The Manningtree Revival: Morris Ital

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The noble art of bullying was well studied in secondary schools across Britain in the ’80s. There was an established hierarchy; the sportsmen and attractive, cool kids would pick on the un-coordinatated, plain, quiet ones, the footballers would pick on the cricketers, the Chess club would pick on the Scrabble club and the music students would pick on the photography guys.

But there was a special slot reserved at the bottom of the pile for the poor schmucks who’s parents drove a Morris Ital. Now, I was bookish and grossly mal-proportioned and as such an obvious target to be picked on. Fortunately, my Dad drove a Ford Sierra. I owe him one.


British Leyland in the 1970s was, as has been well documented on the ‘verse and beyond, a really wierd and silly organisation. They were prone to coming up with really fantastic ideas and then executing them hilariously badly. They were often reliant on stagnant, embarrassing technology, and they all to often acted as their own worst enemy. Just think; in 1976, the British Leyland Portfolio had, at its top end, the elegant and svelte XJ6, the new, forward thinking XJS and the Ferrari-cribbing SD1. Then, in the same brochure, you had the squat, hunchbacked Maxi, the accountancy-ruined Allegro and, worst of all, the Morris Marina.

Having cars as disparate as the XJS and the Marina in the same range was, to use a Hip-Hop analogy (because I’m THAT cool) like having Biggie Smalls and Scatman Joe on the same label. Mind you, had the Scatman been signed to Death Row, ‘dem muddaf*****s would have had a new ***** to ****.

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The Marina, by 1980, had been finally declared as too old, arthritic and terrible to keep on selling. So, British Leyland, who were gradually becoming Austin Rover at the time, eventually made the decision to replace it with THE SAME CAR.  Great! All they did was a slight restyling job. Giugiaro’s ItalDesign were approached and employed for this task, and then suddenly, in a fit of panic, realised what a disastrous error of judgement that decision had been, and ran away leaving Morris to do the job themselves. They employed Harris Mann (my hero). The results were, er. Yes.

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This particular example, in the proud hue of Champagne (means beige) was the Top Dog, king of the castle 2.0HLS, of which very few examples remain. The engine underneath that provocatively sculpted bonnet is the “O-Series” motor that later developed into the T16 found in so many 800 Vitesses, where it provided fiercely wheelspinning performance and was A Good Thing. If it wasn’t for the drivetrain differences the task of putting a T16 into an Ital would be quite high on my priorities list; although the joys of this plan are quite nicely counterweighted by the prospect of ending up driving a rehashed Marina.

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Hats off to the Gent who has clearly gone out of his way, and probably his mind, to keep this Ital in such good shape; an entirely futile exercise; a folly of epic, prize-winning proportions. Preserving such a car for prosperity is akin to owning a perfectly looked after Hanson CD (well, it’s not as if it would have ever been played…), or an intact, never opened 1978 box of Kelloggs Shite-Flakes.

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To conclude, although there is a concealed and subtle snarky subtext to this article, those people who dedicate their lives to maintaining these footnotes in motoring history, these bumps in the rocky road of automotive evolution, should be warmly congratulated and heartily encouraged. But probably never engaged in conversation.

(Disclaimer: This is a secret, between you and me: I really like this car. )

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31 responses to “The Manningtree Revival: Morris Ital”

  1. Devin Avatar

    I like how the radio is positioned to be really difficult for the driver to operate.

  2. Number_Six Avatar

    Add this to the list of cars that should never have been offered with a manual transmission. It's not safe to ask the driver to select the correct gear whilst wearing a paper sack and fighting off the nausea that crops up during piano-avoidance maneuvres.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Incidentally, Clarksons show is actually going to feature only beige or beigeish cars. They're renaming it "Taupe Gear"

  3. mdharrell Avatar

    "But probably never engaged in conversation."
    I'm… at a loss for words.

    1. Alff Avatar

      Not to worry. It's not as if anyone is going to engage you in conversation.

        1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

          I heard that…

        2. Irishzombieman☆ Avatar
        3. Alff Avatar

          You've stated our collective case in defense of manual transmissions quite well.

      1. jeepjeff Avatar

        Yep, he only has to fear us nobodies.

  4. nanoop Avatar

    Something to give a counterpoint to Drop Gear's piano suite: The Marina was not very good, true, but they sold 800.000 of them in about 10 years, so at that price point, it was somewhat competetive to GM/Opel, Ford and VW products of that era. And while the engineering/business was desastrous, especially in that peculiar combination, British Leyland suffered also from their employees' motivation, to put it like that.
    That said, most pianos endure bad maintenence much better than Marinas.

