Does Time Heal Old Wounds? – The Morris Marina

After what seemed a lifetime in production, the Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford, not to forget the Morris Minor were that out of date they literally were beginning to smell. So enter British Leyland’s first all new design to combat the mighty Ford Cortina – the Marina.

No a bad looking old Hector – especially the 2dr coupe but desperately way off the mark in terms of engineering prowess.

Forgetting the piano dropping antics of Top Gear and the whinging, whining cries of licker fans who aren’t even old enough to remember them in their prime for a while. Lets take the point of view from those who were around at the time, those who have driven them, owned them, broken them – the likes of my good self. What really annoys me is the new breed of often halfwit bloggers and reviewers that seem to really rate these cars and see no wrong in them. The old phrase of “well they were no worse than other cars of their time” often is their war-cry.

I have had the pleasure of piloting Marina’s, Ital’s not to mention countless Cortina’s and Cavalier Mk1s. So… is the Marina really as bad as people often suggest? To be brutally honest… they are f***ing dreadful cars in almost every conceivable area. A decent Ford Cortina 2.0 for example is a roomy and capable car designed to carry four plus all the clutter. It will cruise all day quite merrily at 90+mph and able to click well over 100,000 miles with little more than routine servicing and a handful of rear suspension void bushes – simply put its what they were designed to do from the drawing board.

“When the Marina was launched in 1971 the Cortina had by now entered its third generation and subsequently became a much bigger and more modern car. What Morris now had was an Avenger competitor”

You see, the problem was that when plans were afoot to design the Marina, the Cortina Mk2 was on the go. When the Marina was launched in 1971 the Cortina had by now entered its third generation and subsequently became a much bigger and more modern car. What Morris now had was an Avenger competitor. Poor old Morris had only pushrod 1.3 and 1.8 litre engines, Ford quickly launched 1.6 & 2.0 OHC Pinto engines alongside their existing highly respected cross-flow units. Modern double wishbone front suspension with all-round coil springs were Ford’s order of the day too – a bit boaty in handling terms but a lovely smooth ride.

The Cortina was the great white Shark of the family car market during its tenure. Superb marketing and amazing customer loyalty made it top of the pops for all of its lifespan.

The Ford N series gearbox offered a shift action quality that’s still good by todays standards and pretty bulletproof. The Morris had a Triumph Herald gearbox with a synchro added to 1st gear. The net result was a stiff and cumbersome gearchange and serious limitations as to how much torque the box could cope with – gearbox failures at as low as 40,000 miles were common complaints as well as failed bearings in the differential too. But it wasn’t the shortcomings in mechanical durability that the Marina was known for – it was the bloody awful handling and ride compromise.

“Just who exactly thought it was a good idea to fit front drum brakes on the base models? hells bells, the sodding thing was out of date from the moment it was launched”

Take a well fettled Marina and drive it solo and they can be fairly forgiving. Add three passengers and some clutter in the boot whilst hammering along an undulating country lane and forgiving turns into scary and potentially life-threatening. They wallow and crash off the bump stops and roll on tight bends thanks the tall body and narrow track of the axles. Just who exactly thought it was a good idea to fit front drum brakes on the base models? hells bells, the sodding thing was out of date from the moment it was launched!

But it sold in good numbers I hear you cry! Lets be realistic about this, there was still a generation of xenophobic customers out there who would rather eat their own hair than buy a car from Johnny foreigner in the 1970’s – so I refuse to accept the numbers sold making it a great car. Ah but Cortina’s rust too is another retort when people mention the Marina succumbing to the Sheffield worm. EVERYTHING in the 70’s rusted, Cavaliers, Viva’s you name it, they all rusted out with their body edges doing a good impression of a brandy snap.

The Marina was a bloody awful car and perhaps the Cortina was not much better in some areas, but the Cortina was what the public wanted right up to its deletion, it was marketed correctly, reliable, had a monumentally loyal following and was skilfully updated every few years to keep it in the top sales charts right up to its eventual demise in 1982. Also worthy of note, the UK taxpayer wasn’t bailing out Ford every time Dagenham went out on strike like we were doing with Morris and British Leyland.

Pure unadulterated bloody rubbish. So does time heal old wounds in the case of the Morris Marina?

Erm…no I don’t think so.

Agree or disagree? Tell me in the comments section below


  1. Pretty much exactly what I’ve been saying about them. But there’s a core of fans, even now, who won’t have em criticised. Bonkers

  2. I don’t think BL helped matters by fitting ‘pea shooter’ exhausts as standard. Looked and sounded awful. Also the windscreen wipers were wrong way for UK drivers ,then you had the radio facing away from the driver.

    I liked the ital mind you, bit chunkier

  3. I’ve always liked the look of the Marina, and they make me smile to see cared examples still around.

    Such a pity that they were yet another under developed product with classic BL build quality. I believe the design was originally planned as a stop-gap, but ended up being around for far longer than originally intended.

    I imagine the examples around today have mostly been improved by their owners, with better dampers, tuned engines etc. and the bodywork finished off correctly!

  4. Yes you are right I owned 4 marinas the best being 1.8 TC Jubilee the car looked great would go like a rocket but was terrible on handling etc but we did not know any better at the time and thought all cars were like this. Even after moving onto Cortinas still loved those old Marinas🤪

  5. I think you’ll find its foul “mouthed” idiot. Its only his opinion after all and not speaking for the masses.

    If you know Mike as well as I do you’d know he’s only having a light hearted dig. Besides which, if I recall correctly, he’s owned a Marina and Ital years ago so perhaps they can’t be all that bad, or good for that matter.

    As for me, I ran a company Ital 1700SLX estate from 1983 to 1985. We used to supply Austin Rover so hence the bloody Ital. In two years and 45,000 miles it had a gearbox, propshaft centre and offside front wheel bearing and a thermostat. That got replaced by an 1800 Sierra which made me feel that I’d died and gone to heaven.

    A work colleague also ran an Ital but he had a 1.3 saloon that faired better than mine but four up and a boot full of gear the thing would barely pull 85mph*

    *Where conditions allowed 😉

  6. The frustrating thing was that had BMC / BL had in its armoury, what could have been THE family car of the 70’s, the Austin Maxi. However for the usual penny pinching reasons, the body was compromised by the use of unsuitable doors from the Landcrab. The engine started life on the drawing board as as a 1300 A series replacement so instead of starting again, when BL insisted it had to compete with the Cortina’s bigger motor, they made the existing design bigger by making it horribly undersquare. Finally the gearbox was not ready for production, taking 2 years to sort it out. However the core of the car was excellent, way ahead of Ford, GM and Chrysler. For me it is the biggest “what might of been” of the BL era.

  7. Reminds me of a lady sales rep for the BL subsidiary Llanelli Radiators who had to change her company Marina every few weeks since they were so desperate to shift car stocks.

    A mate’s Dad had a new Marina whose back axle went after 3 weeks – rather than wait for parts he chopped it in for another Marina – must have got a good deal…

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