20 August 2015

Something Different from Didcot: The Morris Minor Kustom

Imagine a little girl eating sweets on her 10th birthday while taking the cam cover gasket off of an old car with a big, sugar-caked grin on her face. Life doesn’t get any better than that.

Sally Phillips gained an appreciation for bikes at age 8, back when her dad owned motorcycles. “He used to take me for rides on the back,” Sally said. “I loved it!”

A new neighbour, Spencer, moved in when Sally was 13 years old. “He had a bright blue Ford Popular hot rod with flames. The moment I saw that car, I knew the world of customs was for me,” said Sally. Shortly after her discovery, Sally went with Spencer to purchase her first car, a Ford Anglia 105e, for £80. “It was a real mess,” Sally said, “but that car taught me the ins-and-outs of getting a classic back on the road.”

Sally had dreams of cruising the streets in the car that she rescued, but being only 13 years old had its downfalls – she didn’t have enough funds for the restoration. Sadly, it was becoming an eyesore in the driveway for her mother, and she had to part with it – the car got sent to the great big scrapyard in the sky.

Everything changed when Sally passed her driving test at age 17. Her mind immediately wandered back to the old classics, and she was eager to find another. She purchased a 1967 Morris Minor two-door saloon from eBay for £700 and dragged her stepdad halfway up the country to claim her prize. “With no experience of driving old cars, I still managed to drive it back without any problems,” said Sally.

Just as any excited car enthusiast could, Sally had underestimated the extent of the body work that the car needed, but she persevered and carried on with her automotive education. She learned how to change the head gaskets and get the timing right, along with other odds-and-ends.

On Sally’s 20th birthday, her friends Becky and Kelvin Dunn kindly let her utilise their garage space, and her friends from car club UK Kustoms came over to help chop the car, which brought the roof down by 5 inches. By this time, the car was on the road while Sally continued with the work, but later that year it failed its MOT due to extensive rust damage underneath. Her stepdad came to the rescue and helped get it cleaned up, but again, Sally ran out of funds and time for such an extensive project, and the car was sold to make way for another.

At age 23, Sally moved in with her love, John “Chopper” Phillips, a car fanatic and builder. Around that same time, as if it was fate, Sally found her current car, a 1963 Morris Minor two-door Saloon. The car had sat outside of a workshop for 12 years; there was a huge dent in the roof, the floor pans had rusted out, the wheels were seized, and there was no engine, interior or glass — even the rear axle had rusted through. It was a mammoth project, but Sally and John were committed to giving this car another chance at life, together.

They have spent the last 2½ years on the build, and despite Sally being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in early 2014, the dedicated couple pressed on. “It has been a long road, but all of the blood, sweat and tears have been well worth it for the finished result — it is stunning,” Sally said. “And being able to work on the project with my husband by my side made the experience invaluable.”

The repairs and modifications to the 1963 Morris Minor were extensive, and completing everything in 2½ years — considering the previous condition of the car — is admirable. The body modifications include a meticulously done 5-inch chop reaching up to the wind screen pillars. About 7 inches of metal were taken out of the rear of the roof, and the B-pillars were canted. The chop was combined with a customised monocoque rear chassis to achieve a low and classy look. Widened rear-wings, rounded and welded front corners, a smoothed boot lid, an extended and peaked hood, and extended doors, bumpers and front wings make the car’s sensual lines flow throughout the body. A fabricated grille opening, headlights featuring MG Midget headlamp rims and Jaguar side-marker lamps for rear lights complete the look, while wide-white tires against full-moon style hubcaps draw your eyes up into her curves.

“I love British classics, but I also adore the American custom classics of the 1940s-50s. I wanted to bring the two together by building this car to look like a tail-dragger custom of the 1940s, while still preserving that British charm,” explained Sally.

Sally reflects on her fondest memory during the build, the chopping of the Morris Minor: “It was hard work, but it left us with a very satisfied, accomplished feeling by the end of that crisp, autumn weekend.”

Sally loves learning about the history of the custom and hot rod cars and feels fortunate to be building them with her husband. The couple has an undeniable passion for the cars and the lifestyle, and they have met some wonderful, lifelong friends during their journey.

The couple’s next project will be John’s Volvo Amazon, and then his dream car — a 1949 Mercury. Sally would love her next project to be a 1932 Ford coupe or roadster — something to get on the drag strip with — and her dream-of-all-dreams is a 1938 Ford sedan convertible or 1940 Mercury, inspired by Nick Matranga’s 1940 Mercury, built by Barris Kustoms.

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