Thursday November 29, 2018
A memory – it is 1975 and we are travelling towards Lewes in my maternal grandfather’s dark green four-door 1955 Morris Minor Series II. Two decades is not especially antique for a car but to my young self every detail seemed to hail from the world of Brylcreem, Bakelite and the BBC Home Service.
The wipers creaked across the V-windshield, the “fug-stirrer” heater make faint hissing sounds and we appeared to be overtaken by what looked like every Vauxhall Victor 1800 FE in Sussex. It was all quite wonderful.
A few years later I was viewing The Devil’s Bait on afternoon television. Many British B-features are, to put it bluntly, quite dreadful with wooden actors staggering around a cardboard set as they mouth trite dialogue, but this 1959 production was quite a gem. The plot involved the police desperately searching for two women in a new Minor Tourer as they inadvertently had bought a loaf of bread that contains rat poison.
The last reel was almost unbearably tense as Sgt. Gordon Jackson in his Wolseley 6/90 scours the countryside and when the two cars inadvertently collided I was not sure whether to be more worried about the loaf or the Morris.
Many cars have the power to instantly evoke images of the past but only a few of these achieve true iconic status. The Minor is one of these cars and if you grew up in the 1970s they could be seen everywhere. By that time, their styling looked smart but dated, in the manner of a good suit from the 1940s, but the Morris could still be seen as a police “Panda” car and working for the Post Office.
At night, the BMC flashing indicator stalk would bathe the entire cabin in green and if you were fortunate enough to own a Minor fitted with windscreen washers, this meant frantically pressing a black button in order to make them work. The onset of cold weather might well result in having to rely on the starting handle, a device that was sadly lacking on a contemporary Ford Escort. On screen there was that unfortunate 1957 1000 in the Cliffhanger episode of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em – even if it was unlikely to be worth the £800 claimed in the script; just listen to sound of that engine -
Is there a key to the 70-year success story of the Morris Minor, the first British car to sell over a million units? One reason is that it was not just the first new car for so many families, it was their first car full stop, bringing a degree of mobility that would have been unthinkable for even their parents’ generation.
A second is that Alec Issigonis and his team believed that the Minor would have so many of the virtues of a larger car but in a smaller, and more affordable package. This 1957 Pathé commercial has David de Keyser extolling the virtues of driving a new Minor 1000 though a quite incredibly traffic-free London.
And thirdly, it was a vehicle that was built to last and to provide enjoyable transport, which the Minor has done since visitors to Earls Court on the 27th October 1948 saw the MM saloon and tourer for the first time.
Here’s to the next seventy years!