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TECHNICAL ARTICLES © Morris Minor Car Club of Victoria Inc.
Tips on how to restore a Morris Minor
The Morris Minor is probably one of the simplest cars to restore provided that you understand how the panels fit together. Most parts are still available from the smallest rubber washer, to the largest panel. If it is repaired properly it should last for many years. The Morris Minor uses unitary construction, i.e., the strength of the vehicle depends on the whole structure rather than a chassis.
Before plunging into restoring your Morris Minor it is vital to decide what you want to do with the car:-
- Do you want to use the car for every day transport, weekends, club runs or for Concourse events?
- Do you want your Morris Minor in original condition or modified?
Restoring a car to show room condition can take years of hard work and thousands of dollars. Very few people have all of the skills to carry out a first class restoration and part of the work may have to be performed by a professional firm. Probably the most difficult areas are panel work and spray painting.
An original Morris Minor may be fun to drive on Club runs or at weekends, but can be an infuriating experience for frequent use. For every day use it is very desirable to at least upgrade the brakes and engine so that the car can keep up with the traffic. However, any significant modification will require an engineers certificate (in Victoria) before the car can be considered Road Worthy. This is an expensive exercise and a deterrent to most would be modifiers - see Modifications - Legal Requirements.
Let us firstly consider modifications that may be carried out on a Morris Minor.
In Australia the production of Morris Minors ceased in 1961 before the introduction of the 1098cc engine with its superior gearbox. Probably the easiest way to improve the performance of your Morry is to fit a 1098 engine. However, these engines are fairly rare and a better choice is a Datsun 1200 or 1400 or even a 1500 engine. These engines are based on the A-series as Datsun originally obtained the license to build the engine from BMC. Fortunately, Datsun greatly improved the design to produce a more rugged and superior engine. Being a similar engine they are fairly easy to fit to a Morry, the main modification being to change the position of the engine mounts. Other engines have been used in Morris Minors including the Toyota Corolla 1200 and 1300cc.
If you consider reconditioning you Morry gearbox - don't!! A much better option is to fit a Toyota Celica 5 speed, Datsun 120Y 4 speed or even a 120Y automatic to your car. The Morry gearbox was not great in its day and is poor when compared with Japanese equivalents. Conversion kits are available for gearboxes, disc brakes, telescopic shocks, etc from Morris Minor World, Sydney and other firms
The Morry brakes were good in the 1950's but are now inadequate for everyday use. It is a good idea to fit larger front drums from a Morris Major and a power booster such as a VH-44. If a larger engine is fitted then it may be necessary to modify the brakes to ensure that the car is roadworthy. Disc brakes can be fitted from early Holden Torana or Morris Marina cars. A better option may be to purchase a conversion kit. The fitting of disc brakes will probably require an Engineer's Report to ensure that the car is roadworthy.
The fitting of telescopic shock absorbers to the front and rear is probably a good investment.
The Morries generator struggles to supply enough power with all of the accessories turned on. Installing an alternator will prevent those embarrassing times when the battery goes flat after a long night drive. A Lucas alternator from a Mini can be installed very easily into a Morry. A cheaper alternative is to install a XD - XE Ford Falcon alternator - though this will require some modifications.
This is an enormous subject to cover in detail and it is recommended that a good book be purchased such as:-
- "Morris Minor Restoration Preparation and Maintenance" by Jim Tyler (Osprey Automotive)
- "Purchase & DIY Restoration Morris Minor & 1000" by Lindsay Porter (Haynes)
These books contain numerous photographs and masses of information and are an excellent investment.
Before taking the plunge it is a good idea to decide if you have the skills, motivation, facilities, plenty of spare time and an understanding wife and neighbours to see the task completed. At this stage it might be a good idea to look at an amusing story on the Psychology of Restoration!
Firstly join your local Morris Minor Club.
It is a good idea to strip one or more Morries for parts - this will not only provide useful parts but the know-how to dismantle a Morry. You will also quickly discover the areas that rust and crack - very useful knowledge when purchasing a car to restore. Free Morries suitable for wrecking are normally available from your club.
Attend a welding and panel beating course at your local Technical School.
Carefully examine the car and determine what body parts need repairing and what parts will have to be purchased.
Estimate the cost of carrying out the work - then double it!
Allow at least two years to complete the restoration.
Decide what work you are capable of carrying out. Obtain estimates for the cost of work to be completed by a professional tradesman. The two areas that may have to be done by a professionally are welding and spray painting.
It is highly likely that parts of the car will suffer from rust and metal fatigue. Examine the front chassis leg carefully as it likely to be rusted or patched.
The front suspension is mounted on a bolt that fits in a tube passing through the chassis leg. Examine the area around the eye bolt for fatigue - it is common for this area to be cracked.
The sills below the door are susceptible to corrosion. This area is vital to the strength of the car and should be examined by removing the sill outer panel.
The rear spring mounts and rear chassis rail should also be examined for rust.
Other areas that are likely to suffer from metal fatigue are:-
The front drivers door at the base of the quarter window, and the font and side edges of the bonnet.
Before major bodywork repairs can be carried out, all or part of the body shell will need to be stripped of mechanical components, lights, trim and ancillaries. If it is proposed to restore the car to concourse standard it will be necessary to remove everything from the shell. Carefully label and store parts so that they are not misplaced.
If it is proposed to re-paint the car, strip off the old paint and then repair any body faults such as rust, dents, etc. It is a good idea to consider having the car professionally cleaned by sandblasting or chemical dipping. Thorough cleaning will show up any areas that are rusted or cracked.
If you decide to clean the car yourself, the easiest way to clean and repair the underside of the car it to roll it over on its side. A roll-over frame may be found useful but a couple of willing helpers can easily roll the car over onto some old tyres.
It should only take a few days to completely strip a Morris Minor of all parts including front and rear mudguards (wings). However, cleaning the parts will take considerably longer and will test your patience.
Oxy and MIG welding require considerable skill to weld thin sheet metal. The MIG welder is probably the most suitable for home use. However, MIG welding requires considerable skill and it may be cheaper to employ a professional welder with portable equipment than purchase a MIG and learn how to use it.
Metal which is to be welded must have all traces of rust, paint, oil and grease cleaned from the surface (sandblasting or chemical dipping provides an ideal surface). Replacement panels may be purchased or simple parts fabricated by the handyman. It is important that all rusted areas of the body are cut out and replaced by welding in new panels.
Spray painting is too vast a subject to be covered here. It is another area that takes considerable skill to produce a good result. The car should be painted before assembling the mechanical parts onto it. The home renovator should use Acrylic paint in preference to two pack (which is toxic and requires special breathing equipment). Acrylic paint is ideal for amateurs as it is very forgiving of mistakes. It is highly recommended that the restorer attend a spray painting course at a Technical School and purchase a good book on the subject.
A good compressor and spray gun will be required to obtain good results. A mask is required to protect the operator from fumes and fine paint dust. Practice on old car panels before starting to spray paint the car. The preparation, painting and finishing is a very time consuming task and it may be preferable to have the car professionally painted using two pack paint..
It is important to check all of the mechanical components before assembling onto the body of the car. Important areas to check include:
- Braking system
- Condition of shock absorbers.
- Front and rear suspension parts
- Steering rack
- Wheels and tyres.
Don't try and save a few dollars by using worn old parts. New parts should be used when the condition of old parts are doubtful.
It is possible to improve the appearance by painting the grill and wheels a different colour to the body. And different tail lights may enhance the appearance of the car and improve the safety. See picture of VW tail lights:-
A lot of help can be obtained from members of a car club or from attending a TAFE restoration course.