This article first appeared in the March 2003 edition of Practical Classics and is reproduced by kind permission.
Please remember that any prices are obviously no longer current.
IN THE LATTER stages of World War II Alec Issigonis was working on a new family car for Morris. Called the Mosquito, this was to be an innovative car from one of the most ingenious of all designers. There would be a monocoque construction and a flat-four engine driving the front wheels. Coil spring and wishbone suspension would feature at the front and it would have rack and pinion steering. Then the piggy bank was raided and it was clear that a less adventurous design would have to be substituted – cue the 918cc sidevalve engine seen in the Morris 8 Series E, driving the rear wheels. The first prototype even retained the Series E’s dimensions, which meant that because of the space-robbing wings and sills, there was hardly any interior space. An extra four inches was spliced into the middle of the car and the Minor was born – or the poached egg, as Lord Nuffield called it when he first saw it.
The Minor made its debut in 1948, as the series MM, otherwise known as the low-light because its headlamps were mounted low down in the grille. The press and public went wild, all madly enthusiastic about the Minor.
At first it was available only as a two-door saloon or a convertible (the Tourer), but a year after the Series II had arrived (in 1952) an estate was introduced – the Traveller. The low-set headlamps had been relocated to the top of the front wings in 1949 and the four-door saloon had arrived onto the market a year later, so the main change for the Series II was the adoption of the 30bhp A-series 803cc overhead-valve engine in place of the 27.5bhp sidevalve unit that had previously been fitted. An impressive 176,002 MMs were built and 318.351 Series II’s; 18,000 of the Series II’s being examples of the Traveller.
In 1956 there were major changes to the car, with the launch of the Minor 1000. Not only was a larger (37bhp 948cc) version of the A-series engine slotted beneath the bonnet, but the split windscreen became a single piece unit and a larger rear window was fitted.
By the time the 1098cc engine arrived in 1962, 644,679 Minor 1000s had been produced, of which 89,000 were Travellers. This includes 350 of what are some of the most collectable of all Minors – the lilac-painted Million of 1961, which was built to celebrate a million Minors being produced. The 1962-on Miller 1000 used a 48bhp version of the 1098cc A-series powerplant and the front drum brakes were increased in size to rein in the extra power. By the time production ceased in 1971, 480,825 copies of the 1098cc Minor had rolled off the lines, I08,000 of which were Travellers.
It doesn’t matter how good a Minor looks on the surface – there’s a good chance it will he hiding major structural corrosion somewhere, because they rot from the inside out. It doesn’t really matter how good the car is elsewhere; if the car’s structure is shot its fit for parts only.
Thanks to excellent panel availability, if the outer panels look a bit ropey you needn’t be too concerned about sourcing replacements, although the cost will add up if a lot of work is needed. But if it looks tatty on the outside, there ‘s a good chance that the monocoque to which they bolt is in need of some serious TLC – work that’ll be expensive.
Things potentially get even worse if it’s a Traveller you’re looking at, because the woodwork that gives the car such character is also a very expensive thing to fix when it starts to rot away. Because the timber is structural, repairing it can’t be put off and it’s not really possible to patch it up or do a section at a time. That means doing the whole lot in one go, which costs around £2000, so make sure there are no discoloured areas that suggest the work will need doing imminently. The wood should be rubbed down and revarnished annually.
Whether it’s a saloon, convertible or estate, the Minor has a lot of rust traps that need careful checking. The rear spring hangers arc one of the most important things to look at because repair is so complicated. A lasting repair can take up to a day for each side, but the whole underside needs close inspection -especially the rear chassis extensions and front chassis legs.
In the latter case these extend either side of the engine and have a habit of rusting from the inside out. Once you can see evidence of rot it’s time for the whole leg to be replaced, at a cost of £100. For some reason, cover panels on the underside of the floorpan were popular in the 1980’s – great for hiding problems but not so good at solving them. These will probably have been replaced by now, but if they haven’t, whatever original metal was behind them will probably have rotted away a long time ago.
Other common rot spots include the sills and the doors, the latter rotting along the bottom edge and across the underside. Finding original replacement doors for any Minor is difficult, although they can be rebuilt because good quality repair panels are available. Vans, pick-ups and four-door saloons used the same doors as each other while a different version was fitted to tourers, Travellers and two-door saloons. Whichever version you need you can expect to pay around £150 for a decent door.
There aren’t many panels that aren’t available for the Minor, so just about any car can be saved if it’s important enough – but the restoration of a really rough car would cost more than the car will be worth afterwards. That’s why many Minors are fit just for parts – there are so many about that unless they can be saved relatively cheaply its preferable to just buy a better example.
Most of the panels that are on offer are from the original tooling – crucial pressing, like the floorpans and crossmembers, which braces the whole shell, are common rot spots.
Because we Brits have a love of convertibles, and with an ever dwindling supply of good genuine examples, it’s possible to buy a kit to convert a two-door saloon into a drop-top. Done properly there’s no cause for concern. But not all cars are converted safely, and the other catch is that sometimes such conversions are passed off as genuine cars. To make sure you don’t get caught out, read the section on identifying marks.