Mike Neale meets classic car enthusiast John Halford, to find out more about his beautifully-restored Austin Minor 6cwt pick-up.
Pretty much everyone refers to the Morris Minor-shaped vans and pick-ups as ‘Morris Minors’, even though the term was never officially used on the commercial vehicles. The correct term was Morris 6cwt van or pick-up or, alternatively – from April 1968 – Morris 8cwt van or pick-up. The latter were distinguishable by slightly wider, 4½J wheel rims, instead of 4Js.
Additionally, from 1968 (March), the 6cwt and 8cwt could also be bought with ‘Austin’ badges and branding. These came about because, with the A35 van discontinued, another small, RWD Austin van was needed to sell through the remaining Austin-only dealerships within the BMC network.
Changes were minimal, and there was never any real attempt to hide the connection – the Austins didn’t even get their own listing in the Glasses Guide check books. Branding was limited to Austin bonnet and steering wheel badges, and a crinkly, Austin-type radiator grille. Plain (as opposed to M-branded) hubcaps were fitted (these also found their way on to some Morrises) and Austin engines were painted black, rather than green. And that was it! Production ended in late 1971, though some were registered in 1972.
The striking, red Austin 6cwt pick-up you see here is owned by John Halford from Wolston, near Coventry. He’s had it for about 18 months but, given its remarkable condition, I was surprised to learn that it was restored more than 11 years ago.
John explains how he came to purchase it. “I was originally after a Minor 1000 van, having just sold a couple of other classics. They all seemed to be very expensive for anything half decent. Then I found this pick-up for sale, which wasn’t exactly cheap either, but was in very good condition.”
The pick-up had been part of a private collection owned by avid car collector Graham Dacre CBE, who lived in Norfolk. He’d bought the vehicle in 2008 from its second owner, 92-year-old William Clark, from North Walsham, who had acquired it in 2000, but was giving up driving. Graham drove it around in its as-bought condition for about a year, then sent it to Minor specialist Charles Ware where it could be fully restored to his precise specification.
An exacting restoration
“I have a copy of all of the emails sent between Graham and the restorers, and he was very exacting! He insisted on the insides of the wheelarches being painted red, not black, for example. There should be no clips fitted for the tonneau cover, and no wing mirrors. He chose the paint colour; Jaguar Signal Red. That isn’t its original colour, which was a darker shade of red, but it matched the colour of several other cars in his collection,” explains John.
Following the restoration, Graham would occasionally drive down to the village pub with his wife up front, and the children in the back, before returning it to its heated garage. With around 100 vehicles, the garage was, however, getting full so, after a while, he decided to reduce his collection, selling a number of MGs, Jaguars and the Minor pick-up. John bought it, to become its fourth owner. Graham had put a private registration plate on the Austin, but it has since reverted to its original Norwich registration.
John advises that the pick-up is a ‘matching numbers’ vehicle, with its original 1,098cc engine, although I note this is now painted green, rather than black, and wears a Morris logo. The gearbox and axles are also original. It retains drum brakes, but has had a servo fitted, as well as an alternator. A chromed saloon car-type front bumper was fitted by either the first or second owner, instead of the shorter, painted original.
Inside, a white headlining (rather than light grey cloth of the original) has been fitted. It has also had the seats re-trimmed in black leather, and new black carpets installed, not just rubber mats. The passenger glovebox has gained a lid, as on the saloon cars of the same period, rather than the open aperture that LCVs originally had. This is a rather more luxurious interior than when it was built. At some point, the steering wheel must have been changed as it has a Morris ‘M’ on the horn push, rather than an ‘Austin’ logo.
John has owned and restored a series of classic cars over the past 20 years, although this came about through somewhat unexpected circumstances, as he explained. “It started when I had two heart attacks, 18 years ago. I decided to buy an old Citroen 2CV to help with my recuperation, but it only took me three months to restore, so I ended up doing five of them. I then sold them all and bought a Hillman Imp, then sold that to someone in Belfast. I even had a Suzuki VW Camper-look-alike for a while. Then I bought a 1991 Rover Mini Neon that had been in a big, front-end crash. That took a while to get back on the road, fitting all new Heritage panels.”
John is clearly not wedded to a single marque, having also owned an A55 Cambridge, a Triumph Herald and several Fords. Buying the Minor already restored meant that he’s not had to do much work to it, apart from regular maintenance. “Parts availability is very good, of course,” he said. “I tend to use David Manners, as he does bits for my Mini as well, so it’s just one phone call and one postage to pay.”
Now John uses the pick-up as often as possible, alternating between it and his Mini. “It’s a real pleasure to drive. The diff ratio of the LCVs makes them lower-geared than the Minor saloons, so it pulls brilliantly, but doesn’t have a lot at the top end. It’s happy at about 50-55mph,” notes John. He’s clearly one happy owner. Hopefully it will be possible to see this Austin Minor at a few more shows in 2021.
For a money-saving subscription to Classic & Vintage Commercials magazine, simply click here