| || |
The 1000 marked the 'coming of age' for the Minor. Introduced in 1956, this was the last major upgrade that Britain's then most popular car would receive. The '1000' would also see the production of the one millionth Minor, the greatest number ever produced in Britain of a single model car. The 'Morrie Thou' would also see BMC begin to concentrate on their other models, the Mini and the 1100 in particular getting most of the development work. The '1000' was beginning to fade into the background as BMC left the Minor to rest on its (unexpected) laurels. But that's still a few years away yet, let's go back to 1956 and see how the Minor came of age.
What it Looks Like
A number of changes were made for the 1956 model that differentiate the '1000' from the venerable Series II. Most obvious was the fitment of a single curved windscreen in place of the two piece split-screen and also a larger rear window. This provided much improved visibility and cleaner, smoother lines to the already curvy body style, although the 'clap hands' window wipers, a necessity due to the previous split-screen, remained unchanged for another 6 years. Another visual change was the introduction of the 5-bar grill, replacing the 'cheese-grater' grill of the Series II.
But the changes went far deeper than just the windows. The most important improvement over the Series II was the replacement of the increasingly inadequate 803cc engine with the larger and sweeter 948cc unit, hence the tag '1000'. With a higher compression ratio of 8.3:1 the power of the 948cc engine was a very creditable 37BHP, making it more than a match for its 1950's rivals. The gearbox still had no syncromesh on first gear, but the ratios were improved and changing the gears was much smoother. Coupled with the extra power available, driving a 948cc Minor was like a breath of fresh air compared to the wheezy Series II. At last the Minor could reach the dizzying speed of 70MPH on a flat road - no need for long downhill runs anymore.
The available colour schemes became marginally more daring, with the introduction of such exciting colours as Old English White, Chartreuse Yellow and later with the Lilac Millions. The '1000' was offered in no less than 33 different colours! The upholstery also got the treatment with two-tone schemes making an appearance.
In 1960 BMC made British motoring history when it produced the one millionth Minor, more than any other British manufacturer had achieved with one model before. To celebrate this relatively grand achievement (Ford made over a million Model T's in 1922 alone!) BMC made a special run of 350 vehicles fitted out with off-white upholstery, white-wall tyres and painted in the extremely daring colour of lilac. 'Minor 1000000' badging adorned the sides of the bonnet and the boot lid. Apart from that the cars were in fact totally standard 948cc units. Most were sold in the UK with 21 being exported to the USA with another 9 being sent elsewhere also in left hand drive form.
1962 saw the introduction of the 1098cc engine, basically a long-stroke version of the 948. This gave the car a little more power and would have improved the top-end cruising speed were it not for the fact that a lower ratio diff was fitted at the same time, reducing the top speed of the 1098 to only 4 miles per hour more than the 948. The benefit was therefore only seen in the torque or pulling power of the engine. Hills that once required the driver to change down to third gear became easy fourth gear climbs. Although it provided more power than the 948 and allowed slightly higher cruising speed, the 1098cc engine was never as smooth or refined-sounding as its little brother, although the stronger gearbox was a welcome change.
The 1098 Minor also received a few subtle changes over the 948 including the introduction of 'normal' synchronised wipers instead of the 'clap-hands' units. The front indicator/park lights were enlarged and changed to include a separate amber indicator. The taillights were also redesigned resulting in a larger unit and again incorporating a separate amber indicator.
What the Press Said
The new 948cc engine put the spark back into driving a Minor. The press loved it, calling it "sportscar-like" in it's performance and handling. The Motor said 'There has never been a bad Morris Minor' and proclaimed the 1000 'an outstanding little vehicle'.
The handling qualities of the car were continuously praised, with comments such as '... the Minor 1000 ... [has a] responsiveness and 'gameness' which has always been the perogative of the well-bred sportscars of this world'. page_textThe extra power of the new engine was also praised, with writers and testers discovering such abilities as being able to accelerate in 4th gear from as little as 5mph. Acceleration times had improved vastly over the Series II. The 0-50mph time reduced from 28.7 seconds in the 803cc Minor to just 19.6 seconds in the '1000'. Impressive stuff.
However, there were a few niggles. The combination horn/indicator switch came under fire, with many people complaining to Morris Motors that it was too easy to accidentally push the horn when indicating. They were 'surprised' of course, but nevertheless changed the design so that the horn required more pressure to activate. Rumour has it that if you had complained enough, the factory would have offered to replace your existing horn/indicator unit with a modified version, under warranty of course. The horn button was eventually moved back to the centre of the steering wheel. The small size of the 5 gallon fuel tank was also a bugbear with some journalists. This too was quickly changed for a larger 6.5 gallon tank.
