Australian Survivor

This story began for me in 1998. I’d seen a two-tone blue Morris Major travelling around Ballarat a few times. It appeared in good, original condition and, with P-plates on it, was being driven by a young lady.

I have a deep interest in BMC cars and have been a member of the Morris Car Club of Victoria since its very first meeting, when I was in my teens, so this was the sort of car I would take notice of.

My first impressions were that it might have been a family car, handed down a generation, but I didn’t give it another thought. I didn’t know where it was from or any more about it and left it at that.

Sometime later I happened to be talking to a bloke named Mal Warner and somehow got on to the topic of hobbies and old cars. He said he had recently inherited a Morris from his father Les and his daughter had been driving it around town, as she had not long obtained her driver’s licence. He described the car and I realised it was the same one. What are the chances?

Mal went on to say that it was getting a bit unreliable and needed work, and that his daughter wasn’t driving it anymore and it was sitting in his driveway in Ballarat North. I offered to have a look and assess the car for him. As a result I also made an offer to buy it. Mal agreed to sell and I bought his Major on 23 July 1998, on the condition that I hand in the registration plates, GYV 165, which I did.

I drove the car home and began to clean it up and carry out repairs. It was in good overall condition and mostly just needed a bit of attention. I enjoyed my work and effort on this Major, but never re-registered it.

The Barn Find

I kept in touch with Mal for some time and one day he said that he had an aunt who also had a Morris Major absolutely identical in every way to his dad’s, but that he had not been in contact with her nor seen the car for many years. He passed on her name to me, with some vagueness, told me she lived in the Wimmera district in far-western Victoria, and wished me luck.

Keen to follow this lead I tried a few avenues but to no avail; it was all too long ago and as we all know, these rumours of old cars in sheds are just that, and the cars and people involved are usually long gone.

However, in March 2001 I was visiting a mate of mine at Serviceton, on the South Australian border, where he’d lived all his life. I took a long-shot and showed him the note Mal had written. He said he’d see what he could do. Incredibly, within half an hour not only had he found Mal’s aunt, Jean Merrett, but he’d contacted her and her husband Bob, and they said that they’d be happy for me to call in on my way home. Yes, she still had her Morris Major in the shed! Never under estimate the bush telegraph; it works!

So, I called in on Jean and Bob, had a look at her Major and took a few photos of it still in the shed. It hadn’t moved since 1989. I did make an offer to buy her car, but I could see that she was in no mind to sell. She was very sentimental, which I quietly admired in her, so we exchanged details and I told her the story of Les’ Major that I’d bought. She said she remembered Les, his son Mal and his Major getting about in Nhill.

It turned out that the two cars were closely linked and virtually twins. Jean’s had been bought for her by her grandfather, Alfred Warner of Lawloit, from Bongiorno Bros of Nhill on 30 January 1959, registered GXH 645. It was finished in Murlong Grey over Oderna Blue with contrasting Tan trim, fitted with a painted sunvisor, locking petrol cap and sump guard for added protection.

Jean also lived at Lawloit, on her family’s farm “Belvue”, and passed her driving test in September of that same year, taking on the Major as promised.

She enjoyed driving her Major around the district, mainly between her family farm, her grandfather Alfred’s home, and to Nhill and Kaniva for shopping.

She often drove with her mum Win, grandfather Alfred and Buttons their fox terrier dog, travelling occasionally as far as Horsham or Bordertown. The car was never driven to Melbourne or Adelaide.

Jean told me that although the car was well looked after, garaged in a farm shed and had never spent a night outside, it wasn’t treated like a princess. It did some work around the farm, often carrying a sheep trundled up in the boot, and the dogs sometimes rode in the back, but it was never abused.

However, in 1989 the fuel pump was giving trouble and the carby was flooding at times, so the Major was laid up in the shed and the registration allowed to lapse. The car had travelled a mere 58,441 miles in 30 years.

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The BMC Experience Issue 19. Oct-Dec 2016 Magazine


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