Morris Major

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Morris Major

1958 - 1964
4 cyl.
1480/1622 cc
50 bhp
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
78.2 mph
Number Built:
2 star
Morris Major
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2


Based heavily on the Wolseley 1500, the Morris Major along with the Austin Lancer was first introduced to Australia in April 1958. That the 3 cars were near identical was not suprising, given they all originated from the same factory! The development of the new models was undertaken as BMC needed to find a replacement for the venerable Morris Minor. All three naturally shared near identical mechanicals too, although forward of the A pillar, including the bonnet and grille, was unique to the Morris, while the Wolseley and Austin shared all sheet metal components.

BMC Announces The New Morris Major

BMC's announcement of the new Morris Major read as follows..."The Morris Minor now has a big brother - the Morris Major, a four door, four seater, 1 1/2 litre family saloon. The Major has established two "firsts" It is the first Morris to come from BMC's new production line at its 13 million pound plant at Victoria Park, near Sydney, and is the first new Morris to be marketed in Australia before being introduced in Britain. The Major is 2 1/2 inches longer than the Minor, half an inch higher and two inches longer. It has 541cc greater engine capacity, four cubic feet of extra luggage space, bigger brakes and a slightly larger fuel tank.

The new Austin family saloon - the  Lancer - was also introduced in Australia last month. The four door, 1 1/2 litre litre Lancer seats four people, is compactly designed and has  the performance of a much  bigger car. It has a top speed of eighty miles per hour and when cruising, runs up to 40 miles to the gallon. T
he Lancer, also is the first Austin to come from BMC's Sydney production line, and is released in Australia before its introduction to Britain.  The Lancer has a power-to-weight ratio of 2.8 bhp to one cwt. And a rear axle ratio which gives the impression of overdrive in top gear.

Morris Major vs. Morris Minor

The new-comer was inevitably compared with its companion, the well respected Morris Minor. Expressed briefly, the Major was a slightly more commodious four seater, and was powered by an engine some 50 per cent larger than that of the Minor. The interior of the body was, however, noticeably larger in the Major. The front compartment was some eight inches wider, the rear compartment was two inches greater in width, and head room was greater by two inches in front and by about four inches in the rear compartment. The clear boot capacity of the Major was some four cubic feet greater than that of the Minor.

With the same load of 3cwt in the two cars, the road performance of the Major was clearly better than that of the smaller Minor. However, the difference was not, perhaps, as great as you would have thought had you read the specifications, doubtless due to the good results given by the Minor on the touring highway. There was, of course, a marked difference in the fuel mileage of the two cars. The Minor returned a very creditable 45 miles per gallon at 42 mph, while the Major came in at around 36 miles per gallon. When loaded weight was taken into consideration, the Minor still lead with 41 ton-miles per gallon, against the figure of 38 for the Major. The provision of a rather small fuel tank carrying 7 gals, restricted the cruising range to about 250 miles.

Behind the Wheel

Looked at from the broader viewpoint of all cars around its price class, the Morris Major was a particularly lively car. It had ample space for four, with weekend luggage, and it was capable of covering long distances reasonably quickly, and without driver fatigue – thanks in part to the top speed of 78 mph. The Major had high top gearing, along with a good power-to-weight ratio, and its high third gear was on the money, able to stretch the Major out to a genuine 70 mph making it ideal for overtaking, as well as providing the revs required for easy hill climbing. In spite of a reasonably high top gearing, the Major climbed fairly well in top gear too. With a test load of 3cwt, the power-weight ratio was good at 47.6 horsepower per ton. Top gear provided a high road speed of 18.5 mph at 1000 rpm.

Most owners commented on the short and very positive floor gearlever which was class leading, and there were few criticisms of the general handling, and with the brakes in particular. But a disappointment at release was that there was still no floor ventilation, and the instrument setup in the centre of the fascia was less than ideal, making them difficult to read. But once you were on the highway the Major was a beauty – particularly given the aforementioned high cruising speed, around 65 to 70 mph on average safe highways. Slower speeds were easy too, thanks to the use of a fairly low compression ratio. As a result, the Major would hang on well in top gear at low speeds, and could be ambled along at 30-35 mph without loss of good response.

A comfortable position and good seating was provided for the driver, and vision in all directions was excellent. The three-spoked steering wheel was fairly large (16in dia.), and the pendant pedals were easy to operate, but were set unnecessarily high above the throttle pedal. The central gearshift was excellently located and was particularly easy to use. Synchromesh was satisfactory. The instruments comprise speedometer, and gauges for engine temperature and fuel. They were situated in the centre of the fascia, and their panel also carried small warning lights for oil pressure and generator. The turn-indicators were controlled by a stalk on the column, and the minor controls were situated in two groups of two, beneath the instruments. Unfortunately the turn indicators were not self-cancelling.

