As the ‘car that saved Morris’, the charismatic Eight combined room for all the family with small-model economy. Here’s how to find your perfect example…
How much to pay
• Project £1500-£7500 • Good £7500-£14,000 • Concours £14,000-£20,500
Running costs ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★★
Inspired by the popularity of the Ford Model Y, and launched as the replacement for the Morris Minors of the 1920s, the charismatic Morris Eight made its debut at the 1934 Olympia Motor Show. It went on to become one of the biggest automotive success stories of the 1930s.
Offering room for all the family but also providing small-car economy, it was well suited to cash-strapped Brits who still wanted to get out and about. The Eight proved such a hit that over 116,000 examples were sold within the first three years of production, with many experts crediting the model as being the car that saved the Morris brand.
Available as a two or four-seat tourer, and a two or four-door saloon, the Eight was capable of 60mph and 40mpg from its 23.5bhp 918cc side-valve engine. It used a three-speed box with synchromesh on the two higher gears, and benefited from hydraulic brakes and a well equipped interior. The Morris Eight Tourer sold 20,000 examples, at just £120 new.
Your AutoClassics Morris Eight inspection checklist
Within the engine bay you’ll find similarities across the entire Morris Eight model range. The most notable is that they all use the same 918cc sidevalve four-cylinder engine, which employs a three-bearing crankshaft and pressure lubrication, coupled to that three-ratio gearbox. Fuel is supplied by an electrical SU pump that feeds a small carburettor.
When the Morris Eight was launched, some regarded this simple cast-iron power unit as a technological step backwards from the peppy overhead-cam engines of the model’s predecessors. However, within a short time the Eight’s engine had proven to be incredibly successful, and helped returned Morris to the mainstream motoring arena with impressive sales figures.
An Eight should happily cruise at a gentle 45-50mph, thanks to its 23.5bhp output at 3900rpm. This isn’t a particularly potent engine, but it is a sturdy, reliable unit that is joyfully simple to work on. As you would with any unit, check all fluid levels are at a satisfactory level and be wary of any unexpected knocking noises and leaks underneath at idle.
The vast majority of engine parts for a Morris Eight are readily available, although pistons can be somewhat more difficult to obtain. Spares can occasionally be acquired from tank auxiliary units from the relevant era, but you may need specialist advice to ensure what you’re buying is compatible.
If looking at a Series E, note that although the same engine is in place, an E possesses a different cylinder head and pistons from the other Eights. If originality is key, watch out for later Series 2/E engines being fitted to earlier Eights thanks to a stronger crankshaft.
Other than the Series E, all Morris Eight models were fitted with a three-speed gearbox featuring synchromesh on the top two ratios. You will find this ’box either charming or surprisingly limiting as, thanks to its lack of gears, it’s not generally considered the best candidate for long-distance cruising. However, take heart in the fact that four-speed transmissions were fitted to the later Series E and can be retrofitted to give you a more capable set-up.
As with any Morris model, it’s worth first checking for general wear and tear to the teeth of the gears, before then taking the car out for a short test drive to work your way up and down the ’box while on the move to check for any niggling issues. Worn synchromesh may require some adaptation to double de-clutching until you can remedy the problem.
Should you encounter problems with the clutch, be aware that the Eight’s unit is the same as those used in later Morris Minors, so obtaining an alternative should be a straight-forward fix. Axles rarely give much trouble, although tired bearings in the differential can create a lot of unwanted noise.
Across the Eight range, differentials are known to be robust, although it’s not unknown for half-shafts to break. This is particularly true under hard acceleration, so aim to be gentle when first pulling away. It’s an investment to carry a spare half-shaft just in case.
Suspension and brakes
Begin your checks by confirming whether or not your Morris Eight is sitting evenly while parked on flat ground. If not, this may indicate that there are some suspension issues lurking that merit further investigation. Have a look underneath the car to check that the springs still remain securely attached to the chassis, and ensure the springs are free from cracks and other signs of stress.
While out on a test drive, gently steer the car from side to side. Most would regard the Eight’s suspension set-up as ‘frisky’, but if instinct tells you the handling is too wayward for comfort, ensure to also check the shackles and rubber bushes for wear. They should have a snug fit, and will last a long time if they have been greased adequately. Worn shackles will cause a knocking noise as you drive along.
Finally, check the lever-arm dampers for leaks; if in need of repair, these can easily be overhauled. The kingpins require lubrication every 500 miles or so. You should find bronze bushes on early Eights, while later models boasted the rolled variety. Both are easy to replace.
