The MO Oxford is a first-class saloon in its own right, says Ben Wanklyn
Gold-painted dashboard, column gearchange and oversize bakelight controls epitomise ’40s family motoring
‘Built for comfort, not speed’, is an expression that perfectly sums up the MO’s driving experience. Progress can’t be rushed when behind the wheel. That doesn’t mean to say that it is uncomfortably slow – by the standards of the late 1940s, performance was quite acceptable. Even today, a healthy cruising speed of 55-60mph ensures that the Morris can hold its own on modern roads. It just won’t blow anyone away.
Provided you’re not looking for road-burning performance, the MO should charm and impress. Roadholding is respectable, with independent front suspension and – unusually for its day – rack-and-pinion steering providing stable direction changes. Well-padded bench seats are comfortable, but hardly encourage spirited cornering. Together with a column gearchange, this sets the tone of the driving experience as being a relaxed affair.
All you have to do is settle back behind the large chrome-spoked steering wheel, and pilot the Oxford, like a motor cruiser meandering along a river. This is what the classic driving experience is all about.
MORRIS OXFORD MO (1948-1954)
Top speed 50mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Start your checks with the sills. The outer sills are bolted on and are non-structural items – if they are corroded, club member John Valentine can provide replacements. The inner sills are a different story. Look out for evidence of poor repair work, or old underseal concealing rot.
Watch out for dropping front doors. This could be down to worn hinges, although the more serious cause is severe rot in the A-posts – if strength is lost here, opening the doors will make the weakened areas worse. Repairs here are complex.
The chassis legs not only support the weight of the engine and gearbox, but take the load from the front suspension. These box sections can suffer, and need to be in good order.
Take a look at the edges of the boot floor, and also the rear inner wings. These suffer along their joins with the outer wings, as trapped moisture rots its way out. The rear valance can go crusty too.
Corrosion at the bottom of the doors should be easy to identify, unless if excessive quantities of filler have been used to disguise this – take a close look at the curved contours at the bottom of the panels, looking for unevenness. Replacement panels are extremely scarce secondhand.
If you’re looking at the ultra-rare Traveller derivative, bear in mind that the condition of the wood should be reflected in the asking price. Replacing sections is a huge undertaking.
The sturdy sidevalve engine – shared with the J-type van – is relatively unstressed with its low power output, so should soldier on for many miles if cared for. Ask how regularly it has been serviced.
The rear suspension leaf springs are bolted at their front edges to a pair of spring hangers. With their enclosed design encouraging rust, look out for patchwork repairs. The rear chassis box sections are similarly critical to strength.
With a column change controlling the four-speed gearbox, any vagueness in the system can be removed by adjusting the balljoints linkages. A serviced three-synchro unit also rarely gives problems if serviced.
The torsion bar front suspension uses trunnions and king pins, which wear out if greasing is neglected. Fortunately, total failure of this system is rare. Jack up the front of the car and check for play in the swivel pins. The club plans to have undersized trunnions and matching kingpins remade to deal with this problem.
The all-round drum brake system can suffer if the car hasn’t been used for a while, with wheel cylinders prone to sticking. Fortunately, these are shared with the MG TD, so sourcing new items shouldn’t be an issue. The master cylinder is located in the chassis leg beneath the driver’s floor. This makes it easy to neglect, so check the fluid level. Master and wheel cylinders can be re-conditioned if required.
Damaged or missing brightwork will be difficult to replace, as nothing is currently available new. The same goes for the interior. While smaller items, such as door seals, are remanufactured, instruments and controls will require reconditioning, or tracking down secondhand – not an easy task.
If your classic car checklist includes usability, solidity, appealing looks and plenty of period charm, then look no further than the MO Oxford. With the uncanny ability to make you feel special whenever you slide across that commodious bench seat, this slice of motoring history is still capable of regular use, over 60 years since it was launched.
The 6/80 & MO Club actively works to keep its members’ cars on the road, supplying spare parts and even having batches of scarce items remanufactured. If you’re searching for an MO, joining the club should be your first step. Of course, the MO four-door saloon was simply one model in the Nuffield range of cars. If you crave more power and greater luxury, the six-cylinder Morris Six and Wolseley 6/80 derivatives can certainly deliver, while the four-cylinder Wolseley 4/50 is a step up from the Oxford. You could even strike lucky and stumble across a super-rare Traveller or commercial variant.