Australian Morris 850

A van for all seasons: the schizophrenic 850 goes all commercial

Wheels - July, 1964

Wheels - July, 1964

We predict that the done thing this year will be “vanning it" from Toorak down to The Village; the Morris 850 van would not look out of place in that third garage…

OUR Editor recalls that when the British Motor Corporation was contemplating its marketing the Morris 850 van in Australia he was invited to give his ideas to a sales/merchandising conference. He said, simply (and he is never wrong): "Put some windows in it."

The 850 van is at once the victim of one of those peculiarities of the motoring trade. If you sell it with windows it becomes not a station wagon but a van trying vainly to look like a station wagon; however, if you offer the windows for insertion later by the customer, it then becomes a van that someone has made into a cute station wagon. The public is quite that diverse.

BMC had to be wary of this windows business because it was caught with its metaphorical trousers down with the Austin A40. Some dealers were selling this as a two-seat panel van with windows but without back seat to take advantage of the cheaper rate of sales tax on commercial vehicles. When you bought it, you were directed down the road to your Friendly Upholsterer who would instal the rear seat and trim for a pittance. The Federal Government stepped into this dodgy business, and A40 vans for £50 less than list were no more.

However, for the 850 van the windows can be bought in kit form at the accessory counter for installation by the customer. Apparently there is a difference.

BMC has set a quota of 6000 units annually for the van, and at £725 will have no trouble selling them. The van has the same cheeky, cute appeal that made the sedan a status symbol, except that the van will probably gain even more glamor because it is something different again.

It is, of course, essentially a utilitarian vehicle, with great appeal to small businesses or even large concerns seeking an economical fleet of versatile runabouts. Its obvious advantages are good fuel economy, wonderful parkability, and good load/size ratio. Its greatest use would seem to be in cities or large towns where its size advantages show up best; we do not expect it to make gains in country commercial sales where durability and large carrying capacity are prime factors.


Handsome is as handsome doesn't; Mini van is still quite cute. Note exterior mirror, relocation of petrol filler cap, roof vent. Body echoes hollowly when doors are slammed.

WHEELS looked at the van in roughly three lights, particularly as we do not normally test commercial vehicles and only made this exception because of the extraordinary following that the Morris 850 has in Australia. (No, we won't test a Holden panel van for the same reason.) We variously regarded — and treated — it as a purely commercial unit, then as a pseudo-station wagon with a child sleeping in the back on a long trip, and finally as an about-town hack. It showed up as a very versatile vehicle; the surfing devotees were particularly taken with it, because they felt they could — shades of yabbadabbadoo —get their boards up on the longer flat-top roof that might have been built for them and use the inside for sleeping. It may yet replace a second-hand hearse as the accepted board-rider's wear.

The van is the same mechanically as the 850 sedan, and is produced on the same assembly lines. However, it is 4 5/32 in. longer in the wheelbase, although with the same front and rear track, and 9 3/8 in. longer overall. It wears the Morris-Cooper drilled wheel trims, and is a two-door body with divided, side-hinged rear doors each carrying a small square of glass.

The effect is that the 850 body has been cut in half, a flat extension floor and upright trussings welded in for bracing, and the van body added. The fuel tank had to be redesigned from its oval shape in the rear wing of the sedan boot to a flat underfloor shape for the van, and the filler cap relocated into a most awkward recess on the right-hand side; on the test car if the cap were at all tight it literally could not be undone with the bare hands because of lack of room for fingers.

The spare wheel is clamped into the recess under the floor of the tray behind the bucket seats, and next to it are the tools and the battery, which turns out to be a little more accessible than the well-buried thing in the boot of a Mini sedan. Otherwise, the interior of the van does not differ greatly from that of the sedan.

The same trim materials are used, including the new coarse-weave seat facings and door trim that look to be proof against everything but nuclear attack. Only one sun-visor is fitted, for the driver, and instrumentation is the same — the full-width parcels shelf with central speedometer, central switches, flat-plane steering wheel, sliding windows, and all the familiar old face. The only difference is that the parcels shelf light has disappeared.