The brakes on an Eight feature Lockheed all-hydraulic 8in drums, a fact that often proves a surprise to those who are familiar with cars from the Morris’ era. When sold new, this gave the car superior braking performance and an edge over its competitors. On the road, gently press on the braking pedal and check the car pulls up in a straight line. If not, adjusting a seized wheel cylinder may prove sufficient to remedy the problem.
Regardless of the overall condition of your chosen Morris, carry out a careful inspection of the separate chassis. Eights sold as project vehicles often carry minor cracking here, which will usually be found behind the spring hangars, so check these thoroughly – particularly those on the front.
Cast a keen eye over the length of the chassis, looking out for spots that have become weakened by rust or, more importantly, evidence of inadequate fixes by previous owners. It’s also worth checking for rot around the sill areas where the rear wings bolt onto the main body, along the lower rear panel, the boot floor, beneath the rear seat squab, within the doorposts and around the rear wheelarches. All can be remedied, of course, but this will naturally add further cost onto any restorative work.
If inspecting a Series E, check the chassis carefully behind the rear wheels as it has cut outs for lightness. It was a useful feature back in the day, but fast forward almost nine decades and these areas may have become a unintended trap for mud, grit and road salt. This could have led to rusting in an area that is difficult to repair.
If examining a Series I or II model, it’s highly likely to possess wood within its structural frame. Most Morris Eight doorframes are made of ash, while Tourer models gain the majority of their support from their wooden framework. It’s therefore crucial to establish that woodworm hasn’t set in and that the wood within your car is in good health.
A recommended starting point is to remove the rear seats and inspect the framework underneath – this should give you an overall idea of the condition of the vehicle’s woodwork. Any signs of incomplete, splintered or rotten wood should act as a warning that elements of the framework will likely need to be treated and/or replaced.
Should you detect a leak in a ‘sliding-head’ saloon, chances are the sunroof’s drain tubes have become blocked. However, this can normally be remedied with ease.
After checking over the bodywork, look for signs of tyre degradation such as cracks in the tread and sidewalls. Tyres suitable for a Morris Eight still remain plentiful, but cost an average of £100 per wheel. If examining a Series E, be aware that missing hubcaps can be difficult to replace, although later Minor and 1100 items have potential to fit. Also, on Series E models, a common upgrade to look out for are pods used to fit more effective headlamps. This is generally a welcomed improvement unless absolute originality is your top priority.
Compared with many of its rivals from back in the day, the Morris Eight has a reputation for having a particularly well equipped interior. The dashboard should therefore contain a speedometer, odometer and ammeter, as well as oil and fuel gauges. Check these are still operational by switching on the ignition, while a short drive will help confirm the accuracy of the various gauges.
While behind the wheel, it’s worth checking that the lights and horn work as well as you would expect. Give the wipers a try, too; these will be powered by electrics, rather than the more conventional vacuum-powered systems of the time. This is also a good opportunity to work the clutch and brake pedals to get a feel for their operation, and take the time to work your way through the gearbox, both up and down, in case of any unseen issues.
Meanwhile, the cabin and upholstery are simple but hardy. Seats in need of attention can be easily removed and re-trimmed for a relatively small cost. Should you find that any interior components are missing or beyond repair, the Morris Register can supply many mechanical parts. Original trim spares can be more difficult to track down, but with a little improvisation many items can be custom-made by classic specialists.
- 1934: Morris Eight launched at the 1934 Olympia Motor Show as replacement for the 1920s’ Morris Minor
- 1935: With chromium-plated radiator surround and spoked wheels, the Morris Eight is now sold as the Series I
- 1938: Series II is released with painted radiator surround and disc wheels with Easilclean rims
- 1939: Series E loses running boards of prior models and gains a streamlined grille and fuller front wings
- 1940: 5cwt commercial van version of the Morris Eight is released as the Series Z
- 1948: Post-war Morris Minor, designed by Issigonis, replaces the Morris Eight car
- 1953: Production of the Series Z commercial vans ceases
For those looking for well equipped but economical pre-war driving in a less conventional package than an Austin or Ford, the Morris Eight offers an often overlooked but charismatic alternative. Most Eights survive in relatively good condition in the UK, and yet more examples are to be found in Australia.
As you might expect of a car some eight decades old, you will likely need to carry out regular maintenance and make the occasional repair, but this is a particularly DIY-friendly vehicle with the majority of spares easily accessed. Membership to the Morris Register is highly recommended to those new to pre-war Morris ownership.
Although not as perky as its rivals, the Morris Eight can offer a joyous drive once you’ve taken some time to adjust to its quirks of vague directional control and that somewhat limited three-speed gearbox. The Eight is a very deserving candidate that merits consideration when looking for a British pre-war car that’s easy to work on, economical to run and backed up by strong club support.
Picture courtesy of MagicCarPics
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