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Morris the Car

I knew all the hulks at San Diego Foreign and Elmer’s wrecking yards.

I ignored the suggestion that we give him a Viking funeral in Mission Bay.  - Image by Mimi Pond
I ignored the suggestion that we give him a Viking funeral in Mission Bay.

I didn’t buy the car just because it was cute. These are the best cars the English ever made, no matter what anyone may say about how much that is saying. (Some would have you believe :hat England could have won the war with their technology-by sending them to the Germans.)

I had had one before - a little grey woody with red leather seats and a wooden dash, that smelled and felt as good as it drove. And I, as do all Morris Minor owners, swear by them. Best little cars ever made. Besides, it looks just like Donald Duck’s car: a cross between an egg and a derby hat.

Back in the old days, when Morrises were still allowed to immigrate here, Porsches used to race against them. Really. They may not be showy, but they are peppy, and they don’t give up. They are especially good against Porsches on long races: they don’t have to stop every hundred miles for repairs.

In fact, it was the very endurance of my Morris, almost twenty years old now, that finally was almost the end of him. For the last year or so we were calmly and gracefully fighting the battle against the disappearing parts. I didn’t mind: a wrecking yard is as good an excursion as Volunteers of America or the lapidary division at the County Fair. After Morris and I had been together for several months, I knew all the hulks at San Diego Foreign and Elmer’s.

After a year of Morris Minor ownership, I knew most of the stationary Morrises in greater San Diego and North County—lots of people keep them in their back yard for the day they are going to fix them up completely. Of course, the moving Morris Minors are no problem to find. Every time two pass each other, they honk, wave, or even pull to the side of the road to discuss hubcaps, convertible tops, or electric fuel pumps.

When my very hip brother first saw Morris the day I brought him home, he rolled his eyes and groaned, “At least you could have bought a real car, like an Austin Healey or something. That’s a toy car. What’s more,” he said, turning the key, “you got a bummer. It doesn’t start.” He was forgetting to pull the little starter knob. He proclaimed that it would last a week, and that I should have gotten a Volkswagen.

A year and a half later it was still going, but it was getting weak, and smoking. My friends who know everything about cars shrugged their omniscient shoulders and said, “I can’t see any reason why that car is still running.” I who know nothing, but can tell if a valve is loose or a rocker arm out, just drove him a little more gently. He still needed his part a month - a wheel, a generator, a turn signal - but he kept on chugging. A distinguished elderly gent, he was becoming. We slowly ascended hills, and decided against going anywhere unnecessary.

And then one day as I was driving along the freeway, thinking about how nice it was to be out of debt and generally free from worry, a Highway Patrolman pulled us over and cited us for smoking. Polluting the environment! Slapped in the face by my own cause! Waves of emotions: How do I get out of this? Where can I get the engine cleaned so it won’t smoke? Or maybe a part a month just isn’t enough. Maybe Morris needs help. He has been weaker lately. And like other geriatrics who avoid going to the doctor except in direst emergency for fear it will end up costing them their life’s savings, Morris had been avoiding a complete checkup. What if—?

I was seized by fear and panic: the kind of extreme emotion that affects my judgment so much that I turn to my mother for advice. As fate would have it, she had just met a man last week at a garage sale (she must have met half the population of San Diego at garage sales) who knew all there was to know about Morris Minors.

So, full of faith and the prayers that go with it, we chugged over there, barely making it up the Texas Street hill to his shop. He looked it over and saw that everything seemed to be working well, except for the smoking. Perhaps it was his seeing my clasped hands and my look of agony that inspired him to assure me that all it probably needed was a ring and valve job—but we’ll have to take the head off to see. Ignoring the suggestion of my inconsiderately witty companion that we give him a Viking funeral in Mission Bay, I told the mechanic to go ahead. Open heart surgery. I left thinking of flowers I should bring on my next visit.

The state of affairs under the head was as dismal as that inside my heart. Now it was my mechanic’s turn to say, “I can’t see any reason why that car is still running.” What does he know about bearing up bravely under pain? He was to learn. We decided against open heart surgery in favor of a complete heart transplant. But unfortunately, Morris was to be stuck on the operating table for a long long time. He had been dying a natural death. Not like him to explode all over the freeway. He had been quietly slipping away. Each of his parts was in the same harmonious state of near-death as the others. And each part replaced blew another one. It was as if an eighteen-year-old heart and kidney had been put into an eighty-year-old body, so all the other eighty-year-old organs couldn’t keep up with them.

A part a month became a part a day. I was creating a bionic car and a cosmic bill. Particular parts (used) became as hard to find as Livingston in the Congo. But found they eventually were, one by one. By this time, my mechanic was no longer just on a job— he was on a mission. And I was not having my car fixed, but restored. It was still cheaper than buying a good used car, or sinking to the aesthetic depths of throwing up my hands and putting my last conceivable hundred dollars into a Detroit pig.

After weeks of begging rides, hitchhiking, and selling everything I owned, Morris was ready. I went to get him, and as my mechanic beamed, he started. He not only started, he sounded like a filly pulling eagerly at her reins before the first race. As I drove around the block, I waited for the body to fall off. It didn’t. He ran like an Olympic marathon runner all the way to 54th and El Cajon, where I had him filled up with gas and washed free. Two feet out of the carwash, I pulled the starter. I pulled the starter right out of the car. Morris was still again. Having wrung my hands in despair so often, I didn’t bother this time, but just headed up the street to find a new starter cable. All it was was a screw loose.

There may be more loose screws to come, but this monument to automotive excellence, like our heritage and our natural wonders, is well worth saving. Even in his worst days, he never got less than thirty-five miles to the gallon.

