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 ****.
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.
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.
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.
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. )