The Morris Minor Series MM was the first new model produced by Morris Motors after World War II. Miles Thomas became the new vice-chairman and managing director of Morris Motors in 1940 and was joined by Vic Oak and Alec Issigonis in discussing what the world needed in the way of personal transport once the war ended. The discussions centered around a small saloon that would be cheap to make, versatile and, out of necessity, unconventional. The young designer Issigonis had some very strong ideas about how a modern car should be made, including a body that took the stresses of the suspension instead of a separate chassis, and independent suspension. The discussions became plans and Issigonis was given a free hand to design a brand new car for the post-war world. That car was not the Minor, but the Morris Mosquito.
The Morris Mosquito
Until Lord Nuffield made an executive decision, the new Morris was going to be called the 'Mosquito'. The Mosquito was the imagination of Alec Issigonis made real. Unitary construction meant that there was no separate chassis, and torsion bars provided independent suspension at the front. An independent rear suspension setup was under development but cost factors meant that the live rear axle of the pre-war Morris Eight was fitted instead.
Issigonis' design for the Mosquito was quite unconventional in that it moved away from the traditional upright grill and running boards. With the headlamps mounted behind the oval grill and the front wings blending smoothly into both the bonnet and the side of the car, the lines were quite aerodynamic, especially for the time. In one of the most famous quotes related to the Morris Minor, Lord Nuffield, head of Morris Motors, called the Mosquito a 'poached egg'. He hated it.
Also part of Issigonis' innovative design was an all new flat-four engine. A flat-four engine has all four cylinders lying horizontally, with the crankshaft in the middle and 2 cylinders out each side. This makes for a very wide engine, a feature which is apparent in today's Minors by the extremely wide engine bay. But development costs of an all-new engine for the Mosquito were high, and combined with production problems and delays the easy answer was to fit the conventional in-line sidevalve engine of the pre-war Morris Eight Series E as a stop-gap. The flat-four engine never saw production.
Miles Thomas, the managing director, and Issigonis both knew in their hearts that the Minor would succeed but convincing the directors was very difficult. The Minor was actually nearly ready for production a full 12 months before it's official unveiling at the Motor Show. Miles Thomas became so disgruntled at being held up by management that he resigned in 1947. Luckily he was replaced as chief executive by Reggie Hanks, also a great believer in the Minor.
London Motor Show
Against all odds and unsupportive upper-management, the Mosquito finally saw the light of day in 1948 at the British Motor Show held at Earl's Court in London. By the time it appeared two major changes had been made. The first was by Lord Nuffield himself who had made an executive decision to change the name to 'Minor' after the pre-war open tourer of 1928-1934. The second change was a visual one. In another famous move, at the last minute before full-scale production began, Alec Issigonis, dissatisfied with the look of the prototypes had one cut down the middle and the two halves moved apart until he was satisfied that the car looked 'just right'. He then told engineer Reg Jobs to 'make it so'. Take a look at any Minor today and you will see a 4" wide strip down the middle of the bonnet, a direct result of Issigonis' meddlings. Early Series MMs also show the effects of the widening in the bumper bars. The bumpers had already entered production by the time of the widening, so to save money they were simply cut down the middle and a fillet added.
The London Motor Show in 1948 was the Morris Minor Series MM's world debut. It was the star of the show. Along with the stylish Jaguar XK120 sportscar, the Minor wowed the audiences and had the journalists scribbling madly.
Initially, the new Minor was available in only two models; the two-door saloon and the convertible, known as the Tourer, and only available in black, platinum grey, romain green and a for a short time, maroon. It was a pretty little car with modern styling and exceptional handling for such a small car. With comfortable seating for four adults and large load-carrying ability inside the well-proportioned boot the Minor quickly became popular with the public. The only trouble was, most of the cars produced were sent overseas!
In 1949 over 75% of the 29,000 Minors made in that year were sent to the USA. In 1950 it was 80%, and in 1951 over 90% of all Minors made were sent abroad. Little wonder that the sight of a Lowlight Minor in everyday use in the UK is such a rarity.
The Series MM Minor quickly acquired a reputation of reliability and sportscar-like handling. This was in spite of its archilles heel - the engine. The Issigonis-deisigned flat-four engine hadn't made it into production, so the Minor was stuck with the already old sidevalve engine from the pre-war Series E. Pumping out a mere 27.5bhp the Series MM Minor could only manage a top-speed of 62.3mph, the later 4-door Series MM only managing 60mph.
Lowlite to Highlight
With such a large proportion of sales being in the USA, that market was obviously very important for Morris Motors. So when USA legislation changed in 1949 specifying the minimum height of headlights from the ground, Morris Motors was forced to change the design of the grill and front wings, a change that Issigonis was extremely dissatisfied with, calling it 'vandalism'. The new light arrangement first saw the light of day in the UK on the newest model Minor, the four-door, late in 1950 although it had been fitted to the US export models for some time.
What the Press Said
A journalist from The Motor once wrote the double-edged-sword comment that the Morris Minor Series MM was 'one of the fastest slow cars in existence'. The sidevalve engine may have been old, but coupled the excellent chassis and suspension of the Minor it gained a new lease on life. The magazines of the time appeared to gloss over such unimportant details like top speed and concentrated on the driver appeal of the car.
The suspension came in for most of the praise, having 'remarkable stability on curves and corners' and which was 'first rate'. The steering was also lauded as 'light, quick and accurate'. Features such as the optional passenger-side windscreen wiper were criticised however, as was the lack of heater. Heaters were not even available as an option since the sidevalve engine had no water pump. This was rectified later by the availability of an after-market water pump and eventually became a factory option.
But overall niggles were few and the Series MM Minor received extremely good press and gained a strong reputation worldwide.