The interior of the car was pleasantly spacious and the individual front seats had a width of 20 inches. The rear bench seat had a minimum width of 40 inches between the wheel arches. Seat coverings and interior trim was by a synthetic material, and the head lining was washable. Pleasing features were a relatively inconspicuous hump on the front floor, and the generous leg and head room in the front seat. In the rear compartment, however, these dimensions were somewhat restricted. Parcels were accommodated on open shelves before the passenger and the driver, and the bottom rail of the shelf was protected by a safety pad. The flat boot floor sloped slightly downward from rear to front, and it had a clear luggage capacity of approximately 10 cub. ft. The spare wheel was stowed in a separate compartment beneath the boot floor and closed by the boot lid. The appearance of the interior was assisted by the use of carpet on both floors, and by dual toning of the interior trim. Vent panels were provided in the front windows.

Morris Major Performance

The Major was powered by the trusty British Motor Corporation "B" series engine operating on the relatively low compression ratio of 7.2 to 1. The engine would run on second grade fuel, but of course ran better on premium fuel. Bore and stroke were 73 x 89 mm., the carburettor an SU H2, and an oil-bath air-cleaner was provided. Engine oil was passed through a full-flow filter. Gear ratios were: Top 3.7, third 5.1, and second gear 8.2 to 1. The integrally constructed car was suspended at the front end on torsion bars and at rear by semi-elliptic springs. Piston type shock absorbers were used for all wheels.

A characteristic of the engine and transmission was the maintenance of the car's best tugging power (a torque of 74lb-ft) over a very wide speed range. For best results when overtaking, you needed to use second gear up to 20 mph, third gear up to 30 mph, and top gear over that speed. Performance testing gave acceleration times in third gear from 20 to 40 mph of 7.8 seconds, 30 to 50 mph of 8.6 seconds, Top gear - 20 to 40 mph in 11.4seconds, 30 to 50 mph in 13.0seconds and 40 to 60 mph in 15.1 seconds.

On the Road

The Major sat down quite well on dry bitumen corners and body roll was moderate. As the rear wheels carried only 43 per cent of the deadweight of the car, it was obviously necessary to exercise reasonable discretion when cornering on greasy or loose road surfaces without a load in the rear seat. The Major was perfectly stable and was easy to control if the rear wheels started to break free. The riding qualities of the Major were about average, but on really bad roads and with only passengers in the front seats, the rear axle did bounce quite noticeably. Road testers from the time noted a tendency to bottom when driven hard over badly pot-holed dirt roads.

A rack-and-pinion steering mechanism was used and was very good for the standards of the day. The steering was quite quick, taking only 2.5 turns of the wheel from lock to lock. Nevertheless, the steering action was always light. Some reaction was felt in the hands over bad roads. The turning circle averaged 33ft, giving good manoeuvrability to the car. The Lockheed brakes had a lining area of 931 sq. in, and they gave an excellent performance. Pedal pressures were light, response was instantaneous, and there was no trace of fade unless you really set about punishing them. The handbrake was located at the driver's left, and was able to stop the car from 30 mph down a gradient of 1 in 8.

Morris Major Series II

In October 1959 the Series II was released (while the Wolseley 1500 was dropped), the new iteration having the body work stretched so that it could incorporate small tail-fins, an ever popular styling feature of the 1950's. The re-style gave both the Morris Major and the Austin Lancer a family resemblance to the larger Farina designs, and meant picking the difference between the two was now a case of identification via the grille and badges. An added side-effect was that the boot also grew in size, making it a far more practical proposition for the travelling family. The new Major also afforeded a greater operating range, the fuel tank capacity being increased from seven to nine gallons, and importantly the BMC engineers also developed a steel shield to help protect the tank from underside damage.

The cars quickly developed a stellar reputation for reliability and durability, and even a hint of sporting prowess given their appearance in the 1960 Armstrong 500. To many people's suprise, a Morris Major would place 4th, it being driven by Peter Manton and Barry Topen. In 5th place was an Austin Lancer driven by George Spanos and Leo Taylor. The Morris Major would also place 9th, driven by Brian Muir and Jim Smith, and 11th place when driven by Rod Murphy and John Calloway.

In 1961 BMC began the rationalisation of their dealer network, along with their model line-up. Having two near identical cars compete in the same market segment was no longer practical, and so the decision was made to drop the Austin. The final iteration of the Morris Major came in 1962, the new "Elite" model featuring the B-series 1622cc engine (as fitted to MGA's) along with a stronger drive train, revised suspension, new wider grille, tail-fin flash and an updated interior. Production would finally come to an end in 1964 when BMC released the wonderful Morris 1100, the Morris Major Elite's very worthy successor.
Morris Major Release / Major Elite (2 tracks)
Morris Major

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Also see:

Morris Major Series II Technical Specifications
Lost Marques - The William Morris Story
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