Soon after Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring came out there was talk of a Morris 1000 in one of the ‘leaving Shire’ sequences.
I watched that movie several times and never saw the car myself, and I believe Jackson didn’t either. But that car certainly featured in one of his earlier movies – Meet the Feebles.One of the funniest movies ever made in New Zealand, a brilliant, brilliant take on puppet theatre – and the Morris 1000. Including a stretched limo version.
It wasn’t surprising. For a while from the mid-1950s, just about everybody in New Zealand had the money around to buy a Morrie Thou (intentional Stranglers reference here). My family had four between them over the years. I actually learned how to drive in a 1952 Series II two-door Minor with 803cc four-cylinder OHC motor offering 40hp at 4800 rpm, four-speed box and a top speed somewhat less than that of an asthmatic ant. My grandfather’s was fitted with twin Weber carburettors and nicknamed ‘Herbie’ for obvious reasons. It kept breaking half-shafts (also for obvious reasons, if you think about it). My sister’s was a panel van – very rare.
They were assembled new in Auckland from knock-down kits. They became the ‘teenage car’ of the 1970s and 1980s. A friend of mine had a true “Thousand”, the variant introduced in 1956 with the 948cc four-cylinder motor. That was original in his. But the mags and wide tyres weren’t. He had to cut out the wheel arches to stop them scraping, and then it began cracking its suspension struts.
A few Kiwi owners got more radical. A couple of decades ago or more, I spotted one next to me at some traffic lights on Napier road in Palmerston North. I was in my 1980 Mk V Cortina – Weber DGAV 32/36 twin-throat carb and 1993cc four-cylinder crossflow HC motor rated at 115 ft·lbf max torque. Not bad for its day and easily out-speccing a ‘Thou’. Well, a stock one anyway. The Morrie driver looked across from his driving position towards the back seat and blipped the motor with only a slight roll of thunder. I didn’t even contemplate engaging. Only idiots drag race on public roads. The Morrie driver took off anyway, like a rocket. Pow!
The fact that a Thou could be made to go from nought-to-lose-your-license in about two seconds was Alec Issigonis’ fault. You see, when he first designed the car, back in 1941, he had an air-cooled motor in mind, so he incorporated a huge engine bay. The tiddly Austin and Morris motors that it ended up with scarcely intruded on the space. It wasn’t unusual for enthusiasts to bolt in the Datsun 120Y engine, or the Rover 3.5 litre V8. Or maybe, as I suspect was the case in Palmie, something bigger.
Of course the Thou had to feature in my book New Zealand On the Move. Sans some of the OTT super-geek data – we don’t want people to think I might be too much of a petrol-head, do we.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2011