Morris Marina - was it really that bad?

Morris Marina - was it really that bad?

Author
Discussion

TonyG2003

166 posts

40 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
Not a Marina but my first car was a Morris Ital 1.7 HLS (remember them!) super basic engineering when it was built in 1983 but comfy, reliable. You could get the back out too. It did rust in all sorts of places and I traded it in for a modern car. 309!

I’m sure they would feel bizarre now with unassisted steering .... err a bit like my 2019 Lotus!!

Monkeylegend

16,860 posts

179 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
motco said:
Monkeylegend said:
motco said:
Monkeylegend said:
I had a maroon 1994 1.3 which I bought for £495, ran it for over 5 years as a daily covering about 50k miles so I could have a TR6 as a toy.

Never serviced it, very rarely washed it, just kept the oil topped up as and when I remembered, used it for tip runs, only ever needed to replace one leaf spring on the back as a result of filling the back seats and boot with turf, christ that stuff is heavy.

Never let me down until finally rust took hold and it was scrapped before the boot departed company with the rest of the car. I was fortunate enough to get a company car just before it expired.

Loved it.
Surely you mean 1984?
Not even 1984 but 1974 smile
Was it quite small outside but absolutely HUGE inside? If so it's whatever year you want! biggrin
The reg ended with an "N" but can't remember the rest of it now.

When loaded with turf I can confirm they sit very low at the back and very high at the front.

And the rear leaf springs will snap when they go from concave to convex.

pcn1

975 posts

167 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
My Dad bought a new 1.3 coupe in 1973.
Stayed in the family and did 100K before it went to the scrapper.
Several runs from London to Scotland for family holidays.

I remember the head coming off once for a decoke, and a water pump gasket failing on the way to Scotland half way up the M6. We struggled on and my Dad, with just a handful of tools removed the water pump and made a new gasket out of a cornflake box ! Try that with a modern car !

Maybe it was a cheap horrible car, but we never noticed and it did everything the family wanted of a car at the time. No complaints here...……….

2xChevrons

643 posts

28 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
Being born a good few years after the Marina/Ital left the showrooms, all the following is based on driving preserved examples as classics and a bit of research. I have no experience of them 'in period' or as daily drivers and I have never owned one.

Was it really any worse than any other bread and butter British family car of the period (Escort/Cortina, Viva/Victor, Avenger)? No. Where better cars in that segement available? Yes. Was it inferior to its equivalents from Germany and Japan? A strong yes. Was it a car with flaws? Yes. Was it a bad car given its time, design brief and what its manufacturer required of it? No, but it was thoroughly average.

In my experience Marinas are not pleasant to drive, if you analyse them in a PH-esque way. They are significantly less involving and fun than the ancient Morris Minor which it (partially) replaced. Overly-soft front springing with poor damping, numb steering with low self-centring effect, far too many turns lock to lock and an awkward driving position that makes all the wheel-twirling you have to do an ergonomic nightmare, very noticeably understeer and 'fuzziness' at the front wheels and a poorly-located and overly-stiff live rear axle giving a crashy ride at the back with large amounts of bump-steer over poor surfaces. The bodyshell itself has poor torsional rigidity, so it's plagued by scuttle shake, rattles and a general sense that the two ends of the car are acting against each other like a dumb-bell with a rubber centre section. The horrible 3-rail Triumph gearbox manages to be vague and notchy at the same time, most of them feel like they haven't quite gone into gear properly and the 1.8 litre engines produce too much torque for the 'box so even on low-mileage (>30,000 mile) examples you can pop the transmission out of gear under heavy throttle.

So a nasty, cheaply-engineered, badly-made, lowest-common-denominator suet pudding of a car designed without any real thought or attention to longevity, quality, driver pleasure or a positive 'ownership experience.'

BUT.

That's not what the Marina was supposed to be, and it's not what cars of that sort in the 1970s were supposed to be. It was designed to be 'pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap' disposable family transport for people who just needed 'a car' to get around in, or as something to sell to fleet managers for the same purpose. They wanted it to be simple, straightforward, easy to service, practical and...that's about it. And the Marina clears that very low bar.

The early ones with the mis-designed front suspension uprights were deathtraps, and that was a shameful episode, but otherwise it was 'adequate'. After all, how many of the 800,000 people who bought one were ever going to take it to the ragged edge? Basically none. They were going to trundle around, short-shifting and wheel-shuffling along the road in an entirely average way and the Marina was perfectly adequate for that.

