You might not have heard of Charles Ware, but his Morris Minor Centre (established 1976) is proof that sustainable car remanufacture and ownership has never gone out of fashion and could even be a way forward. Ware would prefer that we all think of car ownership in decades, rather than the short term approach that the car industry has lived and could soon die by.
As Ware shows me around the premises and the possibly the largest number of Minors in captivity, his affection for the cars is obvious as he touches each one in a reassuring manner, so why the Minor?
“It is fundamentally an over-engineered car.” Ware grasps the metal and points out the heavy gauge material, taps at the substantial bulkheads and invites me to experience the solid thunk of the doors. There is no arguing that these are brick outhouse motors, especially as Ware’s engineers can cut great chunks out of the structure without worrying about it bending out of shape. As for the old A series engie, “that will go on forever,” he says. “One of my customers you could hear approaching from miles away, but she always resisted any engine work despite the obvious evidence that it needed an overhaul.”
Another key ingredient to the Morry’s longevity is the electrics, or rather lack of. Ware holds up four fingers, “It really is as simple as that, you can see what goes where, the fundamental flaw with modern cars is that the electronics now dictate the life of the car. It is planned obsolescence and we are now caught in a frightening cycle of waste.” Ware admits that build quality is infinitely higher now and the virtual eradication of body rot is to be welcomed, but the wholesale reliance on electronics and culture of replacement rather than repair is killing modern cars.”
Ware has always used the house analogy, which sums up his position perfectly. Essentially you would never demolish a perfectly decent solidly built Edwardian or Victorian residence just because a few tiles were lose or the central heating needed a new boiler. “New car buyers have been brainwashed into wanting the latest model and gadgets when they really don’t need them.”
Morris Minors are great cars. The light, direct steering and sporty handling are a revelation plus there is so much you can do make them more 21stcentury friendly, from new seats, to electronic ignition, which Ware heartily approves of (“simple and reliable”). Servo brakes are a popular upgrade with Morris 1100 drums, Ford Sierra five speed gearbox makes longer journeys more comfortable. Nevertheless the hardcore of Ware’s customers simply want, “a car that will get them from A to B reliably and cheaply, but they also want identity, something nostalgic they can treasure.”
Surely that means that Ware’s customers are a bunch of mean old duffers?
“Oh no, we have lots of people in their twenties and others who want a second car. Plenty of them are women who are not obsessed by speed and just love the shape. They also love the fact that the Minor is so easy to drive, the rack and pinion steering is so light and the whole chassis is set up for precise handling, it really is a joy.
“Over forty years new car buyers are going to lose a six-figure sum whereas rebuilding a Minor every few decades is only gong to be a fraction of that, plus Ware has a common sense approach to restoring customers cars.
“The patchwork quilt attitude just won’t work and we will not do it. We always replace a series of panels that are crucial to the structure. A £50 weld at a local garage is pointless, far better to spend £200 to replace a whole panel that will still be there in ten years time.”
The problem is that a Minor which looks serviceable enough on the surface is actually rotten underneath and Ware says that no one takes the time to look at the chassis. Indeed, a customer that bought a Minor for £5000 online still needed £2000 spent in the Minor Centre workshop to make it completely sound.
Prices? In theory you could turn up with a £300 Minor that The Charles Ware Morris Minor Centre will bring back to life for something like £10,000. That’s the cost of a fairly ordinary supermini at the moment. £15,000 gets an as new Minor which really will last you a lifetime. There are cheap Minors around, but they may not be the sort of Moggie you can rely on. Charles Ware knows his Minors and that means £3500 for a good saloon whereas Travellers start at £6500.
Let’s leave the final words to our hero Charles Ware who is keen to point out that his business is not some quirky automotive anomaly.
“People buy Minors not purely because it is retro, or because they want a slice of olde England, it is because the customers are normal, are from every strata of society and like the idea of a well-designed car that can be modified slightly to suit their needs. Fundamentally the Morris Minor is a brilliant design. All credit to Alec Issigonis. I like to think of the Minor as a room on wheels. Somewhere we would all like to be.”