However, you notice the benefit of BMC's two years of improving the breed without telling anyone or making noises about new models. The odometer now has a decimal face, and the starter button is covered with a rubber boot, we suppose to meet those thousands of angry female complaints about broken fingernails. (One girl we know uses a pencil on her Mini starter.) There, is of course, baulk-ring synchromesh in the gearbox as compared to the older hunt-and-crunch type.

Even the floor covering has improved; it is now heavier and smoother, very unlike its speckled predecessor, which we remember once describing as "unborn perentie lizard hide." That same material would always split around the foot of the gear lever, and apparently the new version does not. The choke knob has been slightly enlarged and (we suspect) a better-running cable used to stop the knob sticking halfway, as in the early cars.

There is a small roof vent which is held by a spring-loaded tongue, and hinged at its leading edge. It opens a gap of about 5 in. However, there is no stay to keep it open and on the test car it was eternally vibrating shut. The exhaust line has been re-routed slightly to bring it out at a different angle, and the windscreen washer and coil re-positioned in the engine bay. The rear trailing links have also apparently been given a slightly higher angle to raise the rear of the van to allow for loading.

The seats pivot forward on leading-edge hinges for access through the two doors to the rear of the van, but do not have floor covering underneath, resting instead on bare body metal. This lack of lining through the van makes it a noisier unit than the sedan. Road noise and tyre mumble are amplified, and there is a suggestion of exhaust boom. As in any van, there are several body noises. The rear doors, which lock with a socketed rod, creak continually. However, the noise level was not as high as we anticipated, and on an overnight dash of 220 miles, it never became irritating.

The overall standard of finish is good, particularly for a commercial unit. The trim materials are very good for this price bracket, and exterior paintwork is — as are all BMC's Rotodip products — of excellent quality.

Most of our drivers felt the lack of ventilation. The sliding windows misted over more easily than those in the sedan. The unit can hardly be driven with rear doors open on their very good check-links, so the windows and the tiny roof vent are the only breezeway. It gets quite stuffy in hot weather.


Trim and equipment, while sparse, is well finished and fitted. Actually, it is quite adequate for a purely commercial unit like this. Controls are too far away.


Spare wheel is clamped under floor behind passenger's seat, is released by undoing knurled knob. Tools and battery are alongside it.

The rear load space is ribbed to prevent packages from sliding too much, and the little van is very easy to load through the double rear doors, or from the front. The wheel arches come into the load area on each side, but this is as in any van. The rear sits down under a load, but the all-up permissible loading of 7 cwt including passengers is excellent for a vehicle of this size.

We found there was a slightly higher noise level from the transmission, particularly on the overrun, but this is to be expected with reduced noise insulation. The van is slower accelerating and in top speed than the sedan; the weight and frontal area are not significantly increased, and as final drive and wheel size — quite a good rubber area at 5.20 by 10 for this wheelbase — are unchanged, then the difference can only be due to worse wind drag coefficient around the rear of the van.

Handling is little changed. On tight corners the van understeers more than the sedan, and there is a slight increase in the spring deflections in pitching on undulating roads. Our fuel consumption figures are certainly very good, but the test car was running slightly lean. Top speed is 3 mph below that of the sedan, but this was with excellent conditions and we are firm that the van will just not go any faster.

On point-to-point through open country — and make no mistake, many families will use it for exactly this — it was equally as fast in its averages as the remarkable 850, so that both can cover ground as quickly as any car half as big again. This is one of the 850's most appealing sides — its tremendously good handling, utter safety, and great ability for high averages — and we are glad to report that they are all retained in the van. It is just as much fun to drive.

Vision is surprisingly good, mainly through the good exterior rear vision mirror, which comes as standard. The interior mirror, like all 850 mirrors, vibrated into a blur, and the division between the two rear windows is enough to hide a motorcycle, and-you-know-what-that-means. However, the van is so short and with such quick steering that parking it is no difficulty, for one can put a head out the window or look through the windows and still put it in on a threepenny bit.

Braking is as good as that of the sedan. The car stops straight and true in stops of almost 1g, with no bad habits. The brakes can be made to fade, for lining swept area is not great, but they always recover very quickly. Water also affects them only briefly; we consider these excellent characteristics are due mainly to the Mintex linings the 850 uses. The gearbox has been improved considerably, despite the over-long throw.

