Does the Marina really deserve the flak it receives? Matt George checks out BL’s underdog
Morris Marina Review – Bizarrely, UK-spec Marinas had wipers set up for LHD
Marinas have never been noted for sharp handling – understeer being the most noted characteristic, particularly with earlier models. But exhilaration was never intended to be part of the package, as thankfully the Marina’s competitors – the Vauxhall Viva and Hillman Avenger, to name but two – were equally lacklustre. As far as British Leyland was concerned, the ability to turn a profit was the most important aspect of the Marina project.
Although improvements were made to the Marina 2 in 1975, the car’s handling is still unsophisticated by modern standards. With scrubby initial understeer on turning into a corner that switches to predictable roll oversteer, the average Marina’s cornering powers leave a lot to be desired. That said, one of the car’s virtues is its gearchange which, despite its long travel, is slick, fast and generally quite pleasant to use. The ratios are decently spaced, too – though in characteristic BL fashion, first gear can prove tricky to engage at times. You don’t have to rev the engine hard to make brisk progress, so the lack of refinement at high rpm is less noticeable.
1971 Marina 1.8TC
Top speed 100mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The worst rust spots are the sills – the rot starts at both ends, before spreading to the floorpan and wheelarches. Inner sills are tougher than outer ones, but once rust takes hold they deteriorate fast. The rear edge of the front wings is a grot spot, along with the area round the headlamps and the valances.
As all Marinas share the same bodywork ahead of the B-posts, the front doors are interchangeable. Doors from Itals can also be made to fit with a bit of fettling. Door hinges wear badly, especially front ones, but saloon and estate lower rear hinges are the same as the front ones, so secondhand ones can be found.
Front and rear wheelarches are vulnerable to stone chips and rust. Frilly arches are often concealed beneath wheelarch trims. The inner rear arches also tend to rot badly, with the section above the bump stop reaction plate usually the first to go.
Three engines were offered during the Marina’s production run: the 1275cc A-series was available throughout, while the 1798cc B-series was replaced by the 1.7 O-series in 1978. The A-series is a hardy little unit well capable of racking up over 80,000 before a rebuild is required. Slight oil leaks are commonplace, but a sign of the unit needing attention will be oil being burned because of worn valve guides. The engine mountings on 1.3 cars are prone to perishing.
The long-lasting B-series is the same as used in the MGB, bar the air filter arrangement. Much like the smaller unit, smoking on the over-run is common if more than 100,000 miles have been covered and the valve guides are worn, while timing chain rattle is also par for the course. Regardless of engine, the valve gear will probably be noisy. The overhead cam O-series engine should have its cambelt changed every 50,000 miles at least.
Sloppy linkages are common with manual gearboxes, which can only be remedied with a better secondhand unit. Luckily ‘boxes are interchangeable between models, except for a different input shaft and layshaft on 1.3 units. Clutch judder is another affliction – early cars used a 6.5in clutch that wasn’t up to the job, so make sure a later 8in version is in place. Tired gearbox mountings and propshaft UJs can also have a surprisingly detrimental effect on clutch action.
The torsion bar front suspension on Mk1 Marinas was largely responsible for their poor handling. From 1975, anti-roll bars all round alleviated the problem. Steering feel should be light and reasonably positive. If this isn’t the case then partially seized swivel pins could be the culprit – they need greasing every 3000 miles. Tie-rod bushes can wear, leading to vibration through the steering and uneven tyre wear, though lunched wheel bearings could also cause the former. Rear suspension is usually trouble-free, the only likely problems being leaking dampers and broken anti-roll bar mounts, which can be welded up again easily enough.
Interior trim isn’t available new, though it can be found secondhand. Mk1 vinyl seats often crack, while the tops of rear seats and dash tops suffer from sun damage. Carpets aren’t particularly hard-wearing.
On the downside, there’s unlikely to ever be a Marina Class at the world-renowned Pebble Beach concours event. But on a more positive note, you’ll struggle to find a cheaper entry into the classic car world. That in itself is a double-edged sword, though: with values staying so low, very few people are bothering to restore them – or even properly maintain them in some cases.
Stick to the tried and tested rules of buying the best example that your budget will allow, as the money spent on restoring a Marina will far outstrip the eventual value of the car once it has been completed.
Although there are still plenty of classic enthusiasts who are happy to thumb their nose at the somewhat easy target that the Marina offers, the Marina Owners’ Club are a friendly bunch, so you will find a safe haven among their number.
The Marina appeared on the market in April 1971, as a replacement for the popular, but by then somewhat long in the tooth, Morris Minor. It was conceived as a vehicle capable of offering both practical and inexpensive transport for fleets and families alike.
With familiar A and B-series powerplants, clothed in two-door coupé, four-door saloon and van bodyshells, along with a variety of trim levels, the Marina was all things to all people. In October 1975, the Marina 2 arrived, boasting front disc brakes and a modified suspension complete with anti-roll bars both fore and aft, while styling changes included a revised grille and fatter bumpers. South African Marinas were also available with a 2623cc six-cylinder engine pumping out 111bhp. If that sounded too racy, you could root out one of the 3870 diesel variants made, which make do with a measly 38bhp from 1489cc.
Time was called on the Marina in July 1980, by which time 659,852 examples had been built. Never particularly popular even when new, they retain a small but loyal band of followers today, and make a cheap and easy to maintain proposition.