Well, that’s it then. It’s 2023 and I’m 56. The way things have ran up until now, I have not required a mid-life crisis.
Working abroad, check.
Small business, check.
Travel, check. Even saw Australia, check.
So where does a mid-life crisis fit into all of that. Egads, I’m so busy most days, the months just fly by. No room for another interest or hobby, ……or?
Well, there is one item from my youth I don’t think I’ve mentioned anywhere on the website. I learned to drive at 15, like most Americans. But by then I had already had years of semi-illicit late-Saturday-night PBS encounters with British humor, and like my father, a dedicated love of all things British had evolved. Part of that was a car my parents had since about 1970. It was a 1961 Morris Minor 1000 Traveler, in Old English White. I’ll find an old pic to scan in later, but for now I can say it was very much like this later model:
My father and his father had truly brought it back to life over the years after finding it in an un-drivable condition in a farmer’s field in Michigan. $35 brought it home. I learned to drive on that car, and at 16, it was part of my identity whenever the weather was good.
At 17, I went to England on a summer program with American Field Service, a student-exchange organization. It was my first travel alone, and my first international travel, outside of Canada. I had applied for a year-long programme, but was told my grades were not good enough. There was, however, the summer programme. It was much more affordable as well. OK, sold.
That was a fantastic summer, living out of a backpack, touring around with a travel partner, another student from Switzerland, and attending the many different conservation projects with the BTCV, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. It still exists. It changed names in 2012, and now can be found here: https://www.tcv.org.uk/
It was a summer of unheard-of weather in Britain in 1983, the sun shone almost every day of the trip, and by luck we only saw 2 or 3 wet days during the entire summer programme. I don’t know if it was just our luck, as we were on the move every 5 or 8 days, but it was indeed great weather. There were lots of adventures in that trip, but for this purpose the key part was the scrapyard I found while staying with one host family between projects.
The AFS had organized the many tasks on our schedule but wherever a gap occurred of more than a day, a host-family was found so we always had somewhere to sleep. How we got from town-to-town and to and from London was completely up to us. Most of our work was in or around Wales, in up north in the Lake District. On the tasks, we were put up camping-style, in a wide variety of shelters. Anything from abandoned church floors to outdoor tents – whatever could be mustered locally to host an international crew of from 12-20 people. We rebuilt dry stone walls in parks, built docks into ponds we dug out for local school kids, erected sand-fences along shores susceptible to ocean erosion and generally had a good time doing so. Oh, I’ve digressed….back to the scrapyard.
At one host family, I got lucky. There was a nearby scrapyard for auto parts. Perfect. Over 1.4 million Morris Minors had been made since 1947, so there were bound to be a few in there. I was not disappointed. I brought home a backpack stuffed with a number of hard-to-get parts, like a working speedometer. Ours had never worked and in the days before the Internet, UK car parts were not easy. I spent the next few years doing what I could with the Morris, like refinishing interior wood, carpeting the cargo area, installing a radio and, eventually even getting the turn signals to work. Fast-forward to the early 90’s and we found ourselves with a car that needed indoor storage, but that had gone away with the passing of my grandmother and the selling of her house and garage. The beautiful beloved Traveler was sold, but never forgotten. My father and I have lamented that ever since. Drooling over internet pictures of Minors for sale here and there, it was always a little too expensive, or too far away, or not the right time. But we have never stopped looking, quietly trolling Hemmings Motor News or Craigslist every few weeks or months, half-heartedly.
Well, that all changed suddenly in September of 2022. I hit a Morris on a wide Craigslist search that included metro Chicago. $8500 and it looked really nice. This is what I saw….
Okay, so it was not a woody wagon. That stung a bit, but clean Travelers of any year are commanding prices from $13K to $30k and most of them below $20k are still rather rough. Here was a nice 1959 example being sold by a widow along with another English sedan, a Ford Prefect, a few years after the passing of her husband Patrick. Well, $8500 was a number I could not meet easily without impacting the family finance, so I let it go. I did keep looking at it, though, returning to the ad every few days like a demented sheep looking at a passed colleague, somehow unable to stop staring at it.