For families with two small children, or even three, this van seems to us to be the answer. Even an adult and one child can sleep comfortably in the back on pillows or a mattress for hundreds of miles.

There are still a few irritating things about the unit that stay with us. We consider that the fuel pump, under the rear end, is — at about 4 in. distance — too close to the exhaust line. The ventilation does need attention, particularly if the van is to be used as a private vehicle — although sliding accessory windows are the answer — and the test car shared the windscreen-smearing problem which seems to be common to all 850s. (No, we don't want your private recipe of Coca-Cola and frog's legs).

But we are probably being far too pernickety about what is basically a £725 car. It is still as easy as wink to wash, the headlights are great for a small car, and it is an immensely appealing, practical unit for city use. BMC will sell all they make, and probably more. Try it for size.


Double rear doors lock open firmly on check links, clear good load area. Floor is ribbed, wheel arches and damper heads do not bother one.



Cylinders: Four, in line

Bore and stroke: 62.94 mm by 68.26 mm

Cubic capacity: 848 cc

Compression ratio: 8.3 to 1

Valves: pushrod, overhead

Carburettor: Single SU downdraught

Power at rpm: 37 (gross) 34 (net) bhp at 5500 rpm

Maximum torque: 44 lb/ft at 2900 rpm

Piston speed at max bhp: 2398 ft/min


Gearing: 14.85 mph per 1000 rpm

Type: Manual, four-speed, synchro top 3

Gear lever location: Central floor

Ratios, overall:

First - 13.66

Second - 8.18

Third - 5.32

Top - 3.76

Final drive - 3.76 to 1


Front: Independent, transverse wishbones, rubber cones

Rear: Independent, trailing links, rubber cones

Dampers: Telescopic


Type: Rack and pinion

Ratio: NA

Turns, L to L: 2.5              

Circle: 33 ft 9 in


Type: Hydraulic, drum

Swept or rubbed area: NA


Wheelbase: 7 ft 0 in

Track, front: 3 ft 11½ in

Track, rear: 3 ft 9¾ in

Length: 10 ft 9¾ in

Width: 4 ft 7½ in

Height (unladen): 4 ft 5 in

Fuel tank capacity (maker's figure): 6 gals


Size: 520 x 10

Make on test car: Goodyear G-8


Kerb (with fuel and water): 1334 lb

Gross vehicle weight: 2044 lb


Unladen: 6¼ in



Fastest run: 70.7 mph

Average of all runs: 70.1 mph


First: 26 mph (5800 rpm)

Second: 39 mph (5800 rpm)

Third: 59 mph (5800 rpm)

Top: 70 mph


First: 490 lb/ton

Second: 380 lb/ton

Third: 245 lb /ton

Top: 155 lb/ton

ACCELERATION (rpm limit 5800)

Standing quarter mile:

Fastest run: 23.7 sec

Average of all runs: 24.0 sec

0 to 30 mph: 5.2 sec

0 to 40 mph: 10.0 sec

0 to 50 mph: 17.4 sec

0 to 60 mph: 28.5 sec

0 to 70 mph: NA

0 to 80 mph: NA

20 to 40 mph: 14.4 sec

30 to 50 mph: 14.3 sec

40 to 60 mph: 19.9 sec

BRAKING (Mean figures)

From 30 mph: (29 ft/sec/sec) 34 ft

From 60 mph: (27 ft/sec/sec) 146 ft 2 in

Handbrake from 20 mph: 29 ft 4 in


0-60-0 mph: 31.8 sec


Indicated             Actual

30 mph                  28.1 mph

40 mph                  38.5 mph

50 mph                  48.7 mph

60 mph                 58.1 mph


At constant 30 mph          51 mpg

At constant 40 mph          49.3 mpg

At constant 50 mph          42.3 mpg

At constant 60 mph         34.5 mpg

Overall for test                 37.6 mpg

Normal cruising                 39-42 mpg

Fuel used on test              Super grade


Total test mileage: 624 miles

Surface: Dry, bitumen-bonded gravel

Weather: Fine, warm, slight breeze

Load:  Two persons and gear


Including tax: $725

Wheels Magazine - July 1964 - Morris 850 Van - thumb


JULY 1964

This article was originally published in the July, 1964 edition of Wheels magazine.

Last updated 18 August 2021