Floating on fluid for 10,000 miles

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Bill Boddy

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The Editor’s experiences with a Morris 1100

In Motor Sport for August 1960, under the heading “Riding on Rubber for 10,000 miles,” I gave my experience of Morris Mini Minor motoring over that distance, the title of the article emphasising the then-novelty of riding on rubber springs, as well as enjoying the novelty of a transverse power unit with the gears in the carter or crankcase, and front-wheel-drive.

Nowadays these features are accepted B.M.C. small-car practice and no longer novel, so that we tend to overlook the brilliance and ingenuity of the Issigonis/Moulton design, which has given safe, although fast, compact yet spacious, economical motoring to so many people. In spite of the setbacks and inconveniences outlined in that article of three years ago, I so enjoyed Mini motoring that I craved the same sort of thing on a quieter, more generous scale and,consequently, when the Morris 1100 was announced I was very willing to have one as personal transport.

The title of the present account is a reminder that Alex Moulton’s ingenious and effective Dunlop-made fluid-coupled springing has, in this larger four-door B.M.C. product, been added to his clever rubber suspension, so that I was able to not only ride on rubber but float on fluid for these 10,000 initial miles of Morris 1500 motoring, although I hasten to explain that the “floating” aspect applies to the manner in which this Morris rides the rough stuff and most certainly not to its style of negotiating fast corners.

The successor to the hard-used Mini Minor, which was stolen, was partially run-in, with 519.5 miles on its odometer, when I collected it from Cowley on Oct. 18th, 1962. It was, and remains, an absolutely standard grey 4-door saloon, apart from red leather upholstery, an extra I have never regretted specifying, for it adds tone (and a pleasant smell) to this exceptional little car.

Observations about how Alec lssigonis’ bigger baby handles, rides, performs and behaves were dealt with in our road-test report of the car in twin-carburetter M.G. form, of which a full technical read-test report, the first to be published, appeared in Motor Sport dated December 1962, so on this occasion I will content myself with stating what happened in 10,000 miles of Morris 1000 motoring and with general rather than detailed observations about this now extremely popular B.M.C. product.

Looking critically at the car on the first day of possession I was disappointed to observe a little rust here and there about the body, to find the trim on the n/s front door loose, and all the doors “tinny” to close and difficult to shut as they tended to bounce off the sealing rubbers.

After I had been a Morris 1100 driver for 207 miles a screw fell into my lap from the plastic decor round the steering column, and after 330 miles, driving home from the London Motor Show one October evening I thought for a moment the fuel tank had been “milked” in the street car park where the car had spent most of its day, before I realised that the electric petrol gauge, and the water thermometer with it, had ceased to function. I had also driven far enough to realise that the screen-wiper blades were unable to cope with wet winter nights.

After 848 miles, or 1,367 total miles, the car went into B.M.C.’s obliging Holland Park Service Station for its initial check-over.

So far so good, and I revelled in the comfort and spaciousness of the 1100 in comparison with the Mini Minor. However, some “copybook blotting” was in store. Returning from Europe, where I had been not winter sporting, but sampling the V4 front-drive Ford Taunus, the o.h.c. B.M.W. 1500 and endorsing my previous high opinion of the Mercedes-Benz 220S, I set out to drive to the office from Hampshire in the worst of the freezing winter weather, over snow-coated roads. Within a very few miles of leaving the home garage the cooling system boiled over and the heater packed up.

For a moment my conscience was sorely troubled, for I hadn’t added any anti-freeze to the radiator. However, as I coasted into the first garage I came to I was immediately reassured that this topical calamity was not of my making, for memory that the coolant system is sealed at the factory was endorsed by the garage attendant who, appearing helpfully alongside through the haze of water vapour, shouted “It can’t be frozen, guv., ’cause it’s a sealed-for-life radiator.” It is, and it was, but B.M.C. had filled it with plain H20 before sealing it….

Being in my habitual frantic hurry and also a thought annoyed, I decided to continue to London by the drastic method of driving for a few miles, then switching-off the engine and coasting until the temperature dropped to something nearer normal. I duly attained the Holland Park Service Depot, frozen, and exceedingly cross.

Issigonis has a clever pressurised, sealed, cooling system, with that side radiator through which the fan blows cool air, assisted by the extractor effect of a low-pressure area within the n/s front wing, but without the help of anti-freeze it ices up like any other.

I was without the car for some considerable time, during which I drove a Renault R8, the sealed coolant system of which didn’t succumb to the severe winter, which handled almost but not quite as well as the f.w.d. B.M.C. production, and had far more comfortable seats. In due course the 1100 was returned to me, with its quota of Smiths Bluecol, an apology, and a loud tap in its engine which has been with it ever since. Presumably, being sealed, the coolant has had to forgo the benefits Summercol might have conferred on the engine.

