The Morris Minor that drove for ten days straight at Goodwood | Axon's Automotive Anorak

09th March 2023
Gary Axon

This year will see an elaborate and entertaining mix of 75th automotive anniversary celebrations, including our own commemoration of 75 years of motorsport at Goodwood. The legendary Motor Circuit staged Britain’s first post-war public admittance motor racing event on 18th September 1948. That same year also saw the debut of Porsche, the introduction of the phenomenal Citroen 2CV, plus the first views of a number of outstanding British cars. These included the now-iconic Jaguar XK120, the advanced Bristol 401, the optimistic but overly ambitious Austin Atlantic, plus that most beloved of British family cars: the Morris Minor.


The Morris Minor was one of the stars of the legendary 1948 London Motor Show staged at Earls Court. It was introduced alongside the Cowley-based marque’s larger 1.5-litre Oxford MO, plus the more formal Morris Six. The latter shared the Oxford MO’s bodyshell aft of the A-pillars, with a longer nose and traditional upright grille to accommodate the big 2.2-litre 68PS (50kW) in-line six. That engine was a detuned version of the Wolseley 6/80, the Morris’ more up-market Nuffield Organisation twin, which also debuted 1948 Earls Court Show.

Of this new Cowley trio though, the most significant was by far the Morris Minor, largely created by the innovative engineer Alec Issigonis. First launched in low-headlight side-valve 900cc form as a two-door saloon and convertible Tourer only, the Minor caused a sensation at the ’48 Earls Court Show as arguably the most relevant new car on display. However, British customers would be lucky to get their hands on one as maximum priority was given to export buyers to help earn Britain some much-needed cash post-war.

Immediately post-war, Morris placed huge emphasis in the quality of its vehicles, and it took great pride in its frequent long-distance endurance testing – a point sadly long-since forgotten though in the marque’s frightful British Leyland era.


Morris updated its strong-selling Minor with a new 803cc engine and a fresh gearbox, re-engineering from the new baby A30, taken from Morris’ new partner Austin as part of the Nuffield Group merger in 1952. The Austin A30 OHV engine replaced the previous Minor’s out-dated side-valve 918cc motor, inherited from the archaic pre-war Morris Eight Series E.

To help demonstrate the quality and reliability of the new Austin engine and gearbox fitted into the improved ‘high headlight’ Minor, Morris attempted an amazingly ambitious motoring experiment. Using a standard Morris Minor Series II four-door (registration SJO 624), taken directly off the Morris Cowley plant production line, the small family saloon would be driven non-stop for ten days, with all servicing and essential maintenance to be carried out whilst the car was still on the move with the engine and wheels still turning. The venue for this PR stunt was the Goodwood Motor Circuit, and the intention was to prove the reliability and improved economy of the new Austin-sourced motor to loyal Morris buyers. Many were less convinced by Morris using an unproven ‘enemy’ engine from the new A30.

To help achieve this, a special custom-built tender was fabricated at the Cowley plant’s Experimental Department using the front chassis cab of a half-ton Morris Cowley light commercial vehicle. It was used to tow a clever articulated trailer section into which the still-moving Minor could be ‘cradled’ for servicing and refilling and other maintenance purposes with a dedicated team of Morris technicians on hand at all times. Ingeniously, two 15-inch-wide platforms either side of the car enabled the mechanics to work safely on the Minor whilst still travelling at around 20mph. 

Elsewhere within this clever tailor-made trailer, a special area was constructed to house an observation platform on which a lot of essential equipment and instruments was stowed to give invaluable on-going data to the technicians. A pair of tubular gantries were also added to support the block and tackle necessary to lift the test Minor one corner at a time for essential operations such as wheel and tyre changing.

A total team of six test drivers shared the task of driving the Minor at an average speed of 45mph. The only notable modification to SJ0 624 was the addition of a reclining seat (then not even available as an option) which made the process of changing drivers at the end of each driving shift easier with no appreciable drop in average lap times. In the course of ten days of non-stop testing, the Minor’s only recorded mechanical failure was a faulty voltage regulator, which was successfully changed on the second day of this elaborate reliability test.

Ultimately, the test event proved to be an outstanding high-profile success for the quality of Morris and the reliability and economy of the improved Series II Minor. Apart from setting new standards in car testing, it provided Morris and the newly-formed Nuffield Group with valuable testing data for future developments so far as raising the standards were concerned. The final post-Goodwood trial report indicated that the whole undertaking had shown, in a very convincing manner, the reliability of a modern small family car as embodied in the Morris Minor.


In reminding people that the test car had successfully covered 10,000 miles (equating to around 4,200 laps of the Goodwood Motor Circuit) non-stop in ten days, the mileage of which the average British contemporary motorist would take around two years to cover, the Morris researchers concluded that the Goodwood tests clearly demonstrated improvement in performance as the endurance test progressed. Power output, petrol and oil consumption all improved after 10,000 miles of running with all proper maintenance being carried out as per Morris’ schedule.


Such extensive testing served to validate the quality and durability of the improved Series II Morris Minor, but they also highlighted the desire with the Nuffield Organisation to maintain the successful Morris ‘Quality First’ approach and raise standards higher still. Oh how times went on to change! As quality standards fell in the post-Nuffield Group BMC and British Leyland eras of the 1960s and ‘70s, the once dominant and proud Morris brand name was finally laid to rest in 1984, with the laughable Ital – a car of very questionable quality to say the least – embarrassingly being the last Morris badged passenger car to be built.

As an interesting aside, in 1962, an embryonic new-to-Britain Honda undertook a similar successful feat of non-stop endurance testing at the Goodwood Motor Circuit with a tiny 50cc motor scooter, but that’s another story for another day…

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