Why you’d want a Morris Marina & Ital
The much-anticipated first all-new product of British Leyland, developed in under three years, was launched with the rather arrogant slogan: ‘What happens when the best engineers in the world set out to create a beautiful car? The new Morris Marina – beauty with brains behind it.’
Motor complimented the high torsional stiffness and low weight of both the saloon and Coupé shells, designed by Roy Haynes, and tactfully commented: ‘Both are attractive in their way…’
Following BMC’s pioneering transverse front-drive layouts of the ’60s, rear-wheel drive and an in-line engine, like its saloons of the ’50s, seemed retrograde.
However, like the brilliant-value rear-drive Ford Escort, it was popular with fleet buyers, where durability and low maintenance costs counted – and the bigger boot was appreciated, too.
Improved engine mounts and sound insulation allowed the perky A-series and torquey B-series to hide their age and offer range-leading pace and economy in 1971.
Emissions were improved with a new ‘swing-needle’ SU carb and a heated inlet manifold.
A new all-synchro, Triumph-derived gearbox was built in a freshly minted £7m factory at Longbridge, and an automatic was offered on all models; a two-piece propshaft with centre mounting helped create a smooth transmission.
The leaf-sprung live-axle rear end (shared with Triumph’s Toledo) was light, with angled-in telescopic dampers. The wiper column stalk, incorporating a ‘flick-wipe’, was an advanced feature, while blended hot/cold air temperature control was a welcome improvement.
Given that £45m was invested in design, development and tooling, it was disappointing that Morris Minor front suspension was used – but it was a well-tried system and was given uprated lower trunnions, balljoints at the top and extra rubber mountings. Axle tramp on hard acceleration was one of the few criticisms; wind and engine noise were commendably low, and the cars were spacious and comfortable.
There were vans and pick-ups through to the Ital days, and a final suspension update in late 1982 made the last Itals desirable.
Marinas were also built in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa with E-series 1500/1750 engines and even the 2600 ‘six’. Press criticism mounted over the 13 years of production, but as a classic buy these increasingly rare BL cars have much to offer.
Images: James Mann
Morris Marina & Ital: what to look for
See above for what to check when looking at Morris Marina and Morris Ital cars for sale.
The TC has a unique ‘between the carbs’ air filter; otherwise the engine is similar to that of an MGB.
A-series motors were used throughout production, going A+ for the Ital; B-series were replaced in 1978 by the overhead-cam O-series.
All are simple, honest units that show wear with oil breathing, smoke, rattles and knocks.
The front suspension was effective and steering should be precise and light; if heavy, the trunnions may just need greasing.
All parts can be found.
Rust is the biggest enemy, rear spring hangers being a safety-critical area where corrosion lurks on these classic Morris cars.
Check all the rot spots and assess any past repairs.
Derived from a Triumph unit, the manual gearbox was effective; check for weak synchros and layshaft noise.
The Borg-Warner autos are readily rebuilt.
The vinyl seats are prone to split, later velour/cloth to wear; used trim was plentiful, but few cars are broken now so finding missing bits can be hard.
Morris Marina & Ital: before you buy
All Marina/Ital engines are simple, robust and relatively cheap to renovate.
Well-maintained units will happily exceed 100,000 miles without a rebuild, although with past neglect the time for work comes earlier
Both the A- and B-series need lead-replacement additive or hardened valve seats; not so the O-series.
The A-series was significantly smoother and more economical than the B-series, with the added advantage of less weight over the front wheels giving better balanced handling.
The B-series was showing its age, noisy and prone to booming, although more thorough soundproofing can help.
The O-series gave impressive performance and economy, but still lacked refinement; soundproofing improved matters when the Ital came along.
The overhead-cam O-series belt needs replacing every 48,000 miles or, ideally, every four years; check for signs of head gasket weakness (emulsion in oil or water; overheating).
Engine swaps are common so check the spec; some may have desirable tuning mods, but many will just have been swapped for whatever was available when the cars were almost worthless.
Trunnion greasing every 6000 miles was old-fashioned in the 1970s, but is no problem to today’s classic owner.
Replacement lever-arm dampers can be hard to find. Suspension tweaks for 1975, called for by motoring journalists, improved the handling but were criticised for making the ride harsh.
BL continued to respond with progressive changes, culminating in telescopic front dampers on the last Itals.