Clearly the breaking-in process was behind me, and I made a check of petrol and oil consumption. Petrol, using premium grade, came out at 33.8 m.p.g. and half-a-gallon of oil sufficed for rather over 2,000 miles.

For some time after this, although it had run only 2,500 miles, a series of distressing troubles intruded to mar the pleasure of driving a car which was then infrequently encountered, in contrast to its popularity today. It began with frequent stalling from idling r.p.m., doubly embarrassing in single-lane traffic enforced by snow and fog. The viscosity of the oil in the dashpot of the S.U. carburetter was changed but it was not until some time later, after two visits to Holland Park in one day, that this irritating shortcoming was cured.

Then the gear-lever, well placed but never controlling an entirely enjoyable gear-change, began to stiffen up. In my ignorance I assumed that frozen snow and slush was clogging the gear linkages and turned up at Holland Park—where I was now well-known but always treated with civility however much my frequent appearances may have caused inward consternation—requesting that the Morris be put up on a hoist and sprayed with hot water. Alas, it was gently explained to me that the gear selectors were within the crankcase and the car would have to go back, to Birmingham, for skilled attention to what had become an anticipated failure.

When the car was ready again I was told the trouble arose because it was too well made, the mechanism assembled to close tolerances which had proved in practice to be too fine. I think the real reason related to the omission of any means of lubricating a vital shaft. However, from 2,742 miles, strong-arm methods of cog-swapping haven’t been needed.

Since that mileage up to the realisation that five figures were about to come up on the odometer the Morris 1100 had a varied and fairly hard life. It was lent to friends, my eldest daughter used it to learn the rudiments of driving an automobile, and when I found time in a gap in the road-test curriculum to enjoy its several charms I mostly cruised it at up to 75 m.p.h. on the speedometer and, of course, threw it through bends to the full ability of its exceptionally good road-holding. And, since those first rather depressing “teething troubles,” the reliability factor has not been at all bad.

The screen washers had had enough by around 3,500 total miles, soon afterwards the engine reverted to its habit of stalling, and the front disc brakes, the effectiveness of which seems in have improved with use, took to squealing, an embarrassment which hasn’t persisted. An occasional smell of petrol has been noticed within the body and seems to have returned.

B.M.C. serviced the car reasonably regularly but not always at the exact intervals prescribed. After I had used it for some 5,260 miles the driver’s internal door handle fell off—these slender plastic handles never feel particularly durable, and later the “pull” on the o/s front door likewise fell off—which is better than breaking and drawing blood from a finger, as happened to me on a road-test Riley 1.5, which has a similar type of plastic door “pull.”

About the same time (around 9,000 miles) the thief-proof catch on the n/s 1/4-light came adrift, so that there is no longer any point in locking the doors.

Electrical trouble has been less pronounced than on the Mini Minor. Indeed, apart from occasional failure of the bulb in the rear number plate lamp, all was well until the n/s direction flasher failed, due it seems to mechanical trouble in the very conveniently located operating stalk, after 9,350 total miles—until then, I hadn’t realised what a bore it is to give hand-signals, nor how quickly they have to be given in modern traffic, often an impossibility if the driver’s window has first to be wound down. (Since the “target mileage” set for this article the stalk has fallen down and the o/s indicator has a permanent and uncancellable wink!)

Checked over considerable mileages fuel consumption averaged 35/36 m.p.g., but nearer the 10,000-mile target it improved to just less than 40 m.p.g. on long, fast runs. I found that I tended to overlook dipstick consultation for periods of about 1,700 miles, when three pints of oil would restore the sump level to the “full” mark. A very recent check showed an oil thirst of approx. 4,000 m.p.g. Infrequent greasing does not result in more than average protest by way of squeaks.

At a total mileage of 9,831 the engine just died away, would start willingly enough, but would not pull the car a yard before fading out again. Naturally, this happened early on an evening when I had planned a long work session on my return home. Fortunately it happened when the Continental Correspondent was in this country and in response to a telephoned S.O.S. he came promptly to my aid. The ridiculous fact was that before he arrived (also in a Morris) the malady had cured itself automatically and the 1100 was running as well as ever. We decided that some mysterious something was entering the fuel system but that it gradually fell back down the feed pipe if the car was out of use for a while, although I wondered about a temperamental and ailing condenser.

About a week later I left the office early one afternoon, a long journey ahead of me, in exceptionally good spirits, which a rare spell of sunshine encouraged. I cleaned the windscreen, stowed my belongings and set off, E.T.A. some 5 1/2 hours hence. Within half-a-mile, beside a yellow no-parking line, under the eyes of two London policemen, the engine cut out and refused to restart. Ten minutes later, as before, it recommenced and we were off.

