Horace the Customised Lowlight

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Horace

I bought my 1950 Morris Minor lowlight in the summer of 1972, from a guy in the car scene in Dundee, called Dave Ewan, who I still have as a friend.

I’d heard stories about the car from a number of sources, and once I followed them up I contacted the seller, and agreed a price of £100 (a lot of money back then). What I bought was basically a rolling shell, with Riley 1.5 running gear and interior and wide steel (banded) wheels. It had a good local registration number and was first registered on the 8th July 1950. It was originally platinum grey, but was sprayed blue within a year, then black a few years later, and was this colour when I got it.

It took me and my father about 3 months to get it roadworthy, and I drove around in it for a while to iron out the bugs. The biggest hassle was the exhaust, which kept coming off at the manifold. This was only cured by buying a specially fabricated one by Geoff Howe Exhausts for a B series in a minor. My dad decided one day to brush paint Horace in maroon (he took sudden notions like that), and he did a reasonable job, but one day as I was driving down a hill, the bonnet flew off. I thought nothing about leaving it at the side of the road, thinking ‘all minor bonnets are the same’ – wrong. Once I’d retrieved it the next day and beaten it back into shape I decided to get the car sprayed. I chose a fetching colour of the time – Blaze red, and decided to do some further mods to complement this. I fitted front and rear Spax adjustable shock absorbers, a lowering kit and tarted up the interior. It ran for a while like this, but the engine was getting a bit tired, so I completely rebuilt another Riley engine. Once fitted, it was certainly smoother as I had it balanced and lightened, but wasn’t any faster.

By this time I’d met a few guys locally with highly modified (for the time) minors. One guy (Dunc Wood) was changing his full race MGB engine for a Holbay Rapier engine, so I bought it from him for £200. It lasted a week in my car as the brand new stage 3 cylinder he’d put on it dropped a valve – due to the supplier not fitting the proper valve platforms. Again unfortunately, the engine was actually a 3 bearing racing engine from the states – Jahns pistons, chambers cam etc. etc., so I had to get it rebored, fitted new Powermax pistons, new Nimonic valves etc. – another £200. It did go rather well though – faster than the current favourite of the young men about town – RS 2000 mk2, and it handled good too, despite the added weight at the front. I also fitted Cosmic Mk 2 alloys, and it sported Dunlop SP sports all round – 185/70 x 13.

Around 1974 it got rear ended by a Transit, and the car had to get resprayed again, but I just left it the same colour as I was used to it. I got married in 1977, and after 4 weeks of matrimony, the Fire Brigade went on strike – great news for a newlywed. I still managed to run the car on my wife’s salary, but just before Christmas the crank snapped, so I picked up an MGB 5 bearing engine in a scrap yard for £30 and promptly sold the overdrive box for £25 – result. The engine was pretty good, but naturally a bit slow after the race motor, but it still moved along. The next plan, once back to work, was to respray the car and this time I had it painted in VW Anconna Blue. I also put in Black perspex windows and re-trimmed the interior and fitted a dash from a Jowett Javelin (still have) – it looked really good, and I won first prize at a Custom car show in Edinburgh. I also had it featured in Custom Car magazine in 1979, when the magazine was doing the rounds of the Scottish scene.

In 1980 I had fitted cobra slots – 6 x 13 at front and 8 x 13 at rear (now fitted on my Blue V8) and it certainly suited it. I also fitted a Capri 3-litre back axle and Marina discs to bring it up to date. In 1982 I rebuilt the car from top to bottom, and sprayed it Cinnibar red. My son was born in 1983, and I put it off the road in order to use ‘family transport’ but it resurfaced at a few custom shows and runs until 1986. I attended custom runs all over the country – the furthest being at Southampton.

HoraceI decided that I no longer wanted the performance of a 4 cylinder, even though it had bigger carbs and modded head by now, so I took it to bits. The engine and box went into a Wolsely  1500, then the suspension and brakes went onto a Minor 1000, both of which I sold, so I was left with just a body shell. This lay abandoned in my drive for several years until I got around to building a separate chassis with a Ford 5-litre V8. I then, with the help of a couple of friends, cut the entire floor pan out of the car. The shell was then placed on the chassis and I lost interest (I discovered motor bikes).

The cunning plan was to fully rebuild it when I retired (2005) and as my friend owed me a favour, it was taken up to his garage on another friend’s pickup, and the build got underway. I bought a complete Mach 1 mustang engine – 5.8 litre, complete with box and a narrowed axle. I also bought wheels, tyres, suspension, all new lower body panels and new chrome. Hopefully it would be completed in about a year, and should have a new lease of life – Not the case as it turned out.

