Tuesdays With Morrie


This is a 1968 Morris Minor 1000 Traveller. The very first thing you need to know about this car is that it features actual, real-life, once-living wood as part of its exterior. Now, you may be thinking: Mike. Buddy. Come on. A lot of cars have wood panels. The wood panels on the inside of my Dad’s Lexus are as shiny as his defiantly bald head. How can you claim to like cars and not know this? You must be  an idiot. Well my condescending and vaguely bro-ish friend: you’re right. Many cars do have wood accents inside (and sometimes, even outside) but I’m here to report that almost all of them are as fake as your Dad’s unconvincing toupée. But the wood on the Morris is as real as the salvaged wood you’d find on the inside of a Fisker, which is just about where the similarities end.


The story of the Morris Minor begins during the final days of World War II, when British automakers realized that they’d have to get back to making, you know, cars, instead of heavy weaponry and assorted paraphernalia. Morris commissioned rockstar economy-car designer Alec Issigonis to lead the project, and were so committed to the idea that they gave him his own development studio as well as two backup singers- I mean right-hand men to sketch Issigonis’ wild imaginings (no word on whether they were actually right-handed). Their names were Reg Job, who was in charge of the way the car looked, and Jack Daniels, who was in charge of getting blind drunk and vomiting all over Reg Job’s sketches.


Now, if you’ve been around Forgotten Metal before, those names might be familiar to you. That’s because after the Minor, the hits just kept on coming for Issigonis and company: they were responsible for the ADO16 and most famously, the Mini, both of which were hugely popular. That went for the Minor too, as sales for this car between its introduction in 1948 and eventual death in 1972 totaled 1.3 million. The reason for all this love was, as the kids say, hella innovation, in spite of a decent portion of the car being made out of trees. The Minor is a unitary construction, meaning that the body and the chassis are one inseparable entity. To put it another way, the body panels absorb some of the stresses of the chassis, and vice versa. Very innovative, especially for 1948.


Other examples of forward thinking include the wheels, which Issigonis specified be smaller (about 14 inches in diameter) than the average for cars of the period. This, proportionally, made the Minor look bigger, and also allowed for smaller wheel wells, which made for more space for stuff inside. And they lowered the car’s center of gravity, which made it handle better. The Minor also had tons of other good stuff like torsion bar front suspension and rack and pinion steering, which made the car ride very comfortably. Perhaps the only thing that wasn’t innovative about the Minor was the engine, though not for lack of trying. Issigonis pushed for a flat-four layout, but deadlines and practicality scraped that idea in favor of a prewar-era 918cc four cylinder. This is the final iteration of the Minor, the 1000, which got a more powerful, 1098cc unit that developed 48 horsepower. Mated to a four speed gearbox, it was alright. Nothing to get excited about.


This is the wagon version of the Minor. Wagons were the only ones that got wood trim, and went by the “Traveller” name (two L’s in the English spelling). The Minor has actually gone by a number of different names during it’s time, the highlights of which include “Mosquito,” “Moggy,” and “The Beetle of Britain.” My favorite has to be “Morrie” though, so called by the Minor’s many owners. The English like this car. I like this car. I like that it balances forward thinking with straight-forwardness. It’s a people’s car, but it looks like a big American sedan from the fifties that’s slightly farther away from the camera. Yet the Minor is still unmistakably a British creation, which is why it’s not surprising that these pictures were taken in good old London. And it’s raining. How much more fitting could you get?

Additional Thoughts:

  • Though it technically ended its production in 1972, the company that owns Morris sold the rights to the design to an Indian company called Hindustan, but that’s a story for another day.
  • The first generation of Minor, the Series MM, had a top speed of 35 miles per hour, which was, not coincidentally, the speed limit on British roads during that time.
  • An actual advertisement for the Minor flaunted the car’s ability to accelerate from zero to fifty miles per hour in 21 seconds.

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