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Duncan Howarth's 1951 2 Door Saloon.

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Lowlight Resurrection

Duncan Howarth 11/10/2011   

I suppose that it was a nagging inevitability – Morris Minor fan – back to the beginning, 
and all that. I had toyed with the idea that I should produce a ‘Mosquito’ replica, by 
chopping the centre-line four inches out of a lowlight, and living with the consequences! 
When I saw the car, I realised just what sacrilege that would have been. 

When my wife and I met 21 years ago, I was then the proud and happy owner of a 4-door, 1953 
‘MM’. This car provided my everyday transport, and a great deal of fun for us both. It was 
not, however, the first split-screener I had travelled in. When a small child, at the end of 
the nineteen-fifties, my uncle Jack had had one of the first MM Lowlights in England. He had 
pulled a lot of strings, and paid over the odds to get his hands on it, before it was set to 
disappear to South Africa or one of the other ‘Dominions across the seas’. I had always 
wanted a lowlight, ever since being a very small child – I just hadn’t realised it until I 
was almost 50!

Ebay is not an ideal place to start the hunt for something like this. However, as ever, I 
wanted a bargain – and I got one! The car got no bids except mine, as I believe that the 
chap advertising it had slightly over-egged the ‘down-sides’ of the vehicle’s anatomy. It 
was blowing white smoke, needed extensive welding in all the usual areas, and reputedly in 
some rather ‘unusual’ areas, and was ‘troubled’ by nagging little problems that were 
allegedly mounting up. Little over a thousand pounds is a lot to pay for a ‘sight-unseen’ 
Lowlight with a litany of problems. Fortunately, they were actually over-stated. It turned 
out to be rather a bargain, and Russell, the chap I bought it from, was a delight to deal 

The drive down to Bedford was picturesque to say the least. The old ‘Discovery’ we travelled 
in had so much plastic on the dashboard, I could actually smell the carcinogens swirling 
around the cockpit! I longed for the smell of an old split-screen interior (and not in a 
weird way!). We passed the old R100/101 airship sheds at Cardington, and I got a little 
misty-eyed and all ‘British’ about the whole thing. When we passed RAF ‘Old Warden’, where 
the Shuttleworth aircraft collection is now housed, three chaps in period, Khaki boiler-
suits were working on a Hurricane’s engine close to the perimeter fence. When we arrived, 
and chatted with Russell’s friends, I mentioned just how much history we had seen around the 
lanes nearby. One delightful chap named Charles replied
“Unfortunately these days, that’s all we’ve got”. I was saddened by this, as I hopped deftly 
into the Lowlight. It was rather sad too. There was quite a lot of peripheral surface rust 
around the bodywork, and in the interior. I just had to look underneath – it seemed OK, or 
at least, better than I had imagined. It fired first time, and yet I was unprepared for the 
immense lack of power as I pulled away from the kerb. All the side-valves’ 918cc’s were 
straining at the leash, and not doing well. I put her on the trailer with a heavy heart - at 
all the work now in hand.

Back up North, I handed her over to my tame mechanic. “Some say he gargles with gear oil. 
Some say he knows exactly what he is doing in an ‘old-school’ way. As it turned out, he 
proved a mixed blessing. But then again, when you are used to rebuilding ‘Mogs’ yourself, 
and have work commitments, compromises will inevitably be made. The budget was tight, and I 
had to cut my cloth, and rubber tubing accordingly.

Job one was the welding. Not half so extensive as the previous incumbent had been 
misinformed. The centre cross-member was fine – it just needed new jacking points. A few 
strips by one of the sills, and a new rear spring hanger - and that was that. A copious coat 
of underseal, and we were ready for the engine. The original 918cc sidevalve unit had been 
replaced at some time in the old girl’s life, with an identical engine originally built as 
the auxiliary generator for a Centurion Tank! The giveaway for me was the duck-egg blue of 
the engine block – common to all military hardware of the ‘fifties era. 

The lack of power was caused principally by a duff plug-lead, all of which looked like they 
had been in situ since the car rolled off the production line sometime in late 1950. I saw, 
and have seen several times since, these cars with an OHV option in place of the older 
sidevalve unit. All in all, I can’t blame the folk who have seen fit to transgress. If 
Nuffield had had access to the Overhead valve engine before Morris became BMC, I feel sure 
that he would have done the same. All in all, once the faulty condenser and pitted points 
had been replaced, the 918 keeps up well with modern traffic.

Trafficators were next. One was in fine fettle, and original. The other needed replacing, 
and what a job. I finally tracked one down at ‘Millenium Minors’ in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, and 
paid a premium for it! Fitting not a problem. Driving though, not such great fun! I put it 
down to the recession, and the fact that everyone now is under pressure, but goodness me, 
its tough out there when your nought to sixty time is around the minute mark, and people 
think your trafficators quaint – if they can see them! 

Late in the day, but I’m retro-fitting indicators below the bumpers, and welcome they will 
be. I gave a hand signal that I was about to turn left at the next turning, and an 
overweight teenager in a white van pulled in ahead of me, after overtaking, and motioned for 
me to pull in. Obliging as I thought he must be informing me that something had fallen off 
the car, he immediately demanded in that ‘Kevin and Perry’, ‘Oasis’ whiney mancunian accent
”What the f*** are you doing, giving me the w***er sign?”
Now my arms aren’t what they were, but my cylindrical gesturings actually did comply with 
highway code regulations-or at least when the booklet had been 4 pages long, 2 pages of 
which were dedicated to horse-drawn traffic! The 14-year old decided that discretion was 
indeed the better part of valor immediately upon my asking his age.

I had been committed to making this car ‘liveable’. I couldn’t afford a ground-up 
restoration. I also wanted to drive the car sometime before I died, and after two long 
months, I got my wish. MOT work had cost me £400, and I was happy to fork out a further £200 
for the spray job (inc. the paint cost!). Now I’ve sprayed a lot of cars – granted, with 
various degrees of success, but I’ve never seen a car sprayed like this. Outside on a still 
summer night does not make for a sterile environment. Using ‘twin-pack’ is permissible in 
this day and age, but only in the correct mixing proportions, and not when the gobshite 
concerned uses an accelerator formulated for use with cellulose paint! About 6 weeks later, 
when the car eventually dried, It made a fairly good finish. I will, of course, be re-
spraying in the Spring!

We’ve always named our Morrises (twenty in all). Being ‘Lowlight’ LXK 617, ‘Guy Gibson’ was 
chosen. It would seem appropriate and respectful to the Dambuster squadron, but I just can’t 
stop calling the car ‘The old girl’. Now that she is a part of the family, I do believe for 
life, I just couldn’t bear to be parted with her. It’s a very smooth, even, noise-free ride 
– something quite unexpected in a Morris Minor – much more comfortable than our 1970 two-
door. However, is it a Morris Minor, or a pre-War Morris Eight disguised as a Morris Minor? 
Having not been able to source any spares of any suitability, except from Morris Eight 
dealers, I wonder…