A couple of weeks later it was still there but the price was dropped suddenly to $7000. Hmmm… sounded like a motivated seller, dropping $1500 at one fell swoop. I really could not get that out of my head, so on a whim I reached out. A couple of weeks later I arrived with family permission and $7k cash-in-pocket in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. My dear friend Ed and I drove to Chicago, bringing a trailer and a promise that if the car didn’t pan out – too much corrosion or major mechanical issues – we were fully prepared to trailer home empty. The car checked out better than expected. And I bid low.
$5800 wouldn’t take it home, but it was a slow answer, they did have to think about it for a moment, and a few moments later $6000 was countered and we accepted. It ran, just well enough to get it on the trailer with Ed pushing from behind….(thanks, Ed!) but the brakes were semi-locked and the track of the ’59 was way more narrow than the ramps of the trailer. Like ZERO room to spare, edge-to-edge on the ramps. One inch, left-or-right, would dump the car off the ramps and no real way at hand to get it back on. With guidance the front went up okay, but as the rear wheels hit the steel ramps, I lost traction. The wheels started to spin, and the car shifted frighteningly towards right at the rear. Sensing this I pulled the hand-brake to stop from losing it, and then creeped back down. We re-approached and lined things up as well as possible, and with Ed pushing from behind and guiding every inch, we made our way up the ramps successfully. Whew!!
Fast-forward to today and I’ve spend the winter of ’22-23 buying and installing parts all over the vehicle. As Patrick did not leave any records, it’s been as much investigation as repair and replacement. He had clearly welded in a lot of steel patch panels and completed the bodywork and paint, as well as recovering the interior seats and door panels. At some point carpet had went in too, although in a kelly green that does not really work with the paint scheme. I think that will need to be changed.
First order of business was figuring out what needed work most. On the first short trip around the neighborhood, the fuel pump quit and I had to push the car home 4 blocks. Ok, so I ordered a new German-made unit and installed it along with a much-needed inline fuel filter. Next were tubes and tires due to rubber rot. Rare-size 145R14’s only come from Pirelli these days and are very hard to find in the US. Not too many classic cars use these anymore. $680 delivered 4 of these tiny little tires from California, unmounted. Getting them on the car was an unexpected challenge, as very few car tire shops deal with tubes anymore. Once they were on and a few more test drives made, carb rebuild kit from Moss Motors was delivered to smooth out the idle, which was uneven and needed to be running rich to run at all. Still not happy after that, a completely new electronic ignition system went in, getting rid of the dwell adjustment and the condensers well known to fail in the Lucas 25D distributors. The engine ran better and started like a champ now, but I still felt it had more in it.
I have long-since decided that any upgrade to the safety or operational ease of the car would be an open target. This isn’t a concurs car, despite having had so much work – the shiny paint shows a lot of incomplete prep underneath, uneven gaps and panel fit issues, and the scars of old mods like holes all over the dash from mounting what – gauges? Anyway, not concurs, so it might as well be reliable and safe to a more modern standard.
To safely supply the electronic ignition, an alternator conversion (rather than a generator) was required, eliminating a known soft-spot of a mechanical voltage regulator. Voltage spikes are known to eat up electronic distributors, they warn you about it in the install manual.
Many other electric upgrades in other areas around the car have been completed. I’ve added courtesy lights to the interior (somehow got deleted when interior was reworked), bright LED’s for tail lights/turn signals, a Center High-Mount Stop Lamp (CHMSL) in the rear window, electronic turn signal blinker circuit, and a few other goodies like two fuse boxes and a 100-Amp relay for the headlights and anything else that needs to be ignition-switched. I am still planning a conversion to power-brakes, a new cooling system, (new water pump has arrived) and I have a full gauge pack covering oil, water temp and volts. It also needs seat belts, and some exhaust mounting improvements. More pics on those upgrades to come… Meanwhile, some pics so far…
A few chrome parts still show their age, like the pitted hood ornament…
But funny enough you can still get these for about $40…..here’s the replacement.