The story of a mighty Morris with unique origins
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Like many vintage cars owners, Rex Graham doesn’t know the full history of his delightful New Zealand-new 1937 Morris 8.
But he is fortunate that the previous owner had kept a record of its life from the moment he bought it, for $40, in 1974.
That owner spent the next 10 years almost completing a full restoration, taking photos and filing receipts and notes as he went. But when he moved house, there was no room to store the car, and so about 19 years ago he sold it to Rex, along with the album.
The Morris 8 needed a few more jobs by then, so Rex fitted a luggage rack, a new windscreen and surround, and a few other bits and bobs He finished it off with a period AA badge that had belonged to his father.
Rex’s first car, at 16 years old, “when I was young and silly”, was a 1936 Morris 8 Sports.
“The first thing you do when you’re young is take the muffler off to make it loud,” he says, but eventually “the local police officer stopped me and said, ‘I think you should put the muffler back on’.”
Boy racers fettling old cars isn’t a new thing, clearly, and like the parents of today, his mum and dad grew sick of his shenanigans after six months, and made him sell it.
By the time this Morris 8 came up, his classic toy was a 1951 Ford Prefect. Based near Kerikeri, he belonged to the Northland Vintage Car Club and saw a “for sale” card for the Morris on its clubroom noticeboard. “I went to have a look at it, $5000 for the car and a trailer-load of spares.”
“When the engine got hot it’d start to knock, turned out the pistons were above the block and hitting the head, so I had a thicker gasket made.” He also added a modern fuel filter and new tyres. He says these are still cross plies, as “radials look bloody stupid”. Anyway, the rest of the car’s workings weren’t designed for modern tyre tech.
It starts sweetly. Rex uses the hand throttle to keep it at a good idle while it quickly warms up to running temperature. He flicks the indicators on — a trafficator (like a lit-up arrow) flips out from each B-pillar, at driver head height.
Often these have been removed during restorations, and modern indicators added. This Morris 8 has small modern indicators on the bumpers as well, as few drivers today know what a trafficator is, let alone a hand signal.
Otherwise it runs well, and cruises happily up to 80km/h.
Seats are comfortably clad in blue upholstery to tone with the blue and black exterior. It has taken him as far as Cape Rēinga and Wellington twice, and to Napier Art Deco twice. “It took three days to drive there, and two days to get home.”
He says in Auckland, drivers pulled up beside him to take photos — causing a traffic jam.
Rex, a marine engineer before he retired, does his own maintenance and has joined the NZ Morris Register that has a good stock of original parts.
When his partner, Sandra Trafford, was a diversional therapist at Kerikeri retirement village. she would dress in period clothing and take residents for drives in the Morris.
“And the memories it would spark … ”