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Melvyn the Morris (bullnose).Welcome to my fictional story regarding a 1920's bullnose Morris Cowley, and how it was recovered from an uncertain future, and restored to its former glory. Although just a story, many of the adventures are based on my real life encounters, and stories/people I have met.
Melvyn was not having a good time of things. For the last 25 years he'd been sat in the same place, largely forgotten and no longer the object of his owner's adoration. The damp musty barn in deepest Cheshire where he'd sat since the mid 1970s had not been kind to him. The once lustrous paintwork, originally a magnificent dark green in colour, was now faded and blotchy, its glittering shine sadly a distant memory. The chromework too had suffered through the years of neglect, the leaking roof of the rickety barn having let the rain in in places, transforming the chrome that was once polished weekly, into a rusty and pockmarked shadow of its former self. However it was not just the damp that had reduced poor old Melvyn to the state he was in now. A family of mice had taken fancy to his once-preserved leather interior, and had done an excellent job of eating through the upholstery in places to make their nest, leaving the remains of the once proud interior in a very sorry condition, aided as it was by the doors left hanging open and the sunroof leaking in the drips from the battered old roof on the barn. |
It hadn't always been this way of course. Way back in 1925 Melvyn was a brand spanking new motorcar, the first of his type and was being meticulously prepared for that years Earls Court Motorshow. Morris was a proud manufacturer of quality motor cars back in those days, one of many car makers that are no longer with us such as Standard, Hillman, Lanchester, Singer, Austin, Morris and many more that have since fallen by the wayside. A team of cloth capped gents, whistling away, worked feverishly during the summer of '35 to prepare Melvyn for the car show ahead. One man concentrated on the chrome parts, ensuring that the shine to the grille, bumpers, door handles and screen frame all glistened as if a mirror, whilst another focused his labours on the underbonnet areas, ensuring that the paintwork on the engine, radiator, and pieces of pipework all looked their very very best. Two more keen gents were tasked with cutting back and polishing the new paintwork until you could see your reflection in it, while one more ensured that everything in the interior was 'just so'.
The day before the motorshow dawned clear and bright, and Melvyn was carefully wheeled out of the equally immaculate Commer transporter which had brought him to London for the event. Gloved hands carefully rolled Melvyn into the building in the direction of the Morris stand, where he'd take station alongside some other models in the Morris range, on view to the public and hopefully attracting many sales. As it was, the event proved to be a great success, and the Morris stand was well received by both the public and motoring press alike, journalists in The Autocar raving about his sleek new lines.
Once the show was over, Melvyn was passed to a dealership in Cheshire where he was put up for sale alongside lots of other brand new British motor cars at a respected dealership. Due to his extra-special shine, it wasn't long before he was snapped up by an eager buyer, a certain Doctor Diddle, who proceeded to use Melvyn to take him on his rounds, regularly to be seen pottering around the green and leafy lanes of Cheshire. After only a few years, the war loomed imminently and, with the restricted availability of petrol rationing and other shortages during the conflict, Melvyn was carefully laid up in Dr Diddle's garage and left until the war was over. When Melvyn the Morris reappeared on the streets early in the Spring of 1946, the roads were a very different place. Gone were the attractive cast iron AA and RAC signs, as were many of the street name plates that were around before WW2 and many sections of the old Cheshire fencing - all donated to a nationwide scheme to provide metal which could go into the production of munitions and equipment to aid the war effort. Plus if we were invaded, the lack of signposts would slow down the advance of any enemy invasion, so the theory went. Melvyn was one of many pre-war cars that were resurrected in the months following the end of the war, even though much of the fuel rationing remained for a number of years.
Melvyn continued to transport Dr Diddle around until the late 1950s, by which time Melvyn was already over 20 years old and the Doctor planning his imminent retirement. Melvyn was still in immaculate condition, but the doctor had already decided to trade Melvyn in for a newer car, in this case a brand new Austin Seven, or as it was soon to be called, Austin Mini. The Doctor part exchanged Melvyn against the brand new Mini, and the shiny Morris was soon entered into a local car dealers auction, a common way for dealers to pass on the cars they no longer want or don't fit in with their image. Melvyn was Lot number 234, and he had a long wait until his turn came up. The bidding was brisk, and the hammer finally went down at 15 pounds 5 shillings, "sold to the gent in the deerstalker hat". Melvyn's new buyer was very pleased with his new purchase. Sterling Floss was his name, and was very excited about adding Melvyn to his own collection of old Morriss, the barn at his farm near Chester already bulging with vintage and classic Morriss of all ages and conditions. He pressed Melvyn into daily use straightaway, preferring the laid back approach needed to drive elderly cars, to that required for the modern cars now available, such as the dashing new Austin A40s and rakish Sunbeam Rapiers of this world.
