Minor Life Moments

I have come to realize that the month of June 2013 marks the 53rd year of my personal involvement with a single particular Morris Minor—a pearl grey, red interior tourer that was purchased on an overseas delivery program by my late father, Rear Admiral Joseph F. Quilter of Portola Valley California.  The history of this car began on June 14, 1960 when it was built, and June 30th 1960 it was duly claimed by my older sister, Jane at the Morris Garages Limited, Cowley, Oxford, England.  The arrangement was my father purchased the car for my sister with the understanding she could use it for an extended European tour as a college graduation present but when the tour was complete it would be delivered to a port of departure for San Francisco and upon arrival it would become my father’s machine.  Little did he know that he would drive this car for the next 40 years until the day before his death at 93 years. So where did I, the son and current owner, fit into this Morris picture?

Dad looking back 1998

My father drove this Minor for 40 years—right up until the day before he passed away.

It all began back in the hot humid summer of 1954 in Charleston South Carolina where two middle aged neighbor women across the street from our home had an almond green 1953 Morris two door sedan as their only car.  As a small boy at the time I took a special liking to this “child sized” car and would spend hours sitting on the curb admiring this little machine, so different from the normal Detroit iron that populated the streets of America at the time.  When it became known to me that the family would soon relocate to California and would be needing an additional car to our trusty 1953 Dodge station wagon, my mantra to my father for six months was “Dad, you gotta buy a  Morris Minor.”

I have come to realize my attraction to this car set in motion an avocation to the English car that has been a defining factor in my entire life.  Although I am now retired from 32 years as the Western Regional Warranty Manager from the USA arm of the British Leyland Motor Corporation, Jaguar Rover Triumph, and most recently known as Jaguar Land Rover North America, almost my entire working life was involved with the administration of the British car in America.

So, upon arriving in Menlo Park, California in late 1954, my father, taking the advice of a six year old, rode the Southern Pacific commuter train some 30 miles to San Francisco and came back with a used, actually quite used, white 1953 Morris Minor convertible from Kjell Qvale’s British Motor Car Distributors.  I was in heaven, the family finally had their own Morris.  That Morris saw my father through the MBA program at Stanford University and upon landing a new job at nearby Lockheed Missiles and Space Corporation he was so pleased with his first Morris experience he splurged and traded up to a new one, a pale yellow 1957 tourer with the larger and improved 948cc engine.  In the family this car was always referred to as the butter colored Morris.  Actually my father always gave his cars names and since a Minor was just that, pretty minor among the gargantuan American cars, he nicknamed it the Pip Squeak but this was soon shorted to the “Pip”.

Then in 1960 along came my sister and her college graduation and that resulted in the 1960 Pip which remains in the family to this day.  And so I, as the originator of the Morris affiliation in the family, this car now falls to my stewardship as its principal driver and custodian.  Not that I was not its chief washer, polisher, vacuumer, and maintenance person from the day it landed on the wharf in San Francisco.  Now some two score and thirteen years hence it remains a cherished family heirloom.  Reflecting back on the fact that some 90 percent of my life has been affected by a Morris Minor it was appropriate that I  disassembled it in the spring of 2008 for a complete inside, outside, under the fenders, under the hood respray in its factory pearl grey color.  Now resplendent in its shiny new paint with its proper red pinstipe my father would be proud.  The car has well out lived him.

Morris in river with sprayI got to mentally reminiscing about my life with Morris Minors and recalled my first dirt country road driving lesson from my father during our tenure with the white 1953 convertible.  That places it back when I was but 9 years old.   The pearl grey Pip was my  driving learners permit car, the car I took my California driving test in when I was one day over 16 years old, the car I took my first date in, the car I put countless country road miles in with friends who were often also Morris aficionados or owners, the car I drove to San Francisco to take my SAT tests, the car I spent many hours Sunday touring the winding hilly county roads west of Palo Alto California with my father driving me and listening to that familiar exhaust burble while kneeing on the back seat and watching the road disappear in the distance.

