Morricedes Six – Mongrel No, Majestic Yes

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Dressed in black when the Morris arrived with Steve it offered parts potential only, or three years’ workThe first new large post-war Morris was unveiled to an enthused motoring public in October 1948 at Earls Court. The first Motor Show for a decade, in a country that was still very black and white, the ‘Six’ faced some serious sales competition as Britain’s manufactures were really back in business. Austin showed their new A70 and A90 models whilst Vauxhall produced the Wyvern and Velox models and the XK120 just wowed. Morris themselves launched the Minor and the Oxford alongside the Six and no doubt the record 560k visitors couldn’t miss the Issigonis designs around the massive halls, surprising numbers considering most vehicles produced were for export. The Six offered 66bhp from its in-line engine of 2215cc, coupled to a four-speed gearbox, pulling 1.2 tons it was tested to 60mph in 22 seconds and topped out at 80mph; at 14ft 9inches in length, the Six was a big car and sold for just over £670.

Compared the Mercedes straight six (left) may not be for the purist but it’s lighter, more powerful and reliable plus parts are availableDuring its life span which ran up to 1954, only 12,400 were built whilst the Morris Oxford enjoyed figures of 160,000 during the same period. The low sales numbers were a culmination of several factors. There were 19 major post-war manufacturers in the UK who once released from war duty shackles were desperate to re-establish their marques quickly. Rationing was still in force and due to the ‘export or die’ philosophy, even if you had ordered a new Morris at Earls Court you may not have been offered delivery for years. The ‘Six’ was at the luxury end of the Morris range and considering it was twice the price of a two door Minor it was always destined to struggle during such austere times. In modern times we may look at images of the ‘Six’ and surmise it represented a large Minor with a pre-war front, this wasn’t unique for the period as the re-badged Wolseley 6/80 shared the Issigonis look and the 2215cc engine, although its twin carbs offered better performance; only 11 Morris Six’s enjoyed a Police force role in period.

Stuttgart’s finest sits well in the Morris, the 2.2 variant saw life in the Ponton, improved for the ‘Fintail’ 220SEb then 230SL PagodaIts twin 6/80 however, featured slightly more wood trim with a £100 higher price tag and sold twice as many units whilst being universally recognised as the ‘coppers’ car of the time. Both though suffered with one inherent engine problem, weak cylinder head valves. Unfortunately, this great power plants reputation suffered even after modifications were made with the 1952 Series Two units. One classic enthusiast who loves Fleetwood Mac and everything Morris Motors is Steve Lord from Sussex and he would take the ‘Six’ and ‘go his own way’.

Born & Bred BMC
The interior seating and trim work were all done ‘in-house’ by Steve and his understanding wife RoseSteve’s father appreciated the ‘Morris mind-set’ owning a 1957 Minor, the families transport throughout his childhood. This would become Steve’s car in 1971, at which time he was carrying out an apprenticeship with BLMC at Wadham Stringer Group. He in turn enjoyed the Minor as his everyday transport until 2014; having covered 138k miles in 43 years, in addition to the 160k he inherited on the car. This Minor had already earnt its classic status when Steve was just 17 and would still be parked on his drive over four decades later; to say Mr Lord is not for changing his vehicles regularly would be something of an understatement. ‘I have never liked modern cars, what I wanted was a larger Minor, an all-round vehicle that could shop, work and tow a caravan whilst still offering a classic image’. In December 2007 contact with the 6/80 & MO Owner's Club revealed one of the rare big Morris’s was available in Weston Super Mare. With 33 remaining world-wide and just 15 left in the UK, the ‘Six’ has become a rare beast and just what Steve was after.

A Morris for Every Mission
A piece of old England, cricket on the green then the Morris could accommodate half the team with a lift to the pubThe ‘Six’ had been clothed in many colours during its life, it arrived with Steve sporting a black finish with 82k miles covered and upon reaching retirement age this Morris would now benefit from its new custodians undoubted welding talent. Steve’s engineering biased plan was to actually restore the Morris to original spec prior to specific modifications, aimed eventually at producing the only car he would ever need. Over three years around 1000 man-hours of metalwork ensued, drilling out original spot welds, restoring and refitting with the minimum of shrinkage resulting in an exactness of fit. Once completed the original Cowley motor offered a further 2300 miles before water pump failure and although Steve could have resurrected the failed unit he had alternate plans in mind.

