South Africa Morris Minor

When Neville Josman got a Morris Minor to restore, he never realised how his whole family would get involved with the car.

Throughout my adult life I always wanted to own an old motor car; what kind I did not really know and was not fussy.

In 2000 I was presented with the opportunity of obtaining an old Morris Minor, so I jumped at it. I owned a mechanical business in South Africa and I serviced the vehicles for a large plumbing company. Neil Dowdle, the owner of this business, was aware of my wish and one day called me to his property to see this beige 1957 Morris Minor 1000 four-door.

He immediately offered me the “Morrie”, but the only drawback was it had been standing in the sand under a tree for 16 years! I was shocked, as you can well imagine, but very excited.

Although it had a lot of work to be done, I looked forward to embarking on this project. My wife, Laura, and my daughter, Stacey, were happy to allow me to tackle the project: with not too much intervention from them (little did they know how much that would change!).

Before we could get it towed to our house in Edenvale, a suburb of Johannesburg, we had to get Neil’s wife, Rose, out for the afternoon – as she has a policy “what comes into the property does not leave!”

So, off she went and we got the towing company to come in the yard and pull the Morris outside. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds, because the Morris wasn’t just sitting in the backyard. It was in deep vegetation in the garden and it took the tow truck driver some time to drag it out before we could take it to its new home.

Remarkably, our Morris was able to be started up and was driven to the panel shop, Monteiro Panel Beaters, where we stripped it to the shell. Whatever was left of it was towed to a specialized welder, Brian Pough, who was from New Zealand and had immigrated to South Africa. He rebuilt the entire floor of the car, as it was completely rusted. The body shell was sand-blasted and sprayed with red oxide primer to protect it.

While this was happening, the engine was overhauled at the company I used to work for, Sartor Brothers Engineering, and the cylinder head converted to be able to use unleaded fuel. The gearbox was also overhauled by the then president of the Johannesburg Morris Minor Club, Dave Smith. The diff bearings were replaced and new seals put in, and I had all the bolts and nuts cadmium plated.

After a period of about six months, the welding was all finished and the body shell went back to Monteiro where it was spray painted: all other necessary parts and the doors had been sprayed previously.

The Morris then went back home, so the assembly could start. Up to this point it was known by the rest of the family as “Your car!”, and they were not going to get involved. Then both Laura and Stacey got a mild dose of whooping cough and were basically house-bound. To relieve the boredom they both became involved in the assembly of the Morris, which from then on became known as “Our car!”

We were very lucky when it came to re-assembling our Morrie, as three members from the Morris Minor Owners Club, Johannesburg (MMOC), used to pop in every weekend to assist with the assembly and to advise where to fit the different parts. They were the president Dave Smith, treasurer Lawrie Barttle, and magazine editor Chris Spinks – a walking Morris encyclopedia, who was at the launching of the Morris Minor in 1948.

The electrical system, where necessary, was redone by Hilton Jacobson Electrical and the upholstery was covered in the original tan with white piping by Cornelius Auto Tech Trimming.

There were some trying moments along the way, for example when Laura and I installed the brake cable. There were more than a few words passed between us and we were really getting heated up, but we eventually got it in (we were both even in one piece!). Then Dave came and told us it was incorrectly put in. The cable was then duly stripped out and redone.

The steering wheel was done by Stacey (who was then seven years old), who put on the putty and sanded it down. The wheel was then painted (with my help) and finally put on the Morris. Was she ever proud of her handy work!

We also can’t forget the day Laura decided to turn our fox terrier into a ‘Dalmatian’ by dabbing black sealer on her.

The day finally came when we took our shiny Morris Minor on its first outing to the “Piston Ring Club”: a car club where all classic, vintage and veteran cars come together.

Thereafter, we started going on various Morris club runs. The first was to the Benoni bird sanctuary, just outside Johannesburg. The MMOC got into my family’s blood and we went to every run whenever possible, which we all thoroughly looked forward to.

2006 was the South African National Rally which was held in the city of Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State. The Bloemfontein club has only eight members in it, and they put on a Nationals event worthy of any other big club.

Members of the Morris club and my family talked me into entering our car. When I got there, my Morris was entered in what was then called the “Tops” category. I could not believe that she came first in this category.

Two years later, in 2008, after many club runs and the upgrading of the Morris, the car was entered in the Nationals at Emerald City Casino and Convention Centre, Van Der Bijl, Gauteng. This also marked the 60th anniversary of the Morris Minor and what a spectacular event it was.

This time our car was entered in “De Etat” (concourse), this being to the standard as the car left the factory. We achieved third place in this competition.

We had received our permanent residency for Australia in 2003, the same year we finished the Minor’s restoration, and in February 2008 we finally decided we were going to immigrate to Australia: choosing Brisbane, as Laura says, “because of the weather”.

There was one big agreement between us as a family and that was “if the Morris can’t go, we don’t go”! We felt that besides all the effort (and money) that had gone into restoring it, the Morris would be a good way to meet people in Australia.

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