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Morris 1100 50 years on

Retro Morris 1100. Morris 1100s in good condition sell for between $7000 and $8000 these days.

And so it goes with the Morris 1100. Released 50 years ago at the 1962 Earls Court Motor Show in London, the 1100 (it had a 1098 cc engine) it was British Motor Corporation's (BMC) second car to feature front wheel drive and wheel-at-each-corner styling. The other was the Mini.

The 1100 boasted "float on fluid" hydrolastic suspension, which was BMC's way of ensuring we knew that they were very smart and technologically up there with the Gemini space program.

It worked by means of interconnected rubber balloons filled with a concoction of alcohol, water, an anti corrosive solution and green dye. Owners report it retains its "spring" for many years, though they say it can suffer a sudden and catastrophic bursting of a rubber diaphragm in one of the displacer units. 

This is a problem faced by many things over 50. The car went on sale in Australia early 1964 after considerable stress testing in the outback. It was an immediate success, outselling everything in its class and winning a Car of the Year award. 

During the next four years BMC Australia increased the engine size and power and added an automatic to the range. The hatchback Nomad came out in 1969 and was unique to Australia. To publicise the Nomad, BMC asked then TV personality Maggie Tabberer to develop a version for women. 

One prototype was made. It was painted a bright lime green. The interior was totally white, including the shag pile carpets. Maybe it still exists? Anyone up for a tribute car?

BMC in the UK was not one to flinch from badge-engineering, and the 1100 morphed into Austins, MGs, Rileys, Wolseley and, of all things, a Vanden Plas Princess, for those who demanded "luxury". There was also a station wagon derivative, called the Austin Countryman and Morris Traveller.

A red Countryman featured in the very funny "Gourmet Night" episode of the TV show, Fawlty Towers, in which an angry Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) shouted at it "you vicious bastard" and gave it a "damn good thrashing" after it stalled on him and refused to re-start. You can see it on You Tube.

By 1971 the design was showing its 1950s origins and confronting fierce competition from Japanese imports and, in Australia, the Torana and Cortina. It was replaced by the Morris Marina. Morris 1100s in good condition sell for between $7000 and $8000 these days.

David Burrell is the editor of www.retroautos.com.au