Morris MercAn ‘in period’ six-cylinder 220S ‘Fintail’ Mercedes engine was in Steve’s possession and having covered 100k it enjoyed an overhaul plus many alterations required to power the Morris. The M180 engine was a revelation in the mid-50s Ponton and although the unit Steve rebuilt was of 1959 vintage, he removed the mechanical injection and reverted to SU carburation. With 116 ft lbs torque and 85bhp the performance and reliability were in place; the next issue would be coupling it to a Rover 90 gearbox. The original column change would become floor mounted but Steve calculated that the combination weighed in at 112lbs less than original; closer to 50/50 weight distribution and much improved handling. Why the 1959 Rover transmission? ‘I really wanted a period gearbox that was reliable and came with overdrive’ was the logical reply. The attention to engineering detail of the Morris is extreme but this is no show car, more importantly built to fulfil this owner’s transport demands until he can no longer drive. Much of the real craftsmanship will never be admired or necessarily appreciated by the passer by, for its underneath Steve has fabricated steel arch liners designed to keep the elements from hiding in those rot prone areas. The paint job had to match the quality of the work that preceded it and Finish-First of Billingshurst didn’t disappoint; the colour chosen though was not from the builder but in fact Steve’s wife Rose and it’s perfect. The end result is just what Steve wanted, cruising speed 70mph, 30 mpg gallon and the ability to match all modern traffic speeds with or without a caravan

My Morris Merc Moment
On the road this Morris belies its age offering performance, handling and stopping power many classic drivers will envyThe original robust door handle allows entry to post-war British craftsmanship and nostalgia, the bench seat is comforting, its weathered leather complete with a perfect patina. The Merc motor fired up instantly then quietened immediately and staring out over the long bonnet my first words were ‘blimey she is a big girl’. Inside offers Deco and Bakelite, a stylish 50s scene, the Morris is still all ‘Cowley’, its dash and instruments a delight and who can’t remember sliding around on bench seats as a kid. On the move is where the owner’s talents showed, the floor change is slick and precise and the brakes are more than capable of slowing this large classic, complete now with more ‘feisty’ performance. The engine certainly offers the highlights but wouldn’t be half as pronounced without the complete package Steve has constructed to compliment additional power.

Morris MercedesComfortable at pace and planted through the corners, the ‘Morriscedes’ (as Steve named so well) will motorway all day at the limit whilst offering a family of five ample room for their weekly shop. Whilst modifying classic cars is still something that induces my headmaster style look of distain, I have to confess, Steve Lord has got it right. The owner will admit to being frugal when it comes to transport but when the final figures came in on the Morris he hadn’t skimped. The amount spent could have purchased a new modern hatchback, but that’s not for Steve, his Morris offers style, ability and longevity with this Six; the phrase ‘everyday usable classic’ never has been more apt.

View from the Pilot
Steve Lord shares his thoughts on preserving and enjoying the Morris Merc Six.
Steve Lord set an agenda and has achieved his goal with a classic car for life that does just what he wrote on the tinI had a Morris Minor saloon for many years which latterly I used as my daily driver. The car hadn’t changed – but I had, and I wanted something bigger, with a straight-six engine, as near to the Minor in other respects as I could get.   For me, this modified Morris Six is that car. I had intended to share my motoring between it and my Minor, but once my mods to the Six were properly sorted, I liked it so much I never used the smaller car, so I’ve sold that now. The “Morricedes” is much more suitable for this quick-tempered 61-year-old. The car’s mature manners (and higher running costs) have helped me distance myself from the boy-racer behaviour the Minor used to provoke in me. It’s a relaxing car to drive for long periods on a motorway at the legal limit, even when towing our caravan, and we love its interior and boot space. As my mileage in the car approaches 50k, I remain delighted in its ability to withstand daily use all year round. I haven’t fitted a radio and I’m not going to because wherever I’m going and however far I’ve driven, I’ve never been bored at its wheel.