Oscar & the English Lord

If you’re ever in the market for a Morris Minor, or any other car for that matter, and the seller is a cockney chap from Northampton called Nick, beware. Especially if “Lord Wood” is mentioned as a former owner.

June 2015. I was no longer that daft young boy who’d bought the Lada Riva. I’d been sworn off Moggies for a good while thanks to my disastrous first buy, but I’d soon come to learn I hadn’t fully learned my lesson.

The love of them had never gone away and I’d began looking for another one. This time while sober.

I found one for sale in Northampton for £1750. It was advertised on eBay. It was a  grey four door saloon. 1098cc engine with no modifications. The original interior was red and cream duo tone.

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1963 Duo tone interior

The seller was a chap called Nick.

The advert stated he had bought it two months previously for his daughter to use as a daily driver. He said she found it “too agricultural” compared to her VW Golf and wasn’t interested in using it.

It added that the previous owner was someone called “Lord Wood”, who had carried out some restoration of the car. “Lord Wood” was probably a fake “Lord.” It did say that the paintwork was poor when viewed up close. It also said the interior was original and needed replaced and that some of the panels had a bit of rust.

Crucially though, the advert said the car was “very, very solid” underneath. It also said it started every time and drove just fine. It also had an MOT until October.

A solid underside was my number one priority. I contacted Nick, who reiterated the above in his cockney accent. He said he’d bought it blind in the belief that it had been fully restored. He had discovered that it hadn’t been. He also said that his daughter actually thought he was being excessively harsh on the car and that it should serve well as a daily driver.

Looking back, alarm bells should have been ringing right away. The heart was ruling the brain.

A couple of emails later and we’d agreed on £1650 for the car.

“Inside, on my first inhale I was hit with a damp, musty aroma and the slight smell of petrol. An old car smell if ever there was one.”

No flying this time, which I’m sure will please Miss Thunberg. My friend Boon and I took a train to Northampton and Nick collected us at the station in his modern car. He drove us back to his home and the Moggie. As we walked to the Moggy Nick showed us a lovely E-Type Jaguar he was working on before selling it.

At first sight the car looked quite presentable. Up close not so much. The doors didn’t lock and the window rubbers were dried and cracked.

Inside, on my first inhale I was hit with a damp, musty aroma and the slight smell of petrol. An old car smell if ever there was one. Looking around the front seats were okay, but a bit mouldy. They’d been recovered. The parcel shelf and glove boxes were tatty, as was the rear seat.

“Nick (to borrow an American term), the lying of a bitch that he was, assured me once again the car was very solid.”

I got down on the ground and looked under as best as I could in the gravel car park. Everything looked mostly “black” (not rusty), although I did notice some rust around where the rear (leaf) suspension was mounted to the chassis. I should have poked around.

The engine sounded healthy, save for a squealing fan belt. Oil and water levels were fine and the oil looked clean.

To borrow an American term Nick, the lying of a bitch, assured me once again the car was very solid.

Internally I reasoned with myself that cosmetics could be dealt with over time. An interior can be replaced. Replacement panels are available and could be done in time. Eventually the car could be resprayed. I could take my time and, over the months and years, slowly make this Moggy a very tidy car indeed.

The deal was done. Nick got his money.

Boon and I got in the Moggy, I pulled the starter and she fired up without hesitation. Off we went to the sound of a squealing fan belt straight to a petrol station for a tank of juice. 

We set off towards off the A66, the car still stinking of petrol fumes, on country roads to avoid the A1 and get a feel for the car. The car really stank of petrol. The ride quality was truly rubbish, even for a fifty-two-year-old car. Looking back this was probably because everything underneath was bone dry and corroded.

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Click photo for a short video.

We hit the A66, the squealing stopped and we cruised along on our way home at around 60mph.

From the A66, we headed north on the M6 /M74 towards Scotland.

It was a beautiful, warm sunny day and it was really enjoyable bumbling along in a fifty-two-year-old Moggy.

At dusk I flicked the headlight switch and the lights came on. A dim yellow glow illuminated the large speedometer in the centre of the metal dash.

We exited the motorway at the A70, a road I know well, towards Ayrshire.

Problems started. The engine began to splutter. I knew we had fuel and as a former mini owner I’d encountered this problem before. A battery losing charge. Which, given the squealing, meant a loose fan belt. To confirm it I briefly flicked the headlights off and the spluttering immediately stopped.

