eBay Find of the Week : Morris Ital 1.7 SLX

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

Ital

Well, when looking at this little doom blue Morris Ital 1.7 SLX for the first time, I thought “wow… that’s steep” but, after a little pondering and reminiscing about my own Ital owned well over 20 years ago, I went all warm and fuzzy.

They say that time heals old wounds and, even though my own Morris Ital (1700 estate) looked as fresh as a daisy, it virtually swallowed up all of my apprentice wages on broken half shafts, springs and other boy racer related self-inflicted battle injuries. Some AROnline readers who have been good acquaintances of mine since schooldays will remember my BT yellow estate AVV 376X – the only car I ever scrapped!

The Ital featured here is the range-topping SLX model which was, along with the lesser spec SL, pretty much a run out car. These two final Morris passenger vehicles were, in fact, produced at Longbridge thus enabling Cowley to tool up and get ready for Maestro production. Powered by the OHC O-Series engine, these Itals would trundle along with a fair rate of knots and also benefitted with a telescopic front damper upgrade which made them slightly less boat-like in the ride and handling department.

Pretty robust and very DIY friendly. The 1698cc "O" series belts along nicely and can be good on the fuel when in good tune.
Pretty robust and very DIY friendly, the 1698cc O-Series belts along nicely and can be good on the fuel when in good tune

Other SLX highlights include intermittent wipers, rev counter, two tone horns, dashboard panel dimmer and that all-important rear seat centre armrest. Mileage is an agreeable 77,000 miles and the car certainly appears to be in good order although the asking price is a bit on the optimistic side. In terms of originality it seems promising, the cigar lighter is original as is the push button MW/LW wireless – even if the latter is only good for TalkSport or something scratchy in French these days. I’ll bet my last Rolo the vendor will accept a reasonable and sensible offer.

To own? Well, they are very DIY friendly with every service aspect being a doddle to do on the driveway and the O-Series engine is pretty robust so long as the cambelt is in good order. Gearboxes are the main mechanical Achilles heel on the Ital with second gear syncromesh being as hard wearing as wet paper. That said, it’s worth considering that, at its present mileage, this car will have either had a gearbox replacement by now or be getting to the point where it may require one.

All the correct books seem to be present. Check out that original wireless and those plain and ribbed velour seats.
All the correct books seem to be present. Check out that original wireless and those plain and ribbed velour seats

This one seems to be worth a punt if the price is right – Itals tend to drive okay with plenty of bottom end grunt and can be surprisingly economical if driven right in a good state of fettle, too. Knowledgeable readers will notice some slight errors in the advert but some qualification over the telephone should put the mind at rest for those with a serious interest.

 

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

49 Comments

  1. I ran a 2.0 Automatic back in the late 80’s, I actually enjoyed owning that car. A major oil seal went eventually, along with the head gasket. I drove it around Paignton for ages with just Slick 50 in the engine and by constantly stopping to top up the water

  2. This looks like the Ital my German teacher ran in the mid eighties. For all he admired German efficiency, he always seemed to buy Morris Itals and Marinas. His reasoning, a fairly cheap family car, easy to maintain, not bad on long journeys and more reliable than people realised. In a way he summed up the Ital, an unpretentious, reasonably reliable car.

  3. Looks quite nice… more appealing than when it was in production? I was never a fan of the ITAL, though the rear lights looked better than the front grille & headlamp treatment. A much maligned car though as Mike says it did have a few good points.

  4. My Grandmother bought one of these new in 1980 replacing a series of Marina saloons and a coupe. In those days she would have changed her cars every two years for the newest model (How many can afford to do that nowadays?) Sadly it was to be her last in a long line of BL cars because she then defected to Renault and finally Hyundai in her latter motoring years. It was a “sensible” car and she would have fitted the expected customer profile perfectly.

    • “How many can afford to change their car every two years?”

      Only all those people on lease and PCP deals.

      • My neighbours when I was young had a childminder whose parents used to change their car every year.

        I guess cars held their PX value better in the late 1980s.

  5. My parents bought a new one in 1981. Most unreliable car they ever owned, and laughably uncompetitive compared with the Renault 14 it replaced. It was British though, which seemed to be important in those days.

  6. I remember a family that were friends of the family had one for a few years.

    They seemed to buy a car new then keep it for a long time, being the first people I knew to have a Mk3 Cavalier, & keeping well into the 1990s.

