History of the 1929 Morris Minor 4 Seat Tourer (Chiriapala)
In 1929 Morris Motors launched the Morris Minor Four Seat Tourer with an overhead cam (OHC) engine. It was targeted against the successful but smaller Austin Seven. By comparison the Minor was considered superior in all respects: quality of build, comfort, size and fixtures. It came standard with the advanced OHC engine that is driven by the dynamo mounted vertically over the crankshaft. (Rolls Royce Merlin of Spitfire fame has a similar design without using the drive shaft as a dynamo.) The car’s radiator shell is pure nickel but nickel-plating of its many fittings is a diagnostic feature.
Records at the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust prove that Chassis M10228 was exported direct to the British Colony of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Registered in Mutare (Umtali) as U750 it subsequently moved to Bulawayo then later Harare (Salisbury); interestingly a total of four RAF pilots owned the car during WW2 perhaps changing hands after their training.
Mrs. Rene Lang was the 10th, lived in Parktown Salisbury (Harare). She informed me that one day a small bus came around a corner at speed almost on two wheels when it collided with the Morris Minor’s dumb iron, the bus fell over! After that the locals called it ‘Pikaninny Danger’!
When I located the Lang family in the 1990s they handed me numerous rare photos of the car taken at different dates. That taken in 1949 shows it with the original nickel radiator but a later photo has it with a 1932 steel radiator. This indicates that the OHC engine was changed to the more reliable and simpler Side Valve Engine of 1936. Because the radiator pipes position is different for the SV engine it explains why the whole radiator had to be changed to match the SV engine. (It now has the correct OHC engine).
By 1953/54 Rene Lang’s family decided to seek their fortune at the copper mining town of Kitwe Northern Rhodesia. By that time, 23 years exposure in the African sun, the canvas hood of the Morris had rotted. To protect against the fierce sun she had the hood frame covered in thatched grass. Rene drove the Morris over 800 miles on dirt laterite roads north through the hot wild Zambezi Valley and Escarpment to Kitwe Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) that is 40 miles from the Congo border. It was then registered as NK3177 at the Kitwe Boma.
Around 1954 the Morris was crashed and abandoned at a small holding Itimpe (also known as Garneton) where it was subject to termites, bush fires and vandalised. Around late 1960s I had put out the word that I was looking for a vintage car to restore. My late pal Roy Scott showed me the total overgrown wreck in 1970; I reckoned it must be vintage with wire wheels, accelerator between the brake and clutch pedals and a flexible cloth drive coupling on the propeller shaft! After getting agreement from the apparent owner I took the car home and despite not knowing what it was I decided to start restoration. I was 26 years of age at the time full of enthusiasm that has not dimmed 48 years later.
I managed to locate and meet the last owner, Mrs. Rene Lang who then formally transferred ownership to me. Amazingly she had kept the Northern & Southern Rhodesia Car Log Books that she handed over to me. Having details of the Southern Rhodesia registration U750 enabled me to research the other owners via the Central Vehicle Registry in Salisbury (Harare) which at that time was at war with terrorists coming across the border from Zambia into the then Rhodesia. Mrs Lang also handed me the two missing wheels and the car’s ignition coil.
Having trained in engineering in a self-supporting huge mining industry that had the facilities to make almost anything, I commenced the restoration with blind enthusiasm. First action was to strip then sand blast the chassis. This revealed the car’s chassis number (M10228) on the front dumb iron. Subsequent contact with the Morris Register in England, the Club Historian identified the car and model, it was despatched from Cowley Oxford on 17th July 1929. With the assistance of many helpful work colleagues and overseas contacts I had the car as a running chassis by 1973 albeit with the wrong engine. The ‘as found’ Morris Side Valve Engine ran well but much later was be sold to a Morris 8 owner in Sweden by which time the correct OHC engine was obtained.
Between 1970 and 1984 I moved home 5 times as well as towns from Kitwe to Kalulushi that interrupted the car’s restoration. Also, there were times when I just did not know what to do. There was very little information on the car’s body for an accurate shape to be created. April 1984 I was recruited to the UK where in Chester I was able to accelerate the restoration with the availability of knowledge, expertise and body fabrication services. Years earlier I acquired the correct engine (OHC) that could not be exported to Zambia due the closed borders, blown up railway lines to Zambia and the general war situation around that time. The engine was stored at my sister’s home in England but finally I had access to see what I had ‘bought blind’ and then started its restoration. A major improvement was dynamically balancing the crankshaft and flywheel that revealed a significant fault in the assembly that was corrected. It was balanced to better than F1 standard!
The ash frame was made to an original pattern but for a variety of reasons took 6 years instead of 6 months to complete. The Oregon pine base I made in Zambia was replaced. Based on the data from the British Motor Heritage Trust I was able to identify the body with its original factory number 10707. It is stamped under the base frame.
On 12th August 1991 my nephew and godson asked if I could finish the car for his wedding in 342 days time. Whew, that was a challenge that no one expected us to meet. Steadily and with lots of planning, despite Peter travelling all over the world on business and outsourcing work that Peter neither had the skill nor the equipment, the car was eventually finished but total originality was to come much later. Nevertheless we made the wedding even though the number plate was cardboard and hubcaps were copper made in Zambia.
There were several items that I had restored that were not original to the car so these were replaced. Finding and restoring the correct wheels was a challenge. By attending many auto jumbles and club rallies, contacts with other Morris Minor owners, I was able to ensure all fittings are original parts for my model.
By 1992 the basic restoration was complete, the car was registered as DS9936 with an ‘age related plate’. This was because in the UK, if you can prove the car’s provenance old registration numbers have been set aside for vintage cars. At the 1992 Morris Register National Rally, the Morris first showing it was awarded 1st prize it its class which was most rewarding for 22 years dedication.
During and after this time all the 10 previous owners were identified and researched. It is pity that I was unable to track them down earlier as they could have been alive and helped tell more of the car’s story up until mid 1980. The most exciting find was through the RAF Personnel Department at Gloucestershire England who identified the four RAF pilots that owned the car during and after their service in WW2. I was able to post letters to the past owner’s addresses and received letters back confirming the location.
At the 1992 MOREG Nat. Rally the global car magazine Classic & Sports Car wished to report the car’s story; in the September 1993 they published a 5 page spread titled ‘Out of Africa’ on the history and restoration of my Morris Minor. Amazing but only in March 2018 I was contacted by a Sandy Beckley of Bulawayo, her husband Bruce recalled that Maurice Beckley (brother?) had written to me in 1993. He stated that his father Tony Beckley had borrowed U750 as he was in the RAF during WW2. Bruce recalls his Dad saying he had fitted the as found Model T Ford headlamps to the Minor and different wheels as tyres were a post war problem. I am hoping more historical information will surface after this super contact.
In Aug. 2015 David Gray (ex Kitwe High School Head Boy) contacted me stating that in the early 1950s Mrs. Lang used to deliver eggs and chickens to them in the car when they lived at No 1 Stanley St., Kitwe. Ironically Sandy and I also lived in Stanley Street but No.12 when married in 1967, later the name changed to Lilongwe St.
2019 will be the Morris Minor’s 90th year since first official launch. For many years I have dreamed of returning the car to Central Africa to visit all it past known owners addresses. Now this dream is becoming reality with a group of us travelling some 2,000km from the Hillside Golf Club Mutare to the site where I found it in 1970, almost 50 years ago.
We named Morris Minor Chiriapala which refers to one with no hair, the name the Zambians called my late father who took a great deal of interest in the car and helped with its restoration. He would be delighted to know that this little car is up and running.