Marina and Ital

Buyers Guide

 

This Buyers Guide is published to provide a record of the Marina & Ital range, to inform new and prospective members of the background of the cars and to cover many of the various options, advantages and problem areas.  At the foot of the page there is a printable check-list to help purchasers identify all the likely main problems .

Much of the following information was taken from a Buyers Guide published by Practical Classics Magazine (TM) January 2002 edition.  We are very grateful to Richard Dredge and the Practical Classics editorial team for permission to reproduce it here. Link to Practical Classics website please click here.

HISTORY

The Morris Marina entered the British motoring scene in April 1971, the aim being to offer inexpensive and practical motoring for both fleet managers and family motorists. 

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1.3 SDL Coupe

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1.8 SDL Saloon

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1.8 SDL Estate

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1.8 TC Coupe

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1.3 Vans

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1.3 Pickup

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1.8 TC Jubilee

HISTORY

At launch there was the option of 1.3-litre or 1.8-litre (single or twin-carb) engines wrapped in either two-door Coupe or four-door Saloon body shells; trim levels ranged from De Luxe (DL), Super De Luxe (SDL) to TC (twin carb).  In September 1972 Vans and Estates joined the line-up with 1.1 or 1.3 litre engine for the vans and 1.8 engines in the Estates and by May 1973 special edition fever was setting in with the production of 2000 Saloon-based 1.8 litre Jubilee models, with tinted glass, laminated windscreen, opening quarter-lights, coach line, vinyl roof and a pair of auxiliary lamps. Five months later most of this was added to the TC's spec sheet as standard.

Some early 1.3 cars and all early commercials were supplied with drum front brakes and no servo; disc brakes and servo assistance could be fitted as optional extras.  If properly maintained, the drum brake setup is adequate for a 1.3 car.  Very early 1.3s and 1.8s had the same suspension setup that the motoring press complained about at the time the car was launched.  Whilst no records exist for the changeover point to the improved front suspension geometry, it is generally recognised to be around chassis numbers 5,000 to 6,000.

In October 1975 the Marina 2 arrived, with disc brakes at the front on all versions and modified suspension, including anti-roll bars all round on the Saloons, Coupes and Estates. Styling changes included fatter bumpers and a revised grille centre, while Coupe and Saloon versions of the TC became the GT and HL respectively.  In April 1978, 2050 examples of the LE Coupe were built, featuring a sunroof, vinyl roof, special interior trim and metallic paint with decals.

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Mk2 1.3 Saloon

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Mk2 1.8 Coupe

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Mk2 1.8 Estate

Five months later in September 1978 a revamped Marina debuted (Mk 3), featuring styling changes front and rear to the bumpers and the rear lights. From here on Coupes were only available with 1.3-litre engines.  The 1.8 B series engine was dropped in favour of the new 1.7 O series engine, which was pretty much as powerful and lot smoother to drive.  The sporty twin-carb versions were dropped along with the B series engines, with the 1.7 relying on a single 1 3/4" HIF SU carb.

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Mk3 1.3 Coupe

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Mk3 1.7 Saloon

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Mk3 1.7 Estate

Australian & South African Marina fans also had the choice of a locally made E series 1750 4 cylinder and 2623cc six-cylinder models, with three-speed auto or manual 'boxes and 111 bhp.  If this sounds too racy in Europe you could track down one of the 3870 diesel Marinas, with 1489cc and all of 38bhp!  These were manufactured in the UK and in Malta for a while, exported as knock down kits and built up on the island.  Cars were exported from the UK around the world including USA, Canada, New Zealand, and throughout Europe.  Many of the sales in the Nordic countries coming off the back of local success in rallying.

In July 1980 the Marina was replaced by the the Morris Ital, it was a Marina featuring revised styling and a slightly more pokey A-series engine (called the A-plus).  The Coupe body shape was dropped.

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Ital 1.7 SLX Saloon

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Ital 1.7 SLX Estate

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Ital Vans

When this died in 1984 it took the Morris name with it.  In all some 953,567 (Classics Monthly) Marina and Ital Saloons, Coupes and Estates were produced - and that was before Ital production moved to China.  We shouldn’t forget the commercial versions (Vans and pickup), as an unknown number were constructed, estimated at well over 100,000, with large fleets run by most of the public utilities of the day, Gas, Water, Electricity, Royal Mail, British Telecom, the AA and the RAC.