With the new-found levels of performance that the 1000 could provide the enthusiastic driver, a previously unknown problem arose. The rear axle setup, unchanged since the first MM, began to display the uncomfortable phenomenon of axle tramp, especially when accelerating out of tight corners. The inside rear wheel would lose grip on the road and bounce, producing an awful noise and a very uncomforatble ride. The only answer to this was to back off the throttle and let the axle settle down. BMC ignored all complaints and the design was never altered.
Living WIth a Minor Today
A '1000' is probably the easiest of the Minors to live with today. Performance is adequate for all but high-speed motorways, the 1098cc is particularly useful. All round vision is excellent due to the large windows. The 948cc and 1098cc A-Series engines are generally very reliable, and will continue to work well even when neglected. The later models are usually fitted with heaters that were a vast improvement over the earlier non-recirculating and less efficient units. A well maintained Minor 1000 still makes a great city car and occasional weekender, and can still be a practical, useable workhorse. And therein lies the major problem. Using a Minor as an everyday car is commonly thought to be cheap and simple, with reliability thrown in for good measure. Well, yes, and no.
Any Minor today will present the owner with a near-constant stream of chores to keep the car running in good order, although the younger '1000' is obviously going to be slightly easier to look after. Even the youngest Minor is now at least 25 years old and years of hard work and inattention can make even a Minor become unreliable. Simple things like accelerator return springs can break due to metal fatigue, brake drums become scored and warped through long use and overheating, grumbling gearboxes and whining diffs finally give up after years of sterling work.
The gearbox is likely to grumble in first and reverse gears, especially on the 948cc 'Thou'. This is because the gears used for both first gear and reverse are shared and are not particularly strong. The 1098 gearbox, identifiable by the ribs on the outside of the casing, was a much stronger unit. Another common fault is for the synchromesh cones to wear making it almost impossible to change gear without a slight crunch as the gear is selected. Dropping out of third gear and into neutral by itself when backing off is also a feature of worn '1000' gearboxes.
Sprightly as it was in the Fifties and Sixties, the Minor 1000 has become something of a mobile chicane on the high speed motorways of today. When cruising at 65-70mph the Minor is at near-top speed and any overtaking manoeuveres must be carefully planned with either a long run up or assisted by means of a downhill slope. When the surrounding traffic is travelling at 70-80mph, changing lanes on a busy motorway can be a heart pumping exercise.
That said, a Minor can still be used as an everyday car today. For over 12 months I drove a 1098cc '67 2-door to work every day around the London M25 motorway - 50-miles each way. You just have to be prepared to travel a little slower than the rest of the traffic and maybe have to contend with one or two major problems every year, such as a valve grind.
In all but the driest of countries, the regularly used Minor will also present you with a running battle against tin-worm. However, the Minor 1000 has the best parts and spares availability of any of the Minor family, and as such is the most usable today. Every single item on a Minor, apart from a complete shell, is available 'off-the-shelf' from one of the many Minor specialist firms around the world. Competition is such that prices are generally very reasonable, and it looks like the Minor 1000 at least will continue for some time yet.
The Competition - bitter rivals to bedpals
The Minor 1000 had surprisingly few direct rivals in its day. The Renault 4 was simarly specified but was not available in any great quantity in the countries that the Minor was popular. The Citroen 4CV was in the same situation. The real rivals for the Minor came from within the British Motor Corporation itself, namely the Austin A30/A35 and the Mini. With the merger of Morris Motors and Austin in 1951, BMC became the fourth largest car manufacturer in the world, following the USA's Big Three - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
It also became it's own worst enemy.
The Minor 1000 was the last Morris Minor to be produced. The success of the Mini and the apparent disinterest of BMC management in developing the Minor further ensured that it would pass away quietly in the UK in 1971. In New Zealand, the Minor Van and Pickup version were continued to be made up until 1974. Of course, by this time the Minor's styling was beginning to look very dated and the fashion for rounded lines and bulbous wings had given way to more the box-like dimensions of the Mini, the 1100 and eventually the Marina. But it still doesn't explain why the Minor didn't get the benefit of some of the developments made for the Mini, such as the 1275cc engine, or disc brakes. The Minor was still selling reasonably well up until the late Sixties, and if only BMC had had the foresight to update the Minor's mechanicals when it would have been so easy, maybe it could have continued on for another 25 years ...
BMC/Rover may have forgotten the Minor but the public never did. Today there are hundreds of Morris Minor specialists all over the world reproducing nearly every single part that went into making a Minor 1000. In theory, given a reconditioned chassis/shell, a 'new' Minor 1000 could just about be built using all new parts. There is even a company in the UK, CS Autoclassics, who are planning to produce a 'new' Minor. The Opus One is a brand new car with the styling and character of the Minor 1000 but with modern mechanicals.
In the UK alone, there are over 15000 members of the Morris Minor Owner's Club, and with other enthusiast clubs all over the world it should be safe to say that the Morris Minor will be seen on our roads for some time to come.