  7. Had an Ital 1.7 SLX in cashmere as my 1st car, took it from 43-93k. No engine trouble at all, but it ate through plugs, points and condensers- had to be changed at 5k intervals if not there was a marked deterioration in performance thereafter.
    Replaced master and slave cylinders, front trunnions (greased weekly), and gearbox rear seal otherwise was cheap reliable transport.
    Remember towing a caravan from Banbury to Cambridge on a windy day and couldn’t get out of third, calculated the thirst on that run at 17MPG! Normally averaged 28-32.

    This example that is forsale was sold by Ely Service Motor Company to an elderly local couple who used it daily around the city always perfectly clean. Often wondered what happened to it, I was delighted when I saw the advert.

    • Presume a canny dealer has snapped up the Ital from that elderly couple for a ludicrously low price, and is now hoping to make a quick buck on the ‘Bay.

  8. Article says “Worth a punt if the price is right”. What are people’s views of the realistic value of this car? It looks to be in great condition, but it’s a doom blue Ital and £3.5k is clearly an insane price. £1750-£2000 perhaps?

  9. No doubt ‘TA classics of Northampton’ may buy it then jack up the price threefold and try to sell it on

  10. As long as Top Gear don’t get hold of it – it would be a shame to see it in the path of a falling piano.

  11. I was never a fan of the frontal treatment, but I must say that on this example it looks quite tidy and of the period.

    Nice colour too, I seem to remember them as beige with vinyl roofs.

    The Minor underpinnings give a surprisingly short wheelbase compared to modern vehicles (the rear door having a visible curve for the arch, these days rear doors tend to be diagonal lines).

    The talk earlier in the thread of relatives buying these years ago, and ending up with Hyundais etc. makes me lament the lack of modern small saloons.

    What would the modern equivalent be?

    Hyundai i30? Mid range, cheap, reliable, similar customer base?

    MG 6? Straddles C/D segment, good value, based on Rover parts, put together in GB?

    Skoda Octavia? Similar to MG6, based off a small chassis (the mk1 Octavia had similar wheelbase proportions to the Ital as it was built on the smaller Golf).

    BMW 316d? RWD, built for fleets, lazily facelifted from the previous gen?

  12. Am a big fan of all Austin Morris / Austin Rover stuff. Did my parts apprenticeship with Wadham Stringers in the 80,s & had a role of Marina Mk1 & 3 & finally a 1984 “A” 1.3 Ital SLX followed shortly by a very late 1984 “B” reg Ital 1.7 SL Estate, loved them all. My parents were into them to having 5 Marina Mk1 & 2 Itals. The good old days of simple to maintain cheap motoring sadly now gone. Still have BL running through my veins as i now own a Triumph Stag, can’t change old allegiances hey.

  13. In August 1982 I took delivery of my new Triumph Acclaim HL(Yreg) having traded in after 3 years my 1979 Marina 1700L,what a revelation!! It was like coming out of the dark ages and seeing the light,the Acclaim was a great car in every respect and amazingly it was being produced by the same business that was still producing the Marina/Ital(they were the same vehicle).You were really being cheated by then if your hard earned cash was being spent on a new Ital.
    We know the reason why the Acclaim was so good and light years above the Ital,however we should not now be misty eyed over the latter although I did value the performance and driving experience provided by the O series engine as it was so much better than the A/B series that had gone before.
    I note that this Ital is described as 1981 however it’s registration places it somewhere between August 1983 and July 1984(but when was it actually produced)

    • “…..still producing the Marina/Ital(they were the same vehicle”

      You would be amazed at how different they really are. What was supposed to be a minor facelift ended up being a significant (and expensive) project. Even the fuel tank was revised. Added to which, ITAL made a complete mess of the body. We ended up correcting pretty much every drawing they made.

      • IIRC the Ambassador had a lot more changes compared to the Princess, considering it was supposed to just be a hatchback conversion & facelift.

    • What was the price difference between the Acclaim and Ital back then? Assume a 1.3 Ital was *much* cheaper than a 1.3 Acclaim.

