Coastal Classis: Cars and their Owners on the South Coast
In July 1982 the band known as Madness released the song ‘Driving in my car’ it was a worldwide hit reaching number 4 in the UK and spent eight weeks in the charts. The car was the iconic Morris Minor Van being an ex GPO vehicle made in 1959 from a factory by the Tyne? I think that should be Cowley, Oxfordshire but they don’t rhyme with fifty-nine, it’s called artistic licence. The lyrics of the song include Muswell Hill and Selsey Bill, luckily for me I don’t have to go as far as north London to find this little gem, she lives in Selsey.
The coincidences don’t stop there; this 1964 6cwt van also started life as a GPO workhorse and then went on to offer breakdown services to stranded motorists with two london garages. Eventually one click off the mouse in February 2005 and an Ebay purchase brought the van from Dartford to its new home on the south coast.
The first Morris Minors appeared in 1948 although it is generally acknowledged that the idea was first thought off during World War 2 as a reliable car that would be cheap to build and maintain in peace time, plus give many years of service. Sir Alex Issigonis and his team created the car that the Nuffield Group went on to manifest into many different versions, and with the birth of BMC came the Minor Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) in 1953. Having a separate chassis allowed the buyer to choose from van, pick up or supply his own conversion; the LCV could be delivered in primer for the company colours to be applied later. The Post Office and Royal Mail bought hundreds and it is generally believed the Post Office fitted rubber wings to their earlier vans to save on panel damage as the vehicles were not specific to a driver. Whereas the Royal Mail allocated a van to a driver and therefore they were better cared for. Exports accounted for the vast majority of vehicles built and the van and pick up could be found across the planet from the USA and Sri Lanka to Australia and New Zealand.
Reliability and strength meant they were equally at home delivering cakes in Central London or herding cattle in the outback. The advertising at the time called the LCVs the Quarter Ton commercials and it must have worked with a production run of 20 years, surviving into the British Leyland era. The Post Office took delivery of their last LCV in 1972, the year production ceased in the UK although the plant in New Zealand continued for a further two years. An estimated 326,000 vans and pickups were built over a period of time that saw Prime ministers from Clement Attlee to Edward Heath and five in between. 1953 saw the first TWA Super Constellations non-stop commercial flight from New York to LA, taking over 8 hours and 1972 saw Concorde taking Princess Margaret from Paris to Dakar the same distance in 2 hours 27 minutes. Times had changed but the trusty Minor van remained very similar from the first to last, cosmetic changes and engine upgrades during its time but not much else. Easy to maintain if looked after these vehicles were designed to last for years and have a massive following to this day.
Running a local removal business Les Payne needed a small van that stood out and showed character, the Minor was and still is perfect. This is a working vehicle used daily, having covered 89000 miles on its original engine and for the eight years they have been a team its proved very reliable. No doubt the 5 months and £6000 of restoration work laid the foundations for a long relationship back in 2005. Removing six different colours for the bare metal respray and replacing both front wings took 5 weeks with the help of his son Chris. Local specialists finished the body in lovely Persian blue and the sign writing by hand gave an overall look that pleased Les then and still looks great today. Re upholstered seats, new carpets and trims brought the interior back and fitting an unleaded head with new carburettor, the engine ran fine. Other major work included a replacement fuel tank, wiring loom, gearbox and clutch plus countless other jobs to get the complete van that Les agrees was well worth the effort.
Being a classic car and motorcycle nut (a Humber Sceptre and BSA C12 are in his stable) Les is well-known in these parts and with the help of side kick Mick Hemmings and other equally minded locals they set up The Manhood Classic Car Enthusiasts (named after the area around Selsey) a couple of years ago. It’s the most relaxed of clubs and has grown rapidly, with meetings on the 3rd Sunday of the month all year round and a great summer show on the Recreation ground where you can expect to see close to 200 vehicles this coming August 17th
Thanks to Les for his time and input, he likes driving in his car, that’s not madness, it makes perfect sense.Morris Minor