The car was at my friends for approximately 2 years, in which time it had a new chassis constructed and a new floor/bulkhead made to suit. The suspension (Leda Struts and 5 link rear were made) and the engine and gearbox installed.Horace

I took delivery of the unfinished car in late 2006 with a view to finishing it myself and it basically disappeared into my garage. I had a long delay when waiting for the shell to be blasted, and had to take it elsewhere when I was let down. I eventually got the shell back blasted and primed in July 2007, nearly a year later.

I was quite disillusioned by now, so it was just left in my garage whilst I did other things. I already had another nice V8 Minor to play with plus my bikes, so I wasn’t in a hurry.

However, I got a bit of an incentive when, in 2008, I decided to upgrade my engine package by purchasing a complete cut out Chevrolet Camaro engine – an LS1 of 5.7 litre and 350hp. I sold all my Ford stuff to fellow hot rodders, but it still wasn’t a cheap upgrade. I then proceeded to fit the Chevy engine and gearbox in the chassis and once this was accomplished, I rolled the chassis back under the shell and left it until January 2011.

It was at this point I realised that my appetite for doing work like this had diminished, and if I really wanted the car done I would need professional help.

I asked around about who would take it on and was directed to Ross Morrison who works out of Bishopbriggs. At this time, I just thought it would need putting together with little fabrication and wouldn’t take too long. I was extremeHoracely fortunate that Ross had a space in his schedule to do my car, so all the bits headed through to his workshop.

Very soon after it arrived it became apparent that the chassis work was not going to be up to the cars potential, so this was scrapped and a new one fabricated. At this time it was also fitted with a double wishbone front suspension rather than the Leda struts to better locate the front end.

Once Ross had constructed the chassis he then turned his hand to the body. This was my biggest area of disappointment as it quickly became apparent that things weren’t quite right. Let’s just say that it took a lot to get things to fit near enough as they should (I should have done this work myself rather than entrust it to previous builder) and it got a complete new floor and bulkheads to match.

When the body was ready for paint, I took it to a good friend of mine – Bob Falconer to do a complete respray in Rover X Power Grey. Once this rather large task was completed it went back to Ross to get attached to the chassis and wired, plumbed, trimmed etc.

HoraceI drove the car away from Ross in late 2013 and it has been in use since then, doing about 9000 miles without any problems. It has needed some setting up to get the best out of it, but it performs very strongly doing a 12.2 @116 mph at Crail last year, with more to come. As with any car, it is constantly evolving and this year will see wider wheels of the same type on the front and plenty cleaning. It takes a day to fully clean the car in out and underneath after a day out in the wet and it’s had plenty of that since it was built.

 

Specifications

Engine – Chevrolet Camaro LS1 (same as Corvette) 5.7 litre

Gearbox- GM 4L60E 4 speed auto

Front Suspension-Rodline double wishbone and AVO coilover shock absorbers

Front Brakes – Hi Spec 285 mm discs and 4 piston calipers, Willwood dual piston pedal box

Rear Axle- Ford 9 inch, narrowed with Trutrak LSD

Rear Suspension – Stainless 4 bar and Watts linkeage GaZ coilover shock absorbers

Wheels – Centerlines, 3/2 x15 front (51/2’s soon) 10 x15 rear

Exhaust- Magnaflow twin stainless 21/2 inch

Interior – BMW grey leather by House of Custom on seats (Vauxhall Corsa), dash, door    trims etc

General – most fasteners are stainless steel and wiring is an Ezi wiring kit, gauges are by Moon and switches and gear linkeage by Lokar, bronze tinted glass, stainless brake lines.

 

I have had quite a few changes of direction with Horace, but it is finally almost as I’d like it. I wanted it to look essentially like a standard lowlight, bar the colour, wheels and stance, but to have a significant improvement in performance.

It runs very quietly, handles better than one would expect and returns over 30 mpg. It’s performance is on par with a 600cc sports motor cycle.

It’s not been a cheap build, but considering I’ve owned it for 44 years now, it’s only £610 a year.

I’d like to thank Ross Morrison for his patience and craftsmanship, Bob Falconer and his crew for paint, Stu at House of Custom for the interior and my long suffering family for putting up with me – oh and the guys on the MMO.

There are plenty pics on the MMO website for folk to look at: Click Here 

Horace