  14. Looking at the photo of the Ital reminds me of an era when most family cars were four door saloons, a type of car that has almost vanished now in favour of hatchbacks and people carriers. The Ital is a reminder of a bygone age, when only farmers used four wheel drives, a people carrier meant cram as many people as possible onto the back seat( or in the boot if the car was an estate), diesels were for taxis and a crossover would mean nothing.

    • The word crossover may not have existed in the early ’80s, but really they’re just taller versions of the excellent Sierra 4×4 estate.

      Back in 80s, 4x4s were becoming more and more refined for road use, and certainly not driven by “only farmers”. As well as the Matra Rancho, there were small 4×4 estates like the Honda Civic Shuttle and Toyota Tercel and bigger 4x4s like the Mitsubishi Shogun (1982) and Isuzu Trooper (1981), which were the start of the long evolutionary journey to the crossovers we have today.

      I’m on my second Honda CRV, and it’s a great car for carrying young children and their accompanying junk. I don’t imagine I’ll go back to a saloon or estate until my kids have grown up. The CRV is one of the oldest crossovers and can trace its ancestry back to the 4WD Civic Shuttle.

      • Feels like we’re not far away from a “Kids today don’t know they’re born – we had to squeeze two adults, four kids and an Irish Wolfhound into an Allegro” anecdote…

  15. Between them my parents had 7 Morris Marinas & 1 Morris Ital – All with the 1.3 litre engines. I never liked the Ital as much as the Marinas.
    I can still remember clearly that horrible smell of hot vinyl seats on a warm day, which I swear induced my car sickness as a child & the signature silver plastic inserts to the window winders.
    I still have a fondness for these cars & hope that someone saves this increasingly rare bird!

  16. My first car back in 1997 paid £350 for it. Exact colour though mine was a 1.3HL with Goldseal engine. I was 17 at the time and I wasn’t the only Ital owner at school! There was another guy who had a Beige HLS his looked so much better than mine which had double go faster stripes down the side. I had it 3 months before chopping it for an Allegro 2 1.3 a much better car IMHO.

  17. started driving early 80s,marina coupe 1.3,great engine,good on fuel too..bit rough round the edges but still a good honest banger. after that I tried maxis ,allegro,even ambassadors ,2 ! .ended up aroud 1992 with an ital ,B128 YHS,rusty wings ,sagging rear end ,it had telescopic front shocks,I allways greased the trunnions ,propshaft joint and changed axle ,gearbox oil,and engine oil every 3000 mls ,covered 124k ,then had to scrap it due to corrosion.the car cost next to nothing to buy,still miss it.

  18. There was one classic design flaw on he car which no-one as mentioned.

    not being able to see the radio station from the drivers seat. Whose barmy idea was it to angle the radio away from the driver?

    • I can remember the Marina/Ital being much criticised for the centre console sloping away from the driver. As I remember though, the switches etc were positioned in a more ‘straight ahead’ position. Was the idea, then, so daft? You can see the thinking – more space, more convenience for the front passenger.

      Overall? A great piece of nostalgia – “Styled in Italy, built in Britain”. In the words of Company Car magazine “With this car, BL are a force” … and before any sarcastic remarks, they did say force and not farce!!

      • You could not see the radio dial from the driver’s seat. It was a damn nuisance, especially with hire cars. After all, who spends the most time in the car? Driver or Passenger?

        That one piece of design told me that BL had completely lost the plot.

  19. @ Tony, the positioning of the radio wouldn’t be much of a problem if you only listened to Radio 4, available everywhere on 1500 m LW then( still is), or Radio 3 on 247 m MW then, but for Radios 1 and 2, where wavelengths differed across the country, it could be a tricky manoeuvre to change the radio.

    • Chris Moyles used to dig out some old Radio 1 jingles for the Golden Hour, a friday morning 9am segment when songs from a year (usually in the 1990s) were played.

  20. Hope that goes to a good home- looks in good nick. Also shows that Roy Haynes knew what he was doing as far as the styling goes- its still quite a handsome car from most angles, and the Ital refresh did it no harm.

    Odd that they got rid of the original Marina doorhandles only to fit them onto the much more upmarket Range Rover and Discovery…

    • It isn’t a bad looking car from the side, or rear 3/4s.

      From the front, the huge 70s/80s euro lights do it no favours at all, if the front of a car is a face, these were milkbottle specs.

