Thursday April 19, 2018
The year is 1948, the month is October and you are one of 562,954 visitors to the London Motor Show at Earl’s Court. Of course, your chance of owning one of the exhibits are pretty slim; the government allocated steel to car manufacturers on the basis on their being able to sell their wares overseas – 75% was the target – and the home market waiting list extends for literally years. Even if you did manage to obtain a new model, you were obliged to sign a covenant stating that it would not be sold for at least 12 months as the price of a used car might be almost double that of a new car. There is the further challenge that petrol is still rationed - together with clothes, meat, sweets and sugar – so even if you are fortunate enough to own a set of wheels, you will able to motor for under 1,000 miles per year.
However, none of this will deter you from enjoying the first motor show in the UK for a decade. Jaguar have launched their stupendous new XK120, the Sunbeam-Talbot 80 and 90 look exceptionally dashing while on the Austin stand the A70 Hampshire looks as solidly respectable as the A90 Atlantic seems as glamourous as a film starring Mr. Stewart Granger. As for that Tickford conversion of Rover’s latest off-road utility looks just right for the “hunting, shooting and fishing” set.
But today your main destination is the Morris display to see their line-up of post-war cars form the motorists of the world. To quote the chaps of Motor Sport magazine ‘Britain’s salvation lies in successful export, and it is well that our virile Motor Industry should have produced such stimulating new models at such a vital time in our history’. And there on Stand 163 are the MS Six, the MO Oxford and that light saloon that you have secret hopes of owning by the beginning of the 1950s – the Minor. This Nuffield PR film also gives some impression of how ‘The World’s Supreme Small Car’ impacted on would-be owners:
Such is our familiarity with the Morris Minor – the first British car to sell over a million examples – that it is difficult to appreciate its impact nearly 70 years ago. The badge was familiar as was the side valve power plant, but it bore virtually no resemblance to the Eight saloon and its appearance alone was the cause of amazement from many a trilby-hatted show-goer. The coachwork, courtesy of Alec Issigonis, was both sleek and spacious; the designer believed that ‘people who drive small cars are the same size as those who drive large cars and they should not be expected to put up with claustrophobic interiors’. The specification included rack and pinion steering and independent torsion bar front suspension. There was also a Tourer version that looked even more handsome than the standard two-door and both were listed at £358 10s 7d. Surely putting one’s name down on the Morris waiting list would be a sound idea…
In February 1949, The Motor evaluated a Minor saloon and stated that many thought that it stole the show. They also found the Morris to be ‘An Attractive Newcomer Which Sets High Standards of Small-Car Stability, Comfort and Economy’. That same year also saw advertisements proclaiming, with justifiable pride, ‘All women-crew drive a Morris Minor without losing a single mark’. Mrs. Elsie Wisdom, Miss Betty Haig and Miss Barbara Marshall competed in the first post-war Monte Carlo Rally and NWL 858 came third in the 750cc to 1,100 cc. category. By 1950, the year that petrol finally came off the ration, the Minor had gained a welcome of a four-door option and raised headlamps - US spec. cars had been so-equipped in the previous year. The lucky owners also received a passenger windscreen wiper as standard!
The Minor was indeed a major seller abroad - - and the original MM version was phased out towards the end of 1952, with the last versions being made in early 1953. The Series II featured an 803c Austin engine, an early consequence of the formation of the British Motor Corporation, and in May 1953 the Minor was available in van and pick-up form. Five months later Morris introduced the Minor “Traveller’s Car”. Again, this is such an established classic that it is hard at times to appreciate how unusual it was in the early 1950s; a timber-framed and extremely well-executed small estate car of a decidedly upmarket appearance.
In October 1954 the Minor was fitted with a new horizontally-barred griller and central speedometer and two years later the Series II was succeeded by the 1000; here is some priceless footage of a prototype being evaluated in Germany - By that time the Morris had already changed the face of mass-motoring in the UK, demonstrating that inexpensive family transport could be simultaneously dependable and enjoyable, for its handling put many a sports car to shame. Today, it is one of the few vehicles to genuinely merit the description ‘iconic’ – and that is why this year its 70th birthday will be celebrated across the globe.
Lancaster Insurance has been instrumental in developing a new bespoke insurance scheme for Morris Minor Owners. The scheme encompasses a much wider acceptance criteria including the ability to insure younger drivers and those that use their Minor as their everyday transport. Limited mileage discounts are available and expected policy extras such as agreed value and breakdown cover are also available. Call 01480 400948 to speak to one of our specialists to see if we can provide you with a competitive quote.