Morris Minor Million reaches 50…

The millionth Minor rolls off the line at Cowley on 4 January 1961
The millionth Minor rolls off the line at Cowley on the 4th January, 1961

The British Automotive Industry reached a hugely important landmark on the 4th January, 1961. That day was earmarked for the launch of a limited edition Morris Minor aptly named the ‘Morris Minor 1,000,000’, by the British Motor Corporation Ltd. The occasion was the production of a million vehicles of the same basic design. This was a remarkable feat and one which, up to that point in time, had not been equalled by any other British motor manufacturer.

The accompanying publicity gave an indication of the magnitude of this achievement: “‘The production of 1,000,000 vehicles of a common design is a feat never before achieved by British Industry, the magnitude of which can be exemplified by saying that if all the units which have left the production lines at Cowley were spaced at intervals of 407 yards 11½ inches, the first would rest in Oxfordshire and the millionth would have its wheels on the moon.”

The Morris Minor, designed by Alec Issigonis had burst upon the scene in 1948 and proved to be an instant hit with motorists at home and abroad. In a twelve year period, during which there had been updates and upgrades, sales expanded beyond all expectations until the magical one million figure was reached.

In order to celebrate reaching the historic land mark of one million sales of the Morris Minor worldwide the BMC Publicity Department decided that the actual 1,000,000th car should be used in a special way. To do this the assistance of the press was enlisted in a somewhat novel way.  At a specially convened Press Party held at Grosvenor House in London on the 3rd January, 1961, Mr J.R. Woodcock, the Deputy Chairman of the Nuffield Organisation, who was  accompanied by Alec Issigonis, handed over the Millionth car to the Chairman of the National Union of Journalists, Mr. Magnus Williamson. The intention was that the car would be used in some way to support the Union’s Benevolent Fund.

In the event, a special competition called the One in A Million Contest was organised in the National Press. Proceeds from the competition entries were earmarked for use to support the National Union of Journalists Widow and Orphan Fund. The competition was hastily arranged under the auspices of the Lavenham Press and followed a simple but effective format.

The actual Millionth car survives and has recently undergone a full restoration. It remains in private ownership.

[Editor’s Note: Any AROnline readers with a spare half-hour over the Christmas Weekend might enjoy listening to a programme by Martin Wainwright called Merry Christmas Morris Minor! which marks the Morris Minor Million’s 50th Anniversary. The programme was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11.00am this morning but can be re-played on BBC iPlayer via the link above for the next seven days.]

Keith Adams


  1. “The magnitude of which can be exemplified by saying that if all the units which have left the production lines at Cowley were spaced at intervals of 407 yards 11½ inches, the first would rest in Oxfordshire and the millionth would have its wheels on the moon.”

    That is one of the feeblest stats I’ve ever seen – presumably all the Austin 3-Litres would also stretch to the moon, if you picked a different interval space!

  2. There was a limited edition of Morris Millions, which supposedly sold slowly because of their light maroon paint being unpopular. One or two remaining ones were repainted by Dealers to make them more attractive.

  3. Were the Morris Minor Millions the lilac-coloured ones or was that something different?

    Yes, I thought the same about the 407 yard thing! I mean if it was 100 yards then it would sound OK, but such a random number makes it laughable and makes you realise how badly run BMC was. I mean they actually paid people to spend time working that out!? Surely they could have got a map out and worked out how long they would stretch bumper to bumper?

  4. Yep, I have just done some research and all Morris Minor Millions were lilac – 350 limited edition models were produced. Actually, lilac was quite a special colour for a car of the time – it would have stood out well on the 1960s street!

    Any AROnline readers wanting more information can visit the Official Minor Million website.

  5. I know it was the most random, unbelievably bizarre distance, but is that not roughly a quarter mile? Maybe they got the office nerd to write the blurb!!!

  6. Actually, if you stack them on top of each other you, would only reach the International Space Station but because of the Minor’s bulbous roof line they would probably topple over if the wind got up! (I started the Christmas Sherry early tonight…)

  7. I knew it was some colour at the red end of the spectrum.

    One of the Miller’s Collectors’ Cars books features a Minor Million which was re-painted blue by a Dealer.

  8. A legendary car… My brother got a job that entailed having his own transport in 1969 so he bought a cheap, black Minor (which only cost about £45). It was reliable enough but suffered a minor collision and was eventually collected for scrapping by the Council.

    It’s good to see the survivors of this model as they are some of the few links with BMC which we have left.

  9. Am I right in thinking that the Morris Minor Million was the first mass-produced car to be sold/marketed as a limited edition or is that just a myth?

    A neighbour had a Million back when I was a kid in the early 1970s – it was in lilac and came complete with that distinctive Minor parping exhaust note. The colour sticks in my mind as just being truly awful and reminds me of the similar colour that BL insisted on daubing on XJ6s in the early 1970s.

    ‘Andrew P’ suggests that the Minor Million was originally meant to be silver, which would have looked good on a Minor, but that metallic paint technology in the 1960s was a bit hit and miss. Ford had trouble with silver Capri/Escorts so, perhaps, there was a element of truth in that story.

    I remember seeing a Minor Traveller resprayed in silver at a show a few years ago and it looked pretty good.