Morris & me in snowAs my father was a very early naval aviator one of his primary rules was, don’t break the machine that is transporting you, so this was the car that my father used to successfully impart to me the finer points of how to finesse the mechanical attributes of a potentially fragile little machine. The car in which he taught me there was no need for a starter if you were parked on only a minor slope. The car a high school buddy and I took a mid winter 700 mile trip to bone chilling cold weather in southern Oregon. And not to forget the dozens of nighttime sport car rallyes that snaked around the roads of the suburban and rural mid San Francisco Peninsula. Gas was cheap, traffic was light, and driving was fun.  Time and distance and navigational courses with such names as Rebel Rebelution, June 30, 1971, Fools Gold, March 28, 1970, and Excedrin Headache, January 2, 1970 in which a second place award was earned.   And most recently, the car I drove a young neighbor couple to their wedding in.  My elegant white vintage Jaguar sedan was eschewed for this duty because the Morris was “cuter”.

Convt RH side 9-12Over my fifty three years with this car there is virtually not a part of it I have not cleaned, polished, taken apart, adjusted, overhauled or simply inspected for proper appearance or operation. I can mentally visualize the engine compartment and every component in it with my eyes closed.

I remember when I was a boy there were a few automotive eccentrics who still drove their Model A Fords in a world of Ford Galaxies , Dodge Chargers, and Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagons.  So now, over five decades since my Morris’ manufacture and over 6 decades since its design, is this machine as irrelevant an artifact of automotive history as the Model A was in the mid sixties?   Can I continue to ignore its low 37 horsepower performance balking the progress of a sea of impatient soccer mom yuppies in their six liter SUVs or the arrogant in their M series BMWs whose headlong rush to the next stop light stands only as a manifestation of excess testosterone?  Or young tractor hatted 20 something males in their sky high four wheel drive pickups with road grader sized tires? Is there no respect for the display of automotive history in an age of SAT Nav systems, blue tooth connectivity, backup cameras, and i phones?

Me-driving-on-SBM-#2So whither go this Morris, now that I enter the final third of my life?   Will this little car be an irrelevant artifact of automotive history unsuitable for even periodic use in any semblance of an urban area?   This car outlived my father and I suspect it may out live me. And when I finally come to the end of the road will there be a future custodian and steward of this well preserved little machine?   Will there be spare parts to keep it in pristine condition? Will there be craftsmen with the skill, interest, and knowledge to carry out the periodic maintenance and repairs and most importantly, will there be a caring steward to drive it with finesse and gentleness in respect to its history and antiquarian status?

By John Quilter

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'Minor Life Moments' have 19 comments

  1. June 15, 2013 @ 10:02 pm Ed Hargrove

    Well said, Mr. Quilter. Thanks for the mention of stewardship, for which I’ll vote regarding my late Dad’s mildly cherished vehicles. As for preservation and appreciation of the Morris Minor, I believe you can rest easy so long as there’s an active, touring and rallying, Austin 7 club somewhere in the world.

    Ed Hargrove
    ’76 MGB


  2. June 25, 2013 @ 8:43 am Paul Van Wig

    John I have had a low mileage 68 Traveler that I’m now the caretaker of. Unlike some of the othe hot Minors of my past, I intend to leave this one alone. Maintaining it as stock as possible. And just enjoy it. Hope to see you at a meet in the future, it has been years.


  3. June 25, 2013 @ 9:12 am Joe Robbins

    I have been enjoying a 64 Minor that I inherited from my aunt and uncle. It was his joy in his retirement years to putter with. I was surprised how reliable it is and drive it to work quite a bit. It draws attention everyhere it goes more than my MGA does. A lot of parts fit the Morris that Moss stocks just have to figure them out. I keep looking for a Morris catalog from Moss.


  4. June 25, 2013 @ 9:55 am John Van Pelt

    My Brother used to buy Minors for $25 then drive them hard till they came apart which was not too long then buy get another Morris Minor, this was in early 1960. I on the other hand bought a 1958 Minor 4 dr.in the late 70 which I drove partly to High School and I to drove it rather hard at times but I still have it sitting in my driveway. The little 4 dr. runs good still but it has no brakes so it has been sitting for years. I also have a 1958 Triumph Motorcycle. I just can’t get rid of the lovely Limey pains.