However despite his great enthusiasm for all things Morris, Sterling was no mechanic, and just drove his cars until they broke, replacing them with another cheap buy at auction whenever it was required. In the early 1960s Sterling ran into trouble when the Ministry of Transport introduced a new 10 year test for all motor cars, requiring that they all be in good sound roadworthy condition. Sterling, being a fan of old Morriss, had always kept Melvyn in nice clean condition, but his maintenance was very lax and sure enough, when he drove Melvyn the short distance to the local country garage, the news was not good. With Melvyn up on ramps, the gruff looking engineer inspected Melvyn religiously, checking the operation of the semaphore indicators, the lamps, brakes and so on, before taking his big hammer to the chassis to inspect for rot. After much tapping and thumping of Melvyn's underside, the MOT examiner decreed that Melvyn's chassis would need some serious attention if it was to be used on the roads again. Sterling, being less than impressed with the news, decided to go and buy another cheap car at auction (a Morris Minor!) and retire Melvyn to the barn, still full of his earlier Morris purchases.
Which is how Melvyn ended up being left in the barn, with only a motley assortment of dusty and rusty vintage brothers for company, probably to remain there til the end of his days, Sterling being a bit of a hoarder and not one to sell something if he could help it. In 2001 Sterling sadly decided to sell up and move to a retirement home, having had an offer from a housing development company to buy his farm and buildings, so that they could knock them down and build some lovely brand new houses. This meant that Sterling would no longer have anywhere to store the vast collection of vintage vehicles that he'd amassed over the previous decades, so the scrapman was called in to clear the wrecks. Chris Cubit, the local scrapyard owner, was only too keen to empty the barn of its junk, he'd get a good price for the scrap metal once it had been melted down for reuse - he didn't care a jot for the now-rare collection of vintage cars that were at his disposal. One by one he dragged out the rusty hulks, the ones going first having been in there for many many years. News soon got out to local members of a vintage car club, and a number of them sped over to Sterling's place to see for themselves what old motorcars were being extracated from the barn, to make their final trip to the crusher.
What they saw brought tears to their eyes, a line of forlorn looking automobiles being grabbed with a mechanical claw, one at a time, and dropped on the back of Cubits scrap lorry. A number of vehicles had already been removed and reduced to a crushed cube, but many remained, and among them was Melvyn, his future looking decidedly grim. The vintage car fans could stand no more, and offered Chris Cubit a wad of money for the remaining wrecks, on the promise that he'd not return and leave them to clear the cars out instead. The scrapman drove a hard bargain, but after some bartering he agreed to let the enthusiasts remove the remaining cars themselves, and do with them what they wanted. As he drove away, the enthusiasts made their way to the barn to see what else still lurked in the darkened corners of the tumbledown barn.
The sight that greeted them would bring joy to the hearts of all old-car fans, as around the walls lay all manner of elderly motoring memorabilia, grilles, doors, wings, miscellaneous other panels, engines, gearboxes, glass, tyres, wheels and seats, along with old garage items such as oil cans, welding equipment, spanners, nuts, bolts and so on. Still attached to the walls were all manner of old garage signs, advertising products from days gone by, like Castrol R racing oil and Pratts petrol, with many many old 2 gallon Shell Mex and BP petrol cans littered around the place, as dusty and cobweb laden as the cars that had lived amongst them. Needless to say the enthusiasts set too there and then and began to carefully box up all the rare spare parts and other items, while a few others began the lengthy task of towing away the remaining old cars to their various lockups and garages, before the housing developers begin to the level the site prior to building the new estate.
A weeks work later and the old car fans had cleared the barn of its contents, the spares and items of memorabilia being distributed amongst their number. In all there were 11 complete cars remaining, Melvyn the Morris being one of them. Some of the worse example were sold on to other classic car owners for spares, to aid the restoration of their own cars, whereas the remaining 6 or 7 were deemed rebuildable and advertised through the club magazine. This was how Willy Welditt came to find Melvyn the Morris, the hero of this story. Willy had been a keen member of this club for many years, and already owned a mouthwatering array of pre and postwar motorcars, his favourite being an Austin Clifton Heavy 12/4, just like the car that stars in the Gumdrop stories. Although he had more than enough old cars already, at least according to his long suffering wife Wilma, any extra addition to the fleet was always a opportunity to be grabbed with open arms. Willy's interests were very broad, and he had owned all manner of historic cars, from sports cars such as Jaguar XK120 and Singer 9 Lemans, to saloons such as Austin 7s and Morris 8s, and even commercial vehicles such as a pair of 2 stroke Trojan vans, and 1930s Bedford. His current fleet consisted of 2 Morris J Type vans, an Austin A35, a penny farthing cycle, a Morris 8 tourer, and a chrome bumper MGB, but there was still room for more!!
