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The Future of Morris Minor Technology
by Randolph Williams My mother drove her Morris pickup back and forth, three times, from Oklahoma to California 3500 miles roundtrip. It was a long way in a 948 and a smooth case transmission throughout the American desert. She would stop at all the famous truck oasis's meant for the 10 wheelers and take advantage of the home cooking cafes with the $2.00 showers (only in America).
(in support of Bastardisation)
On her maiden journey, no matter how hard I tried to talk her out of it, she was determined to go. Her little truck smoked from bad valve guides. I thought it might be a good idea to put another head on the engine and for her to do the work herself, with my assistance. When I tried to join the navy, I took a test to qualify for the submarine program. For fun, my mother took the same test. I got a 50% in mechanical ability and she got a 90%. When she balked at the idea, I smiled and told her, "I knew that Navy test was bunk". Off came the head and on with the new one. She actually sat down and read the book, went through the whole procedure with the attention and thoroughness I lacked. With her new found confidence, she was on her way.
As you travel from state to state, you will see signs "now leaving California, welcome to Arizona, New Mexico", etc...I told her to park her Morris in front of each sign and take a picture. Who would have believed a 5ft 2in, demure, English teacher would embark on such a journey. That was 1983 and Morris parts were not so available as they were today. I felt guilty that I let her go alone to visit Grandpa and the family farm. So a week before her journey back from Oklahoma to California, I flew in to drive home with her. Sure enough, something was wrong. I heard it the moment she picked me up. "Slush, slush, slush, slush" sound of a burnt valve.
The trip back...Well that's a whole 'nother story....
We started to the main highway towards Brushy Creek Farm and it began. Cowboys and farmers, kids and adults, men and women would drive by, slow down and honk their horn!!! They'd yell, "what da HELL is it???" (you have to hit the hell with a higher octave and ten decimals louder). "what da HELL is it????". "A Morris - an English car". "Well it sure" (draw out the sure) "is cute!"
Fast forward 16 years on. I am standing in Woodstock, near Blenheim Palace and hear comes a '56 coupe with eyelids, a sun visor, lowered, no distinctive transmission noise or A Series engine purr. More like a deep throat rumble. It parks next to my Traveler and standing there I gawk at it. I had just come from Blenheim Palace and had never seen so many Morris Minors in my life so I was in a gawking mode. Then out of nowhere, with the same southern drawl as in Oklahoma came "what the HELL is it???". My hand went immediately to my mouth not knowing what would come out next. The driver smiled as he got out of the car and said in a cool Swedish accent, "It's a Mor-Ford-a-Wolsley-Golf-'n'-Minor Automatic". That roughly translates to a Morris, Ford, Wolsley, VW Golf, Minor. It was one of the best examples of Morris Minor isolation or ingenuity I had ever seen. This is very similar to what had happened in the States in the early '80s that led to a lot of new technologies that kept our Morris's safe and on the road.
This car is owned by Urban Mattsson of Akersberga, Sweden. It has a 1.7 Ford V4 engine, a C4 automatic, a rear axle from a 1500 Wolsley and a 3.7 rear end. Disc brakes from a VW Polo and a Vauxhall Victor brake servo. All balanced by 4 wheel telescopic shocks - Volvo 240's in the front and Minis in the rear. The whole car rolls on 14 x 5.5 wheels, that's Opel rims and Morris centers. This technology was developed by Thomas Eriksson, Mora in 1979-80. In the states, we went a different route. Morrisservice in Redwood City pioneered MG Midget and Healey Sprite disc brake conversions and Datsun conversion technology. Datsun made sense to us because their A Series motors were pretty much based on English patents. There was no Internet. Parts were hard to come by. English dealerships were run out of town by US legislation and Japanese competition. At the same time, the English auto industry declined in the form of downsizing mergers that left us searching junkyards for left over parts.
It is 1999. Morris has made a huge comeback but most of the technology is still based on cannibalism. Which way will Morris Minors go from here? Back to all original concourse automobiles that are only driven on Sundays and go to shows? Or continue with modernization based on cannibalism? Have you priced Sprite calipers lately? Or try and find a Datsun 1500 and a five speed reasonably priced at a spares yard?
I personally only drive Morris Minors. Every time I rebuild one (which is 2 - 3 a year), the cost of modernization is getting higher and cannibalized parts are harder to find. The funny part is that a concourse Morris will not bring as much as a modernized one simply because people want to drive them. Around the world there are a lot of Morris's. I think a select few will survive in tact - Original, even concourse. They will be the Morris's that show where we come from. Part of our history - part of a time which was slower and simpler. To continue driving Morris's, we will need to develop new technologies based on new victims as the older, cannibalized victims disappear.