Every now and then I gain access to old automotive magazines that cover a variety of topics.
One of them featured a story about a car guy who owns a VW Beetle and a Morris Minor. The two cars represent a page of automotive history that showcased small European cars that served a practical transportation purpose for owners on both sides of the pond.
Both cars are afflicted with terminal cuteness; a condition that made them a big hit with kids over the generations.
In fact, the VW Beetle morphed into a movie star with Disney Studios because of the success generated by Herbie the Love Bug in many kid movies.
The only chilling part of the Volkswagen Beetle’s history occurred when Adolph Hitler decided Germany needed an affordable “People’s Car” (“Volkswagen” in German) and ordered the Beetle campaign for the pre-World War Two German automotive market.
Hitler later turned his ambition toward the invasion of Europe during his ill-advised campaign for world domination-and failed on a grand scale. He should have stuck with the Beetle because the little German sub-compact did achieve its own form of world domination based upon sales.
The British answer to Hitler’s military plans was stiff resistance to squelch his brutal ambitions as a despot . The eventual defeat of Germany by the Allied Forces meant a new direction for Hitler-free Germans. However, the Beetle survived Hitler’s madness and was matched against all automotive rivals, including Britain’s second version of the Morris Minor built from 1948 to 1972.
As mentioned, both vehicles are off the charts in the terminally cute department and were manufactured for many years before they drove off into the sunset at a modest speed. However, there are differences between the two vehicles that go well beyond the writer’s assertion that his cars bear a physical resemblance to each other.
The notion these cars share a similar style is puzzling to me because they aren’t exactly identical twins in that department. They are more like second cousins once removed in my opinion.
For example, the Morris Minor had a front grille because it had a water-cooled engine that needed access to outside air via the grille vents to its radiator. The Beetle had no grille because it had a rear air-cooled engine that drew outside air from the vents on the Bug’s trunk.
Neither car delivered neck-snapping acceleration from their modest horsepower engines, but they were able to do laps around their North American competition in terms of MPG. The chipmunk engines in the two cars were most likely accompanied by a four-speed manual transmission so their drivers could achieve maximum velocity as soon as possible.
Taller drivers were more comfortable behind the wheel of the Beetle because it had adjustable front seats and more generous head and leg room. The tradeoff occurred when the four-door Morris Minor models allowed better access to the rear seats compared to the two-door-only Beetles.
The Morris Minor also offered a faint hope for cabin heat in the frigid areas of North America, although neither vehicle was meant to be driven under real winter conditions when it came to passenger comfort. An exception to this rule would have been any Beetle with a gas heater that delivered better heat, poorer gas mileage, and the potential for an unwanted bonfire in the process.
These days neither vehicle is likely to face brutal winter conditions, although both cars were famous for their ability to start in frigid weather.
The two cars enjoy a loyal legion of fans who may have even experienced the cars during their heydays on the road. The Morris Minors and VW Beetles played important roles as second cars that were built for North American customers who used them on urban streets-and not freeways.
Hollywood never turned the Morris Minor into a movie star, but it won my family’s hearts as a second car for a while during the 1960s. Some members of my family even temporarily owned Beetles for use as accidental stunt cars because they were easy to flip under the wrong conditions. To be fair, the Beetles did have sturdy roofs.
However, my vote goes to the Morris Minor because these cars were never plentiful here in North America, played a minor role in my family’s automotive history, and make a great conversation piece at shows. Plus I never rolled one when I was 15-unlike the Beetle.
BY: Jim Sutherland
Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section.