So, on seeing the advertisement for the vehicles recovered from Sterling Floss' farm, he quickly made contact with the people in question, and arranged to view a few of the cars. He'd always appreciated the quality of the Morris marque, but had never found one to buy until now. He went to see one car, but it had been greatly modified and was of no interest to him. Another was a magnificent specimen but would not fit in his garage! Then there was Melvyn, still recovering from his close call with Cubit the scrap man. He was a medium sized motor car, so would fit in the garage ok, though he'd require a great deal of renovation if he was ever going to cruise the lanes of Cheshire again. Willy handed over the cash, and with a grin from ear to ear, winched the sorry looking motor car onto his trailer for the short journey home to his home.
Wilma, on seeing the latest old wreck arrive on the back of a trailer, just shook her head and went back to weeding the borders. Willy however, keen as mustard to crack on with the little car, wasted no time in wheeling the decrepit vehicle into his workshop for the renovation to begin. He drew up a shortlist of all the missing or damaged parts, and planned out the following weekends, taking in as many classic car shows and autojumbles as he could, in an attempt to gather together all the parts he knew that he'd be needing. After a few weeks of searching, he'd found virtually everything he needed, bar the little plaque that had once been on the dashboard advertising the dealer that had sold it straight after the Earls Court MotorShow way way back. With the new parts laid out in an orderly fashion, he made a start on the car itself. Firstly he stripped poor old Melvyn down to the chassis, and gave it a good shotblasting to clean up the decades of mud and cobwebs that had built up underneath the little car's frame. Once blasted, Willy could see what would need replacement, and set to with his trusty MIG welder, soon restoring the chassis to as new condition. Over the next few weeks he concentrated on rebuilding the running gear before refitting it all to the chassis - he stripped and rebuilt the back axle, gave the engine a thorough overhaul and quick lick of paint, and checked over the drum brakes prior to replacing some of the serviceable components. Then it was the turn of the coachwork, which as mentioned had suffered greatly during its long and lonely period in Floss' barn. Willy's welding ability was tested to the maximum as he fettled and jiggled, hammered and formed the bodywork back into its original sweeping shape.
Once that and the frame was rejuvenated and sat in a fresh coat of primer atop the chassis, it was the turn of the interior to be restored. The cracked and faded leather, having been molested by mice many years previously, tested the depth of Willy's patience and pockets to the maximum, but eventually the interior was finished, its woodwork french polished and looking grand, the seats and headlining all restored to their original brilliance. The instruments were all checked, and their faces repainted. Melvyn was enjoying all this attention, as after all he hadn't received any TLC for many a year and was beginning to wonder if he'd ever hit the highways ever again.
After 2 months of work, and a stunning repaint in its original dark green colour scheme, the time had come to try firing up the old girl after the many years of inactivity. Willy dropped on a freshly charged 6 volt battery, and have the engine a few turns on the handle to get the oil around the engine a bit before trying the ignition. A cough, then nothing. Try again and a few more coughs, then nothing. Willy gave the throttle a quick dab and spun the starter once more - wooohooo, there was a cough and a splutter, a jet of flame belched from the exhaust momentarily, then Melvyn the Morris roared back into life, for the first time in many many years. Willy kept a keen eye on all the gauges as Melvyn's engine idled in the driveway, watching out for any alarming readings or leaks underneath. After 15 minutes he was satisfied that all was now well with the 1925 Morris, and thoughts then drifted to thoughts of attempting an MOT test, 40 years after its last unsuccessful test at the hands of Sterling Floss.
