On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
THE MID FIFTIES were an exuberant time in American automotive design. Bigger was better. Fins were appearing, albeit not yet as expansively as in the late Fifties. In the MOBILGAS ECONOMY RUN—1954, American cars averaged 21.8 mpg, but, what the hey, gasoline was 29¢/gallon, equivalent to $2.80/gallon in today’s dollar.
Yet, beginning with the Volkswagen Beetle (see BEETLE BITS), economical foreign cars were beginning to attract attention. And car magazines were writing about them.
By 1954, R&T had been published monthly for five years after an on-again/off-again start in 1947. In October 1954, it tested the Morris Minor Sedan. Here are tidbits gleaned from this road test, together with my usual Internet sleuthing and colleagues’ personal interactions.
High Interest in the Morris Minor. R&T wrote in October 1954, “… recently we have had more requests for a road test on this model than any other small car presently being sold in the U.S.A. The Morris Minor has been extremely popular in this country as a second car and the reason is easy to discover.”
R&T declared up front: “Its first cost is modest, its fuel consumption is the lowest of any car we have ever tested, and it is extremely handy for city driving.” Let’s examine each of these points.
Initial Cost. The Morris Minor’s list price was $1475; figure around $14,300 in today’s dollar. To put its price in perspective, a VW Beetle went for $1595; the MG MAGNETTE OF THE 1950S, $2595. A top-line Ford Crestline 4-door sedan went for $1898. A Triumph TR2 was $2448; the newly announced Chevrolet Corvette Roadster was $3760; and Phil Hill’s 2.9 Ferrari, an estimated $12,000.
Fuel Consumption. R&T’s road test of the Morris Minor reported fuel economy of 33-40 mpg. R&T said that, in general, “The small car may look amusing, but you can travel nearly three times as far on a dollar’s worth of gas.”
Small Cars in General. “The average American car owner,” R&T observed, “either wouldn’t have a small car as a gift, or thinks they’re funny, or considers them extremely dangerous. What the big-car owner doesn’t realize is that the small car owner feels just the opposite. After a day or two of driving around in a car such as the Minor, you find there is ample room for two adults and two or three children. You don’t feel cramped-up inside—on the contrary when you go back to the big American car you feel as if you are in an oversize bus”
Morris Minor Details. The Minor was conservatively styled along the lines of a scaled down post-war American sedan. R&T observed that its “long front fenders and rear-deck hump lends a deceptive ‘big-car’ look to the Morris Minor.” Its 86.0-in. wheelbase compared with 94.5 in. of the VW Beetle’s. Both cars’ engines produced 30 hp.
Morris Minor owed its mechanical design to Alec Issigonis, the same innovative engineer who gave us the Mini (see MINI THOUGHTS). The Minor had independent torsion-bar front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, and unitary construction at a time when many cars retained body-on-frame layouts.
Everyday Use. The Morris Minor R&T tested had “the newest BMC-803 cc ohv engine, a small four with 30 bhp. It is geared for comfortable city driving with a minimum of shifting, yet its short-stroke engine can cruise all-day, wide-open, with moderate piston speed…. In short, the Minor is an entirely different sort of car from the VW and is designed to suit the desires of the “never shift until it stalls” type of driver, while the VW suits the sports car types who do not mind shifting gears to get certain advantages in performance and cruising speed.”
Handling. “There is a high percentage of weight on the front wheels but the car can be thrown into corners with almost reckless abandon. The first time we tried this we were fully prepared for the front end to ‘wash-out,’ or for the rear end to ‘come-around.’ What actually happens is—nothing!”
R&T continued, “The car goes around in an effortless four wheel drift, neither under- nor over-steering, with only moderate roll and very little tire noise. Now we know why every Minor owner raves about the handling qualities of this car for it makes even the novice a Grand Prix driver…..”
Latter-day Morris Minor Drivers. Bill Fink, rest his soul, was Morgan’s saving grace in the U.S. He kept a vintage Morris Minor as his San Francisco errand car: fuel-economical, easy to park, and fun to pilot. I recall spirited runs up and down the city’s hills with Bill and his Minor.
Bill Rabel is a friend in Washington state, with an obvious penchant for things English. Among what he calls “his fleet” are an early Austin-Healey, a sumptuous Jaguar sedan—and a Morris Minor Traveller.
The Traveller was part of Morris’s tradition for naming an estate version, what we Yanks call a station wagon. Wikipedia notes, “The Traveller featured an ash wood frame [like the Morgan’s] for the rear bodywork, with two side-hinged rear doors. The frame was varnished rather than painted and a highly visible feature of the body style.”
Travellers were built alongside the saloon model at Cowley minus their rear bodies. Then they were shipped for completion to MG’s Abington works (which had retained wood fabrication skills).
A trim, tidy station wagon, I’d call it. A “shooting brake” would sound presumptuous. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020