A distinctive profile with an emphatic “glasshouse”; signature daylight openings; unitary construction; fuss-free panels; confident surfaces; restrained details; a hint of aerodynamic purpose with the headlights neatly buried beside the front air intake; understated intelligence and functionality; bold, sculpted wings unencumbered by visual clutter; a driver’s delight. Is this the new Audi? No, it is the Morris Minor of 1948, which 50 years ago today reached a milestone when the millionth car rolled off the assembly line. Yet 10 years later it went out of production – and a vintage chapter of English social and industrial history closed.
Has any other English machine ever been treated to such respectful affection as the Minor? This soft-looking car makes even hard men wistful. Here is that unusual thing which, for reasons neuro-aestheticians must one day research, inspires universal delight. Is it the shape itself that affects the emotions or the dense cloud of associations swirling around it?
Probably a bit of each.
It was planned as the Morris Mosquito, a reference to the sophisticated de Havilland warplane and a reminder that the Minor was conceived in an austere age of rationing and privation, relieved only by a mood of wary and bruised post-war optimism. In 1948, the Festival of Britain’s playful modernism was still three years away and it was not only grim up north, it was grim down south and east and west as well. Because it was a well-meant antidote to misery – even if the first versions did not have a heater – we love the Morris Minor and the dreamworld it represents.
When the new car appeared at the Earls Court Motor Show, Elizabeth David was still researching her Mediterranean Food, whose near pornographic account of garlic, oil and lemon represented a fantasy world accessible only in the imagination to a public sustained by a regime of beige soup and gristly grey rissoles. The Minor, like tomato pasta, was to be a part of Great Britain’s colourful tomorrow. Curiously, food metaphors have pursued its career. It was often, if lazily, described as bearing a morphological similarity to a jelly-mould. And Morris’s proprietor, Viscount Nuffield, said, in the lordly style of an Edwardian breakfast, that it looked like a poached egg. Its designer was the man Nuffield called “Issi what’s his bloody name”. We know him as Sir Alec Issigonis, a true rival to Ferdinand Porsche, Dante Giacosa and Pierre Boulanger.