Buyers Guide What to Look out For

What To Look Out For ->

With any classic car a potential buyer needs to be aware of certain areas that are prone to problems that if left alone could end up costing you money. We have written a detailed guide on each of the areas and hope that it will help you plan your purchace. Should you need any further assistance please get intouch via our contact pages or give one of our team a call.

 For a general checklist to use when viewing a potential car please click here

1. Bodywork

2. Engines

3. Transmissions

4. Steering and Suspension

5. Wheels and Brakes

6. Trim

7. Electrics

8. What are they like to drive?

9. Will I fit behind the wheel?

10. What bodges should I look for?




As with any car over 20 years old, the quality of the original factory rust proofing and older repairs will inevitably lead to rust.  The Marina is no different in this respect from any other car of the period, the link below takes you to a separate page where we have tried to show some of the things to look out for when buying a Marina or Ital.  Not all cars will be as bad as the ones shown and all three cars used in the pictures are now resplendent with replacement metalwork and modern rust proofing.  Also some cars were treated with 'Ziebart' body treatment from new and these have often survived remarkably well. To visit the bodywork section please click here.



During the Marina's production run there were three engines to choose from for the UK market. These were the 1275cc A-series which was available for the entire production period from 1971-1984. The 1798cc B-series unit was available from launch until its replacement in the form of the 0-series in 1978. Fleet buyers opted for the 82bhp single-carb version of the B-series while boy racers went for the twin-carb (TC) model generating 95bhp. Vans produced until 1973 were equipped with a 1098cc A-series, switching to the 1275cc unit as used in the other models in the range, but the chances of finding one of these are slim.


The A-series has to work hard in the Marina, but the unit is tough and should notch up 80,000 miles before it needs a rebuild. It will always leak a bit of oil, but the first sign of the unit needling attention will be oil being burned because of worn valve guides or piston rings.  Engine mountings on 1.3-litre cars are prone to perishing, so check these carefully -replacements are available.


The B-series engine is mostly the same unit as fitted to the MGB, which is why many Marinas have been broken for their power plants.  Single carb car versions come in high and low compression versions and use a slightly softer but more torquey camshaft than the TC.  As with the smaller A series unit, there will be a good chance of smoking on the over-run if the unit has covered 100,000 miles because of worn valve guides or piston rings — expect timing chain rattle too.


Both the A-series and B-series engines are eminently tuneable, which is why companies such as Oselli, Downton and University Motors produced tweaked versions. BL Special Tuning also produced various modified Marinas and nowadays engine tuning parts are still easy to get for both units thanks to the wealth of MGB, Midget and Mini specialists.


Whichever engine is fitted, the valve gear will probably be noisy. If you're looking at a 1.7-litre car, it uses the overhead cam O-series engine, which should have had its cam belt changed every 48,000 miles.  It is worth noting that a small number of 2 litre O series automatic Itals were produced towards the end of the cars life.  None of the engines were designed for unleaded petrol; most owners use additives.  Late Metro 1.3 A+ series engines can donate their unleaded heads to earlier 1.3 Marinas and Itals.


Automatic or manual gearboxes were offered from launch, the all-synchro manual being shared with Triumph Spitfire 1500s, RWD Toledos and non-Sprint Dolomites.  Unfortunately its action when fitted to the Marina was rather less slick than when fitted to the Triumphs and one problem is for the linkage to wear - the solution is to source a better second-hand unit or have it rebuilt.  Even when new, first gear could be difficult to select without going via second. Gearboxes are interchangeable between models, except for a different input shaft and layshaft between 1.3-litre and 1.8/1.7 units.


The clutch was one of the problem areas throughout the Marina's production span, as most versions were prone to judder.  Pre-September 1972 1.3s used a 6 ½ inch clutch (from the Triumph Herald) with a 1 inch bore slave cylinder which wasn't up to the job. The solution was to fit an 8 inch clutch from the MGB with revised flywheel (fitted to the 1.8 from launch along with a 22.2mm bore slave cylinder), which didn't cure the problem altogether but did alleviate it.


