Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Researching some History

One of the nice thing about British built minis is that the factory records were retained in an archive and its still possible to have access to the details for your particular car. These come in the form of a heritage certificate supplied (at quite a lot of expense) by the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust archive service. Almost as soon as I got the Traveller I applied for a certificate and received it a few weeks later. It isn't much for the money, but its a fascinating glimpse of the car's early days and provides some clues to its history.

The heritage certificate gives me a few useful bits of information. It lists the car/chassis number and the engine number confirming the original numbers on the car and it gives me a date of manufacture, which will help when it comes time to replace missing parts. It also lists the heater as a factory option and describes the original trim and colour scheme.

The heritage certificate also tells me that the Traveller was built for the UK home market and was despatched to Derbyshire Motors Limited on the 31st of January 1961. Derbyshire Motors were aparently part of a larger company that were Morris dealers in Derbyshire, UK. Thanks to a member of the Mk1 Conversions Forum I've found their showroom in Google maps, unfortunately there's not much to show what it was.

Apart from being my father's 19th birthday, the date of despatch is significant in that it is about 8 weeks before the Mini went on sale in Australia. Manufacturing was already underway here at that time, but the Mini was not officially released until 23 March 1961. Assuming my Traveller was exported early in its life, it was one of the first Minis of any body style in Australia.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Home at Last!

Plans Finally approved by Council
Throughout 2009 I'd been working towards having a garage and workshop built. We were having an extension built onto our house and it seemed a good time to build the dream shed. I went through many iterations of plans trying to come to the best compromise between, space and cost whilst trying to preserve as much of our yard as possible and keeping the local council happy.To get as much floor space as I wanted without losing too much yard, I'd need two storeys but the council rules meant that the higher it was, the further it had to be from the boundary, it was going to end up plonked in the centre of the yard. Then I discovered the loophole, wall height is measured at the eaves so a Dutch barn is only the height of a single story building. It may look silly and be inappropriate for our size of yard but its BIG.

Traveller and Moke about to go away for a few more months
It took over a year to be ready to occupy. It actually only took about 10 days to be put up, but there were dozens of delays. I could not believe how many excuses the supplier could come up with, but I had a deadline. My work was sending me to Antarctica for most of December, January and February, and I wanted to be able to get the Traveller and all of my other stuff out of the expensive storage sheds I was renting. Even though it still wasn't finished - over one very busy weekend I moved the Traveller and two classic bikes, plus a huge pile of furniture and workshop equipment out of storage and into the shed. The Traveller was at home at last. It was a momentous day!
Two days later I was in Antarctica.

Wilkins Aerodrome, Wilkes Land, Antarctica

All of a Sudden ... Nothing Happened

When I first brought the Traveller home I didn't yet have a proper garage or anywhere to work, so I had to put it into a rented storage shed. That was in February 2007...and then life got in the way. Its boring but in a nutshell, my wife and I celebrated our first anniversary, sold a house, bought a house, had a child, finished a marathon 13 year renovation of another house, sold that house and another flat then renovated our new house (more on that later). That brings us up to late 2009. During most of this time the Traveller languished in storage. I spent a fair bit of time researching, planning and tracking down elusive parts on ebay, but I didn't do anything to the Traveller for over 2 1/2 years.

 In November 2009 there was going to be a big Mini show "MiniFest 2009", for the 50th anniversary. I decided that I wanted to have the Traveller there and that I was going to try to drive it. I had pieced together many of the missing parts I would need to get the car running. At that stage it had an engine, but that was just sitting in the engine bay, without any of its ancillaries fitted. The radiator and most of the cooling system was missing as were a number of smaller mechanical parts.
Mini Fans not Admiring Eddie

Over a period of several weeks I took my lunch break at the storage shed, which was just near my work. I bought an engine crane and used it to lift the engine out, I fitted a replacement radiator and cooling system, dropped it back in and connected everything up, using bits and pieces I already had plus some I borrowed and scrounged. Finally on the Friday before MiniFest I had it all re-assembled with a new battery fitted. I just needed to get it to start. It took a huge effort- there were at least half a dozen things preventing it from running, ranging from a wrongly aligned distributor drive, through to a cockroach egg blocking the fuel line. My lunch hour ran a bit over time that day - in fact I ended up spending nearly all afternoon lying on the floor in a pool of leaking petrol - but eventually it fired up, filling my storage shed with black smoke. It even settled down to a reasonable idle. Unfortunately the brakes were completely stuffed, and with no time to fix them, I had to trailer it to MiniFest.

Tasmania's answer to Monty Watkins

My Sister's old 1971 Mini K
MiniFest was a huge success, the Traveller got a lot of attention, particularly from the real mini aficionados. I was surprised, and very pleased, to be awarded a trophy for "The Car with the Most Potential", I'm glad the judges could see it the same way I do.