It's interesting reading the contemporary road reports of the Marina, and especially the articles in Car Mechanics and Popular Motorist reviewing it as a secondhand buy. If they mention the wobbly road manners at all, it's glossed over. Instead the Marina is assessed, and praised, for its straightforward, simple engineering. All its running gear came from the BMC/BL parts bin (or essentially did with some tweaks) - Morris Minor front suspension, BMC A- and B-Series engines, Triumph Toledo steering rack and back axle, Triumph Toledo/Dolomite/Spitfire gearbox - so this was a car that every garage in the country could fix and you could buy spare parts at any motor factors on any high street. You didn't have to worry about Hydrolastic suspension units, gearboxes in the sump, gearchange cables, constant velocity joints, cambelts, fancy trapezoidal headlamp lenses or any of that. Just pour generic 20W/50 in one end, EP90 in the other and get the grease gun out at the weekend occasionally. If you wanted a straightforward, no-nonsense four-door saloon car (or cavernous five-door estate) and you, like many of your fellow Brits, weren't ready to countenance a foreign car, then the Marina fitted the bill.

As has already been mentioned, the Marina was a sales success. Granted, it didn't meet BL's lofty sales predictions but that had as much to do with the company's collapse and the general economic situation as the Marina's failings. Remember, the Marina as we know it was designed in a crash-course when BL was formed and the new management was shocked to learn that BMC had no plans whatsoever to replace the Morris Minor (1948) or the Farina-B (1959) models which were its closest competitors to the Ford Escort and Cortina which were about to enter their Mk2 and Mk3 phases. So the Marina was thrown together from pre-existing parts in a new but conventional bodyshell with the aim of holding the fort before a proper all-new replacement could be brought online. That project (ADO77) never came into being but had the makings of an excellent design (assuming it would have been built properly - a big if for BL in the mid-70s). Mention has already been made that Hyundai got its start by apeing the Marina for the original Pony. In fact the Pony has much, much more similarity with ADO77...and George Turnbull was the man who went from BL (where he was the manager responsible for the ADO77 project) to South Korea to get Hyundai's car project up and running.

But the Marina did sell well. It did increase BL's share of the company car market and, uniquely amongst Austin-Morris products of the 1970s, it did make a profit. Like a lot of BL products, its real failing was that it lingered on far too long. The hastily-made stopgap with suspension from the 1940s was just about average when it was launched in 1971 against the Mk2 Escort and Mk3 Cortina but it was still around in virtually the same form as the market shifted in the 1970s so before long it was up agains the Mk4 Cortina, the Chrysler Alpine, the VW Golf/Passat and, most devestatingly of all, the Vauxhall Chevette/Cavalier, which took the Marina's principles of no-nonsense RWD engineering but packaged it into a modern body and, in the Cavalier's case especially, a genuinely decent effort at making such a car vaguely pleasant to drive.

I'd really struggle to say that the Marina was a good car. It has, objectively, too much wrong with it. It's typical of the low-effort dross that many manufacturers put out (and many buyers all-but demanded because they knew or cared no better) in the 1960s and 1970s until they were forced to up their game by foreign competition. But ZOMG WORST CAR EVA! KILL IT WITH FIRE! ? Nope.

awg454

446 posts

164 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
Fantastic cars smile I’ve still got one !


Bonzo1930

23 posts

4 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
Never owned one but worked for an Austin Rover dealer in the mid eighties so still used to see one or two for servicing, think we even had an immaculate low mileage Ital for sale once.
Can remember we took a 1700 Ital in part ex against a Montego! Anyway thing had about a weeks Mot and it was hanging, nobody in the trade wanted it best bid was from the scrap yard about 10 miles away, so I drove it down there most of the journey was dual carriageway sat in the outside lane at 80mph + I was young with heavy right foot, felt a bit guilty giving the keys to the scrap man for the poor old girl!

grumpy52

4,088 posts

114 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
Back in the 70s I worked in a car radio shop , just to show how flimsy the wings were on the Marina we had a service update from Radiomobile updating the mounting position of the wing aerial.
It was recommended that the mounting point be moved as close to the scuttle as possible and to fit smaller thinner profile aerials as the wings were buckling at motorway speeds .
They were awful , but to be honest most UK manufactured cars at the time were pretty dire .

Skyedriver

8,799 posts

230 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
Decried by many who have never owned one
They were very much Morris 1000 underneath with torsion bar front suspension and lever arm shocks, stiffer shell and live axle rear. ( some PO vans had a LSD).
they were reasonable comfortable and compared well with a lot of other mundane family car of their time.
Large boot, easy to maintain, better economy than the equivalent Ford. Even in 1800 guise
I bought one cheap in the 1990's resprayed it ran it a while and sold it on. The only fault I ever had with it was a gear stick that moved it's detent guide and ended up spinning around loose. Cost me a second hand jubilee clip to fix.

StevenB

657 posts

145 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
Stepdad had a 1973 TC auto which he did 200,000 miles in, it needed a gold seal engine in that time, otherwise so long as you greased the trunions it was fine

Johnnytheboy

18,901 posts

134 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
It did gift the world some clearly versatile door handles.

