A snap appraisal of the first completely new car from British Leyland
(To be read in conjunction with “Matters of Moment”, page 419.)
With the Mostest-from-Munich non-materialising, the Editor’s surprise Easter-egg turned out to be a limeflower Morris Marina 1.8 two-door coupé with navy upholstery. First impressions were unfavourable, because in the press of traffic on the A40, a notorious exit from London because it is endowed mainly with roundabouts instead of underpasses or flyovers and because so many of the commuters who use it seem to reside in the dormitory villages of Bucks., calling for right turns which further impede the long-distance traffic, over-rich mixture from the twin SUs made the engine idle, at 700 r.p.m., as roughly as that of a vintage lorry.
As occupants of Avengers and Vauxhalls pointed at my hush-hush vehicle, its name obscured with masking tape, I must have appeared to be suffering from the ague, as Marina rocked like a little boat caught by the evening tide. I feared the engine would stall, and squeaky brakes added to my anxiety. At the Denham Village/Beaconsfield roundabout fellow road users hooted and flashed at me, and I began to think it was time to vacate this ADO 28 and erect the Bluemels warning triangles thoughtfully provided in its boot. However, before I could get out an obliging Ford driver had secured the filler cap from which petrol had been spewing (for some obscure reason it is a little plated cap, in spite of being hidden by a rather crude circular door) and I was again on my way.
Colleagues had dismissed the new Morris as just another cigarette carton, with ugly exposed-nuts wheels added to the common styling. In London itself I had discovered the Marina’s light but too-sudden clutch and throttle linkage which made a dignified take-off difficult. With a 180-mile run ahead of use after a full day in the office (I maintain that anyone who cannot read Motor Sport’s small print—with glasses, if worn—shouldn’t drive a car, but coping with it all day doesn’t exactly set one up for a fast night drive) I began to pine for the 2000TC or the Mexico I had left behind. The Marina had a Courier Mini-8 stereo player but no cassettes, so I was unable to cheer myself up by playing sonnets about Easter bonnets as we crawled westwards. The test-car also had a Radiomobile radio.
Once out of the traffic tangle, however, the car’s better features became apparent. The 1.8 TC version has an excellent performance above 2,000 r.p.m. in its 3.64-to-1 top gear, its rack-and-pinion steering is extremely nice, although low-geared at four turns, lock-to-lock, and the Marina can be cornered quite quickly, initial strong u/s changing to o/s, but with the back-end holding on well in spite of feeling a bit soggy, while excessive roll is not apparent. The 165/70R x 13 tubeless Dunlop SP685 protest infrequently, and grip like a Tax Collector with your earnings.
The gear-change is good, but with a long lever having long movements, not quite up to Ford standards. You lift the non-spring-loaded lever to engage reverse, outboard of 3rd. The hand-brake is well placed between the seats and the only switches on the wood-simulated panels beneath a matt-black facia are those for lamps, heater-fan and Triplex hotline back window. A knob acts as hand-throttle-cum-carburetter-enrichener. The leather-rimmed steering wheel’s thick spoke obscures the otherwise well-located heater controls, but they had a springy action, and I was either too hot or too cold, with no happy medium.
The interior arrangements and controls deserve high marks. There is a well-contrived lockable cubby on the left, which will take two Rolleiflex cameras, and a lipped under-facia shelf. Three neat dials, by Smiths, are recessed in front of the driver, comprising speedometer with m.p.h./k.p.h. readings and a decimal mileometer (reading 4,945 miles as I left the office), a heat/fuel gauge, and an electronic tachometer with no red area—the engine peaks at 5,500 r.p.m. but has to be taken well beyond this to obtain the 40, 60 and 80-plus maxima in the gears.
Two stalk controls look after dipping, turn-indicators, flashing and horn (r.h.) and washers (Trico electric)/wipers, with an additional one-sweep action (l.h.). The doors have recessed pull-out exterior and interior handles, the latter incorporating neat locks, there are well-placed arm-rests, two keys, one of which has to be used to open the 11 cu. ft. illuminated boot, and the roomy five-seater body is vented, being said to replace the air completely in approximately 30 sec. with all windows closed (Ford claim about 40 sec. for a Cortina with “Aeroflow”). The extremities of the facia have closeable but non-swivelling fresh-air inlets. The front seats are of generous size, with adjustable squabs, but the latter do not provide much sideways support and tend to dig into the small of one’s back. The front 1/4-windows are fixed.
I had commenced this journey, as with the likewise-unexpected Stag test, with a nearly empty wallet but, being now in possession of a Barclaycard, I felt much happier, especially as the fuel gauge sank quite slowly (consumption was 27.8 m.p.g. of 4-star; on long runs it did even better giving around 30 m.p.g.), and the tank holds 11 1/2 gallons. The progressive Girling auto-adjusting brakes were deceptively powerful, but the vinyl upholstery made me perspire (oh, for Connolly leather!). The ride is pitchfree on good roads but gets horribly shuddery and thumpy on bad ones, the engine is noisy at speed, and there is whine from the lower gears, a higher-pitched one on the over-run.
The Lucas two-lamp set tried to burn holes in the road but was reasonably effective, the window area of the Marina body is generous but reversing difficult, and many of the modern saloon-car amenities, such as safety features, a steering lock (which presents no unlock problems), childproof doors, etc., are incorporated. Under the prop-open bonnet the Lucas Pacemaker battery, dip-stick, Champion plugs and Fenner alternator/fan belt are sensibly accessible. (The oil level fell to half-way between min. and max. in 566 miles.)
Having driven the top model of the Morris Marina range I do not feel any compunction to retract the views expressed in the Editorial. The ADO 28 is clearly intended to take its place in the People’s Car sales-stakes and until we learn its price one cannot judge how much it will contribute to BL’s financial recuperation.
All they need now is Peter Browning and his staff, to turn the Marina into a first-class car.—W. B.