A lot of judder when taking up the clutch could be down to a combination of worn gearbox mountings, propshaft universal joints, rear shock absorbers that have seen better days or rear anti-roll bar bushes (fitted from 1975) that are past their best, all these parts are available.


The clutch operating fork has occasionally been known to crack and break at its pivot point taking the clutch action with it, and the only way to find out if it's on its way out is to listen for a creaking from the clutch pedal when it's operated.


The clutch hydraulics can give problems, not only can the slave cylinder the seals give up the ghost quite happily, causing leaks down the bellhousing, also the mounting bracket can break (rarely).  It's easiest to check for these from underneath, but it is just about possible to check by looking down the back of the engine on the nearside. Replacement slave cylinders are available from the Morris Marina Owner's Club.


The gearboxes generally last only around 60,000 miles, although the lifespan varies widely depending on how the car has been driven. The first sign of trouble is the synchromesh packing up, although the reverse idler gear also wears leading to noisy first and which wasn't up to the job.


Other possible transmission problems are split propshaft centre bearings (which you can fix yourself for around £35) and leaking differentials.  If a diff is on its way out, it will whine, leak oil and there will be play in the propshaft when stationary. A replacement diff will set you back about £120.  A seized universal joint on the back of the propshaft is possible and if there's a squeal as the clutch is taken up it's likely that the spigot bearing in the flywheel needs lubrication, all 1.8s and early 1.3s used ‘Oilite’ bearings, with later 1.3 & 1.7s versions sharing a needle roller bearing. 


It's rare to find an automatic Marina or Ital, though not because they're unreliable, they were available with all Saloon, Coupe and Estate engine options in all years.  In fact the Borg Warner Type 35 transmission fitted to 1971-1978 cars is very durable; it's just that relatively few cars were equipped with it, however they do pop up for sale occassionally.  Post-1978 Marinas & Itals were equipped with the Type 65 gearbox, which is just as dependable.


Steering and Suspension


The MK 1's torsion bar front suspension outline was carried over from the Minor, although contrary to popular myth no parts are directly interchangeable. It was this set up that gave the Marina its poor handling reputation, as the design made the front wheels stay too upright when cornering, causing the car to understeer.  Marinas manufactured after late 1971 had revised front geometry which improved it a lot.  A further redesigned suspension layout was introduced in 1975, which involved fitting anti-roll bars front and rear to Saloons and Coupes (Vans and Estates got uprated dampers and leaf springs) helping to keep the car on the road.  This then continued until 1983 when the last Itals gained telescopic front shock absorbers, doing away with the lever arm dampers.


The steering should be light and reasonably positive - if it isn't, partially seized swivel pins could be the cause. These should have been greased every 3000 miles or three months, but the chances are that they won't have been.  New swivel pins are easy to find and standard and uprated lower front swivel joints (trunnions) are available. The easiest way to check for this is to look for uneven tyre wear and a good car will have evidence of regular greasing.  If the steering feels stiff or is snatching, lubricate the trunnions first before thinking of replacing anything.


Tie rod bushes wear, leading to vibration through the steering and uneven tyre wear.  Replacement rubber bushes can rarely be bought, the best option being polyurethane ones from SuperFlex Ltd. (4 required).  A rumbling from the front suspension possibly means the tension pad spring in the top ball joint has given up, although if the joint has been over tightened trapping the ball and spring it feels the same, try slackening the securing cap by one flat of the nut and driving the car before going to the expense of replacing the ball joint.  A new ball joint fixes it (they are often available on eBay) and replacement is easy.


If there is a vibration through the steering, the wheel bearings are probably due for replacement - they were also used on TR7s so are readily available. Another common problem is leaking lever arm dampers, which were fitted at the front throughout production up to 1982, so make sure these don't need to be replaced.  Caution, due to the changes in the front suspension, cars up to late 1971 have different lever arm dampers to cars between late 1971 and 1975 and they vary again from Mk2 cars from 1975 to 1983. 