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Oscar under sodium glow, A70

With no tools to tighten the fan belt, it was the end of the road. With so few miles left to travel it slightly depressing.

I popped the bonnet open and used a light on my phone to have a quick look. To my horror there was no fan belt at all! It was completely missing. It must have snapped and come off when it stopped squealing. I knew this spelled serious engine overheating trouble.

Boon called the AA.

After around 45mins we were loaded onto a small flatbed truck and taken home.

In the days that followed I arranged for the Moggy to go into a classic friendly garage in Ayrshire. The garage (I won’t publicly name it as the standard of their work was good) belonged to a relative of a Police Inspector I knew and the owner was into classics. Sounded good. They gave me a price for stripping, repairing and rebuilding the engine and I told them to go ahead.

Once that was done, they said, they’d look over the rest of the car for me to ensure it was roadworthy. They told me at first glance it looked okay underneath.

In hindsight it was a huge mistake to let them do things in this order.

The engine was fixed and ran nicely once again. However, things were about to get a lot worse.

The garage told me that having inspected the car it was dangerous to drive in it’s current condition due to one of the rear suspension mounts being excessively corroded. It required immediate welding there to make it safe.

The sills were also holed, the cross member needed replaced and there were holes in the chassis legs.

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Nick described this as “very solid.”
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Rear suspension mount area. Leafs are also done. Very solid, eh Nick?

The car they now informed me, having taken a considerable amount of cash from me for an engine repair, was a bodge job. Someone had bodged job after job on it and tarted it up to make a quick bit of money.

“No matter what you spend on this car it’ll never be good, but you’ll need about £7000 of welding just to get it through an MOT” I was told.

If they’d told me that first I’d never have wasted so much having the engine repaired. I’d have sold the car on for parts or restoration. Not only had I been done by Nick, I’d been taken for a ride by a garage I trusted too.

I contacted Nick and complained. He apologised, claimed to be unaware of the extent of the rot and offered to send me some money back once he sold his E-Type. I suspected he was lying. He was, of course, and I never heard from the unscrupulous git again.

The most pressing repair required was to one of the rear suspension mounts. Without this it wasn’t safe at all to drive it anywhere, so I forked out more money to have that done. A few weeks later I got it back.

I was told the car would then do for a month or two regular driving but that I should probably sell it on if I didn’t have the cash to get it through it’s next MOT.

Having had its emergency repairs the car became known as Oscar. My then fiancée, now wife, and I did get a little use of if it, taking drives here and there.

Oscar 20yds
Oscar at 20 yards.

At twenty yards the car looked good and it received plenty of thumbs up and admiring glances. ‘If only they knew’ I thought.

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Oscar with a red phone box, Maidens.
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Oscar on the Ayrshire coast, 2015.

When the MOT expired I put Oscar up for sale, back on eBay. I was honest about the condition of the car and included the photos of the underside with markings showing the areas that needed repaired. I didn’t want some other poor sucker going through what I had.

A young lad, around twenty-years-old expressed and interest a came to see Oscar. He arrived in a two door Minor saloon, his daily driver. He was a Minor nut, which was good news.

He said he could work on the repairs needed himself and bought the car. I made a small loss on the car itself, but a far bigger one on the engine repairs and welding.

He trailered the car away the following week.

I swore myself off Minors again until 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. With little else to do I joined the Morris Minor Owners Club (MMOC) and began thoroughly researching what to look for. I began speaking to knowledgeable enthusiasts to gather as much buying advice as possible. This time I also had a healthy budget, to allow me to buy a properly restored car as opposed to another basket case. But that’s a story for another blog.

Indeed, while doing my research, I heard from a fellow MMOC member that Oscar had found his way to Dunoon and had been a familiar sight on roads there over a period of several months. Oscar had disappeared more recently. He had, by all accounts, been suffering quite visibly from rot by then and looked in a sorry state.

N.B. If you are in the market for a Morris Minor please get onto the Morris Minor Owner’s Club forums. Do not repeat my mistakes. Read this useful buying advice as a starting point. There is loads of great advice on the forums and there are very knowledgeable enthusiasts are willing to help. I’ll touch on this in more detail in a future blog.

 

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