A Controllable Passion
If You Don’t Try, You Will Never Succeed Bob Little
I always had an interest in old cars. My first car was a 1929 President 8 Studebaker. I was just 17 years old, the car was in very good condition and I felt like a million dollars (actually pounds in those days). My father told me it would cost too much run, so I sold it after only 10 months and bought a Morris 840. Unfortunately, the car cost more in parts than the Studebaker ever did in petrol but taught me much about maintaining cars.
Then in the mid-60s, I had this idea of buying an old sports car for restoration as I was not interested in gardening as a pastime. Little did I realise that over a 39 year period that interest would consume the family’s social life and would continue into the next generation.
Morgans became my passion. They are very simple in construction:- just a steel chassis with all the mechanical parts. The wooden frame sits on top and the body parts go on the outside. If you prang one, you just straighten the chassis, repair the frame and fit new panels. Try doing that with any other car.
1968 saw my entry into the Morgan world via a very rough 1948 Series 1 four seater purchased for $400 from a Kingswood location. To get the car home, I borrowed a trailer that was designed to carry a top fueler drag racer and used a 1200cc VW as the towing vehicle.
Once home, all panels were stripped from the car so that the woodwork could be replaced from the scuttle area to the radiator. My toolkit comprised a steel plane, wood saw, hammer, chisel and a lot of patience. Most of the framework was cut out in one piece using marine ply (ash being scarce as hens’ teeth in Australia), as I was of the opinion that it would be much stronger than bits and pieces joined together. All the doors, side and back panels were covered with aluminium to adjust for the extra weight caused by using marine ply.
Next item was the radiator. As the chrome-plated cowl needed re-chroming, it was decided to separate the core from the cowl. This involved making a new header tank with internal filling cap. While this was happening, the motor, gearbox and running gear were stripped, cleaned and damaged parts replaced.
The next phase was hood and interior trimming. This was carried out by Doug Nicholson, my next door neighbour, who was the head teacher for motor trimming at Ultimo TAFE. I later undertook a 2 year motor trimming course there, which helped me with the other 3 Morgans. While doing this course, I managed to complete a 5 year panel beating course at Granville TAFE. It was here that I met John Coneybeare who was doing a spray painting course sometime in the early 80s.
With the 4 seater now up and running, I borrowed the plates from a 1951 +4 (which I had purchased the year before) to get us to our first Morgan run: – the Vaucluse House Annual Morgan Show Day.
All went well until it was time to leave for home. Then the pin connecting the clutch pedal to the pressure plate mechanism parted, making it a difficult drive home to Castle Hill without a clutch. It can be done when you have no alternative, but it is no mean feat especially in Sunday traffic!
The +4 was one of the older body designs with separate headlamps and a former 1969 Concourse winner. However, it had been driven without regard to basic maintenance and just left in a garage when the engine eventually quit. Fortunately, the +4 was soon returned to running order and just needed a general cleanup and repaint with some minor panel-beating. The bonnet had been used for mixing cement! It ran with the original Vanguard motor until 1987 when it was replaced with a Datsun 1800cc motor and gearbox after a major engine destruct. This gave Allison transport to college for the rest of her tertiary studies.
In 1971, I bought a 1937 two door Dodge with just 24 thousand miles on the clock and this was my transport for the next 12 months until I decided to strip it of paint for a respray — although still in the process of rebuilding the 1951 +4. Who said that you could not do two jobs at once? Especially, while also managing my son Brad’s cricket and football team, and following Bev around for my daughter Allison’s physical culture!
The 4 seater was sold to Peter Canavan in 1987, as I had purchased a 1939 DHC (Drop Head Coupe) in 1978 and a 1948 DHC in 1982. Both these cars were worse than ‘basket cases’ as you will see from the photos. The frames had to be raked from the long grass and any metal found was included in the inventory. I reconstructed the frame shape with bits of wire and nails just to get an idea of the basic outline. Then I rang string around it and built a new frame by filling in the missing pieces from memory.
The white 1939 DHC was devoid of mechanicals — no motor, gearbox or diff. For this reason, a Morris Major motor, gearbox and diff. were used for some 8 years of club racing before a Datsun motor, box was installed. In retrospect, the pleasure Beverley and I have had from this car outweighs the remarks about originality. Ask John Coneybeare, who drove Allison’s car to the All British Display day in Canberra one year. The 1948 DHC, which I bought from Peter Wagner, was Ken Ward’s first Morgan and is still up and running in my son Brad’s hands.
While restoring both DHCs, I found that the only body parts worth using were the front and back mudguards and the front suspension units. While rebuilding the two DHCs, I decided that they needed new radiator cowls (as did the plus 4), so with the panel beating course behind me, I belt the hell out of three pieces of sheet metal for 3 months. After planishing the metal to get out all hammer marks, it was chrome-plated.
Meanwhile, a 1941 AJS motor bike caught my eye. So in between all the other work, the bike was stripped and the tank restored. Tank restoration involved cutting the bottom out and then panel beating the tank into shape, before welding the bottom back on ready for chroming. After repairs to the frame, the bike was sold to Rudy Rencoret’s friend for completion.
On all the restoration work that I have carried out, I have never sourced body parts or panels from overseas, as I had to keep costs to a bare minimum. Every Morgan has its imperfections and that is what gives them their real character.
The major spin-off from all this is the friendship that we have experienced and the social activities that our family has enjoyed and continue to enjoy. The last 3 cars are still in the family today and giving much enjoyment to another generation. It is a delight to see my grandchildren insist on taking turns to sit in the passenger seat of the Morgan. But lastly, without the encouragement, understanding and involvement of my wife, Beverley, all this would not have been possible. Remember, if you don’t try, you will never succeed.
1951 Plus 4 – Allison Brancourt’s car
Original Vanguard motor till 1987; then Datsun 1800cc motor and gearbox; then rebuilt Vanguard motor in order to be eligible for club registration
1939 DHC – Bob and Bev Little’s car
1800cc OHC motor by Datsun, 5 speed gearbox, single 45 Webber carb, 4 into 1 extractor, brake booster, 3.7 diff ratio
1948 DHC – Brad Little’s car
1267 cc OHV standard motor 2 down draft Solex carb, Morris Major diff centre with Moss mechanical brakes and half shaft mated to Morris Major diff hemisphere giving 4.55 to 1 diff ratio to complement 15” wheels all round in place of 16” wheels. A new chassis fabricated from 18# sheet metal