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March 7th 2015

1949 Morris Minors
By John Voelcker

Britainís push to "Export or Die" brought English cars
to North America by the thousands

Minors for the World
Large part of the UKs postwar exports

In September 1948, two cars captivated the eager crowds who thronged Earlís Court exposition hall in London, as England held its first motor show since the end of World War II.

The first of the two was a sleek Jaguar sports car, the XK 120. The number referred to its top speed on a highway test, achieved in Belgium because the U.K. then had no high-speed motorways long enough to conduct such experiments. Jaguar had planned to call its new sports car the XK 100, until it proved faster than expected. It was an instant sensation not only in the U.K. but also in the U.S.- and the most significant Jaguar until the E-Type of 1961.

But for the common man, the other new car was equally exciting. The Morris Minor, offered as a two-door Saloon or a cloth-roofed Tourer, was the successor to the sturdy little pre-war Morris Eight Series E. But its smooth styling resembled a smaller 1948 Buick Roadmaster, making the Minor feel modern and up-to-date - a new car for a new postwar era.

Morris Minor at Earls Court October 1948

Designed during long nights of fire-watching duty by young engineer Alec Issigonis, the Minor was originally intended to have a flat-four engine. But austerity intervened, and the pre-war 918cc side-valve Morris Motors engine was fitted instead - albeit in an unusually wide engine compartment.

Early Mosquito Prototype

The carís width was remarkable for its size, in fact. It was the product of a last-minute decision by Issigonis to have one of the "Mosquito" prototypes sawn down the middle and widened by 4 inches, to make it "look right." Issigonis pushed the change through, and the Morris Minor remained at the wider size for the 23 years of its production.

The earliest Minors bore the marks of the last-minute change, though: The chrome blade that adorned the stamped metal pans of their front and rear bumpers had already been ordered, making them too narrow. So the curved chrome blades were sawn in half at the factory, with a painted metal piece wrapped around to hide the gap. It worked in the front, where the bumper contained a hole for the jack handle to be inserted to crank-start the engine in an emergency, but it looked a bit odder at the rear.

Later Widened Mosquito Prototype

None of this mattered to the crowds starved for new cars in the post-war era. Few Britons could buy those new Minors. In the midst of the countryís "Export or Die" campaign, fully 90 percent of its industrial production was sold overseas for hard currency to pay Britainís war debts.

Assembling Minors In the Nuffield Oxford Plant

Canada was a longstanding and logical market for British cars - it was still closely tied to the Empire - but the country to its south offered the prospect of sales earned in valuable U.S. dollars. Amazingly, Morrisís rival Austin sold more than 10,000 of its new A40 Devon and Dorset sedans over two years to Americans who were desperate to buy a car, any car at all. And so some U.S. buyers took a chance on small cars from a British company few of them had ever heard of.

In its first year of export, 1949, Nuffield Motors sent 3,439 Minors to North America. Almost 3,000 went to Canada (2,066 two-doors and 931 Tourers), but the U.S. got 442 as well. Just 95 were two-door sedans, while the rest were the jauntier Tourers.

Morris Minors and Oxfords shipped from England in 1949

All of them used the pre-war Morris 918cc flat-head engine, putting out 28 horsepower. A road test of an early Minor by Popular Mechanics a couple of years later recorded in its data panel that it required 62.8 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 50 mph. The 0-to-60-mph time? "N/A"

Morris Minor USHM2 Engine

The engine of those earliest Minors was primitive indeed. It lacked even a water pump; the hot water simply rose to the top, to fall through a radiator as large as the engine. But all Minors had the torsion-bar independent front suspension created by designer Issignonis. While they were slow, they handled far better any other small car of the day. Cheerful looks didnít hurt either.

The 1949 Minors sold in the U.S. had "high lights," with 7-inch sealed-beam headlights in bulges on the front fenders above the grille. They replaced smaller, lower 5-inch headlights located next to the grille, known as "low lights," which remained on British cars until 1951. The reason was a 1949 California regulation that required headlights to be a certain height above the road.

High Light US Import Popular Science April 1949

So 1949 production was split - Canada got low-light Minors, while the U.S. got high-light cars. Some of the Canadian cars were later converted to the far more common high lights, especially any that were resold in the States. To be fair, some Minors were converted because the 7-inch sealed-beam units were simply far better headlights than the smaller, lower, weaker units next to the grille.

From that first year of export through 1967, more than 56,000 Morris Minors were sold in the U.S. (The author doesnít immediately have Canadian numbers at hand.) A few were sold in each of the six body styles: two-door and four-door sedans, convertibles, Traveller wood-framed wagons, pickup trucks, and vans.

The two-door sedan was by far the most common, at half or more of all Minors sold. The Traveller woody wagons were distinctive even then, and stands today as the last production woody in the world. BMC made a total of 280,000 Travellers, out of a total of 1.6 million Minors built from September 1948 through April 1971 - very likely more than the total production of all other woodies put together. And the little trucks often ended up as parts delivery vehicles for local BMC dealers, and are much prized today.

But first-year 1949 Minors are rare today in North America. Only a dozen are listed on the Registry for the U.S. and Canada together, and several of them are no longer traceable. Even rarer still are the versions from the first half of that year, which feature round red-glass taillights mounted on pedestals, rather than the vertical rectangular red-glass units used for several years.

Of those, the very earliest Canadian cars had only a single working rear light - all that was required under British law - with a matching red reflector on the other side. This was quickly changed to two working lights within a few months after production began. As far as we know, U.S. 1949 Minors always had twin rear lights.

If you know of ANY 1949 Morris Minors in the U.S. or Canada, please help us keep track of these rare and unusual first-year cars. Whether you own one, know of one, or even saw one at some point, please e-mail John Voelcker: johnvoelcker (at) yahoo (dot) com. Thank you.

NOTE: This article was adapted from one that ran in the Jan-Feb 2015 issue of MINOR NEWS, the bimonthly newsletter of the Morris Minor Registry.

Ottawa Citizen - Jul 30, 1949

Update: March 28th 2015
Early Canadian Morris Minor On Ebay

This car came up on Ebay in March of 2015.
It shows some of the characteristics of an early Canadian Market Minor

The front bumper is split with separator inserted for the new wider body

This is one step from the earliest Minor. Here we have two tail lights instead of the single tail light of the very very early models


































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