  10. @Simon Woodward
    Yes, I suspect you might be right about the Morris Minor Million being the first mass-produced car to be marketed as a limited edition. However, the Official Minor Million website merely says that limited editions are a common event now but were a rarity in the 1960s.

    I was a car-obsessed child in the 1950s and 1960s and do not recall there being any other limited editions of mass-produced models prior to the Morris Minor Million. Mind you, I am always open to correction on that…

  11. @Clive Goldthorp
    I was struggling to think of limited edition cars from the 1950s and 1960s.

    However, although they were not strictly limited editions, how about the ‘Heinz 57’ competition cars from that period? I think those were Mini-based Wolseley/Riley convertible conversions and fifty seven were given away as prizes buy Heinz.

    Car advertising artwork from that period really interests me. I think there was a little bit more artistic license in those pre-PC day. Cars in those pictures always looked a little bit sexier than in real life. My favourite from that period is the Jaguar 420G, which always looks even wider and lower than usual.

    Mind you, some of the adverts from the 1920 and 1930s Art Deco period are just works of art, especially the continental stuff from the likes Alfa Romeo and Lancia. I have started to download a small collection which I will share on AROnline’s Facebook page soon.

  12. They were Wolseley Hornets – I think the “Heinz Hornets” came with a picnic set and a built-in cool box in the rear pocket.

    They weren’t really limited editions though – they were coachbuilt for Heinz (I think by Crayford). There was nothing to stop you going along to Crayford at the time and having your own done – much like the Radford Minis.

  13. I have just found this thread entitled Wolseley Hornet Heinz 57 on The Wolseley Forum – you will find more information about the “Heinz Hornets” in the first post.

    Interestingly, H.J.Heinz Limited apparently copyrighted the design so that would have precluded Crayford Engineering from building further versions for other customers. However, as Dennis recalls, the specification did include built-in insulated food cabinets and a Brexton picnic hamper!

    You can view two photographs of a pristine example via this link to Flickr and another one of a very sad looking little specimen here

  14. I wonder whether, if you ordered a Riley Elf in a different colour with a fridge, it would then be sufficiently different not to infringe copyright?

    I know Crayford did soft top conversions on various BMC cars.

  15. I remember the only Morris Minor Million to be exported to Denmark – it belonged to the wife of the MD of the Danish importer, DOMI, for a number of years.

    I thought the colour was very bizzare, but suppose that, for a lady, it was all right with the white seats. The “Minor Million” badges looked a bit funny though.

    The Minor sold very well in Denmark right to the end of production.


  16. I’ve put some more thought into this and, when you think about it, the colour trends in the early 1960s would have steered BMC towards either pastels like pale blue or deep, austere colours like battleship grey, so lilac makes sense.

  17. The Minor Million was well before even my lifetime involvement in BMC/BL etc, but I did hear that, in the 1950s, decisions on things like colours could be very arbitrary, based as often as not on what the Chairman’s wife preferred.

    Don’t forget that Issigonis, by this time a powerful man in BMC, had stated on many occasions that “Market Research was bunk”, so no-one was likely to be allowed to do any professional analysis into what might sell best. Issigonis might even have asked his mother! A scenario like that could well account for such a ‘feminine’ colour scheme as Lilac with white trim.

    I lived in Wolverhampton in the 1960s and the local Morris Dealer, Bradburn & Wedge, had a Minor Million, fitted with every possible option and accessory, as a permanent part of their showroom display. It had belonged to the deceased wife of either Mr Bradburn or Mr Wedge (I don’t know which) and it was definitely not for sale in those days. It would have been quite a catch whenever it was sold.

  18. Just on EBay now, search MORRIS MOTORS COWLEY STAFF ONLY BOOK 1,000,000th MORRIS MINOR 1960 ** SUPER RARE

  19. My Father had a 1948 lowlight in green, he let me have a go at grinding in the valves with a stick and rubber cup tool, the Minor succumbed to the usual rust by around 1963 I think the registration was HWW 851 or HWV 851

  20. If you were to place three Morris Minors at intervals of 80,000 miles, then the first would be in Oxfordshire and the third would have its wheels on the moon.

  21. Though a Morris Minor featuring transverse FWD and an end-on gearbox was developed in the early-1950s and later played a role in the development of the Issigonis FWD Trio, would BMC have been better off developing cheaper FWD replacements for the Minor and Farina B with what can only be described as an earlier FWD Marina approach for the alternate Minor-derived analogues of ADO16 and ADO17?

    Such a layout would have preceded the Dante Giacosa designed Autobianchi Primula by a number of years and like the latter, would have featured transverse FWD, end-on gearbox and conventional suspension. The Morris Minor derived base would have potentially saved on costs compared to the in-sump gearbox and Alex Moulton suspension on BMC’s FWD Trio, yet still have been relatively competitive in the 1960s compared to the real-life RWD Marina in the 1970s.

    As for the Morris Minor itself, it was a remarkable car that could have gone much further had it not been sabotaged during development by William Morris or neglected from further development by its designer who was more focused on creating new clean-sheet designs then improving existing ones (appearing to stubbornly strive to create cars where every aspect of the design has his fingerprints including the ultimately unrealised pinnacle of an all-new engine – From the unbuilt Flat-4s and Alvis V8 & 4-cylinder, to the 9X/10X engine. The E-Series being the only exception, albeit an underdeveloped one).

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