Morris Marina Coupe a rare family heirloom

When Frederick and Gladys Wilkinson bought their brand new Morris Marina Coupe in 1974, they could scarcely have imagined that their son Bob would still be driving the car nearly 50 years later.

But when Gladys passed away in 1992, having put just 4,000 miles on the car, Bob couldn’t bring himself to part with his parents’ car.

“It meant a lot to me,” he says. “I toyed with the idea of selling it, but I thought ‘no, there’ll be thunder and lightning above me and it would rain everywhere I went’.”

Since then, Bob has put on nearly 15,000 more miles, many of which have been covered on multiple London to Brighton classic car runs and trips to the Isle of Wight for the annual Marina club event.

That still makes this particular Marina, a rare automatic 1.3 Super DeLuxe coupe, an incredibly low-mileage example.

It still wears its original teal blue paintwork, apart from on one wing that Gladys dinged on the garage door, and the beige interior looks little different from the day it left the factory barring some mild sun fading on the seat tops – a legacy of those trips to Brighton and the Isle of Wight.

Bob was 33 when his parents bought the car in the autumn of 1974 following Frederick’s diagnosis of transverse myelitis, a neurological condition that causes muscle weakness.

“My dad had a Ford Corsair, and they were on holiday when my mum said ‘what are you going so slowly for?’” he says, “but it was because he couldn’t push on the throttle.”

By the time it came to replace the Corsair, Frederick was unable to drive, and the hunt was on for a car for Gladys to drive.

So why the Marina?

“It was the nearest main dealer to where they lived,” says Bob, the couple buying the Morris from Stewart and Ardern in north Harrow, a couple of miles from their home.

“The car was in dad’s name because they got a better deal with him being disabled, but he never drove it. Mum drove it once or twice a week for shopping, when it wasn’t raining.”

For the first year of its life though, the Marina was a commuter car.


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“My dad worked for BT for a long time, and then he was off sick with the illness,” says Bob. “But they decided they could use his expertise in the training school, and my mum got a job there too, as assistant to the training officer.

“So they both used to go to work together in that car, about eight miles there and eight miles back, before they both retired about a year later.”

From then on, it served as Gladys’s shopping car, although Bob’s sister Margaret would drive it from time to time if her own car was in for servicing.

When Gladys died in 1992, and with Frederick in a care home, Bob needed somewhere to store the Marina once he’d decided he couldn’t possibly sell it.

“A friend had some farm buildings, and it spent about two years in a barn,” he says. “But he then sold the cottage, which the farm buildings went with, so I had to get it out of there.

“I went down there with a battery, put some jump leads on it, turned it over half a dozen times and it fired up.

“I wasn’t that confident about driving it, so I trailered it to a lady who lived nearby who had a garage that was empty.

“Every week or two, I’d go round and start it up.”

In truth, he did far more than that, starting his pilgrimage from London to Brighton on the classic car run for the first time in 1994 and making eight trips in all until the last in 2007 (pictured at the start at Hampton Court).

“I just saw it advertised somewhere,” he says, “and thought it would be a good thing to do.

“We’d start from different places, Hampton Court, Brooklands, or Syon Park, and go through the lanes to Brighton, mostly avoiding the main roads.”

Fittingly, the run finishes on Marina Drive, and on one occasion the man on the tannoy got quite excited at the presence of the humble Morris.

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“He was quite a well-known motoring journalist and he was commentating on the cars coming in, saying ‘here’s another Stag, here’s a Morris Minor, ooh, here’s a Marina’,” remembers Bob.

“He then spent a lot of time with me asking questions about it, and went quite in depth about the car’s history.”

On one run to Brighton Bob suffered the only puncture he’s ever had with the car.

“There were some other guys on the run in an old Vauxhall limousine, and it had the partition between the driver and the passengers,” he remembers. “The driver had the proper chauffeur’s outfit on, and one of the passengers was dressed as Winston Churchill. They stopped to give me a hand with the spare, so there was Winston Churchill by the roadside helping me change the wheel.

“We got the jack out and the worm drive still had the paint from the factory on it – it had never been out of the box.”

The car’s other big journey has been to the Marina club’s annual jolly on the Isle of Wight, held on the island mainly because the club president lives there.

“It’s an excuse to have a drive round the island,” says Bob, “but it’s held on the August bank holiday weekend at the same time as 3,000 scooters descend for their rally.

