Morris Marina


Martin remembers his Morris Marina...

It’s time to confess. I’m a motoring journalist who owned a Morris Marina.

If you’re a Millennial and have a life then you might never have heard of the Marina, but anyone who remembers the 1970s and 80s will recall it as the apex of crap cardom.

Launched in 1971 and nailed together from bits of Morris Minor, MGB and Triumph Toledo, the Marina was the unlovely spawn of British Leyland.

Conceived as a no-nonsense Ford Cortina rival, it handled like a sick pig with three legs and was badly made, so it broke down a lot, unlike the Japanese rivals that people soon bought instead.

The lumpen Marina was advertised with the irony free strapline of: ‘Style. It’s hard to define, but easy to recognise,’ but by the late 1970s it went round corners a little better and broke down less, so was better than nothing.

That’s how I viewed the one I bought for £25 in 1988. It was a decade old 1.3 ‘Special’ with working radio/cassette, cloth seats and a vinyl roof. It also had a dodgy clutch and an emigrating owner, which is why it was cheap.

The gear lever came off in my hand and the front suspension collapsed, but the car was otherwise pretty reliable and could be fixed with a lump hammer. It took me to work, it took me on holiday, and there was an honesty about the thing that was strangely endearing.

An idiot tried to nick it, pouring acid on the driver’s door, smashing a window and attempting to hotwire the car. Mercifully it wouldn’t start. The column stalks had been semi-trashed, but someone else had driven into the back of it and smashed the rear fog light, so I re-wired the horn through its on/off switch, and could hoot, steer and gesticulate all at the same time.

A dentist’s wife kebbabed the Marina with his BMW 5 Series. She blamed me, but her insurer phoned, said she was mad and offered £200 for the car.

“Can I keep it?” I asked.

“Well, we don’t want it,” said the insurer, so I spent £20 on two different coloured scrapyard doors and kept motoring. The woman I eventually married was my girlfriend then. She sneered at the Marina, but eventually learned to drive in it, a process not helped by the indicator stalk’s habit of falling off.

I also used the scrofulous old heap to take my dad and a friend to Northern France and back for a holiday. Clattering through one village we saw some Gendarmes shaking their heads and pointing.

Eventually I sold the Marina to a woman who drove from London to Edinburgh, where it garnered more insurance money after a police car hit it.

We discovered this from a series of postcards she sent charting its progress. When a letter in a black edged envelope arrived with the dread news that multiple MOT failure had finally finished the Marina off, my beloved had a little cry. It was a bad car, but we’d had good times in it.