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Flo – Our Morris Minor 1000
In the mid 90s, I had worked on the team that developed the Minor Monthly magazine, which was my introduction to the world of Morris Minors.
I bought Florrie, the 1968 two-door Morris Minor 1000 saloon from a Minor Monthly reader in late May 1996. As I drove from Birmingham to my Lancashire home, I grew more and more impressed with the little car, which never so much as hiccuped on the long journey up the M6. By the time we arrived home she was already one of the family and would feature regularly as a staff car in the magazine.
She was certainly no oil painting; she was peat brown on the inside while someone at sometime had given her a fresh coat of rose taupe outside, the latter now faded and speckled with rust in a few places. There was also a badly twisted rear bumper, which was soon fixed with a second hand fibreglass valance and a new chrome blade. The upholstery was in a surprisingly good condition for a car of its age, with a bit of elbow grease, the back seats came up like new. The front seats showed more evidence of the ravages of time but I could live with that for the time being. Even the original stitched one-piece carpet still lined the floor pan, though now suffering from a severe case of rot, due to a leaking side window rubber which created a pool of water in the back every time it rained.
Florrie was put into daily use, mainly around town and short journeys although on occasions she did stray further afield. One such trip, to the Northern Regional Rally at Harewood House, proved to be a turning point. Until then I had every intention of restoring the Morris Minor 1000 back to her original condition but two things changed my mind.
At the show there was so many stunning examples of beautifully restored cars that I realised I could not do my car justice with my meagre means. Florrie was always going to be a budget restoration and it would take me years of scrimping and saving to get her up to that sort of standard. The other was my aching back. By the time I got home that evening I had decided that whoever had designed the Minor seats had probably also invented the rack! And so the search was on to find something more comfortable to sit on.
The answer came in the form of seats, which once held some boy racer’s backside in a Ford XR3i. To keep with the feel of the car these were reupholstered in red vinyl to match the original ones and the headrests thrown in the bin.
A new set of carpets was fashioned out of a remnant bought at a car boot sale. The carpet had a special plastic backing and was designed to be used in damp conditions which was ideal for my Morris Minor 1000! I also picked up a small Mountney steering wheel, which seemed to cure the sloppy feeling to the steering and my annoying habit of stubbing out my fag on the windscreen every time I turned left!
This was how things were for the next twelve months, pretty uneventful really. She had a new exhaust (which was surprisingly cheap after being used to buying parts for the other car I had at the time, an Audi!), a little welding work was necessary for the MoT and apart from that, everything was plain sailing. In fact, the only time the car let me down was when the accelerator cable broke and even that was fixed in minutes, without help from a mechanic. (Did I mention that before I got the Minor, I couldn’t even change a wheel?). The Morris even came to the rescue of the Audi a few times too, much to the amusement of passers by.
I have photographed hundreds of Minors and had seen thousands more at shows and so decided that Florrie had to look different from the rest. The easiest way was to change the colour to a non-standard one but which one?
I toyed with various ideas, bright yellow, bright red, black or blue, or even a metallic finish? Then the answer came to me while watching a motoring programme on TV. I had just watched a section about Issigonis’ other masterpiece, the Mini, which, unlike the Minor, was still in production. What would the Morris Minor look like if it was still being made today? A friend had a Rover 216 in Nightfire Red which looked great (when it was clean) and I imagined the effect of the pearlescent paint on the Minor’s curvy body. That was it, I was sold on the idea. She would also have to have wider wheels and I decided that Minilite style alloys would fit the bill as they have curved spokes which echoes the shape of the Minor’s wings. It was all starting to take shape in my mind. There was one problem, the interior. Although finished in red, the seats wouldn’t look right with a darker red paint. So I got on the phone to K & G Car Trimming and ordered another set in black leather with burgundy piping.
Florrie took a trip to the seaside, to TMW of Fleetwood who would perform the transformation. I had met Tony of TMW 18 months before and was really impressed with his 2 door saloon “Muctub”, which I suppose inspired my ideas for Florrie. My little Minor was packed to the hilt with the second hand parts I had collected over the last year in readiness for the facelift. At last the spare windscreen had disappeared from behind the settee, I could get into the cupboard under the stairs now that the two doors had vacated that space and with the wings, bootlid and other parts out of the house, I could finally see the television!
The next time I saw the car I was in for a shock, The old rusty wings had been replaced, the doors fixed, and the quarter panels repaired and coated in primer. Florrie looked a complete mess. It was hard for me to imagine that this was in fact an improvement! The original doors had been repaired in favour of replacing them with the ones I’d brought along as they were basically solid and the ones I had bought had been badly filled at the top. (Did I mention that I was a complete incompetent?) The inner wings had been repaired, partially because the old wings had been welded on in places. All the repair panels were supplied by Henric of Nottingham. The side glass had been removed to facilitate repairs to the B posts, which had cracked and more repairs were needed to the floor pan and A posts. Tony informed me that she wasn’t in such a bad shape considering she’d never had any major work done before and that she was almost ready for the paint shop. I left her in his capable hands.
Later that week I got a call from Tony, he was concerned about the paint I had chosen. Apparently it was quite expensive and needed a special coloured primer and lacquer. Not to be deterred I decided to go ahead. I took another trip to Fleetwood to take some pictures of Florrie in the paint shop, half way through the respray. The paint had proved to be a real headache to apply, prompting Mark, who carried out the work to re-christen the Nightfire Red paint Nightmare Red. I was beginning to think I’d made an expensive mistake.
The next time I saw the car I had the biggest shock yet (I’m going to need Vallium at this rate). Florrie was back in the workshop being fitted up with the trim. The paint job, complete with glass-like lacquer looked amazing. I couldn’t believe it was the same car. Tony had applied a fine silver coach line down the side and was assembling the trim at the rear. I had planned on using original or second hand chrome, but with the gleaming paint job it looked dull, we decided it deserved new. Due to cost it was decided to use plastic rear light fittings and overriders from MGM and I have to say, you’d be hard pressed to tell them from chrome. A set of Minilite alloys were offered up, they would just finish the car off nicely.
By this time the upholstery was ready and it looked a million dollars. New window rubbers and door seals were fitted to try and stop rain getting in. I couldn’t wait to get the car finished so I could show her off. It was also at this time I realised that my little Morris Minor 1000 no longer suited the name Florrie. I had promised her last owners to continue using their pet name for the car, Florence, and I’d already taken the liberty of shortening it to Florrie. I hope they didn’t mind but I did it again – she was renamed Flo.
Although I had told TMW that there was no rush to get Flo back on the road I suddenly discovered we were working to a deadline. Joe Swords, our Editor on Minor Monthly and he who must be obeyed, asked us if we would like to take Flo to Minorex for her relaunch. How could I refuse?
So, the heat was on, as they say. As the deadline loomed, Tony completed trimming Flo with new chrome and fitted the interior. It’s surprising how time consuming this part of the rebuild really is. At last the car was ready, all that was required was the wheels. I had set my heart on Minilites but, due to a technical hitch, Flo ended up with a set of Cobra Super-Slots instead.
During the rebuild, the suspension was rebushed with standard rubber bushes, which gave the car a “like new” feel to the steering and suspension. These have since been replaced with polyurethane bushes, which perform better and would outlast rubber many times over.