  5. June 25, 2013 @ 9:56 am Irv Brendlinger

    We lived in Edinburgh, Scotland from 1979-1982, where I was writing my Ph.D. thesis. When American friends who were visiting us asked me if I would drive them the 400 miles to London (they would pay for the rental car & petrol), I asked if they would use the same amount of money toward a used car that I could purchase. “Of course, just get us to Heathrow airport!” So, I bought the little ’67 grey, used, two door Morris Minor for 425 pounds (about $800). We drove it through my postgrad program, and it was perfect for my wife, two kids and myself.
    One of our enjoyable memories was taking it across the ferry to the continent. We had to paint the headlights yellow, to meet France’s requirement. The funniest times were driving it on the German autobahn, maintaining 60 – 65 mph, with huge Beemers & Benzes flying past. Everywhere we went on the continent, folk couldn’t help staring at us and smiling, and asking about the little fellow when we stopped.
    As a student on a low budget, I appreciated that it paid for itself in three ways: the driving economy, getting the full purchase value back when it was “totaled” by a huge lorry (truck) that side-swiped it on a traffic circle, crushing the top, but not hurting anyone. I was able to have a repair shop “porta-power” the roof back to proper shape, and then I did the bondo and painted it with rattle cans. It was perfect, and we continued to drive it. Finally we sold it to another American post grad … for the full price we’d originally paid for it. Did we love that little car? Absolutely.
    Irv Brendlinger, Portland, OR


    • November 29, 2016 @ 7:08 am lee branham

      To Irv Brendlinger (that is Dr. Irv Brendlinger, from Dr. Lee Branham) I heard you on a Best of Car Talk) program, not knowing how old the tape was, as either Click or Clack is dead now, but recognized the name from many years ago at Asbury, and thought to Google you. Saw the Asbury history on the Fox U site, and thought of writing them to see if they’d forward a note to you. might still try that. I see you’ve gone a long way academically since Wilmore. And maybe had an interesting journey towards issues of peace and slavery that didn’t get a lot of pulpit time at Asbury. I’ve also got a PhD, and been a psychologist for many years. Approaching retirement now, not practicing, but reviewing disability claims. And have moved from being among the “shoutin’ Methodists” to being a member of a UCC church. If this gets to you, I’d appreciate an email at leebran@lb.omhcoxmail.com. Of course, I don’t know if you remember me, but I think you graduated one year ahead of me, like in ’65.



  6. June 25, 2013 @ 10:02 am Rick Hamaker

    Yeah!–Where is that Morris Minor Moss Catalog? Wonderful recollections, John. Great read!
    1970 MGB Tourer, 1967 Morris Minor Traveller. (In restoration.)


  7. June 25, 2013 @ 9:55 pm Bruce Blondin

    Enjoyed reading about the Morris Minor. Love the Brit cars. I’ve driven an Austin American, warmed up by
    Butch Gilbert, Sunbeam Alpine, E Jag, several Formula Fords, Helman and now drive a ’55 Austin Healey
    100M. Ya gotta love them. I also expect the Healey will out live me too.


  8. June 26, 2013 @ 1:49 am Graham

    Great story & very interesting. Mine is a 1963 2 door Minor. 2 year rebuild finished 3 years ago. I use it every day, Lovely old car. Now on with renovating my 1955 series 2 Morris Cowley & loving every minute of it. Long live the Morris.


  9. June 27, 2013 @ 7:08 am Robert Garland

    My father, Rev. S.G. Garland, owned a Morris Minor, Sherbrooke, Quebec, in the early sixties. A wonderful and uncomplicated little car. Many of these were seen on the road in Canada at the time. He was a thrifty and careful driver and not given to speeding anywhere, so it was just what he was comfortable with.. However, this car did not take kindly to Canadian winters and often would not start when the temperature dropped way down.( Much later, while stationed in France with the U.S. Army, I thought the Renault Dauphine to be quite like that Morris Minor in size and power) . I have enjoyed reading the history of the Morris. At present, I am squeezing into a perfect little 1992 Mazda Miata MX5 and depend on Moss for all I need. I must say that the British cars have a different quality, and “pizazz”, as in the beautiful green1976 MGB my daughter in law drives. The Morris Minor was built with that same British attention to detail.


  10. June 27, 2013 @ 7:24 am M.Kay

    What a lovely story. I feel the same way about my old MGB. I sometimes just sit in it and rest for some reason it has a calming effect. Reminds of my Dad before we came to the states from London and always had an old Ford Prefect that seemed to never work. When it did, however we would have lovely rides in the country. Keep it going and enjoy yourself!!!!!!


  11. June 27, 2013 @ 8:48 am Patrick

    Lovely story! Thanks Admiral for listening to your son! I love my Morris Minors, yes, I have 3, and they are my favorite car. I have met more people and made more smiles than I can count with my cars. I wish Moss had a Morris catalog. There are more of them around than people imagine.