The rear suspension is normally trouble free, the only likely problems being leaking dampers and broken anti-roll bar mounts.  Some cars show deterioration (rust) in the front bracket of the rear spring hangers, it is possible to source new brackets through the club, which can be welded in (see the section on bodywork here).


Wheels and Brakes


All models were initially fitted with 4.5J wheels, the styled TC units being increased to 5Jx13 from 1973. It's important to check what tyres are fitted as good quality rubber is essential to get the best out of the car in terms of handling and road holding. Either 145 or 155 section tyres should be fitted, with 165/70 being the widest that will sit comfortably on the 4.5J wheels. It's also worth maintaining them with a 2psi differential between front and rear (front higher).


As previously mentioned Pre-October 1975 1.3 models were fitted with drums all round, which can lead to hair-raising experiences. Later models with discs at the front were better but Marinas were never noted for their brakes. If the car you're looking at has drum brakes at the front it's easy to convert to the disc set up of later models.


Some pre-1974 1.3 cars had no servo as standard and had automatic rear brake adjusters fitted which give problems.  Pre-February 1972 1.8s had the same problems. From these dates manual rear brake adjusters were fitted - if the car you're looking at has the automatic ones still fitted, it's easy enough to swap them over to the later manual adjusters.



There’s not much exterior trim fitted to Marinas, and anything missing or damaged should be possible to replace via the club. The exceptions are the chrome wheel arch trims fitted to higher spec cars and bumper end caps fitted to later cars, both of which get knocked when parking.


The screen rubbers have a tendency to perish and leak, but replacements are available from East Kent Trim.  Coupe rear screen rubbers are not currently produced although it is possible to make one using a Ford Escort MK3 front screen rubber (available from East Kent Trim). Vinyl roofs need to be given some TLC every so often with a proprietary treatment or they crack and perish.


Tinted glass was fitted to GTs, HLs and later TCs, and it's not unknown for broken windows to be replaced with plain glass. This looks daft and it's also unnecessary because both plain and tinted windows are available second hand through the Club.


Replacement interior trim isn't available new, but most of it can be sourced second hand through the club. MK1 vinyl seats tend to crack and the top of the rear seat gets damaged by the sun, as do MK1 dashboard tops. Carpets aren't hardwearing and the situation is often made worse by water collecting in the foot wells because of a leaking windscreen seal - new carpets are available commercially.




Alternators replaced dynamos in August 1971 on 1.8-engined cars, and a year later they were standardised on 1.3s. The wiring loom on a Marina is pretty simple, the biggest problem likely to be earthing woes with the rear light units. Fuel tank sender units also fail quite readily - expect to pay £30 for a replacement, although they're not always easy to track down.


Replacement sealed beam headlamp units are available as they were used on many cars of the period.  Some cars will have been upgraded to Halogen bulbs and their separate lenses.


What Are They Like To Drive?


Early 1.8s are renowned for their dramatic understeer but other models are less severe. The Marina is not a dynamic rally or race car, but if well maintained it should be easy to pilot and is very usable as an everyday driver or first classic.


Will I Fit Behind The Wheel?


There's no shortage of space in the front or the rear. The Coupe is really a two-door Saloon, so apart from less convenient access there aren't any space penalties for rear seat passengers.


What Bodges Should I Look For?


  • Filler in sills, over the headlights, the front and rear wheel arches (use a weak magnet)

  • Rotten headlamp backing panels on all Marinas (ask if you can take the grille off to check them, it’s only 4 Philips screws)

  • Cover sills fitted over rotten originals (check along the bottom edge for extra layers of metal)

  • Badly plated boot floor and spare wheel well


Check the bodywork page here for pictures of what 'bad' can look like.



Specifications (click to enlarge)






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