Prudence suggested a check-over as I ran past the Holland Park depot but human nature being what it is, and mine particularly impatiently inclined, I pressed on. It was after a bit of difficulty getting past a crawling Mk. IX Jaguar and an elderly Vauxhall, when the speedometer needle was again approaching 80 and I was gaining on two young men in a sportingly-driven Standard Ten who were also in a hurry that—the Morris again cut stone dead. It coasted to rest outside Leominster Station and the Standard, followed in due course by the Jaguar and Vauxhall, passed out of my life forever.

This time the thing showed no inclination to restart. I was fortunate only to the degree that in a nearby yard a local youth had just finished stripping the rear springs off a pre-war Austin 12 preparatory to fitting them on some future occasion to his 1938 Austin Ten, “My first car and a dud when I bought it,” he told me as he very kindly drove me into the town in search of electrical specialists.

This is how I came, within a short space of time, to discover two things, the first of significance to owners of Morris 1100s, the other possibly of interest to those in the vicinity of this ancient Herefordshire town, i.e. that for some perverse reason Issigonis hangs the S.U. fuel pump of his 1100s under the body at the n/s rear corner so that it is continually sprayed with anything the wheels and winds fling up, and that, even approaching 8 p.m. on a dismal English summer evening, the proprietor of the Pinsley Garage Co. is willing to shut up his garage and come to the aid of motorists in need. At least, he came to my aid, cheerfully fitting a new fuel pump and charging only 12s. 6d. for labour and driving out to the stricken Morris. He deserves to prosper.

I should explain that earlier that day, September 3rd, 1963, the odometer had turned up 10,000 miles in Evesham after I had entered Worcestershire by way of the 1-in-11 descent of Fish Hill. But as I had not taken over the Morris until it had done 519.5 miles I felt I should see it turn up 10,519 miles before setting down my account of it. Thus the fuel-pump failure, brought about by stupid design, I think it can fairly be said, has to be included, for when I was furiously spinning the starved engine on the starter in the Leominster dusk the total reading was 10,043. The “target” total came up, quite close to home, entering Odiham on the morning of September 7th.

This account, then, is of almost a year’s use of the latest B.M.C. small family car, employed as most cars of this kind are, and for about the same mileage as an average motorist undertakes in a year, including a series of teenage driving lessons. That it took me more than ten months to accomplish this distance reflects on the large number of Press cars I drive during this period. No further troubles were experienced (although since the target mileage came up there has been a further fit of the stalls) and, considering the kind of usage it has had, I think the reliability record has not been at all discreditable.

The engine still commences promptly in the morning (and as B.M.C. prefer you to warm it up by driving at 15 m.p.h. in top gear instead of idling in neutral, no time is wasted in taking to the road), the Lucas battery survives an evening of parking with the sidelamps in use, and the Dunlop Gold Seal tubeless tyres have never punctured or deflated, so that I have no idea how the jack functions. There is still a reasonable amount of tread on all four of these 5.50 x 12 covers, whereas the front Dunlops on the Mini were getting bald at 10,000 miles.

Although the interior appointments have proved somewhat frail, externally the body is like new, the plating round the windows and on the bumpers untarnished, while the leather upholstery has proved 100% durable. The rubber sealing round the boot-lid came adrift at one servicing period and was found within the car.

I like the matt-black facia which goes well with leather seats, Issigonis is a past master at not only making his small cars internally surprisingly spacious but in providing extremely generous storage for maps, bags, cameras, umbrellas and what you will. I do not like the mother-of-pearl release-button of the hand-brake lever, nor the interior door handles and heater controls, which feel liable to snap off, the latter being inordinately stiff to operate. The front number plate is vulnerably low.

Superior suspension

The outstanding aspect of the Morris 1100 and its companion M.G. is undoubtedly Alex Moulton’s rubber-and-fluid interconnected all-independent suspension. Coupled with Alec Issigonis’ insistence on small wheels at each corner of a rigid structure and front-wheel drive, the cornering powers are phenomenal and thus a constant source of joy to ambitious drivers.

