When you attend shows people ask if you know any of the history of your car. Well I knew very little except a couple of articles that had been in a magazine about the restoration and they were just signed Bob. I decided to try and find out some of the history but without the original registration plate it was not going to be easy. I sent off to the DVLA for any history relating to the current registration plate and it came back with a Mr Porter being the first owner and an address for him. So I wrote a letter with my contact details and the lady who lives at that address now kindly phoned me to said that he had moved and although she didn’t know where to, that he was still in the area as she had seen him about the town. Phone books and Internet searches failed to find him. Just as I was giving up I found a website where you search names and areas. 6 possible addresses came up, but only one in Felixstowe. I sent a letter with my contact details and crossed my fingers. My wife received a phone call from the gentleman in question, excited and very pleased that the car was still going strong. We exchanged e-mails and he sent me lots of pictures of the restoration and this e-mail about his memories. So in his own words:
In about 1963/4, Christine was dumped on Landguard Common, Felixstowe, where she was damaged and partly burned out. Children had jumped on her roof, badly denting the roof panel and it was when this was pushed out with my feet that the film Christine came to mind and the name stuck. In this sorry condition, the late Port of Felixstowe Engineering Foreman, Les, found her. Les, hoping to use the remains as spares for his own Morris Oxford, towed her onto the port and parked the hulk in a quite corner, covering it with a tarpaulin until he could find the time to strip the carcass bare. That time never was found, and when I joined the Port in 1973, Christine was still languishing, forlorn, under a tattered tarpaulin. She was actually parked in a corner, near the so named 22 shed, a relic of the days when seaplanes were built and tested at Felixstowe’s Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment. Part of this massive building, the last surviving WW1 aircraft hanger, was now in part used as a garage for parking the Port IMV’s. (Internal Movement Vehicles). I was a driver of one of these vehicles, and I was always intrigued by whatever was under the tarpaulin, as I passed by each morning on the way to collect my machine for the days work.
I somehow became involved in a conversation with one of the engineers and he told me that the old car belonged to Les. A few days later, I was granted permission to remove the intriguing tarpaulin. Full of hope, I cut the rope ties and dragged the filthy sheet off the car. Soon, a Morris Oxford series MO was revealed, but what a mess! Les wasn’t lying when he said that it was a wreck when he pulled it off the common! Not a window left in the vehicle, the bonnet was off, the passenger side front wing was a rusty wreck, both rear wings were staved in by the passage of forklift trucks over the years, and the interior was almost all gone. The dashboard instruments were all smashed, and the engine bay was full of debris, the voltage regulator hanging on a strand of wire.
I had a really good look round the car, as, having already rebuilt a Morris 1000 in a similar condition, I was quite intrigued by this ‘bigger brother’, of my dear old Moggy. Under the serious damage, the basic shell was in a good, solid condition, and the engine at least, seemed to be reasonably complete.
‘Go on then Les’.I exclaimed, ‘How much do you want for it?’
‘Take it and be welcome’, came the reply, and my adventures with an MO began. This was in 1988.
I crossed the palm of a pal with a wrecker, with a ten-pound note and a couple days later, the forlorn pile of junk was in my driveway. Where to start? I started by clearing all the filth and rubbish out of the car, then removed the engine and did the same with the engine compartment. This completed, I removed all four wings and put them aside, to later determine which could be saved and which could not. I then rolled the car onto her side, and using an electric wire brush, cleaned all the rust from the underside and painted it with Rustoleum. Turning my attention to the engine, I started to strip it down in my workshop. This revealed the probable reason she had been dumped on the common. Number three piston was, to a large degree, melted. She must have been burning oil like I don’t know what! With the exception of the fibre timing wheels, which were shot, most of the engine didn’t seem too bad. I replaced the no 3 piston with one taken from a J Type van engine, which had lain under a bench in one of the port workshops for many years. With new big end bearings and a gasket set, it left me trying to find a matching pair of timing wheels. Strangely, a few days later, a delivery van stopped outside the house and the driver alighted, clutching a small BMC box in his hand. ‘This has been in my shed for years, you might be able to use it’. Opening the box revealed an unused fibre timing wheel! You are probably aware that the fibre timing wheel and the crankshaft skew gear are inscribed with numbers, the two numbers having to add up to six to indicate a matched pair. Problem! The new gear didn’t have a number on it at all! After a fruitless search, I took the view that wear in the skew gear would probably reduce the need to match the gears, and assembled the engine with the new fibre wheel fitted.
