This Family Heirloom Morris Minor Has Returned From The Scrap Heap
Photography by Shane Allen
When our newest contributing photographer Shane Allen told me he was taking a trip to Europe, I asked him to keep his eyes peeled and lens ready for any possible stories to share with Petrolicious. Luckily for us he didn’t disappoint. Through his travels, he met a young man who owns the blue Morris Minor with deep family roots pictured above.
We all know cars become family members over time, and sometimes they move on, but every once in a while they return home. This story is about the roundabout way that this plucky Minor returned home.
Andrew Golseth: When did this 1960 Morris Minor first join the family?
Matthew Coates: Originally, it came to my grandfather who ran a MOT station back in Bristol, which is in the southwest of England. The car came in for a test and failed because it was pretty rotten. My grandfather thought he could patch it up and get it back on the road, so he offered the owner some pittance fee for it.
He bought it from the guy, patched it up, and drove it around as his daily driver for the next couple of years. It was just his daily, nothing too special or anything. Eventually, he got quite ill in his older years and him and my father patched it up some more and sold it. It actually went to a new owner in the Lake District in the north of England.
That’s probably not too far for you guys in the states, but that’s about 400 miles away from where we live, which is quite far for us. The car stayed there for 10 to 15 years before being sold again to another person who happened to live in Bristol, which we didn’t know anything about at the time.
AG: How did your family get the car back?
MC: Well, that owner in Bristol just parked it under a tree and it rusted out there. One day, long after my grandfather had died, my dad was looking for a new project car—we’re always working on and restoring classics as a hobby. It’s kind of a thing in our family.
My father had a look in the local newspaper and found an ad that said, “Morris Minor for spares or repair.” He went to look at it and it was his dad’s old car. It had just been sitting under this tree rotting away. Obviously, he couldn’t help it—he had to buy it and it’s been back in the family ever since.
AG: Do you remember your grandfather driving the car when you were a kid?
MC: No, because it was sold just before I was born, which must have been ’88 or ’89. But I did know about it because I always saw it in family photos and things. It was grandpa’s Minor, you know. It was “granddad’s car,” that’s how my dad always referred to it. Having been driven around in it as a kid, my dad had a lot of memories with the car. My dad is quite fond of the Morris Minor—he even had one as his first car and still drives them today.
This one was in such horrendous shape when it came back to us. The bits of welding my granddad and father had done to it years ago were still all in good order, but everything else that they hadn’t done was a bit of a horror. It was terminally rusty, the engine was worn out, and it’d been parked next to Lake Windermere for God knows how many years. The damp air hadn’t done it any favors.
I was a teenager when my dad brought it home so we restored it together and got it back on the road. I think I was 14 when it was road worthy again.
AG: So this was a father/son project?
MC: Yeah. My dad did a lot welding on it and I helped him out. I didn’t know much about mechanics at the time so it was very much the case of handing him the tools he needed, but I learned a lot from it. He patched the bits that weren’t so bad and replaced what was too far gone. This was my first time really getting into a restoration. I really started getting into cars when I was about 12 and he picked this up when I was 13 or so. It was the first car we worked on together.
AG: Did you rebuild the original engine?
MC: No, actually the original engine had long been replaced. The engine in it when we got it back was the same engine my dad and grandfather had put in it. By the time we got it back, it was very rattly and blowing oil from every orifice it had. So, we built a new engine for it but that one didn’t last very long. (laughs)
My dad installed a cylinder head that turned out to be not very compatible with the block so that one went in the bin as well. Then we fitted a unit from an MG Midget because they’re essentially the same engine, which is the engine it still has now. What’s funny about that engine is it’s actually a leftover my dad had built when he was my age.
AG: How long did it take the father and son duo to complete the restoration?
MC: It went back on the road when I was 15 years old, so that must have been 2005 or 2006? So, it took roughly 2 years. My dad drove it for two years and then gave it to me to drive on my 18th birthday, so it became my first car.
It had a really naff paintjob my dad paid one of his mates 300 pounds to paint it and I remember being not too impressed at the time. When he let me get my hands on it at 18, I thought I’d have a go so I repainted it myself. That’s the paint it still wears now which is significantly shinier, I must say.