To cap it off I was asked to be lead car for the parade of Minis through town - only driving my Moke, not the Traveller. Unfortunately once the show was over, I still didn't have anywhere for the Traveller to live at my house, so back into storage it went for just a little longer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting Eddie to Tasmania

Being collected in Sydney
Getting my Traveller from Steve and Mikey's place in Sydney back to Hobart was a lot more difficult than I  expected. Tasmania is an island off the south eastern corner of mainland Australia. There's about 1200km of road plus a 450km sea crossing between here and Sydney. The Traveller was up there, with its engine out, no radiator and no brakes. All I needed was a transport company prepared to move a non-running car from Sydney to Hobart. There weren't any. I could find a few companies that would ship a running car to Tasmania, but I could find only one company prepared to transport a non-runner, and they wouldn't bring it across the strait. I would have to go across on the ferry and tow it home from Melbourne. The transport company wouldn't hold it in their depot for me, but luckily Brett (who first pointed me to the ad) generously offered to store the Traveller at his place near Melbourne until I could get over to collect it. After a lot of mucking about (and a substantial up-front payment) it was collected from Steve and Mikey's place. Steve sent me some pictures of it on the back of the truck.

...Then it disappeared...
Literally 'dropped off' at Brett's
 Brett would have liked to have been home when it was delivered, he would have liked to have known which day it was arriving. He would like to have had it delivered into his driveway. However the transport company went very quiet. They wouldn't return phone calls, and they couldn't be specific about when it would be delivered,even more ominously they didn't seem to know where it was. After many days of both Brett and I trying to get information out of them it turned up at Brett's, without much warning. Brett wasn't home, it didn't arrive when they said it would and it wasn't in his driveway. Instead they seemed to have thrown it off the back of the truck as they drove past his house. They left it where it landed, with one wheel on the footpath. Brett had to push it out into the road and use his 4WD to tow it up his driveway, but at least it was safe again (although it was filthy!).

On Rod's Trailer behind the Mighty RAV4
All that was left was for me to make the road trip and the two overnight ferry crossings, over and back, to bring it home. I took a day off work, accompanied by my brother-in-law, James and we headed north. I stopped off at Rod's place near the ferry port to borrow his trailer, which was a very important part of the equation. Rod's trailer is the perfect size for a Mini, its built to exactly fit a Moke which is important on the ferry because the trailer is charged (a great deal) by length, and this whole process was becoming very expensive. Apart from a terrible sleepless night in the cheapest accommodation on the "Spirit of Tasmania" (a cinema seat) the rest of the trip to Brett's house was uneventful. Rod's trailer is so compact that towing through an unfamiliar city was a dream. After buying half of Ikea (a compulsory stop for Tasmanians visiting the big city) we arrived at Brett's. My Traveller looked great sitting in the shed next to Brett's. It was the most Travellers I've ever seen in the same place at once! With Brett's help we soon had Eddie snugly tied down and ready to head home.

The return trip was not so great. I got sick - really sick - on the ferry, I'm not certain whether it was the Swedish meatballs for lunch or the fish and chips for dinner. Another sleepless night (spent mostly on the toilet) didn't help. Back on land Faye, Rod's wife, came to my rescue with some good drugs and after another  few hundred kilometres with James driving while I tried to maintain control of my bodily functions we rolled Eddie into my hired storage shed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Finding a Traveller

The Clubman that got away - later saved by an enthusiast
I've wanted a Mini estate for years. I've owned Minis since I started to drive and have had several different versions, sedans, Mokes and a Mini Van. The van was great, it could fit a fridge in the back, but it was bit limited for seating. The estates seemed to have the perfect compromise of seats and practicality. Over the years I'd checked out a couple, a slightly rough red Austin Countryman (with steel sides, no wood), which was around 5 times the cost of a comparable sedan, and a Clubman Estate that needed a bit more work than I was capable of at the time - it was only about 3 times the price of a comparable sedan. In hindsight I should have bought either of them. The thing was, I really wanted a woody.

One of the photos from the original ad
There's probably only a dozen or so woodies in Australia so I'd more or less given up on the idea of  finding one locally and was toying with the idea of having a holiday in the UK and bringing one home with me. I mentioned this on the old yahoo Minilist Forum, and quickly got a reply from Brett (bnicho) to say that one was listed for sale on the Ausmini forum (link to original ad). As it turned out it was a nice early woody, I knew these were a bit more special so that really sparked my interest. The sellers, Steve and Mikey, were well known on Ausmini for their fabulous collection of early Minis. The only problem was that they were in Sydney, 1200km by road plus a 450km sea crossing away.  I spent a long time studying all the detailed pictures they had in their ad and it looked to be in remarkable condition for its age so I eventually decided that it was worth the punt. I won't tell you what I paid, but several friends told me I was mad to have paid so much for a mini that was nearly 50 years old, and didn't even run.

Getting the Ball Rolling

This blog has been around nearly as long as I've had the Traveller, so its time to get it started I think. I've owned my Traveller since January 2007, but am only now starting the restoration - I don't like to rush these things.

An introduction:
This is my 1961 Morris Mini Traveller, he's a woody so is affectionately known as Eddie, after Edward Woodward. Eddie rolled off the Longbridge production line on the 31st of January 1961 (my Dad's 19th birthday).

The heritage certificate shows that he is still in his original colours and he still has the optional extra heater fitted, when he was delivered to Derbyshire Motors Ltd, in Derwent Street, Derby.

Fuel tank on the left and spare wheel well and battery in the same location as the sedan.
Travellers are very rare in Australia, they were never built here and only a handful came in as private imports. Mine is even more unusual in being an early 'internal tank' model. For the first year of production Morris  Travellers and the similar Austin Countryman had the fuel tank in the rear, in a similar position to that of the sedans, with a filler cap protruding from the left hand side rear panel. A year later the under floor tank of the Mini van was adopted, with its filler recessed into the right hand side rear panel.