    1. Devin Avatar

      However, according to How Many Left there are about 267 of those 800,000 Marinas left on the road, counting up all the different variations and whatever and adding them all up. There are way more Ford Cortina variations, but there are still over 2,000 of those left total. There are also at least twice as many Vauxhall Victors out there. Though, it must be said, the Austin Allegro did worse, there are under 200 of those left, and it did beat the Hillman Avenger, which has a smidge over 200 remaining.
      Also, holy moly, what happened to the Vauxhall Cavalier in the past 10 years? 155,000 Cavalier Ls registered in 2001, 429 registered today.
      The lengths I go to in order to avoid doing my job.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        Aside from car buyers usually not caring about more than 5 years in the future: man, my employer hates you already now for bringing up that page! Wish that would exist in more countries to that detail. Thanks!

        1. Devin Avatar

          If only there was a How Many Left for Canada, there are so many things I'm curious about in my own country.

          1. Irishzombieman☆ Avatar

            I long for an American version. Badly.

        2. nanoop Avatar

          It's my lunch break, so I've been playing around on that page – as a hoon interested in rare and obscure cars I must say: many of once profane cars are getting pretty exclusive – the few still running in mint conditions are surely kept alive by love, not an investment plan.
          I always thought that the bread-and-butter cars had their clubs and surely will survive, but as it seems, the enthusiasm dies with the first-hand owners, sad. Hat tip to those keeping it up, instead of just buying a "mundane" E-Type, or even an "ubiquitous" MG B GT! (just examples of "collectable" cars existing in thousands, I like them both).

      2. Jay_Ramey Avatar

        About the Cavalier: that's kinda crazy.
        Most surprising thing I've heard today.

        1. dead_elvis Avatar

          If only we were that close to being rid of the remaining Chevy Cavaliers…

          1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

            Yeah, for some reason those are still buzzing along. Must be the 1970s technology in them, making them hard to ruin.

            1. Devin Avatar

              They did sell about 8 billion of the things, but they're slowly dying out.
              Now the last-gen Grand Am, that's surprisingly cockroach-esque. I think I see fewer Cavaliers and Sunfires every day, but the Grand Am is almost more common. And it's not like they're well taken care of, since people do a lot of stupid things with them.

        2. nanoop Avatar

          "Cavalier – The Marina of the 90ies", quite a slogan. So what's the current Marina ?

          1. Devin Avatar

            I think the Toyota Corolla was until very recently, actually. Very conventional platform, no particularly modern equipment, driving experience best described as a mild fart, sold surprisingly well.
            But the new one might be better. Nissan Versa sedan maybe?

  5. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

    "…eventually made the decision to replace it with THE SAME CAR."
    This is the sort of writing I come to Chris's posts for.

  6. Irishzombieman☆ Avatar

    Damn, that was funny. Thanks, Chris.

  7. longrooffan Avatar

    Another excellent article fine sir. I feel this way about a Chevette or Pinto. Possibly even a Rambler American.
    As a side note, constantly keeping my eye out for an errant cloth Road Work Ahead sign suitable for snail mail to you.

  8. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Not a bad design at all. No, it doesn't make you salivate, but it also doesn't make you want to put your eyes out. And it was a step forward from the Marina look. Not that it helped. Thinking about that, makes me recall the Rover 2000TC fondly.

  9. schigleymischke Avatar

    "The results were, er. Yes."
    I'm gonna use that.
    But, how do band geeks outrank camera geeks?

    1. jeepjeff Avatar

      You were a school newspaper photographer, weren't you?

  10. fede6882 Avatar

    I took this picture three days ago, to send for a v.i.s.i.t. post.
    <img src="https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/0ahYg8n0AWtsQtL1NWb2JHB4uBzRTVovAOLq2GfZOZo=w684-h672-no&quot; width=500>
    didn't knew what it was (aside from the name). now that I know, it feels a little bit special.

  11. Rover1 Avatar

    Curiously missing from the Ital design website, like they're not proud of it, or something.

  12. Daispy Avatar

    A friend of mine had a 80's Morris Ital and his worst moment was when the electrics completely failed. At 70 miles an hour on the M11. At night. On an unlit section.
    The only positive thing I can say about the Ital is that at least the windscreen didn't leak like the one on the Marina was notorious for. Another friend inherited a '72 Marina as his first car in 1988. When it rained it required a copilot to constantly wring out the chammy sponges he would keep at either corner of the dashboard, or else we ran the risk of drowning in the car. This despite enough silicone sealant added to the rubber seal on the windscreen to waterproof a tank for an amphibious assault.

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