I was lucky to have spent two years at a paint shop after school, I learned a lot there. I used the skills I learned there and did the work to the Minor.
The interior was luckily in really good nick when we got it back so we cleaned it up and put it back in. It still looks quite nice now, actually. It’s starting to show it’s age but I use it every day so I figured if I made it too nice I wouldn’t want to drive it.
AG: Is it your daily driver?
MC: Oh yeah, I don’t have any other cars. It’s totally reliable; I drive it every single day. I live in Canterbury now, which is 200 miles from Bristol, and I drive it too and from home, it’s no trouble for it.
I actually drove it to the Lake District and back once, which is 800 miles round trip, and again it didn’t miss a beat. It’s been the most reliable car I think we’ve ever had in our family, to be honest. (laughs) It’s broken down once in the last 15 years and that was my own fault because I fitted some rather poor driveshafts. That’s literally the only time it’s broken down and it was because of something I had done to it, not the car’s fault.
AG: 800 miles at a not-so-brisk pace, I assume?
MC: Not as bad as you’d think. Luckily, that engine dad built is a little bit warmer than the original one. So, it cruises along just fine. It’s an 1,100cc engine out of an MG Midget, which is already slightly more powerful than the standard Minor engine, plus we did a few modifications to it so I can drive it a little bit quicker.
AG: What kind of modifications?
MC: We put a hot cam in it, nothing crazy so it still ticks over easily, but a little hotter than stock. We ported the cylinder head ourselves; we do all of our engineering work ourselves. I love working on these old engines for that reason. You can get inside them and do whatever you want and it’s so much easier than modern stuff.
It’s also got high compression pistons, an electronic ignition, and a free flowing exhaust. We used components that are much higher performance than standard, but under the hood they look completely stock. So, if you open the bonnet you can’t tell but it is actually quite heavily modified under there.
It’s got decent disc brakes, also off an MG Midget. They’re not the biggest you can fit on the car, but they’re a lot sharper than the drums and they don’t fade, so that makes it a little bit safer for me to cruise.
The suspension is also modified with telescopic dampers all around and tramp bars at the back because Minors are known to have bad axle tramp if you pull away too quickly. The bars help keep it straight.
AG: This isn’t the only Minor in the family now, is it?
MC: Well, yeah. And my older brother, he has a Morris Minor, too. Between the three of us, we actually have five Morris Minors—dad has got two, I’ve got two, and my brother Mike has got one. Dad also has a few other classics as well, but the Morris Minor is where we got started.
AG: Do you have any future plans for it?
MC: I’m actually about to take it off the road for a little while because where I’ve been driving it everyday has taken a little toll on it. I’ve kept the chassis in perfect condition, so it passes the MOT every year, but the exterior panels are starting to show their age.
The gutters are a bit rusty and the doors are starting to get blistery around the bottom, so I’m going to take it off the road for the first time in 15 years since it was last restored. I’m going to completely tidy up the interior, I’m going to repair the rust, and respray it again, get rid of all the stone chips.
I recently finished rebuilding a hot 1,300cc out of a Morris Marina, which should put out about 90 brake horsepower when I’m done with it. So, I’ll be fitting it with that along with a five-speed gearbox.
It was originally Smoke Grey, which is a kind of an off-duck-egg-blue. When I was a kid we just called it “the blue Minor,” so when I went to repaint it I thought I should make it properly blue because I didn’t really like the grey.
Where I worked at the paint shop, we used to paint conservatory panels and the color code was “Ral,” which is 5024 pastel blue. I remember seeing that and thinking, “That’s the nicest shade of blue I’ve ever seen.” So, I painted it in that and I’m going to keep it that color. It’s gone down so well, I’ve gotten so many people saying, “Wow, that’s a great color,” that I just couldn’t return it to an original color. (laughs)
AG: I assume its safe to say granddad’s Minor isn’t leaving the family stable?
MC: Oh no, I could never sell it. I couldn’t get rid of it now. Especially since it’s done the round trip from my grandfather back to us. I have a feeling if I did try and sell it, it’d just end up coming back somehow anyway. (laughs) So, I’m not about to kick it out.