Morris first used the Isis name on one of its six-cylinder cars from 1929 until 1935, but it wasn’t until well after the Second World War that the moniker resurfaced. After the demise of the Pinocchio-nosed Minor-on-pies lookalike that was the Morris Six in 1954, BMC performed a similar trick with the Oxford; lengthening its bonnet and wheelbase so that the six-cylinder Austin A90 engine could be snugly fitted inside to create the Isis. The result was the best-performing Morris yet, although that did only mean a top speed of 90mph from the 90bhp the car eventually ended up with.
The Series 1 incarnation ran from 1955 to 1956, only notching up 8500 sales. In many ways, it was too similar to the Austin Westminster, which did far better for BMC sales-wise. The Series 2 revamp in 1956 – incorporating the updates used on the Oxford – did little to boost interest; despite rear wings now displaying fins plus the option of an automatic transmission or overdrive on the manual cars. Only 3614 managed to find homes before Morris gave up and dropped the Isis altogether. A six-cylinder Morris wouldn’t return to the catalogues until the Landcrab-based 2200 of 1972…
Probably the most attractive iant of the Isis was the wood-panelled Traveller estate, built in very small numbers. Nowadays though, any Isis is a rare survivor.
Morris Isis Series 2
Power: [email protected]
Torque: 124lb [email protected]
Top speed: 90mph
Fuel consumption: 23mpg
Gearbox: Four-speed manual plus o/d or three-speed automatic
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The Isis was a well-built, heavy car, but that was then and this is now, and the passage of over 50 years is enough to corrode anything metal in this country. Panels are very few and far between, which is why it’s wise to buy the best car you can find. It’s important to get underneath and check things out, with a popular grot spot being where the front chassis rails join the transverse crossmember under the front seat. On the body itself, there’s often rot to be found where the front panel and grille overlap, as well as the nearby sidelights. A-posts suffer and problems here soon spread to the neighbouring inner and outer sills as well as the front wings. Moving back, look around the rear wheelarches, especially around the back doors where a lot of road muck gets thrown up. Sills are weak areas, especially the corners, and the nearby floorpans will go as well, especially under the back seat. Don’t forget to look in the boot either, under the rubber mat where water can get trapped. Finally, one oft-overlooked issue is with the quarterlights. Their bottom pins can rust meaning that, when you try and open them, they’ll fall out!
Wood isn’t that structurally important on Travellers, but give it a good examination anyway to make sure it’s not suffering from rot. Soft and scrunchy isn’t a good sign, neither is peeling nish.
The six-cylinder C-series engine is a tough old thing, and thanks to its low state of tune, it doesn’t get a lot of stress, nothing like what the same engine goes through in an Austin-Healey. At least that commonality means that parts are plentiful. The C-series can put up with a lot of misuse before it finally goes bang, so look out for signs of blue smoke from the exhaust when running and listen for scary noises from deep within, although no C-series engine will ever be that quiet. Expect some timing chain chatter as a matter of course, but it shouldn’t be excessive. Oil leaks are a common sign of a tired engine, especially if it’s eminating from the rear crank seal. As a general guide, you should be looking for oil pressure of 50-60psi when cold or cruising. Warm engines will display as low as 10-15psi at idle; this is normal.
Series 1 Isis had a column gearchange; this moved to the floor on the Series 2, albeit on the right-hand side of the car. An automatic transmission also became available. You’ll probably find most issues with the column change; while it is no worse than any of its contemporaries, wear can develop in the linkage which will make it difficult to engage ratios. Try it out thoroughly to make sure it works freely enough. Being a Borg-Warner unit, the automatic transmission works well enough, and the manual should be resilient enough too, albeit with the inevitable wear in synchromesh due to age and miles. Bear in mind that there is no synchromesh on first at all.
Rear axles also give few problems, although listen for whining at higher speeds as a signal that things are wearing out.
Handling on the Isis is less sharp than on its Oxford sibling, thanks to having a steering box rather than rack-and-pinion; something necessitated by the size of the engine. What is important is that the many grease points have been regularly seen to; every 1500 miles is the recommended schedule, but this often goes undone. Lack of maintenance will manifest itself most of all with worn-out trunnions and kingpins, leading to vague steering and wandering when underway.
Although leather was the norm inside the Isis, wood is – unusually for a flagship BMC product – absent. That’s good in a way – less likelihood of a tatty dashboard – although expect the painted metal to be scratched or discoloured a bit by now. Be wary of any missing switches or instrumentation as they will be difficult to find new or even secondhand. Leather will obviously cost a fair bit to retrim if worn, as it is likely to be on the driver’s seat.
It’s a difficult call with the Isis. There are better six-cylinder Fifties saloons around, with the Austin Westminster an obvious choice over the Isis. And there are certainly a lot models easier to find. But the Isis does stand apart as one of Morris’ less well-known cars, and the Traveller in particular is seldom spotted these days. Therefore, if something very out of the ordinary even for a classic floats your boat, then an Isis is worth investigating. At the end of the day though, it’s less about ‘Should I buy one’ and more about ‘Can I actually find one to buy?