  21. This car was very well known in Argentina also and it has a story back . There were about 2000 units at the Buenos Aires`harbour waiting for the Custom`s check ins it was
    ca March 1982 . Nobody had neither in dreams that it`d be coming the unlucky war for the Falklands which started 2th April 1982 . One of the many weird decisions of the dictatorship govern was to forbid the import of British vehicles . But it didn`t interested only to the Morris Itals & Wagons, but all cars from Europe were forbidden to be imported . Until 1989 were liberated those absurd laws made by the military govern.
    And guess what ? All those Morris Itals at the custom ( two thousands units ) were sold at the best bidder completely oxyded and the upholstery full of holes since they were kept at the open during 7 continuous years , a sad luck that also happened to other European imports .

  22. I used to work at an Austin Rover dealer as car valet between 1982 91. I used to love valeting new Itals as they had the most wounderfull new car smell I have ever experienced after33 years in the motor industry. Check out the advert for the Ital on u tube. ” Overtakes faster than the Mercedes 200 ” That one

  23. @ Darren Smith, only the 2 litre did, but surprisingly little is heard of this version, which I reckon was a real Q car in its day, the Princess engine in an Ital’s body must have given this version quite a lot of go and scaring 2 litre Cortina owners who thought they were seeing off a 1.3 litre Ital. 1.7 also is bigger than the Cortina 1.6 and with the slightly smaller body no doubt would have acquitted itself well on the motorway.

  24. You could buy an Ital 1.3 SL for £ 3995 in 1982, about £ 12,000 in today’s money. It was about a grand cheaper than its basic model rivals from Ford and Vauxhall and £600 cheaper than the Acclaim L. However, for all the Ital was outclassed by its rivals, the 1.3 engine could cope quite well on long journeys( its body was lighter than a Cortina) and easily return 40 mpg on a run.

    • I remember people sometimes said, ”..can you afford a Ford..” BL’s one good point was their fuel economy which kept a few of them sold as new cars in the early-mid 1980’s.

      MK1-2 Escorts mean’t 25mpg max. Cortinas gave 20mpg+camshaft failure. The BMC/BL A-series probably kept BL going to a greater degree than people may think.
      However many other people also said the Ital was even worse than the Marina regarding rust.
      I recall my Father being told not to touch an Ital by a mechanic at the time and I caused a hole in the front wing of the beige Ital being looked at just by pressing down on it! The Ital looked clean but they seemed to be stealthy rusters.

      I liked the Ital as a kid because they had good seats compared to my Fathers Marina. If it was me as an adult during the era I’d have been looking for a Series 6 1600cc 3.7:1 diff’d Avenger. No trunnions and just better handling with much less transmission trouble. The 1.3 Marina and Ital were the best on fuel of all the RWD ohv made in the UK cars of the time, no doubt about that.

  25. It always makes me smile when people get misty-eyed over these sort of cars. I have to admit that I’m one of them but let’s be honest here, they were utterly uncool at the time, based on ancient underpinnings and built by workers who couldn’t care less.

    Sometimes a dose of reality does you good. If you actually drove this car today, I bet most people would be glad to hand the keys back afterwards. As an example of my own experience, I’d always wanted a Riley 1·5 since I was a child and finally got to buy one about 5 years ago. It was without a shadow of a doubt, the worst car I Have ever owned. It rusted everywhere, was totally unreliable and I ended up rebuilding the brakes, suspension, clutch system chassis rails etc. It still keeps me awake at night occasionally but the best bit was taking it to my MOT man after I’d first bought it. He is a 70 year old straight talker. He looked the car over, turned to me and spoke the immortal words: “Well to be fair they were rubbish when they were new!”.

    Ironically the Riley like the Ital shared the Morris Minors underpinnings so is in many ways a similar car. My MOT man would likely offer a similar dose of reality should I ever present him with an Ital

    • But yet, the Ital kept the company going long enough to get the Honda deals in place. And don’t forget, after the huge waste of resource (and money) on SD1, it was about all that could be done with the floor-sweepings we had left. Make no mistake, without the Ital the company may not have made it past the early 80’s.

  26. I went from a Dolomite 1850HL to a Acclaim HLS and whilst I did miss the lovely wood dash and chrome ringed SMITHS dials (and the sporty twin headlamps) The Acclaim’s engineering was in another league completely (albeit rather more compromised in terms of interior space as I recall).

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