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Member Article: 60 years of the Morris 1100 in Australia

February 17th 2024 marks an important milestone in the motoring calendar. It’s not Bathurst, nor Formula 1, it’s the 60thAnniversary of the release of the Morris 1100 in Australia. 

The 1100 was released in the UK on 15th August 1962. In development it had the code name ADO16 (Amalgamated Design Office, Project # 16). BMC where looking for a replacement for the Morris Minor and needed a new, innovative, and modern car with high levels of refinement, comfort and presentation for a 4 door front wheel drive car to fill a gap. Alex Issigonis was first chosen to lead the project but BMC Engineer Charles Griffin took over at the end of the 1950s to complete the work. 

With the success of the Mini they decided to keep the front wheel drive concept. As a further cost cutting exercise they continued with the A series engine that was used in previous Austin’s and Morris’s. It worked well in the mini and carried over the same engine, but with a larger sized car and the extra weight they initially only came with 1100cc engines (1098cc). Pininfarina was commissioned to style the car, but all running gear and fit out was under the BMC company. Having been impressed with Citroens pneumatic suspension, mainly used in the DS, Issigonis and Moulton sort inspiration to create a Hydrolastic suspension for the new car in development. Other manufactures were using disc brakes and they decided to use these for the first time on the 1100. 

With the initial success of the 1100 in the UK and demand increasing, BMC Australia needed a mid-sized car to slot in their market line up. The Morris Minor was discontinued in 1961 and a gap was highlighted. In 1963 BMC UK sent nine 1100’s to Australia for evaluation for the Oz market. The cars were put through their paces and test driven around Australia, from Mt Kosciusko, to Uluru, to the outback and beyond. They covered all the states with various condition from heat to snow to dust.  All the cars travelling over 186,000 miles (almost 300,000 kms!). One car travelled over 75, 000 miles (120,700 kms). Quite impressive in 1963 with a new British car. 

After the road trial and before putting the car into production it was recommended that 37 modifications were made to the design to meet the conditions of Australia not seen or experienced on English roads. Additionally, changes were made to conform to the tastes of Australian motorists but would also stand up to the extremes of climate and the worst of outback roads. Some notable mods are: bench seat, relocated handbrake from centre to door side, new rubber sealing in all doors, boots and engine seals to prevent dust entry, stone guard for fuel tank and pump, different boot handle and number plate, NVH changes, steering modifications and gearing was reduced to improve acceleration and top end pull.

With the final sign off, production went ahead at the Zetland plant in Sydney NSW. An immediate success and one fortnight after going on sale buyers face a six week waiting list as BMC struggled to keep up with demand. The most popular colours of white and green were still wait-listed 2 weeks till the end of the year despite BMC raising the price by £19 in August. With a total of 17,701 sales, it is second only to the Volkswagen (with 22,291 sales) for the year in the 4 cyl market/class. By the end of May 1965, the Morris 1100 is outselling all its rivals except the Volkswagen 1200 beetle and clocks up its best year with 20,378 sales – no doubt helped by all the publicity, and actually eclipsing VW by the end of the year. Interesting to note that BMC Australia held 3 of the top 5 positions of cars sales in the 4cyl class. Quite an achievement!

Another milestone, is that the Morris 1100 was awarded Wheels Car of the year in 1964. This was the second year it was awarded.  The award was originally conceived to give local car makers something more to strive for than simply the most sales.  Cars eligible for consideration in 1964 had to be wholly made in Australia or assembled here from imported components and must have been announced in Australia in the 12 months prior to the award announcement. Wheels summed up its decision in 1964 as follows:
“As its 1964 Car Of The Year, WHEELS Magazine has selected the British Motor Corporation’s Morris 1100. Few cars apart from its baby brother, the 850, have made such an impact on the Australian motoring public. The 1100 has been bought by people aged from 17 to 70; it has been bought for fun, for work, for its interior room, its functional nature, its looks, its ride and its handling. Its winning this year’s award is an incidental recognition of the immense work done by the British Motor Corporation in building up its part in the Australian motor industry from an extremely low ebb to its present state of excellent health.” -Wheels Magazine.

 In 1966 the 1100 continues to outsell the Mini, Cortina and Volkswagen maintaining its place at Number One in its class despite clocking up only 14,746 sales for an 8% market share, giving BMC 13% share of overall car sales.

The BMC advertising campaign boasts that it is “Now Australia’s most wanted family car”

In 1967 saw come cosmetic and engine changes to the car. In August 1967 a 1275cc version was an option called the 1100 S. To signify this massive power upgrade option a fancy ”S” badge appeared on the boot lid. In November a 1100 automatic became available for an extra $250. This continued until 1969 when the 1100cc engine discontinued for the automatic, making it the “1100 S automatic”. Other cosmetic changes around then included: removal of the bumper over-riders, chrome bonnet strip, upholstery changes, Morris logo removed from rubber floor, hub caps went from chrome M centres to plain steel design, and door card style changed.

Even with some minor cost savings with aforementioned cosmetic changes sales of the 1100 still held firm for the start of the year in 1967. Ford Cortina was nipping at the heel of the 1100 and by year end the Cortina just beat the 1100 with 700 more care sales. What did help with sales for the year was the introduction of the auto and the 1275cc which did help achieve 15,803 sales.

In 1968 not much was happening with the 1100. Waiting in the wings was a new model around the corner. Back home at mother England, changes were happening with the model and the company. In October ’67 the Mk II was released with minor cosmetic changed to inside and out. Call it “revised styling”. One notable change was the chopped fins of the Mk I now followed the rear window screen and the boot line. Ventilated rims and different grill combos where the main obvious changes. Additionally, BMC became British Motor Holdings (12/1966) and then became British Leyland in 01/1968. Because BMC Oz was a division of this company changes would ultimately trickle down the line. Even though they initially kept the Morris and Austin trading names, these eventually got faded out in 1973.

Well in June 1969 the Morris 1100 was superseded by the Morris 1500 and the 1300 automatic. After 5 and a half years and over 90,000 sales the 1100 was no more. With rivals wanting a more powerful engine and revise of the line-up put the little 1100cc engine at risk. A bigger and more powerful engine was needed and the UK had one ready to go. It was a matter of making it fit. The story of the 1500/1300 will be for another article in the future.

In reflection the car was pretty amazing, well in my opinion anyway. A practical roomy 4 door sedan, whilst still compact for its class, and with plenty of room to seat 4 adults comfortably and luggage to boot. A revolutionary independent suspension system, economical engine with upgrades in its history, automatic option also, stylish, easy to work on and reliable. The model range spawned many variants and also manufactured around the world. In the UK they produced over 2.3 million vehicles! When you talk with people you will always find someone with a connection to a 1100. Family members owning one, or learning to drive in one, or the adventures of them driving somewhere. They might have been in the shadow of the mini, I think they were a mini but only more practical and better.

If you see me on a club run in one of my 1100’s I’m happy to show you the car and even go for a spin!

Words by Brett Huxtable. Info and images from elevenhundred.com & Wikipedia.com

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