 

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Mk3 575 (10cwt) Vans

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Ital 575 (10cwt) Vans

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Ital 575 (10cwt) Vans

 

In addition to the mainstream BL offerings, there were a number of conversions - Camper Vans by SunTor and Brownhills of Newark, Soft-tops designed by Crayford and built by Mumford (later by TorCar) and Ice Cream Vans by Cummins of Crewe.

 

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Mk1 SunTor Camper

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Mk1 Mumford TC Convertible

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Mk1 Cummins Ice-Cream Vans

 

BODYWORK  

As with any car over 20 years old, the quality of the original factory rust proofing and older repairs will inevitably lead to rust.  The Marina is no different in this respect from any other car of the period, the link below takes you to a separate page where we have tried to show some of the things to look out for when buying a Marina or Ital.  Not all cars will be as bad as the ones shown and all three cars used in the pictures are now resplendent with replacement metalwork and modern rust proofing.  Also some cars were treated with 'Ziebart' body treatment from new and these have survived remarkably well.  To visit the bodywork section please click here.

ENGINES

During the Marina's production run there were three engines to choose from for the UK market, the 1275cc A-series being available throughout. The 1798cc B-series unit was available from launch until its replacement in the form of the 0-series in 1978. Fleet buyers opted for the 82bhp single-carb version of the B-series while boy racers went for the twin-carb (TC) model generating 95bhp. Vans produced until 1973 were equipped with a 1098cc A-series, switching to the 1275cc unit as used in the other models in the range, but the chances of finding one of these are slim.

The A-series has to work hard in the Marina, but the unit is tough and should notch up 80,000 miles before it needs a rebuild. It will always leak a bit of oil, but the first sign of the unit needling attention will be oil being burned because of worn valve guides.  Engine mountings on 1.3-litre cars are prone to perishing, so check these carefully -replacements are available.

The B-series engine is mostly the same unit as fitted to the MGB, which is why many Marinas have been broken for their power plants.  Single carb car versions come in high and low compression versions and use a slightly softer but more torquey camshaft than the TC.  As with the smaller A series unit, there will be a good chance of smoking on the over-run if the unit has covered 100,000 miles because of worn valve guides — expect timing chain rattle too.

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1.3 litre A Series

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1.8 litre B Series

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1.7 litre or 2.0 litre O Series

Both the A-series and B-series engines are eminently tuneable, which is why companies such as Oselli, Downton and University Motors produced tweaked versions. BL Special Tuning also produced various modified Marinas and nowadays engine tuning parts are still easy to get for both units thanks to the wealth of MGB, Midget and Mini specialists.

Whichever engine is fitted, the valve gear will probably be noisy. If you're looking at a 1.7-litre car, it uses the overhead cam 0-series engine, which should have had its cam belt changed every 48,000 miles.  It is worth noting that a small number of 2 litre O series automatic Itals were produced towards the end of the cars life.  None of the engines were designed for unleaded petrol; most owners use additives.  Late Metro 1.3 A+ series engines can donate their unleaded heads to earlier 1.3 Marinas and Itals.

TRANSMISSION

Automatic or manual gearboxes were offered from launch, the all-synchro manual being shared with the Triumph Spitfire 1500s, RWD Toledos and non-Sprint Dolomites.  Unfortunately its action when fitted to the Marina was rather less slick than when fitted to the Triumphs and one problem is for the linkage to wear - the solution is to source a better second-hand unit or have it rebuilt.  Even when new, first gear could be difficult to select without going via second. Gearboxes are interchangeable between models, except for a different input shaft and layshaft between 1.3-litre and 1.8/1.7 units.

The clutch was one of the problem areas throughout the Marina's production span, as most versions were prone to judder.  Pre-September 1972 1.3s used a 6 ½ in clutch (from the Triumph Herald), which wasn't up to the job. The solution was to fit an 8in version from the MGB with revised flywheel (fitted to the 1.8 from launch), which didn't cure the problem altogether but did alleviate it.

A lot of judder when taking up the clutch could be down to a combination of worn gearbox mountings, propshaft universal joints, rear shock absorbers that have seen better days or rear anti-roll bar bushes (fitted from 1975) that are past their best, all these parts are available.

