A Journey with the Morris Minor versus Simulated Driving Machines

I’m a Morris Minor owner and I drive mine very happily almost every day. It makes me happy and you can often see me driving around with a stupid grin on my face. I am sometimes seen in other vehicles; I sometimes drive a police car, or even my wife’s car.

I was taken for a drive in my eldest daughter’s brand-new Suzuki crossover beast last weekend. It’s a shiny, high-tech vehicle with automatic everything, parking cameras and a one litre turbo engine. It’s quiet, extremely ‘safe’, very economical and she adores it. It is very impressive.

As much as I enjoyed our little drive, I was wondering about the different levels of abstraction the car gives the driver from the reality of driving. This car and other modern cars give the driver a near silent glide around our roads, in a comfortable, climate controlled cockpit, with a computer to guide the way and a fantastic sound system to remove them even further from the task at hand: getting from one place to another.




 

I am worried by this. I can’t help but feel that the driver is placed on the same level as a computer simulation,  a virtual reality driving experience. I believe this effortless driving and modern safety features such as lane control and impact collision prediction, give the driver a false sense of security. Through my work as a police officer, I’ve seen the carnage caused, even at relatively low impact speeds, due to distraction or loss of concentration.

Don’t worry, I’m not completely a miserable old git, harking back to the good old days. I honestly think some of these cars are very beautiful, extremely economical and offer a relaxing form of driving.

The Morris Minor

Moggy Pete

Moggy Pete, mid-1980s
Moggy Pete, mid-1980s

My first car was a Morris Minor 1000. It looked like a chocolate blancmange, poured freshly out of the mould. It was given to me by a friend and I used it to learn drive. My mother would often sit with me as I pootled  long the Sussex roads, grinding the gears along the way;  there were easier cars to learn to drive in, but I was very happy with this one.

Her name was Moggy Pete; definitely a ‘she’ called Pete, after the colour peat. A year or so later I passed my driving test, got married (far too early the first time at 22 years-old) and Moggy Pete was passed on to her next owner as she developed a fault I couldn’t afford to fix.

I didn’t know at the time, but my early experiences of my first car made an indelible mark on my psyche. I’ve had many other cars since then, but whenever I heard the sound of that rasping exhaust going by, or smelled the familiar smell of the hot vinyl, damp and oil, I was instantly taken back to Moggy Pete and memories of how simple she was to drive. If I am honest, I had also chosen to forget the hours of adjusting spark gaps, changing condensers, whacking the starter motor, adjusting the carburettor, the annual MOT welding extravaganza. Only the romantic memories of a steady, bouncy and friendly blancmange driving machine remained.

Doris

Dorris
Doris and my daughter, who was six years-old at the time (2006). This was taken near Goodwood.

It wasn’t until about 20 years later that the desire for a Minor returned and was realised. I had remarried and my wife was (and still is) kind and understanding.

One Saturday afternoon I took a train to the centre of London to pick up a white Morris Minor I had bought on eBay – without seeing it first. This was Doris the Morris, a white two-door, which had once been a police car back in the day.

Dora before being sold

I drove her back in the dark through the centre of London, praying wildly, and all the way home to Chichester in West Sussex, with a few stops on the way. On the way back the headlights went (dirty connectors – fixed on the side of the road) and the wipers were pretty dodgy too. She had a few rust ‘issues’, but she had her own style. Her heart was good, but the rot had firmly set in the body shell.

Bluebell

My next Morris was Bluebell, bought a couple of years later. I bought her, plus a whole bunch of spare parts, from a man in Yeovil, again through eBay. With help from my brother, I drove her back with no problems at all. She was the first Morris I had with four doors plus an alternator conversion; practically modern. She was lovely, though needed a respray to replace her natural Trafalgar Blue ‘shine’.

This is Bluebell, equipped with a sleeping boy in the front seat. This picture was taken in a village called Buriton, near Petersfield in Hampshire.

Bluebell became a part of our family and was the subject of several magical bedtime stories.

She wobbled a lot at speed, eventually wrecking the gearbox casing on the way home from work on the four lanes of the A27 new Cosham in Hampshire. This was down to under-seal being sprayed on the prop-shaft by the previous owner.

Dora

Dora
This is Dora, with her headlight peaks,  also in Trafalgar Blue.

The Morris I own now is another  in Trafalgar Blue. Her name is Dora the ‘Explorer’. I bought Dora from a garage in Chichester in 2016. She is in pretty good condition all over, and will probably need a respray in a couple of years.

I have had quite a fair amount of work done on her so far, including an alternator conversion, inertia reel seat belts throughout, electronic ignition and a heated rear window.

A few months ago the big-end bearings went as I was pulling into work.  Poor old Dora. She got me there nice and safe before she died. Fortunately, Woodies Morris Minor restorers is only a few miles away from me, so off she went on the back of the recovery truck to have her engine rebuilt!

Needless to say, she came back running beautifully. Since then I’ve replaced the flasher unit and indicator switch, added door mirrors and have done other bits and pieces to keep her running beautifully.

My Original Point

So, going back to my original point about modern cars, I find that driving a Morris puts the driver back in touch with the visceral experience of driving. You can’t just point the Morris in the direction you want to go and press a pedal, driving one has much more interaction with the controls.




 

Yes, modern cars are much safer. The drum brakes on the Morris Minor are very poor and the suspension is bouncy to say the least. I have added inertia-reel seat belts front and rear and installed halogen headlights for better nighttime visibility. This is because  I want to use Dora as an everyday car. The next major modifications I am having done, that may rile a few Morris Minor purists, is the installation of disc brakes at the front and rear shocks to improve the suspension.

These upgrades don’t take away the fun, which is at the heart of driving a Morris Minor, but they equip it for modern roads and modern driving.

door mirrors
Door mirrors I have recently fitted improve visibility for overtaking.
Recreating the pose
My youngest daughter (17 years old at the time of writing) attempting to recreate her original pose which she did when she was 6 years old with Dora – see photo above.

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