  12. June 28, 2013 @ 12:35 pm William

    Mr. Quilter

    I too have fond memories of the ’60’s and ’70’s in the Santa Clara Valley. I drove the German equivalent, a 1954 VW bug, throughout the valleys and hills of “the neighborhood”. We probably even competed on the same ralleys. I graduated to a TR3 in 1970 and have had an English car of one sort or another for the last 40 years. Oddly enough one of them has been the same TR3 purchased in 1978.

    I probably sold you car parts as well. I worked at the Economy Imports Foreign Car Parts store on the El Camino in Palo Alto up until 1976.

    You have a wonderful car and a really bad genetic flaw (LOL). The love of English cars can only be explained as a genetic issue. There is nothing like the smell, the feel and the joy of English motoring.

    Good luck with your stewardship and finding an heir. More and more it is taking a special person to carry the flame forward.


  13. June 29, 2013 @ 5:17 am charles

    My first car was a 1963 Austin Healey Sprite which was a first cousin of the Morris Minor. Wonderful car that I had to sell to finance my college education. It was about the same size as a Morris Minor. Too bad, the world is so crowded with SUV (Stupid Ugly Vehicles) that cars like the Morris Minor are put into so much of a danger.


  14. June 29, 2013 @ 7:34 pm Burney

    Mr. Quilter, Thank you for the trip down memory lane! The most embarrasing moment of my life occured in 1982 thanks to my first car – a 1960 Morris Minor 1000. A starter bolt had fallen out and I had taken to using my cartool thru the front bumper to handcrank the motor. My girlfriend and I gave the county doctor’s daughter a ride home after school (read: rich folks with a paved driveway). I was quite proud but they were finding the whole thing very entertaining. When it wouldn’t go, I put my girlfriend behind the wheel and pushed it. When it “half-started” (putt-putting down the driveway) I yelled Hit the Gas! – and when she did, the steering wheel came off in her hands. She’s screaming “HELP” and I’m shouting “BRAKES!”. Just before entering the flowergarden, she stood on the brakes (but not the clutch). She proceeded to make me chase her around the doctor’s yard to get my steering wheel back. MAN! Wish I still had that car! Burney in Biloxi ~73 MGB


  15. July 1, 2013 @ 4:14 pm Michael Wagner

    I was the caretaker of a 1960 Morris Tourer while I was in college in Kansas. It was a great car considering I had sold a Porsche 911 to help pay my tuition. I drove it from Kansas to Ohio and back one Thanksgiving
    weekend, non-stop, somewhere around 20 hours each way. Let me tell you, going uphills in Missouri and losing speed rapidly with a rear-view mirror full of Peterbilt bumper is intimidating. What an adventure! I think it was better in the snow than any VW of the period I drove, but maybe that’s just my British car prejudice coming out.


  16. July 9, 2013 @ 12:39 pm Kim Rutherford


    Enjoyed your profile and history of your familys Morris Minor Convertible. My one regret was a few years ago at John Twists Party in Grand rapids,having let slip by ,a MM Convertible with a V6 engine, 5 speed , in restored condition for $9500. I know it was modified !!!, but what a great usuable car that could be driven at highway speeds on the highway, and with all the charm of an MM thrown in.


    Kim R.


  17. August 20, 2013 @ 8:08 am Cliff

    I learned to drive in a ’60 MM convertible (black w/ red interior). It was a hand me down car that my sister learned to drive in. I drove and rebuilt that car for 5 years. Rebuilt the engine twice. The second time was because a rod went through the block. No problem, just weld a patch over the hole in the block, put in a new piston and it still ran. Sold it when I went in the Navy. Wish I had it back. Lot’s of memories and first dates in that car.


  18. October 4, 2014 @ 1:05 pm David A Jones

    Morris Minor 1000’s appeared in Pearl Grey from Jan 1959 – July 1960 and at no other time. Thus a genuine Pearl Grey car islikely to be rare. Check the body number. If it is not between 692902 and 847250 it is not a genuine Pearl Grey. That colour was not used on the traveller. I bought mine in Gainesveille FL in 1996. It is now in England . I have seen only one other than mine, and then only at the centenay of the Morris mark at Cornbury, England in 2013. Tony Burgess and his fellow US Moggie owners were much in evidence and most welcome.
    Go Gators!


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