The clutch operating fork has occasionally been known to crack and break at its pivot point taking the clutch action with it, and the only way to find out if it's on its way out is to listen for a creaking from the clutch pedal when it's operated.

The clutch hydraulics can give problems, not only can the slave cylinder the seals give up the ghost quite happily, causing leaks down the bellhousing, also the mounting bracket can break (rarely).  It's easiest to check for these from underneath, but it is just about possible to check by looking down the back of the engine on the nearside.

The gearboxes generally last only around 60,000 miles, although the lifespan varies widely depending on how the car has been driven. The first sign of trouble is the synchromesh packing up, although the reverse idler gear also wears leading to noisy first and which wasn't up to the job.

Other possible transmission problems are split propshaft centre bearings (which you can fix yourself for around £35) and leaking differentials.  If a diff is on its way out, it will whine, leak oil and there will be play in the propshaft when stationary. A replacement diff will set you back about £120.  A seized universal joint on the back of the propshaft is possible and if there's a squeal as the clutch is taken up it's likely that the spigot bearing in the flywheel needs lubrication, all 1.8s and early 1.3s used ‘Oilite’ bearings, with later 1.3 & 1.7s versions sharing a needle roller bearing. 

It's rare to find an automatic Marina or Ital, though not because they're unreliable, they were available with all Saloon, Coupe and Estate engine options in all years.  In fact the Borg Warner Type 35 transmission fitted to 1971-1978 cars is very durable; it's just that relatively few cars were equipped with it, however they do pop up for sale.  Post-1978 Marinas & Itals were equipped with the Type 65 gearbox, which is just as dependable.

STEERING & SUSPENSION

The MK I's torsion bar front suspension outline was carried over from the Minor, although contrary to popular myth no parts are directly interchangeable.  It was this set up that gave the Marina its poor handling reputation, as the design made the front wheels stay too upright when cornering, causing the car to understeer.  Marinas manufactured after late 1971 (roughly from L Reg) had revised front geometry which improved it a lot, although there is now a slight  premium for very early ‘suicide’ suspension cars, but this could be because they will be exempt from road tax .  A further redesigned suspension layout was introduced in 1975, which involved fitting anti-roll bars front and rear to Saloons and Coupes (Vans and Estates got uprated dampers and leaf springs) helping to keep the car on the road.  This then continued until 1983 when the last Itals gained telescopic front shock absorbers, doing away with the lever arm dampers.

The steering should be light and reasonably positive - if it isn't, partially seized swivel pins could be the cause. These should have been greased every 3000 miles or three months, but the chances are that they won't have been.  New swivel pins are easy to find and standard and uprated lower front swivel joints (trunnions) are available. The easiest way to check for this is to look for uneven tyre wear and a good car will have evidence of regular greasing.  If the steering feels stiff or is snatching, lubricate the trunnions first before thinking of replacing anything.

Tie rod bushes wear, leading to vibration through the steering and uneven tyre wear.  Replacement rubber bushes can rarely be bought, the best option being polyurethane ones from SuperFlex Ltd. (4 required).  A rumbling from the front suspension possibly means the tension pad spring in the top ball joint has given up, although if the joint has been over tightened trapping the ball and spring it feels the same, try slackening the securing cap by one flat of the nut and driving the car before going to the expense of replacing the ball joint.  A new ball joint fixes it (lots on EBay) and replacement is easy.

If there's a vibration through the steering, the wheel bearings are probably due for replacement - they were also used on TR7s so are readily available.  Another common problem is leaking lever arm dampers, which were fitted at the front throughout production up to 1982, so make sure these don't need to be replaced.  Caution, due to the changes in the front suspension, cars up to 1971 have different lever arm dampers to cars between 1971 and 1975 and they vary again from Mk2 cars from 1975 to 1983. 

The rear suspension is normally trouble free, the only likely problems being leaking dampers and broken anti-roll bar mounts.  Some cars show deterioration (rust) in the front bracket of the rear spring hangers, it is possible to source new brackets through the club, which can be welded in (see the section on BODYWORK above).

WHEELS & BRAKES

All models were initially fitted with 4.5J wheels, the styled TC units being increased to 5Jxl3 from 1973. It's important to check what tyres are fitted as good quality rubber is essential to get the best out of the car in terms of handling and road holding. Either 145 or 155 section tyres should be fitted, with 165/70 being the widest that will sit comfortably on the 4.5J wheels. It's also worth maintaining them with a 2psi differential between front and rear (front higher).

