In these strange times, many businesses have had to adapt to unwelcome, even suffocating restrictions – indeed, for some, it’s all sadly too much, and a good number of useful and solid businesses that have been built up and managed successfully for many years have had to close, hopefully only temporarily.
Our beloved classic car shows and meetings have been devastated this past summer as social distancing and ultra-cleanliness requirements have made many events impossible to hold safely, even outdoor ones. This has been especially cruel as many such events are organised by volunteers with the laudable aim of raising funds for local charities, a sector that has been particularly badly affected.
Meanwhile, there are some that have actually thrived, either through the luck of being in the right place at the right time (and what business doesn’t need some luck occasionally), or in some cases, due to changes in people’s behaviour enforced by the various new rules and restrictions placed on us all.
One major group of businesses that has done well has been the supermarket sector, but behind the giant chains such as Tesco, Carrefour or Aldi etc another type of business that was already growing and, as a result of our corona-times, grown even more, has been home delivery. While it’s true that firms such as Amazon – and indeed the aforementioned supermarkets – dominate this sector, many local businesses have adapted to having to close their premises or limit numbers of visitors by reaching out directly to their customers and delivering to their door.
Local examples that come to mind in my area include market gardeners, breweries, restaurants, florists and bakers. Most of them use the ubiquitous white Transit van or a regular estate car, but I like to think that this week’s Prime Find would be a vehicle that would add some distinction and charm to a business that was using home delivery, and would act not just as a practical way to fulfil customer orders, but could be used to give their business some recognisable branding.
Now I know it’s not a new idea to use classic vehicles as wedding cars, catering vans, classic car hires, and so on, but that doesn’t mean that to do so isn’t still a good idea, and an old-fashioned classic van or pick-up with gold or traditional-style lettering being seen dropping off goods around the locality is always going to stand out, as well as raise a smile, and goodness knows we could all do with something to smile about these days.
A few weeks ago we featured a very small but very charming Autobianchi Bianchina Furgonico van (which is still for sale, by the way) but for this week, I wanted something a bit more homegrown, and arguably a bit more practical i.e bigger- and what could be more homegrown than a Morris Minor?
The Morris Minor – or Moggie, as it is often fondly referred to – is probably one of the most recognisable classics on our roads, with quite a few of them still showing up regularly at shows and events; in fact, some 15,500 Minors of all types are still running in the UK. Designed by Alec Issigonis as BMC’s answer to Volkswagen’s Beetle, the Moggie became a much-loved sight all over the UK and occasionally elsewhere, although it was never really exported in large numbers. Indeed, in the same way that the Beetle became – and remains, despite it’s almost world-wide ubiquity – a symbol of its home country, the Minor, together with the Mini, is a symbol of post-war Britain.
The Beetle, of course was a global sales success, with over 21.5 million made and sold around the world over a barely-credible 65 year period. By comparison, the Minor was a relative failure – with a production run from 1948 to 1972, by which time it was very dated (although to be fair, so was the Beetle), and being outsold by both its more modern stablemates the ADO16 (Austin/Morris 1100/1300) and the Mini as well as the Beetle, some 1.6 million examples had been built, the vast majority of them at Cowley and Longbridge, while some were also manufactured in New Zealand and Australia, also RHD markets – the Minor was never a “world car” in the way the Beetle was, although it was sold in limited numbers in the US and other LHD markets.
Nevertheless, in its home country, the Minor was undoubtedly a success and is viewed – sometimes through rose-tinted glasses – as a sturdy and reliable small family car with pluck and character – what could be more British than that? Well, used to be, anyway.
It’s not possible in a piece like this to go into great detail when it comes to recounting the long history of the Moggie, but I will delve into it briefly. Initially conceived in 1941, Alec Issigonis’ original plans for the Minor – originally known as the Mosquito – were to make a very advanced and space efficient small family car, with good ride and handling, featuring independent suspension, rack and pinion steering and unitary construction. It was also intended to include an advanced water-cooled flat-four power unit, to be located well to the front of the car, for minimum intrusion into the interior space.
Alec Issigonis’ original Morris Mosquito
In the end, by the time WW2 had ended, the Mosquito was looking to be too expensive to produce as envisaged, and many compromises ended up being made, not least with regard to the engine, with the result that an updated version of the Morris Eight’s old 918cc side-valve unit was used.
Nevertheless, many of Issigonis’ design concepts such as the small 14-inch wheels in each corner to help interior space efficiency by not intruding into the passenger compartment and to provide a smooth, comfortable ride – something he was to repeat with the Mini a decade later – and forward-placed engine remained, so while viewed now as a fairly ordinary car, at the time, the Minor was in some ways quite an advanced little machine.
Another change was that the production car was made four inches wider than the prototype, making the car somewhat larger than originally intended and as a result, it was deemed that the Mosquito name was no longer appropriate, with Minor being the chosen alternative. Interestingly, these four inches were added to the centre of the car.
Launched in just two versions in 1948 – a 2-door saloon and 2-door convertible – more versions were added over the years – a 4-door saloon, an estate model branded the “Traveller”, complete with wood framed rear bodywork that was a feature of the visual design, as well as a van and a pick-up, which were added in 1953.
The car was updated reasonably regularly throughout its life – the low headlight original was given a new look in 1952 following the creation of the British Motor Corporation (BMC) and a more modern and more efficient – albeit smaller – 803cc engine, and in 1956 evolved further into the Morris 1000, with the larger 948cc engine improving performance to a top speed of 75mph. The split-window windscreen was also replaced by a more contemporary curved version, which made the Minor look more contemporary.
In December 1960, the One Millionth Morris Minor rolled out of the Cowley factory – the first British car to reach that landmark – and 350 special edition cars painted in a lurid shade of lilac with white interior were produced. One was displayed at the NEC Classic Show a couple of years ago.
1962 saw further updates in the form of another increase in engine capacity to 1098cc and much sharing of components with other cars in the BMC range (a practice that had already started in the 1950s) and by 1965, the Morris 1000 – still called that despite the larger engine – was as good as it was going to get, as BMC focused their resources on the Morris and Austin 1100/1300 ranges. UK production of the Minor/1000 ceased in 1972, and in New Zealand in 1974.
So we come to our car – or more accurately, our pick-up. Morris Minor and Morris 1000 vans and pick-ups were widely used in the UK by the General Post Office, the AA and many more organisations, large and small, and this is where we come to our Prime Find for this week.
Our pick-up actually started life as a van when it was first registered back in 1970 and was used for many years by a lawn mower service agent. The vendor bought the van in 2013 and started a renovation programme that changed from being a van restoration to the creation of a perfect Minor pick-up. This meant sourcing a cab and rear tub, a new chassis, engine and gearbox rebuild, respray in its original Everglade Green colour and much more besides. If the advert is to be believed, it’s almost a new vehicle, and is therefore not cheap, with an asking price of £13,995. As such, it should prove to be a reliable way of making local deliveries or carrying out promotional duties – I can see it now, trundling cheerfully around our village with the tub full of beer crates. The advert doesn’t state what the pick-up’s carrying capacity is, but being based on a 1970 van, it should be capable of carrying payloads of at least 6cwt or 300kgs, possibly more.
We’ve borrowed a few photographs from the dealer’s website as per usual, and you can see the full dealer advert here. It looks very smart and very, well, English in its bright new coat of paint, and would surely be a popular sight as whoever buys it next goes about their business.
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us be inspired by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org