Unless you’re looking specifically for a sidevalve Minor you’re unlikely to stumble across one for sale. Although the engine is reliable, it’s pretty gutless and not very easy to source spares for. It can suffer as a result of owners not knowing how to maintain the engine properly. Exhaust valves burn out as a result of incorrect tappet adjustment because they’re not easy to set correctly. Timing settings can also be thrown by wear in the distributor (due to lack of lubrication),
The next engine fitted was the 803cc version of the A-series. Unless you’re happy to amble along at pedestrian speeds these units are best avoided.
The first of the really usable engines was fitted to post-1952 cam, in the form of the 948cc A-series unit. Incredibly durable and reliable, these motors will rack up 150,000 miles quite happily and are the sweetest runners of the three A-series capacities used. When the unit does start to wear out the first signs will be exhaust smoke under power, noisy tappets and reduced performance – and its not that perky to start with. There may also be big-end knocks when the engine is started, timing chain rattle and an oil light that’s slow to go out because of the reduced oil pressure.
Which leaves the final – and most usable – version of the A-series. the 1098cc unit. The extra capacity makes the engine less stressed and the most able to cope with modern driving conditions although it ultimately still suffers from the same maladies as the 948cc.
If you’re not too worried about originality it’s worth putting a 1275cc powerplant in, as it just slots into the engine bay without any modifications. The gearbox should cope with a 1275 just as well as it does with a 1098cc unit – although it doesn’t actually cope that well with the smaller engine. The brakes would really need to be upgraded, but you could do the work yourself to keep the cost down to a minimum.
Gearboxes are the weakest mechanical link in any Minor, with all the units fitted being weak and having syncromesh that gives up alarmingly easily – although none of the Minor derivatives were fitted with syncromesh on first gear. Once the teeth have become chipped the gearbox will become especially noisy and it will start jumping out of gear, especially second.
The only model that has reasonably good parts supply is the 1098cc car, with the 803cc and 948cc versions having very patchy availability. The casings themselves were different, with the 1098cc car having a ribbed unit while the earlier cars featured a smooth case. Gearbox parts supply for the sidevalve-engined cars is even worse, so don’t count on getting parts very easily. But if you’re looking for a replacement gearbox for a 1098cc car and you’re offered a decent Midget gearbox, your prayers have been answered because it’s the same unit.
Some owners get round the parts supply situation and the inherent weakness of the gearboxes by fitting a Ford Sierra five-speed conversion kit, which costs around £1000 including fitting. As this gives a taller top gear it makes the car more usable with the ability to cruise at 80mph.
The rear axle and propshaft are pretty reliable, but at some point the differential will wear out. You can tell that replacement is imminent if the unit gets noisy when you lift off once up to speed, so expect to pay £300 for a rebuilt unit. That’s the same price as you’ll pay for a reconditioned gearbox.
STEERING & SUSPENSION
Trunnions and swivel pins at the front wear out unless they’re greased at least every 3000 miles or three months – although twice as often as this, if possible, is desirable. If they’re allowed to wear enough, the swivel pin will pull out of the trunnion altogether, although this will probably only happen at parking speeds when the loading on the suspension is at its highest. But with a new kingpin leg and both top and bottom trunnions costing just £75, it’s not the end of the world if both sides need to be replaced.
The rear suspension is quite primitive and doesn’t give the car great handling characteristics. The general consensus is that the most useful thing you on do is swap the lower arm dampers for telescopics, which will typically cost you £100 per side. But Matt isn’t convinced, as dampers can rub on tyres if the job isn’t done properly (brackets are welded rather than bolted on) and at the front, even if you go for telescopic dampers, the original lever arms will have to be retained. They’ll be drained and not acting as dampers anymore, but they have to stay because they act as a pivot point for the front suspension.
At the rear its also worth checking that the leaf springs are in good order – especially their front mountings. If you do decide to convert the front suspension to telescopic dampers, for which you’ll expect to fork out £75 per side, it’s also worth opting for an uprated anti-roll bar. But if you’re strapped for cash then the first upgrade should be to the rear suspension.
WHEELS & BRAKES
Pressed steel wheels were fitted to all Minors as standard, and they don’t give any problems. A common swap is the 13in unit fitted to Midgets (Minor wheels were 14in diameter), but using the MG wheels doesn’t give problems.
Drum brakes all round was the norm for all Minors, and if in good condition the system is okay for the job. But it’s worth upgrading to disc brakes at the front for around £600 or fitting a servo (for £300 or so) to make things easier in modern traffic.
The brake master cylinder lives under the driver’s footwell and gets attacked by all the debris thrown up front the road. Consequently it suffers after a while and because it’s out of sight it’s also usually out of mind. But swapping old for new isn’t a problem and at just £50 for a new unit its not a costly exercise.
Not only is just about everything available for the interior of a Minor, but none of it is very expensive. A new hood for a tourer is just £120 while a carpet set can be yours for £60 or so. Series I and II can were trimmed in leather while the later car had vinyl trim -but if you fancy a bit of hide in your later car it’s easily done, if not cheap at over £250.
Switchgear and instrumentation is also available, except for the Bakelite switches used on early cars. But plastic replacements can be bought which look the same and don’t disintegrate after a few years.
(Continued in Part 3)