I only experienced two as a passenger in the early 90s.

One had a hole in the passenger footwell you could see the road through. It had been painted matt black and christened "the beast" by its owner.

The other was in somewhat better fettle. However, whenever it made a sharp left (?) turn, the horn sounded. rofl

forsure

1,835 posts

216 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
aeropilot said:
baconsarney said:
Anyone here fess up to having owned one scratchchin
Yep, I did.

I bought a Marina 1.8TC Coupe as a cheap shed runabout in 1985 after my RS2000 was nicked.

Yes, it was really that bad, but in a perverse way, it was quite fun, and a good driver trainer, with understeer, oversteer and any combination of both available at safe low speeds (20mph or less) biggrin

Went through 2 gearboxes in 6 months though...........
Similar story here; I bought a 1.8 saloon as a stop-gap shed while my 3.0 Capri was off the road.
I've owned nearly fifty cars since '71, and it was, without any doubt, the worst.
I had it during a cold, wet winter and it handled like a wardrobe on roller skates.
Leaked like a sieve too, the carpets were permanently soaked through.


wag2

43 posts

179 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
Truly diabolical. I had one as a company car. A little later my wife had a polo. The polo was lightly built and felt solid. The marina heavily built and felt flimsy.

aeropilot

19,099 posts

175 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
forsure said:
Leaked like a sieve too, the carpets were permanently soaked through.
Yep, mine did that too laugh


awg454

446 posts

164 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
aeropilot said:
forsure said:
Leaked like a sieve too, the carpets were permanently soaked through.
Yep, mine did that too laugh
I must be lucky mine doesn’t !

FHCNICK

1,040 posts

179 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
awg454 said:
Fantastic cars smile I’ve still got one !

What an absolutely fantastic example, I doff my cap to you sir thumbup

LuS1fer

35,484 posts

193 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
It was pretty talentless but so was the Cortina.

Who me ?

6,909 posts

160 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
I'll own up-i had one and loved it. Handling ,it was no worse or better than the Morris 1000 vans I'd driven at work ,or the Wolseley 1500 I had as my first car. The back end was lively, but that was part of driving a RWD car. One thing I loved was it's ability to take the P out of boy racers. Especially at traffic lights. Up came Escort lad in his 1.3 at the lights, revving and bouncing. I gave them a chance- I used 2nd gear and watched the look of glee as they pulled away from me, turn to "how does it do that" as th engine got up to speed and into 3rd, it was goodby boy racer. Same engine as MGBGT,but with only one carb it was still a potent car, yet very simple to maintain.

Crafty_

11,571 posts

148 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
My dad had one when I was born, a red 4 door saloon 1300 with st brown interior. My Grandad had a 1800 4 door saloon which was a sort of mustard/sandy colour, also with a st brown interior.

I can remember my Dad changing the radio for a Sharp unit that had a cassette player, The car eventually succumbed to rust, distinctly remember some reflective tape that was put on the lower edge of the boot lid eventually being the only thing holding the entire lip together! Replaced with a Mk2 Cavalier, the Marina was sold off privately, I wonder how long it lasted.

Grandad's one got chopped in for a C reg Maestro, which to be honest wasn't really any better!

abzmike

1,691 posts

54 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
TonyG2003 said:
Not a Marina but my first car was a Morris Ital 1.7 HLS (remember them!) super basic engineering when it was built in 1983 but comfy, reliable. You could get the back out too. It did rust in all sorts of places and I traded it in for a modern car. 309!

I’m sure they would feel bizarre now with unassisted steering .... err a bit like my 2019 Lotus!!
My first car was an Ital... NSG529N I seem to remember. Champagne was the colour and it was great. Never let me down hacking up and down from Edinburgh to London many times. Aside from a hole in a wing fixed with sellotape and a tin of paint it was the lucky recipient of the highlight of my car maintenance exploits: a reconditioned starter motor, and a change of the front brake pads - all by myself. I was very proud.

hilly10

5,109 posts

176 months

Wednesday 13th November
quotequote all
I owned the worst one a 1.3 in Beige with brown seats and carpets, it was 2 years old and the wheel arches had started to rust. I sold my Aztec yellow Spitfire all because our first born was on the way, I often tell my daughter did she realise what I sacrificed when she came into the world. My thinking was to buy the newest car for what I could afford, so much for that theory.

I sold it to my best friend 2 years later as he had just passed his test, and he too had a little one on the way, we are still best friends but it was strained for a few years. He kept it about six years in which time I watched it drop apart.

I have just got back from a Transatlantic Cruise, a guy i got talking too from Wolverhampton owned his own engineering company, where he patented a fix for the terrible suspension on the Marina and a few BL cars after that. Made a fair few million apparently.