Pop the Bonnet

Here is a tale of how definitely not to buy a Morris Minor.

It was 2007. Feeder were riding high in the charts and Kimi Räikönnen was on his way to becoming F1 World Champion.

A couple of years or so had passed since my experience with the Lada.

It’s a similar story really. Have a few pints down the pub, come home, get on eBay and this time I start browsing Moggies.

Maybe I could pick up a cheap one and use it as a fun runaround? Sure, I’ll have to spend more than the £87 paid for the Lada but why not?

I quickly find a 1967 two door saloon in Trafalgar blue. It looked okay in the photos. The current owner says it’s reliable and that she uses it as a daily driver. Great. It even had a (very ugly) period roofrack.

It’s in Birmingham, which is a good bit closer than London.

What’s not to like?

Naive and buoyed by my previous good experience with the Lada I came to an agreement to buy the Moggy for £500. I asked hardly any questions.

I didn’t know the first thing about Minors. All I knew was I liked them. In hindsight this was a really, really stupid way to buy a car. Especially a Minor.

The owner said they’d check the oil, water and fan belt to make sure it was okay for the drive back to Scotland.

A few days later my friend Tony went with me to collect it. Though perhaps Boon would have been more appropriate to take given the car was in Birmingham (you’ll need to be a certain age to get that).

“Tony could sink some Jack Daniel’s in the air. It was after 6.30am after all.”

Tony and I flew down with FlyBe (remember them?). We nearly didn’t take off at all, as the propeller driven plane “went tech” before push back. The pilot reassured us that he had effectively switched the plane off and back on again and that everything was now working fine. Good to know that a multi-million pound aircraft can be fixed in the same way as a £300 Acer computer.

Still, eventually we were on our way and Tony could sink some Jack Daniel’s in the air. It was after 6.30am after all. We collected the car a couple of hours later, just two miles off the M6. It looked “fair.” Which was to be expected for £500.

We didn’t really check the car over. Then as we pulled away the first thing I said to Tony was “this engine sounds fucked mate.” Tony, half cut courtesy of his friend Mr Daniel’s, wasn’t overly concerned.

“I didn’t realise it straightaway, but it was the sound of an engine deprived of oil.”

I didn’t realise it straightaway, but it was the sound of an engine deprived of oil. It was metal on metal. Something you never want to hear.

We were basically straight onto the M6 having collected it. At the entrance slip I said “I really don’t like the sound of this, I’m pulling in at the first service point”.

I never got the chance.

There was a quiet thud, the car jerked. A cloud of whiteish grey smoke obscured the view out the windscreen. All I could see in the mirrors was smoke. Some swearing immediately ensued.

My heart lept into my throat and I thought the car was on fire. I pulled into the hard shoulder and hit the brakes.

“I was nearly wiped out by an articulated lorry.”

Tony undid his original 1960s lap belt quickly and got out to safety on the hard shoulder. In my panic I struggled to unfasten mine.

When I finally unfastened it I was in such a hurry to get out the car that I was nearly wiped out by an articulated lorry, which was travelling in lane one. A cool woosh of air brushed my face.

Having avoided a grisly death (ending my days aged 25 under the wheels of a Scania on the M6, next to a smoking Morris Minor would have been very crap, not least for my parents) I breathed a sigh of relief and called the AA. The one sensible thing I’d done was to ensure decent breakdown cover was in place.

Tony with the broken Moggie on the M6.

The AA man found a hole in the side of the engine. But to demonstrate the strength of the a-series engine he turned the ignition key and the engine dutifully turned over.

The rest of the journey home to Scotland was on the back of an AA flatbed watching DVDs. There were frequent stops. Sometimes it was to change AA wagon as part of their relay service. Mostly though it was so Tony could smoke one of his trademark Marlboro reds.

When we finally got back we dropped the car off in my parents driveway and set off immediately for the pub, where all great thinking took place.

The following day I complained to the seller because she’d said she would make sure the car was fit for the journey. Plainly it wasn’t. Unexpectedly and much to her credit she partially refunded me. So she was probably a pretty decent person. I think she felt guilty that a lorry had almost wiped me out.

I really ought to have checked things like oil and water myself before setting off. Not to mention the rest of the car!

In the weeks that followed I sourced a replacement engine for free, courtesy of a kind chap in the central belt that had a few spare a series engines. I then made arrangements for an acquaintance who was a mechanic to switch the engines over.

The free engine ran sweetly and the Moggy was back on the road ready to bumble along once more.

“On eBay she went back up for auction.”

I ran it for only a few weeks until the MOT expired. By this point I knew the car needed a lot of work and I couldn’t afford to put her through an MOT.

On eBay she went back up for auction. To add insult to injury I sold her for around half what I’d paid for her.

There are many lessons in this story. Looking back I was a daft young boy, totally ignorant of what to look for when buying a Morris Minor. It was naive youthful stupidity. Plain and simple.

I knew next time I bought one I’d need to spend a bit more money, so as not to end up with another basket case.

I thought I’d learned my lesson.

N.B. If you are in the market for a Morris Minor please get onto the Morris Minor Owner’s Club forums. Do not repeat my mistakes. Read useful buying advice from current owners as a starting point. There is loads of great advice on the forums and there are very knowledgeable enthusiasts are willing to help! I’ll touch on this in more detail in a future blog.

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