As previously mentioned Pre-October 1975 1.3 models were fitted with drums all round, which can lead to hair-raising experiences. Later models with discs at the front were better but Marinas were never noted for their brakes. If the car you're looking at has drum brakes at the front it's easy to convert to the disc set up of later models.

Some pre-1974 1.3 cars had no servo as standard and had automatic rear brake adjusters fitted which give problems.  Pre-February 1972 1.8s had the same problems. From these dates manual rear brake adjusters were fitted - if the car you're looking at has the automatic ones still fitted, it's easy enough to swap them over to the later manual adjusters.

TRIM

There’s not much exterior trim fitted to Marinas, and anything missing or damaged should be possible to replace via the club. The exceptions are the chrome wheel arch trims fitted to higher spec cars and bumper end caps fitted to later cars, both of which get knocked when parking.

The screen rubbers have a tendency to perish and leak, but replacements for the front are advertised by East Kent Trim.  Vinyl roofs need to be given some TLC every so often with a proprietary treatment or they crack and perish.

Tinted glass was fitted to GTs, HLs and later TCs, and it's not unknown for broken windows to be replaced with plain glass. This looks daft and it's also unnecessary because both plain and tinted windows are available second hand through the Club.

Replacement interior trim isn't available new, but most of it can be sourced second hand through the club. Mk I vinyl seats tend to crack and the top of the rear seat gets damaged by the sun, as do Mk I dashboard tops. Carpets aren't hardwearing and the situation is often made worse by water collecting in the foot wells because of a leaking windscreen seal - new carpets are available commercially.

ELECTRICS

Alternators replaced dynamos in August 1971 on 1.8-engined cars, and a year later they were standardised on 1.3s. The wiring loom on a Marina is pretty simple, the biggest problem likely to be earthing woes with the rear light units. Fuel tank sender units also fail quite readily - expect to pay £30 for a replacement, although they're not always easy to track down.

Replacement sealed beam headlamp units are available as they were used on many cars of the period.  Some cars will have been upgraded to Halogen bulbs and their separate lenses.

CONCLUSION

It’s unlikely there will ever be a Marina class at a Hurlingham or Pebble Beach concours, but you won't get into the classic car world more cheaply than buying one of these. More people are now restoring them and the club has commissioned replacement panel parts of the pieces that are most likely to have rusted out.

The normal rule with buying any car is to go for the best you can afford - in the case of the Marina that's especially so, as restoration costs will currently outstrip the value of the car once finished. And although there are still many classic car fans who turn their noses up at the Marina, you're not going to find a friendlier bunch of people than you'll meet in the Morris Marina Owners Club and Morris Ital Register.

WHAT ARE THEY LIKE TO DRIVE?

Early 1.8s are renowned for their dramatic understeer but other models are less severe. The Marina is not a dynamic rally or race car, but if well maintained it should be easy to pilot and is very usable as an everyday driver or first classic.

WILL I FIT BEHIND THE WHEEL?

There's no shortage of space in the front or the rear. The Coupe is really a two-door Saloon, so apart from less convenient access there aren't any space penalties for rear seat passengers.

WHAT BODGES SHOULD I LOOK FOR? 

  • Filler in sills, over the headlights, the front and rear wheel arches (use a weak magnet)

  • Rotten headlamp backing panels on all Marinas (ask if you can take the grille off to check them, it’s only 4 Philips screws)

  • Cover sills fitted over rotten originals (check along the bottom edge for extra layers of metal)

  • Badly plated boot floor and spare wheel well

Check the BODYWORK page for pictures of what bad can look like.

For a general checklist to use when viewing a potential car please click here.

Disclaimer: This guide is provided for information to Marina and Ital purchasers, highlighting some of the history and the most likely problems that you may encounter when buying and owning a Marina or Ital.  It is not exhaustive, commenting only on those areas that have been commonly found by previous owners.  Neither the Morris Marina Owners Club and Morris Ital Register, nor Practical Classics (TM) may be held responsible for purchases of cars made by readers of this Buyers Guide; the principle of "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware) should always apply when purchasing older vehicles.  We recommend that prospective purchasers should consider seeking knowledgeable and professional advice on the condition of a car before purchasing.


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