future these will be called Austins (apart from the Morris Traveller), possess enthralling urge. BL claim a top speed of 82 m.p.h., 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 17 1/2 sec. and a s.s. 1/4-mile in 22 sec. from the Marina 1300, 95 m.p.h., 0-60 in 13 3/4 sec., and a s.s. in 20 sec. from the Marina 1800, and 100 m.p.h., 0-60 in 12 1/2 sec., and a s.s. 1/4 in 19 1/2 sec. from the Marina 1800TC, no distinction being made between the four-door saloons and the two-door coupés.

So disappointment persists, bordering on despair when we reflect that modern cars cope with increasing traffic congestion only by grace of ever advancing performance, handling and braking qualities—Marina 1300s, incidentally, have non-servo drum brakes, the other models disc/drum braking.

Perhaps our judgement has been too hasty, however. Motor Sport sent its man to the party at Cannes which celebrated the Morris Marina’s announcement to an expectant Press. He returned impressed by the excellent new gearbox, the anticipated competitive prices, but by very little else. So the foregoing are paper impressions of BL’s pioneer new car, the result of a hard three years’ grind to bring out a World-best-seller. It may be that the ordinary specification of the ADO 28 disguises exceptionally well-balanced handling, as with the late-lamented Daimler Majestic Major V8. It could be that these new electrostatically-sealed Morrises will prove themselves by running for 10,000 or 20,000 miles without so much as a rattle, that they will be found to have a gearbox as good as Ford’s, and that those who drive Marinas will be able to kindle more enthusiasm than we, to whom cars represent enjoyment rather than commerce, feel at present.

STOP PRESS: After writing the foregoing, sadly, because he is anxious to see Britain forge ahead via its Motor Industry, the Editor arrived at the office, prepared to take over a BMW 2800 coupé as his 1971 Easter Egg. However, the telephone rang to say he mustn’t do this, because this £5,000 German confection was too dangerous for him to drive—no, they didn’t mean its speed or our incompetence, but something to do with the BMW’s brakes, which sounded like real trouble, because the test had been arranged weeks earlier. However, another late-starter, Austin-Morris, also telephoned and a somewhat chastened Editor was sent away for the vacation in—a Marina 1800TC. His comments are on page 436.

The anti-motoring “Sunday Express”
“We are being crushed by motor cars, overwhelmed by them. They are a disaster to our wellbeing. The motor car was a boon and a blessing in its early days. Now it is a menace. We should shake it off. There was much lamentation during the Ford strike about the cars which were being lost. It should have been an occasion for rejoicing. Every car not built is a public gain…. anyone who travels to Manchester or Glasgow by car, or even airplane, when he can go by train, has taken leave of his senses”—Strong words by A. J. P. Taylor, advocating better public transport services (with no reference to recent railway go-slows). Where did they appear? Why, in the Sunday Express on Easter Sunday, when so many car-owners were enjoying their cars. We notice that in spite of its opinions this newspaper did not object to publishing advertising from Saab, Vauxhall, Devon Conversions, DAF, Jaguar, Chrysler Imports, Esso and from Mercedes-Benz and Volvo agents. These companies will not be blamed if they place their advertising elsewhere in future, and keen motorists may decide to change their Sunday reading.