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what seemed a lifetime in production, the Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford, not to forget the Morris Minor were that out of date they literally were beginning to smell.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.
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 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