Although I have always been interested in classic cars and have, like most people always had a soft spot for Morris Minors, the purchase of my Morris Minor really came about because of my consuming interest in Italian cars! I had always wanted a Fiat 124 Sport Coupe since I was twelve years old, and when, less than eight years later now that I think about it, I was able to buy one, I jumped at the chance.
Of course when you have your all-time dream car in the garage (under a car cover at Mum’s actually) you don’t really want to drive it to station every day to work. I needed a cheap runabout, that wouldn’t cost too much to run. This was early in 1982, and I didn’t actually have a lot of cash to spend on a second car.
I remembered that when I was going out with a girl from the local church, who lived in Montrose, that opposite her friend’s place lived another church goer who had a little black Morris Minor in the front yard…. It turned out that he used to drive it to Ferntree Gully each day where he taught at the local school. He had stopped using it when it burnt out an exhaust valve and wouldn’t climb the hill back into Montrose!
As the car had been standing for a while, and the footwells had filled up with water because of the leaking windscreen seals, I was able to secure the car for the princely sum of $60. Probably the best $60 1 have ever spent, and as my brother David, who is my motor mechanic and has despaired every time he has had to make good another of my misguided purchases, says it’s the only time I have made a really canny purchase decision.
Although the car had not been used for some time, it only required new brakes, and an engine overhaul. The exhaust valve had burnt out because someone had used an inlet valve, and I had to have a new set made up in Queensland. The best surprise was the interior, Under the ripped, purple terly-towelling seat covers where tartan plastic seat covers, and under them? almost perfect original upholstery, which I still won’t restore because it is still giving good service.
The only other things we had to do was to “T-Cut” years of dead paintwork away, put a new set of tyres on and re-register it. Here I made an error of judgement which I still regret. Because I did the right thing and handed the plates in, I lost the original number plates, the number being PK 851. The Morris was now registered as BOC 150, with Garden State plates.
So at last I had my cheap little runabout. Because my other car was a twin cam, twin Webered Italian sports car, I knew that it would be a lot slower, although the hardest thing to remember on Monday morning was to press MUCH harder on the brake pedal at the end of the street or go sailing into the middle of Mt. Dandenong Road ! The second hardest thing to remember was that the Morris only had a four speed gearbox….
The Morris did all that was asked of it, particularly during the time I studied for my degree part time at RMIT. During winter this became interesting as the leaking windscreen seals ( I hadn’t resprayed the car by then) would allow condensation to form on the inside of the windows. By the time I got back to Croydon Station at about 10.30 it was often cold enough for ice to have formed on the outside of the car.
Once this had been cleaned off and you noticed there was still ice on the screen, but on the INSIDE of the screen, you knew what kind of a trip home to expect. Although I lived only 20 minutes away by Morris (I once did the same trip in 3 minutes in the Fiat!), the lack of heating and ventilation meant the only way to get a clear windscreen was to drive with the quarter vent windows open wearing gloves, scarf, coat and flat cap. As I write this over ten years later, I can still remember how cold those trips home were, and how fierce the brakes were if there was damp in the air.
Interestingly enough, the Morris seemed to relish the cold weather and despite never being garaged, always started first or second time every morning. I had also calculated that I was getting between 40 and 45 mpg on standard petrol (remember that?), giving me total cost each way of 30c, which in the days of separate fares, was less than it would have cost me for the bus fare.
The car also gave me lots of pleasure for the really practical and clever way in which it was designed and worked. I will always remember the look on the face of the storeman at the steel fabricators when David asked me to pick up an eight foot long piece of steel redding. I turned up in the Morris and said I was here to collect the steel. The storeman as he looked at me (as if I was crazy) looked at the Morris and looked at the steel. Without saying a word, I opened the from door, tipped the passenger seat into the footwell, dropped the rear seat, opened the boot, put the steel in, closed the boot and drove off, leaving him standing there open-mouthed!
I actually did something similar recently when I brought a new ladder. Figuring the ladder would fit into the Morris better than in my modern Renault, I went down to the hardware shop to collect the ladder. What would have been a five minute trip, however, took twenty because the shop owner wanted to look over and talk about the car.
Unfortunately, as time went on and traffic became heaver and less tolerant, the Morris became a less practical proposition. Although it positively loved the cold weather, really hot weather taxed the cooling system, leading to vaporisation and general histrionics. The lack of performance, which has now been overcome somewhat, after David discovered the carburettor was full of silt, was causing a good deal of problems, particularly with the buses, which I could usually (just) get out of the way of. Once the bus company got turbocharged buses I though I had better get a faster “shopping car”.
The Morris was therefore placed in semi-retirement spending nearly two years in David’s back yard whilst I tried several replacements. First there was a P76 V8 ( one extreme to the other, but boy did it go!), a Mazda R100, (a minor classic in its own way, but combined the straight line performance of the Fiat with the dynamics of a Datsun 120Y; and around town used more petrol than the Torana SLR5000 I also had at the time), and finally a 2 Litre Escort Ghia automatic (I wish I still had it). Although by this time I knew the Morris was worth holding on to, I really didn’t know if I was interested in keeping it.
I bought Paul Skilleter’s seminal book on the Morris Minor and learnt that my car was early, and indeed quite rare. Once I had read through the book and learned all about how Alec Issigonis designed the whole car, and widened it by four inches AFTER all the body tooling had been made, I knew I had to keep my little runabout.
It was when I was between Mazda and Escort that I was promoted to a position in the State Attorney-General’s Department. One of the Area Managers in the Department was Don Gear, who will no doubt grace these pages elsewhere. One day whilst we should have been talking about work, Don was explaining about his famous Land-Rover. Although he has fond of Landies, he told me his real passion was for Morrises. “I have a Morris at home, a Minor”, I told him.
He told me that Miners would probably be too modern for the club he belonged to. I replied that I though it was a fairly early one because it had low headlights and had been registered in 1950….. The next month I went along to my first Morris Register club meeting. This would have been 1990 as it was just before the Nowra National Rally.
Thus began my association with the Morris Register. I have made a great many friends within the club and have learned a great deal about Morrises and the classic car movement, and have been privileged to serve the club on the committee. It has been said before that the cars are really incidental to our club, it has always been the friendships and family atmosphere which has made the club special. Perhaps because the cars are not high performance machines, those aspect of competitiveness are almost completely absent and all members can take pleasure when a club member arrives with a new or special car.
There are a lot of reasons why the Morris Minor is one of the true all time great classic cars is not just the brilliance of the design when the car was new but the fact that it is still a usable car in the Nineties. Although i have modern cars, there is not a lot they can do that the Morris can’t, except go faster (than the speed limit). The Morris is still a practical car that I can use for shopping trips or local touring and which is still the most economical and reliable car I have ever owned, and is probably rarer than most Ferraris!
The other bonus is that people will come over out of the blue to tell you how they “used to have one just like this”. In fact it is amazing how often people recognise the car as a “low light” and comment on that fact. The link with the past, and memories of the past the car can stir up, is an important part of ownership of a car like this. I know none of my other cars have ever elicited the same reaction.
Looking back, the second best thing about the Morris is that, on a quiet road, with no modern cars about, you can convince yourself that it is 1949 again, just potter along and enjoy the view and a very sweet little motor car. The best thing of course is that the car has been the means to the end of meeting a number of great people within and outside the club and undertaken any number of trips with the car to see sights which I would otherwise have not known existed.