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Randolph Williams Remembers ...
It's probably a question that we have all asked ourselves at one time or another. "What is it about Morris Minors that makes us want one in our garage?" There's probably a hundred different answers, but here, Randolph Williams, our Californian correspondent, sits back in his armchair, lights his pipe and takes us on a journey back to his younger days ...
For a long time, I have been asking myself, "Morris Minor?"
I've been wanting to write a story about how I felt or better why I felt so attached to Morris Minors. Until now, I've gotten stuck just trying to think if a title - Me and my Morris
Are they a life form? Are Morrises self aware and can they procreate and do they think and feel? Or are they, as a well known aficionado who wishes to remain anonymous says: "They are just cars, nothing more".
The first encounter of a Morris kind was an abduction of sorts. I still don't remember this but as the story goes, I was 4 years old and was out with my dad in his '57 T-Bird. He pulls into the parking lot, in front of the Arrow Market at Sweetzer on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood to buy some milk. He parks right next to a Morris Minor with a 4 sale sign. "Stay Randy - I will be right back." When he returns, I am gone to be found standing on the drivers seat of the Morris Minor, hands firmly on the steering wheel. With every attempt to remove me, I would scream louder and louder...A crowd gathered. With my eyes full of tears, I yelled, "I'm going to have a car just like this when I grow up." My father, unable to liberate the Morris from my grasp, purchased the car right there on the spot for $300.00.
Guess what my first car was at 15 years of age? That's right, a 1958 Morris Minor coupe - black on red with a broken piston which I paid $58.00 for. In all fairness, I must say that I drifted in my high school years and became known as Randy Renault. I got my hands on a R8 Gordini - what a car! I always think about it as my first love affair with something French.
I drove all the time. I love to drive. 1970 was the end of car culture in Los Angeles. Probably in America. Drive-in theaters were closing. A&W Rootbeer restaurants closed. Even the famous Tiny Naylors on the Sunset Strip followed suit. I would have driven around the world if I could. Wherever I would drive, I would find cars that logic prevented from fixing and love prevented from crushing: Morris Minors, Renaults and assorted other pieces of British iron. I wanted to see the world.
This wanderlust got me to sign on with a Danish Merchant ship. See the world... Avoid the draft. I like being a sailor but I also like driving. Wouldn't you know it, while I was away, my father bought a Morris van. That made me more homesick than anything else I could think of. That and Sees candy.
I owe my college education in part to Morris Minors. If the southern California landscape hadn't been littered with Morris Minors in people's back yards and garages, I might have had to get a job. People seem to hold on to their Morris Minors long after they had passed away and they would almost give them to me with just the promise that I would fix them up, and at least, find them a good home. This got to me after a while. I started suffering a strange sense of loss every time a Moggie left home, no matter how much I sold it for and I still feel that way today.
I discovered Real Estate. I swore off old cars. I bought a Mercedes. I was becoming what was to be coined, a Yuppie (God forbid). I got rich. During college, I had pretty much sold every Morris Minor out of the West end. Just when I would forget them completely, one would show up. After three or four years, without the little Beasties, one came to mind, it lived near my Mother's house. I remembered helping the owner push it down the street one evening to the corner gas station where the 12 story Women's bank now stands. A black convertible with a burgundy top. I was about to get married. I drove by to see if the car was still in its garage where it had lived since new and guess what my wife got for a wedding present?
Within a year, my mother had one, my brother had one, my sister had one. They were all over the place. It was 1983 and the LA Morris scene was happening. Morris's were very vogue. Even my father had one although he referred to it as "The Puddle Jumper."
Real estate doubled. So did my weight. Soon I had 27 various English cars. I was out of control. I got mad at Morrises because of that previous anonymous guy, and started my own Austin club. I could get in an Austin A40. The market fell. The Austin's went and so did all the other cars and I realized how much I missed my Morris's.
My wife finally pregnant, I decided to build my first woody from the ground up. I was broke and I wanted to finish it so we would have a family car. It was done in time to pick my son, Austin and my wife, Fern from the hospital. It drove cross country to Oklahoma to bury my Mom and it saved me when I bought my new house and a month later my wife lost her job.
When I went to Blenheim Palace in 1998, I really had just one question on my mind...Why does everyone love their Morris Minor so much? I asked a lot of people and I got a lot of strange looks but I also got a lot of stories about why they got the cars and how they got it and how long they had their cars...The best answer I got was "I don't know, they have always been there like an old friend."
The real answer came to me when I was watching a rerun of the TV show, Frazier. In this story: Frazier tries to get rid of his father's old chair because it didn't fit in his million dollar apartment filled with Italian modern furniture. Frazier couldn't understand why his father loved that LazyBoy chair so much. Finally, his father broke down and explained how that chair had been with him when Frazier and his brother were born. "When Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon I sat in that chair and watched it on TV." When his wife died, he sat in that chair for weeks, mourning her passing....
Strangely enough, Morris's have seemed to been there through most of my rites of passage. I learned how to drive in a Morris. My first date was in a Morris. The sheer joy of finding a perfect Morris in a garage that starts right up. As I said, I took my son home from the hospital when he was born in a Morris. After I lost my million dollar beach house, it was a Morris I left in and that saved me financially and my little track house that I own now.
A friend, yes. A keeper of memories? The freedom you feel on the open road in your Morris for destinations unknown, maybe, but not just a car.