Morris Marina & Ital price guide
1.3 4dr-TC Coupé
- Show/rebuilt: £6-10,000*
- Average: £2-4500*
- Restoration: £300-2000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Morris Marina & Ital history
1971 Apr Launch: 1.3, 60bhp, 2/4-door deluxe/Super; 1.8, 82.5bhp, 2/4-door deluxe/ Super; 1.8 TC, 94.5bhp, 105lb ft, 2/4-door
1971 Aug Revised front suspension to reduce understeer; 1.8s get alternator
1972 Nov Estate added (1.8 only); handling aided by fatter torsion bars; all get alternator
1975 Oct Mk2 facelift, revised trim, anti-roll bars f/r; 1.8 Special (vinyl roof, nylon seats, headrests); HL (4dr) and GT (2dr) replace TC
1977 Export-only 1489cc diesel (3870 built)
1978 Oct 1.7 O-series replaces 1.8 B-series; dual-circuit brakes, new bumpers/lights, no quarterlights; HL gets velour, intermittent wipe
1980 Jul Ital replaces Marina: Harris Mann facelift, no 2dr, 61bhp A+ 1300 introduced
1980 Oct 2.0 HLS saloon/estate: auto only
1981 Nov HL/HLS trim upgrade
1982 Sept L/2.0 dropped, HL/HLS renamed SL/SLX: telescopics, parabolic rear springs
1984 Ital production ends
The owner’s view
Mike Bristowe grew up with his dad’s 1972 Marina TC Coupé and inherited it when he was only 19.
“He was one of the first members of the Marina Owners’ Club,” recalls Bristowe.
“He’d had two as everyday cars and bought the TC two years before I was born, as a low-mileage classic – people laughed at him in 1991 for preserving a Marina.
“Mum found the car for sale in Auto Trader. Dad had one front wing replaced and gave it a respray from the waist down when he bought the car, but otherwise it’s completely as it left the factory.
“It’s one of very few original TCs left – I think there’s only one other in Black Tulip with red interior, and it’s only done 52,000 miles.
“I would never sell it – it’s part of the family. We were very honoured to win Car of the Show at the 50th Birthday National in 2021, and best Mk1.”
Sharp looks and handling made the Mirafiori feel sporty; pushrod engines were slower than the B/O-series but twin-cams from 1978 flew. Rot-prone two/four-door saloons and estates, now rare.
Sold 1974-’84 • No. built 1,850,500 • Price now £2500-15,000*
FORD ESCORT MK1/2
Slightly smaller than the Marina but with an even wider range of models, the Escort forged ahead in the 1970s through value for money and greater refinement. Expensive to restore.
Sold 1967-’80 • No. built 2m+ • Price now £3500-25,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Morris Marina & Ital: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
An English anachronism that is much more appreciated today than when it was new, the Marina/Ital series now represents an attractive classic buy – provided you can find one that has been well cared for.
They are surprisingly rare – some models survive in tiny numbers – so prices for good examples are rising.
Look closely at the current condition of any prospective purchase, its known history and the quality of any previous repairs; check the specification and modifications carefully.
- Most parts are cheap and readily available
- The running gear is straightforward
- The cars have a charm and character all their own that elicits smiles and favourable comments today
- Some bits are unobtainable
- Prices have been rock-bottom for years
- Most survivors have had a chequered life that can be costly to rectify
Morris Marina & Ital specifications
- Sold/number built 1971-’84/c1,165,000 Marina, 175,276 Ital
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine all-iron, ohv 1275/1798cc ‘four’ with single/twin SU carbs, or iron-block/alloy head ohc 1698/1993cc ‘four’ with single SU
- Max power 60bhp @ 5250rpm to 94.5bhp @ 5500rpm
- Max torque 69lb ft @ 2500rpm to 114lb ft @ 3250rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual or three-speed Borg-Warner 35/65 auto, RWD
- Suspension: front independent, by torsion bars, transverse links, tie-rods, lever-arm dampers (telescopic from ’82) rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bars f/r added 1975
- Steering rack and pinion
- Brakes drums or discs front, drums rear (1.8, then all from October ’75), with servo on TC
- Length 13ft 7-11½in (4140-4255mm)
- Width 5ft 4½in (1638mm)
- Height 4ft 7-7½in (1397-1410mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft (2438mm)
- Weight 1870-2229lb (850-1013kg)
- 0-60mph 16.8-11.4 secs
- Top speed 86-100mph
- Mpg 21-37
- Price new £1616-2127 (1.3-1.8 TC, 1975)