At car shows across the nation, perhaps no other body style elicits interest and admiration like a 1950s "Woodie" wagon. Once cheap transportation for surfers and bohemians, Woodies today are beloved as mechanical incarnations of Kerouac's "On the Road" spirit of personal freedom.
Naturally, wood is sensitive to decay and wood restoration can be exorbitantly time consuming and expensive, so finding a perfectly preserved or restored wood wagon is a rare event.
Here's one of those gems!
One of the most iconic post-war automobiles, the Morris Minor has often been called the British Volkswagen. Designed by a genius, Alec Issigonis--also the father of the Mini--the Minor could be viewed as the original "smart" car.
Lovingly called "Moggie" in its homeland, the Minor was manufactured, pretty much unchanged, from the late 1940s until the early 1970s. Aside from sedan and convertible versions, there was a pickup and, perhaps the most desirable Minor of them all, a "Woodie" station wagon called Traveler.
The 1958 Morris Minor Traveler presented here, VIN *9MUH197493* must be one of the finest examples of its kind in existence. Lovingly restored and mechanically upgraded, it presents itself today in such exceptionally nice condition, it only needs a driver to be ready for any car show.
We love the Minor for its simple, accessible and straightforward layout, making maintenance very easy. By the way, parts avaialbility for the Minor is excellent, as it is one of the most popular collector cars on the planet. Engine bay is very clean and tidy.
Motorvation comes from the same engine that propelled the famous Mini to countless rallying successes. It's a 1,200cc unit; with a hotter cam and dual SU carburettors, it puts out about twice as much power as its smaller, stock predecessor--out guesstimate is about 60hp, plenty of get-up-and-go for the light (1,700lbs) wagon.
Being the recipient of a complete, ground-up restoration by a marque specialist, this Woodie was part of a San Fernando Vallley collector's stable for many years, until released in 2010, due to the owner's declining health. It has been a California car ever since it was imported new in 1958. Unlike many others offered in the U.S., this Minor is a genuine LHD "Export" version.
Note the full wood paneling on cargo doors and quarter panels, an expensive option that adds considerable beauty.
Click on any of the above images for a full-size view
Factory steel rims have been fitted with Kumho Power Star radial tires of the dimension 175/65-14, for better road holding. Chrome dog dish hub caps are original, nicely accenting the painted wheels.
Brithish Racing Green must be the most desirable color choice for a British Wood Wagon. To claim that the Morris makes a good first impression would be a gross understatement. Fact is, wherever we take the Minor, adoring folks seem to be in love with it. There's something about vintage British design, rich ash wood paneling, and complimenting BRG paint. Just like the wood, which is free of rot or any other damage, the paint is in a fabulous state of preservation.
This is not a metal body with a a bit of wooden trim tacked on, no, the Minor was perhaps the last Woodie built the traditional way. Just check out the double rear doors--there's not an ounce of metal to be found; they're all wood! Wood has been lovingly cared for all these years, displaying impeccable fit and finish; the varnish has been polished to a high luster.
Turning our attention to the cockpit, we marvel at the perfectly simple dash layout. There are dual glove boxes, the driver's one even featuring a lock. Rim of the banjo steering wheel has been covered with black leather. Horn button features Morris-Oxford logo. Bip, bip, cheerio!
Interior has plenty of space, even for long legged pilots and their crew. The Minor hails from a simpler, better time, where cars could be small on the outside and big inside. Where have those good old days gone?
Minimalist approach á la VW Beetle served the Minor well. Big round cyclops combo gauge occupies the most prominent spot and supplies all the essential information needed. A few black bakelite knobs, for lights, choke, and starter, are arranged beneath it. For additional input, three separate gauges, mounted below the dash, monitor water temperature, oil pressure, and amperes.
Front bucket seats are ultra-comfy, even on long trips. Just like the remainder of the interior, they have been covered with a nice velvety black corduroy, a welcome upgrade over the austere morrokide of yore.
Rear seats offer enough space for three adults, or you could fold down the seatback for additional storage capacity.
Let's find out just how big the Wagon's rear compartment is!
It's big enough to carry a couple of surf boards, plus . . .
. . . its floor is made from wood, too!
Typical of British cars of the period, the spare rests in a separate compartment underneath the trunk floor. Neat!
Click on any of the above images for a full-size view
Photos above show the wonderful undercarriage in more detail. Note remote power brake booster, which, along with modern front disc brakes, makes the Woody safe for daily use in today's busy traffic.
Moday, October 11, turned out to be another nice autumn day in ye olde Mission town of San Buenaventura.
We hopped behind the wheel, pulled the choke and starter knobs, and the Traveler started instantly, idling and sounding great. Off we went, to visit our favorite haunts. The 4-speed--the full-synchromesh rib case unit is a very desirable and welcome upgrade--shifts smooth, brakes are fantastic, all gauges and switches work as they should, even the heater. Around town, the Minor is an absolute delight to drive. On the freeway, you swim along nicely at 65mph, with another 10-15mph on tap if necessary. The car doesn't leak, smoke, or overheat. It's a real fuel-sipper, too, with an estimated 35mpg! The suspension--torsion bars up front, longitudinal springs in the rear and lever action shocks all around--is surprisingly capable.
Chauffeuring the Traveler puts a permanent smile on your face. Foreshadowing the MINI, another one of Issigonis' genius designs, the Minor is the little car that could, especially when sensibly upgraded like this fine example.
Returning home, we are reflecting on the incredible value the Traveler represents. Imagine using it as a versatile--and very visible--utility wagon for your urban business, enjoying it as a shooting brake at your country estate, or adding a roof rack, surfboard and some vintage travel decals to create the ultimate surf woodie!
With restored full-size American Woodies going for $50-100,000.00 and beyond, you'll appreciate the absolute bargain this attractive and rare Morris represents. Here, you have a useable, practical, and economical Woodie that, while attracting every bit as much attention as its big brothers, can be had for a fraction of the cost of one of its Yank counterparts.
"It's hard to walk when you have a Woodie!"
We sold this rare Traveler in late 2010 to a customer in Wisconsin.