“We used to go from Wednesday to Wednesday and make a week of it, because the ferry was a nightmare on the Friday and Monday.

“We’d meet up at Calbourne Mill, a really old water mill, and line up on a field there (pictured). There are some nice things to do in the area.

“I remember going round the island once, and there was a guy behind me in a Marina with the Rover V8 engine in it. We were going round and up a hill and I just left him. He said ‘what engine have you got in there?’ ‘Just a 1300 I said.’ ‘Shit, you left me behind!’ he said.”

On Bob and Yvonne’s most recent trip to the island, there were at least 20 Marinas in attendance, including saloons, pick ups, vans, a convertible, and a couple in their 80s with a Suntour motorcaravan (pictured).

“They were a lovely couple, and when she passed away we went in the Marina to the funeral, along with four others in Marinas,” says Bob, now 81.


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On one run to the island, he noticed that the car wasn’t running quite right.

“They changed the points on the island, but the next time I went down there I had the same problem,” he says. 

“Then one young lad in the club who lived on the Isle of Wight told me they’d had a bad batch of points on the island.”

It prompted the Marina’s only concession to modernity, a distributor with electronic ignition from an MG specialist in St Albans.

“It’s the same engine as the MG Midget, so it was ideal,” he says. “I took the old distributor out, put the new one in and it’s been fine ever since.

“That’s the only thing in the engine that’s non standard.”

Bob also bought a passenger side mirror from the same place to match the factory-fitted driver’s side mirror.

“The holes were there, but it was an extra when it was new,” he adds. “At the time, if you bought a van, they’d charge you extra if you wanted a passenger seat in it.”

For many years, the car was stored in Bob’s friend’s garage, but when she passed away in 2010 he drove it up to his and Yvonne’s new home in north Norfolk.

It has done one run to the Isle of Wight since arriving in its new home – “the most miles the car’s done in a year” – but has mostly been used for local shows, plus a wedding for a friend.

One year, Bob went along to the Worstead Festival to give the Marina a run out.

“I parked up next to three or four other cars, and when I went back there were about 20 there,” he says. “One guy had said ‘you’ve done a lot of work on that’, and I said ‘no, I really haven’t’.

“I didn’t even know they were giving prizes out, but I ended up winning ‘best original’ car.”

Unfortunately, the car hasn’t been out since before Covid because of a gradually deteriorating, and now completely defunct, fuel pump.

“It would take a while to start, so I started to put petrol in a syringe and put a couple of squirts in the pipe between the tank and pump and it would be enough to make it fire up and get the pump working,” says Bob, a former car dealer turned ‘milkman of the year’ turned insurance broker.

“But it’s got to the point where it now won’t go at all. I’ve got the part, but it’s a two-handed job and I haven’t had a chance.”

Before long though, the old Morris will be back on the road, back to the car shows and, maybe back to the Isle of Wight.

“I wouldn’t mind going back there again in it,” says Bob, “It’s quite nice on the Isle of Wight – it’s a bit like Norfolk, like going back in time.”

Standing next to his own time machine, Bob says there have been offers for the car, which he believes could be worth as much as £5,000 because of its mileage and condition (his parents paid to have the car Ziebarted when new).

“Recently somebody looked at it and said ‘I wouldn’t mind that, let me know if you want to sell that,’ and it’s tempting because that would go a long way towards another car,” he adds.

“But it’s part of my mum and dad and my sister, who passed away in 2008, so it means a lot to me.”

We can’t talk about the Morris Marina without mentioning the elephant in the room – its reputation as a terrible driver’s car.

Jeremy Clarkson hated the Marina so much he set fire to one and dropped a piano on another, famously enraging the owners club.

“Sometimes in the wet it’s like riding on a bar of soap, all over the place,” admits Bob, “with lots of oversteer.

“But it was a rep’s car to compete with the Cortina, and I think the coupe is quite a nice looking car.

“It’s only got a three-speed automatic box, and it changes gear very quickly. If you left here by the time you got to the phone box down the road you’d be in top gear. But it’ll do 70 or 75 on the motorway quite happily.”

According to government data, there are now just seven Marina 1.3 SDL Autos left on the road in the UK.

Bob’s is almost certainly the most original. Just keep Clarkson away from it.

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