BC Ferries workers went into full hazardous goods inspection mode when Charlie Grahn tried to move his newly purchased 1950 Morris J-type van from Victoria to his Vancouver home.
The van had been sitting in a backyard for at least 30 years before the 2008 purchase and pieces were falling off the derelict vehicle as Grahn dragged it into the Swartz Bay ferry terminal on the rented trailer. The rare but rough British-built van was in the worst condition imaginable. So why would an admitted "non-car guy" pay $500 for such a project?
Grahn was attracted to the rounded features of the van, which is best known for delivering the Royal Mail and milk for the British in the 1950s, and modern-day relief for allergy sufferers here in Canada with a restored van used to promote Reactine allergy medicine. The rusty shell of the Reactine Morris J-type van was restored by the Ajax, Ont.-based company after being rescued from a scrapyard in Mexico.
"I had 'restore vehicle' on my bucket list for 30 years before I started this project," Grahn reflects.
"I liked this vehicle because it was so idiosyncratic. They built a vehicle for export designed for hauling parcels around Lon-don. It lacked customer focus. It foreshadowed the end of the empire."
Morris Motors Company introduced its commercial J-type van in 1949 with 48,000 produced up to 1961. The vans built in the first four years were earmarked for export. When those markets largely failed, the Morris J-type vans found their greatest use in Britain, mainly as Royal Mail vans and telephone "planner's" vehicles. They were also popularly converted into ice cream vans.
Mick Jagger tried to buy a restored ice cream vendor with a $140,000 offer two years ago. He was turned down by the owner who restored the vehicle after discovering it being used as a chicken shed on a farm.
The Nuffield factory that built the J-type vans became an amalgamation between Morris and Austin in 1952 with the mission statement: Export or Die. British wartime aircraft production had switched to domestic and commercial vehicles and the money earned through exports kept factories humming.
The half-ton van featured for-ward controls, sliding pocket doors on each side and had both left-and right-hand drive models. It is not known how many "knocked down" left-hand drive J-types were exported to Canada, but only four are known to have survived, including the rusty hulk rescued by Grahn.
His vehicle may have been sold by Vancouver's Oxford Motors, which was originally at 650 Burrard St., or possibly by Morris Car Sales in Victoria at 779 Pandora St. The little trucks weren't entirely suitable for harsh Canadian winters because they had no heater and the 70-horsepower Morris Oxford 1476cc, 4-cylinder engine wasn't very peppy.
Grahn began his J-type resurrection by peeling off layers of paint as a form of automotive archeology in an attempt to discover the history of his 1950 Morris commercial van. Black, maroon, beige and original British Racing Green is what he discovered. His van had gone through at least two owners before 1982, when satellite photographs first show the van parked in the backyard of a Victoria home, where it remained until Grahn purchased it.
An early owner installed three extra windows on each side of the van, and possibly camper-ized the little van with artfully installed mahogany interior panelling. Another owner "hot-rodded" the van with the installation of a Toyota R16 truck engine, Road Hugger tires and black paint with silver accents and yellow doors.
"I discovered the van had a badly bent tie rod, which would have drastically affected the steering, so that may have been why the owner stopped driving it," Grahn speculates.
The Simon Fraser University history graduate, who now works in contract procurement, spent hundreds of hours looking through vehicle photo-graphs at the Vancouver Public Library and the city archives in a vain attempt to trace the history of his rare van.
He also researched restoration shops, and chose the "metal meisters" at Eye Candy Kus-toms in Delta. Aaron Wilson and his team have now fabricated most of the body. Missing rear doors were found in Brit-ain after being salvaged from a van in Gibraltar. A J-type owner in Australia loaned the eight distinct rear door hinges so Grahn could have a set cast at a local foundry.
Grahn's research determined the missing steel wheels were the same as a 1950s MG-TD, which are readily available. He is still missing the pocket doors and driver's seat, but believes he will find them.
"Everything else has turned up," he says optimistically. "The Internet has made the world smaller. There are about 10 J-type van guys in the world who help people like me and they have helped a lot."
The only departure from absolute originality is replacing the Morris Oxford 4-cylinder side valve engine with a Nissan A series power plant coupled to an automatic transmission. "The engine design is based on the original Austin overhead valve engine of the 1950s and parts are readily available," Grahn explains.
When asked when he expects to complete his restoration, Grahn deadpans: "Christmas, 2010." He definitely doesn't want to discuss how much the restoration has cost. "I have way overextended myself, but I haven't had to lie to my wife ... yet," he says.
"What's positive about the experience is that I've met great guys, I've developed a higher level of respect for people who work with sheet metal as well as machinists and painters and I know how meaningful it is to understand every nut and bolt in a ride. Finally, I have accumulated great knowledge and the resolve to try less ambitious projects in the future."
Apart from the Reactine van and Grahn's restoration project, the only other Morris J-type van in the area belongs to Steve Diggins in Burnaby. It also came from Vancouver Island and is in "rough but restorable" condition. It is the oldest known left-hand-drive export model.
That Morris van was bought new in Victoria by a Duncan company called Duncan Transfer to deliver groceries. The son of the original owner, now 80 years old, was the first driver of this Morris J-type and was emotional when he discovered the van still exists.
Anyone with information on the history of Grahn's Morris J-type van can contact him at email@example.com.
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/cars/Rare+British+inspires+quest+deliver+perfection/6347569/story.html#ixzz1q76NEWI2
My thanks to Charlie for forwarding this story to me.
For all Morris J type Vans, Morris JB vans and (BMC 50's vehicles)Torque! e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The copyright of any photograph on this blog-site will remain with its owner. No infringement intended.
Sunday, 25 March 2012
A list of chassis number and registration dates.
J/R 010 10/1949--J/R 649 1949--J/R 755 1/1950--J/R 1061 12/1949--J/R 1102 12/1949--J/L 1518 1950--J/R 1612 03/1950--J/L 2935 1951--J/R 4491 11/1950--J/R 6050 12/1950--J/R 6187 1/1951--J/R 10916 12/1951--J/R 10972 1/1952--J/R 14776 12/1952--J/R 145931/1953--J/R 15455 1/1953--J/R 16261 03/1953--J/R 18124 1952--J/R 19902 12/1953--J/R 20658 02/1954--J/R 21720 12/1953--J/R 23555 1954--J/R 24274 1954--J/R 25618 12/1954--J/R 25079 1/1955--J/R 25741 05/1955--J/R 29869 11/1955--J/R 30963 11/1955--J/R 3183110/1955--J/R 32465 11/1955--J/R 33340 1/1956--J/R 35466 1/1957--J/R 35671 12/1956--JB/MR 37200 06/1957--JB/MR 39547 12/1957--JB/MR 39012 1/1958--JB/MR 39648 1/1958--JB/MR 42533 1/1959--JB/MR 42677 12/1958--JB/MR 43367 1959--JB/MR 45648 1/1960--JB/MR 45693 12/1959--JB/MR 46009 02/1960--JB/MR 47648 12/1960--JB/MR 47907 12/1960--JB/MR 48069 01/1961--JB/MR 48219 01/1961
Approximate Production data for each year.
1949 750 vehicles -1950 5347 -1951 5051 -19524098 -1953 5027 -1954 6000 -1955 6894 -19563169 -1957 3284 -1958 3131 -1959 2965 -19602516 -1961 362
Total produced 48620