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I ignored the suggestion that we give him a Viking funeral in Mission Bay.  - Image by Mimi Pond
I ignored the suggestion that we give him a Viking funeral in Mission Bay.

I didn’t buy the car just because it was cute. These are the best cars the English ever made, no matter what anyone may say about how much that is saying. (Some would have you believe :hat England could have won the war with their technology-by sending them to the Germans.)

I had had one before - a little grey woody with red leather seats and a wooden dash, that smelled and felt as good as it drove. And I, as do all Morris Minor owners, swear by them. Best little cars ever made. Besides, it looks just like Donald Duck’s car: a cross between an egg and a derby hat.

Back in the old days, when Morrises were still allowed to immigrate here, Porsches used to race against them. Really. They may not be showy, but they are peppy, and they don’t give up. They are especially good against Porsches on long races: they don’t have to stop every hundred miles for repairs.

In fact, it was the very endurance of my Morris, almost twenty years old now, that finally was almost the end of him. For the last year or so we were calmly and gracefully fighting the battle against the disappearing parts. I didn’t mind: a wrecking yard is as good an excursion as Volunteers of America or the lapidary division at the County Fair. After Morris and I had been together for several months, I knew all the hulks at San Diego Foreign and Elmer’s.

After a year of Morris Minor ownership, I knew most of the stationary Morrises in greater San Diego and North County—lots of people keep them in their back yard for the day they are going to fix them up completely. Of course, the moving Morris Minors are no problem to find. Every time two pass each other, they honk, wave, or even pull to the side of the road to discuss hubcaps, convertible tops, or electric fuel pumps.

When my very hip brother first saw Morris the day I brought him home, he rolled his eyes and groaned, “At least you could have bought a real car, like an Austin Healey or something. That’s a toy car. What’s more,” he said, turning the key, “you got a bummer. It doesn’t start.” He was forgetting to pull the little starter knob. He proclaimed that it would last a week, and that I should have gotten a Volkswagen.

A year and a half later it was still going, but it was getting weak, and smoking. My friends who know everything about cars shrugged their omniscient shoulders and said, “I can’t see any reason why that car is still running.” I who know nothing, but can tell if a valve is loose or a rocker arm out, just drove him a little more gently. He still needed his part a month - a wheel, a generator, a turn signal - but he kept on chugging. A distinguished elderly gent, he was becoming. We slowly ascended hills, and decided against going anywhere unnecessary.

And then one day as I was driving along the freeway, thinking about how nice it was to be out of debt and generally free from worry, a Highway Patrolman pulled us over and cited us for smoking. Polluting the environment! Slapped in the face by my own cause! Waves of emotions: How do I get out of this? Where can I get the engine cleaned so it won’t smoke? Or maybe a part a month just isn’t enough. Maybe Morris needs help. He has been weaker lately. And like other geriatrics who avoid going to the doctor except in direst emergency for fear it will end up costing them their life’s savings, Morris had been avoiding a complete checkup. What if—?

I was seized by fear and panic: the kind of extreme emotion that affects my judgment so much that I turn to my mother for advice. As fate would have it, she had just met a man last week at a garage sale (she must have met half the population of San Diego at garage sales) who knew all there was to know about Morris Minors.

So, full of faith and the prayers that go with it, we chugged over there, barely making it up the Texas Street hill to his shop. He looked it over and saw that everything seemed to be working well, except for the smoking. Perhaps it was his seeing my clasped hands and my look of agony that inspired him to assure me that all it probably needed was a ring and valve job—but we’ll have to take the head off to see. Ignoring the suggestion of my inconsiderately witty companion that we give him a Viking funeral in Mission Bay, I told the mechanic to go ahead. Open heart surgery. I left thinking of flowers I should bring on my next visit.

The state of affairs under the head was as dismal as that inside my heart. Now it was my mechanic’s turn to say, “I can’t see any reason why that car is still running.” What does he know about bearing up bravely under pain? He was to learn. We decided against open heart surgery in favor of a complete heart transplant. But unfortunately, Morris was to be stuck on the operating table for a long long time. He had been dying a natural death. Not like him to explode all over the freeway. He had been quietly slipping away. Each of his parts was in the same harmonious state of near-death as the others. And each part replaced blew another one. It was as if an eighteen-year-old heart and kidney had been put into an eighty-year-old body, so all the other eighty-year-old organs couldn’t keep up with them.

A part a month became a part a day. I was creating a bionic car and a cosmic bill. Particular parts (used) became as hard to find as Livingston in the Congo. But found they eventually were, one by one. By this time, my mechanic was no longer just on a job— he was on a mission. And I was not having my car fixed, but restored. It was still cheaper than buying a good used car, or sinking to the aesthetic depths of throwing up my hands and putting my last conceivable hundred dollars into a Detroit pig.

After weeks of begging rides, hitchhiking, and selling everything I owned, Morris was ready. I went to get him, and as my mechanic beamed, he started. He not only started, he sounded like a filly pulling eagerly at her reins before the first race. As I drove around the block, I waited for the body to fall off. It didn’t. He ran like an Olympic marathon runner all the way to 54th and El Cajon, where I had him filled up with gas and washed free. Two feet out of the carwash, I pulled the starter. I pulled the starter right out of the car. Morris was still again. Having wrung my hands in despair so often, I didn’t bother this time, but just headed up the street to find a new starter cable. All it was was a screw loose.

There may be more loose screws to come, but this monument to automotive excellence, like our heritage and our natural wonders, is well worth saving. Even in his worst days, he never got less than thirty-five miles to the gallon.

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