Wilma, who by this time had also grown quite fond of the little Morris now in their charge, assisted Willy in the preparation of their fine little car on the morning of the MOT. She polished his windows til they sparkled, while Willy wielded his grease gun one more time at the many grease nipples that lay under Melvyns gleaming coachwork. A check of the oil, and top up of the coolant, and the pair of them set sail in their resurrected classic, onward bound to the MOT station down the road to try their luck. They pulled into the MOT station and were greeted with an incredulous old mechanic who was sat on a pile of old tyres, getting some sun while he supped his mug of tea. Wiping his oily hands on his overalls, he shuffled over to the proud owners of the immaculate Morris and shook them warmly by the hand. "By gum, I never thought I'd see this old girl again!" he enthused, "I remember failing this little old car back in '62 for chassis rot if I remember correctly.". "Yeah" agreed Willy "its been quite a job getting this old crate into this condition I can tell you!". The oily mechanic continued "Do you know why I remember this car so well?", the two bemused owners shook their heads and looked at him wonderingly. "When I put it up on the ramps and started to poke around the chassis all those years ago, the exhaust fell apart and gave my head a real big bang! Never did fully recover from that!" he gleamed, as, removing his oil-sodden flat cap, he displayed a crowning bump on his glistening, hair-less cranium. "Never did go down that bump you know!". They all had a good laugh, and Willy assured him that the (brand new) exhaust was very well attached now and was unlikely to repeat the experience.
With nerves racing, Willy handed over the keys to the mechanic so that he could drive the shiny old car into the testing area, where all the hard work that Willy had put into restoring the old car would finally be put to the test. Willy and Wilma hovered around outside, worrying about their precious little car inside, and jumping visibly when the characteristic 'barp barp' of its horn emanated from behind the garage doors as the test proceeded. Twenty minutes later and a beaming mechanic emerged from the garage, proclaiming it to be the best 1930s Morris he'd ever clapped eyes on. "Darn fine little car that is, its a privilege to test it" was his opinion, much to the relief of the owners. A few minutes later and, with fresh MOT tucked inside the glovebox, Melvyn the Morris was piloted back to his comfortable garage, its owners humming various Vera Lynn songs as they went.
Throughout the oncoming summer, Willy and Wilma took maximum advantage of their new little car, taking it to shows the length and breadth of the country, winning awards wherever they went. On the way home from one such show down the road in Cheshire, they pulled into a little village post office in order to buy some stamps. As Willy ambled out of the Post Office, he was grabbed on the arm by an attractive young lady. Thinking that his prayers had been answered, he asked her what was wrong. "Is that your little one?" she enquired. "Why yes, that's my little Morris parked over there" he replied, still curious as to what she was on about. "Ooooo" she continued "that used to belong to my grandfather, Dr Diddle, I've got photos of it at home in their old scrapbook!". Not quite believing his luck, he offered this young lady a lift and they all headed off to her cottage at a steady 30mph, where on arrival they all jumped out and went into her country cottage. Rifling through some drawers she produced a tatty old photograph album, full, as it turned out, of holiday snaps that the late Dr Diddle and his wife had taken way back in the 1930s and 1940s. And there, in a number of these photos, was none other than Melvyn the Morris, glistening in the sepia coloured sunshine. There was a shot of him parked next to an ancient old steam train, another at the nearby Anderton Boat Lift in Northwich, two more alongside a very rattly old touring caravan that the Doctor used to stay at in Whitby, and several more shots of a general nature.
On the very last page was something very special - an overhead photograph taken of a motor show, obviously a very long time ago and there, in the foreground, was an immaculately prepared Morris, sat on the factory stand and obviously the object of much attention and admiration ... it was none other than Melvyn himself!!! It turned out that the Doctor had known of his cars earlier history, and acquired a library photo of the motorshow stand from a contemporary motoring magazine. Willy by this time was overcome with excitement at this exciting find, "that's truly amazing, I never thought I'd find images of this old car from so long ago!! If only I could find the missing dealership badge that was once screwed to the dashboard, I'd be a very happy man!". "What would it have looked like?" the young lady enquired, "well the dealership in question was Spiggots of Delamere, and their emblem was kind of a winged affair, not unlike the badge used by the RAF". Getting up once more, Dr Diddles granddaughter had another rifle through the musty drawer and lo and behold, she produced the missing dashboard plaque, the actual one that Dr Diddle has kept as a souvenir when he'd part-exchanged the Morris for a BMC Mini all those years before. She was more than happy to reunite the car with its badge, and passed the photographs to Willy also so that he could include them in the history file that the was building on the little Morris. A cup of tea and slice of fruit cake later, and the 2 proud owners drove away in Melvyn, rejoicing in their good fortune that day.
Melvyn still remains in their collection of classic and vintage cars, and there is no way that Melvyn will ever again be left to the mercy of a local scrap merchant. The End.
Pictures of a Morris just like Melvyn, seen at an auction sale in 1980, can be seen here.
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