The lower suspension trunnions (kingpins) were absolutely worn out, but Les machined them for me, saving me a lot of grief. All the aluminium brake cylinders were honed in the port workshops, and after replacing all the steel brake pipes with Kunifer 10 and rebuilding the master cylinder, which I think I remember is under the driver’s floorpan, followed by half a day bleeding the system, I had working brakes. Having examined the wings, the two rear wings were beaten back into shape and filled, and the two front wings, which had lost the trailing edges, I folded a mild steel replacement and welded them in with a MIG welder. After a good coat of Waxoyl, all four wings were replaced. Â Incidentally, the only other spot with significant rust was the bottom of the driver’s door pillar, which I replaced before putting her down on her wheels again. Everything else was really good and solid.
I had been lucky enough to find a scrap MO, and this provided replacement windows for Christine, although I had to buy new rubbers all round, which were not cheap! With the windows back in, she was at least, looking like a car again! Refitting the chrome trim around the screen was a nightmare!
The radiator was so rotten, I had to have it re-cored at a local firm, which at least, cured the water leaks! I had also tried to research the origin of the car, but, as there were no number plates, my options were limited. Researching the chassis number revealed that she was built at the Cowley works between 18th and 23rd August 1953, and shipped out to Messrs Lock and Stagg of Ipswich, who sold her to Brands Garage of Felixstowe as a hire car. This was a rather interesting point, as my parents told me that they used to hire a Morris Oxford from Brands Garage in the fifties, to drive to Plymouth Â where they both hailed from. One of my earliest memories is of being on my mother’s lap in a car, travelling to Plymouth, and resting my feet on the window winder. I so often wondered if, by a quirk of fate, the car I was putting back together was the car which we had hired to travel to Plymouth! One other clue to her past was uncovered when I cleaned out the petrol tank. The tank was stuffed with paperwork relating to the American military, so I think it is a fair bet that she had been owned by an American serviceman serving at either Woodbridge or Bentwaters bases.
All the brightwork was re-chromed, some of the bumper over-riders had to be repaired before chroming, as they were quite thin. As I recall, the front radiator grille didn’t need anything doing to it as it seemed to be made of stainless steel, and cleaned up very well. Eventually, the engine started without difficulty and ran very well. A week or so was spent sorting out the wiring harness and indicators, and the MoT test was passed with flying colours. She was back on the road. On her first run, my wife and I went to Flatford and returned to Felixstowe Ferry, where we celebrated with an ice cream! Some three years after I brought her home from the docks, Christine was sold to allow me take on another project.
When I bought the car in 2002 it was off the road with no brakes etc. It had been turned it into a wedding car and was in undercoat, red and green. The rear door bottom was fibreglass and unpainted. The B-posts and dashboard panels were in white. It also had a plastic angel glued on to the top of the dash and a vase with plastic flowers bolted on to the driver’s dash panel. I took every thing apart, renewing, changing, adapting, and making new bits as necessary. I did a re-spray but not in a Morris colour, changing all the rubber bits as I went. After a service and new head gasket the engine ran perfectly and it passed the MOT. It was now ready for the open road.
A lot has happened since then, on its first real run the brakes got so hot that they slowly seized on. At one point we couldn’t move. Luckily we had arrived at the rally. So on our return trip we had to keep stopping to let them cool down, this turned out to be the brake rod in the master cylinder – someone had adjusted it to its maximum length, which I didn’t know was not right until then.
When we took the car on its first long run, after about 60 miles the car overheated and we had to fill the radiator with orangeade, tea, and coke. This got us home (this is now known as the Morris cocktail) with the radiator re-cored the problem was solved.
We had a good year before we encountered our next problem so in this time I fitted seatbelts on my wife’s insistence – using the kids as her main argument. I bought two sets of red rear seat belts from an MG ZT, I used rear seat belts as the amount of slack is not as much as front seat belts but it’s enough. The advantage of rear seat belts is you get a lap belt as well to hold the Chinese or curry takeaway. The rear ones were mounted in the boot under the parcel shelf with slots cut through the metal and the shelf trim to allow the belt to pass through. With a rear kit you get the plastic edging which makes a neat job.
My next problem was spotted by my friend Terry, who was following me in his MO. He signalled me to pull over and when I did, oil was dripping out of the air filter onto the manifold. The smell of the burning oil was now getting into the car. We also had nice cloud of blue smoke from the exhaust pipe when I changed gear. The car was running fine we decided to carry on, suspecting it was just a broken piston ring, we kept an eye on the oil level and to stop the oil dripping onto the manifold we blocked the pipe from the filler cap to the air filter. When I took the pistons out only two rings were whole, the rest had broken.
One of my annual trips has always been the Ipswich to Felixstowe run so I arranged to meet Mr Porter on the prom at Felixstowe. I finally got to meet the man who saved Christine. He was able to spot some of the work that he had done and pointed out the changes that had been made by some of the later owners. He was especially pleased that the engine was still going as he felt this was one of his most rewarding engine rebuilds that he has ever done.
There have been other incidents with the car, but that’s all part of the fun of owning a classic.