Alex Moulton, working at his gracious house, The Hall, at Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, took out his initial patents dealing with hydraulically inter-connected rubber springs in 1955. The system used on the ADO 16 Morris 1100 (it’s rather droll, but ADO in association with this Cowley make stands for “Austin Drawing Office”) was developed through eight stages, between July 1956 and June 1959 onwards. I have insufficient space in which to describe these highly interesting and painstaking experiments but they were detailed in The Automobile Engineer for September 1962 and keen owners of Morris and M.G. 1100s may care to keep this issue to hand, as I do; it certainly enhances appreciation of an exceptionally well-suspended motor-car. I was privileged to inspect the inter-connected Moulton suspension before its release to the public. Last winter I became aware of the effective no-pitch ride it provides under unique circumstances. It so happened that, seeking firm ground beneath the universal snow on which to exercise the Motoring Dog, I used to drive onto a disused airfield runway. Over the snow the Morris was driven comfortably at 40/45 m.p.h. Other cars, over the same route, bucked and leapt about, fit to seriously discomfort the occupants if not to damage the mechanical parts. Only when the thaw set in did I realise the kind of pot-holes and broken asphalt I had been negotiating. This impromptu test entirely converted me to Moulton suspension on the score of comfort, no matter what some of the sceptics, usually after negligible experience of it, might say.

Certainly frost-damaged or other bad road surfaces call for no reduction in speed if you drive a Morris 1100. Yet it is quite hard suspension over normal roads, a clever combination. As it also confers on the 1100 roll-free cornering quite up to the incredible standards I enjoyed when I was a regular Mini motorist, on this score alone the 1,098 c.c. Morris becomes one of the most covetable of cars. If anything, I prefer 1100 to Mini handling, the change from under to oversteer when the power is taken off being far less pronounced. The steering is normally light, is geared 3 1/5 turns lock-to-lock and has not a trace of lost motion or sponge. Now, after more than 10,000 miles, this entirely trouble-free suspension system is functioning as well as ever, with no deterioration in the damping.

I think many people, including Mr. Langley whose letter appears on page 822, have misconceptions about this ingenious suspension, which is pitch-prohibiting but not self-levelling under varying loads in its present form. To combine a comfortable ride over atrocious roads with roll-free fast cornering and at the same time kill the liveliness and pitching that spoils many small cars, including one very recently announced, are what make this Moulton suspension as applied to the B.M.C. twos in a class of its own, and a system of very great practical merit.

What of the Morris 1100 from other aspects? On a long run there is still some road noise and the engine is noisy, apart from that persistent tapping from my particular example, which spells fatigue in non-stop runs of more than 100 miles. The steering wheel vibrates in sympathy with the engine when it is idling and from 60 m.p.h. onwards there is pronounced gear-lever rattle. The long gear-lever is well placed and the change a considerable improvement on that of the early Minis.

The speedometer can be pushed to 80 m.p.h. if need be but the real joy is the high average speeds attainable in safety over twisty roads; acceleration isn’t all that impressive and the car needs to be “rowed along” on the gear-lever, 60 m.p.h. coming up none too readily in 3rd gear. The front seats, which tip up even on the 4-door saloon, give plenty of support under the legs and are of better than average comfort, somewhat spoilt by hard hacks of “lumpy” formation. The three identical flick switches for lamps, instrument lighting and wipers I still find confusing at times and there is a sense of stress when pushing the car hard, quite erroneous however, based on the few serious faults experienced in a twelve-month.

The boot is bigger than it appears to be, taking two average-size, but not large, suitcases longitudinally, with another smaller case and odds and ends above them. Heavy loads do not affect the suspension adversely.

The rather upright driving position brings no grumbles from me; the brakes are adequate and the front discs now scarcely squeak at all, the transverse engine is splendidly accessible, but the bonnet prop sometimes has to be helped with its release arrangements. The 90 m.p.h. Smiths speedometer records steadily but its needle obscures the mileage reading at cruising speeds. The fuel gauge also records steadily and accurately and the thermometer has never varied its running reading. I like the French-note of the horn.

I like the chunky, almost cheeky, lines of the car, with the exhaust pipe protruding from the central backbone. I have enjoyed driving my Morris 1100 which thoroughly deserves the popularity it is enjoying (“count them on the road”) and certainly this Issigonis/Moulton motor-car gives the lie to the idea that nothing ingenious emanates from British factories. In due course “S”-versions of the 1100 may appear which the excellent handling characteristics would entirely justify. But I hope that B.M.C. will also introduce a version, not so much for the increased performance, as to obtain quieter running from a higher-geared more lightly-stressed power unit. The smooth, level, super-comfortable ride calls for a less noisy, more refined edition of this outstanding and lovable little car, which would indeed be a small car de luxe.—W. B.

Postscript.—So impressive has the Moulton rubber suspension of this B.M.C. product proved to be that I have taken on another equally ingenious vehicle, designed by Alex Moulton and manufactured by B.M.C.—a Moulton Standard rubber-sprung 3-speed bicycle. It makes an apt garage-mate for the Morris 1100, and it may well become a cult for owners of these cars to keep such a bicycle handy, almost as-a matter of course.

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