MINOR EXCITEMENT

or, The Tale of Dee-Daw
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I'm sure many of us with an interest in cars occasionally trawl through the for-sale ads looking for that elusive project – one that’s both within budget and interesting.

So, at about six o'clock one evening, sat in the office, paperwork finished, on a whim I decided to take a digital stroll around various online sales sites to see what was for sale. I have to say, I don't do this on a regular basis. For one, I just don't have the hours to waste, plus it's usually so boring.

EBay: nothing at a sensible price that didn't require a dustpan and brush to sweep up the parts you hoped you'd bought. OK. Bored with this. Time for vegging out reading the new Automobile magazine. Hold on a mo. How about Gumtree? I haven't tried that for months. Let's see what comes up.

I typed in “classic car project” and, amazingly, there on the second page half way down was an ad that caught my eye.

'Morris Minor van for sale'

Not many pictures and very few words, but it had only just been listed, the price was right, and it looked like a good project as I’m used to Minors and their quirks. I showed the ad to my wife and got an enthusiastic thumbs up – we gotta have it! How many of you wish you had a petrol-head for a wife or partner too?

For four days I repeatedly called the number listed and messaged the owner. Nothing. I gave up after the fourth day. A few days later, much to my surprise, I received a call asking if I was still interested in the Minor. Many apologies – they had been away on holiday. Aargh!

Only then did I realise that the van was actually located in south-west London, about 200 miles from home. Mine had apparently been the first message on the answering machine, but they did have other interested parties. Time for some outside of the box thinking. I needed to see that van ASAP and hand over some money before someone else pipped me to the proverbial post.

My son was working at the film studios at Longcross, so I called him up and the conversation went something like this:

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Me: Hi, it's me. I really need you to jump in your car as soon as you finish work and drive to London for me please. (It was high time I called in on those favours I keep doing for him)

Son: Why would I want to do that? I hate London. I get lost.

Me: Don't worry. It's on the outskirts, you'll be fine. Use satnav. It’ll be easy. (All lies - he can even get lost in his local supermarket carpark)

Son: What's so urgent?

Me: I need you to check out a Moggy van for me and pay a deposit on it. It has to be this evening.

Son: We were going out for dinner tonight. Really dad, do I have to?

Me: How about I buy that dinner, and I’ll send you the van deposit now and pay for your fuel too. (Bribery always works)

Me: Ok, ok, we'll go. Best send me the money. What time do I have to be there?

Me: No idea. I’ll let you know.

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I hastily arranged a viewing time with the owner. To cut a longish story short, my son turned up to see the van, sent me lots of pictures, then called me from London.

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Son: Dad, why have I just driven for two hours (it should have taken him an hour, tops) to look at a Morris Minor van with an Austin badge that's had its back cut down, has an empty engine bay, four flat tyres and is rusty as hell?

Me: The chassis looks ok, though?

Son: Rusty as heck, but it seems solid enough.

Me: Minor issues. It'll be fine. I can deal with rust and the engine comes with the listing. Just pay that deposit and do not forget to get me a receipt.

Son: You’re totally mad, but fine. Just don't blame me if it disintegrates on the way home.

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Deposit paid and receipt handed over, all that was left for me to do was arrange a mutually acceptable collection day with the owner.

Driving down to London seemed to take forever on Friday motorways, and negotiating a long car transporter trailer around the side streets of south-west London was entertaining to say the least. The van, however, was just as I expected and exactly as my son and the owner had described, but, nothing ventured – as they say.

After a fairly hellish ten hour round trip we dumped our car and trailer in the yard at home and, new purchase almost forgotten under a tarpaulin, crawled away in search of urgent resuscitation.

The following morning it was inspection time for our latest acquisition. It was a bit rough but nothing that couldn't be fixed.

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Looking back now, I can't explain why we both simply had to buy this van. We don't go in for that kind of impulse buying, I really didn't need another project, and it was a long way out of my travel zone for buying cars. For some reason we were drawn to it. There was something about this unloved-looking little van that I couldn't put my finger on. Maybe it was the odd baby blue paint, but something was nagging at me.

So I called my very good friend, Jonathan Evans of Morris Minor restoration fame. I needed a fresh set of eyes on our latest find and, as he was champing at the bit to see an unknown van, it didn't take much persuasion.

After the usual strong coffee and slices of bara brith, we all started to look more closely at the anomalies in the  two tones of blue paint. Plus, of course, there was the engine which was a different colour to usual and had a huge alternator attached. Not to mention it's an Austin 'Moggy' 6cwt van and not a Morris.

About now Jonathan started getting uncharacteristically excited, as under the paint on the doors and roof areas of white paint showed clearly under the flaking blue. Surely this couldn’t be...? The colour was right, and all the engine and other ancillaries were pointing us that direction. Surely not.

Can you guess where this is going yet?

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It was looking increasingly like my gut instinct to buy this car had been right. We probably had something quite special here, but a lot of research was in order.

My first port of call was the DVLA. I wrote to them with the registration number asking if it was possible to find out who – or what – had been the first owner. Inevitably they quoted privacy rules and gave me no help at all.

The registration number shows that our little van's origins are in Gloucestershire, so I called Gloucestershire police, who put me in touch with their archivist.

The lady who runs the archive department couldn't have been more helpful but, despite agreeing that it probably had been one of theirs back in the seventies, even she couldn't track down the van. I also spoke to the police vehicle garage department but unfortunately they had lost many of their old vehicle records in a fire so they couldn't assist me either.

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This was beginning to get very disheartening as I seemed to be drawing a blank everywhere. Jonathan suggested contacting a friend of his who is compiling a huge history file of Austin and Morris Minor vehicles in the hope that he might help us track down our van from the factory end.

With fingers firmly crossed, I sent all the information I could gather over to Chris and, after months of hard work by him, he advised me that he had found the documentation to prove that this was definitely an Austin police van that had been supplied direct from the factory to the Gloucestershire police force.

Eureka!

Out of curiosity I've tried find another genuine blue and white police van, but have drawn a complete blank. There are none anywhere that I could find (I even tried looking overseas for an ex-pat van). So just how rare is this vehicle? I also called a some vehicle auction houses thinking that surely they must have seen at least one going through their doors. Nope.

I think my favourite comment from one auction house went as follows:

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All day long I deal with beautiful high end and really rare cars, where perhaps there are only few left in the world, and you come along with perhaps the rarest car in the world – and it's a flamin’ Moggy Minor!

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This has been an exciting journey, but now I'm in a quandary. My wife and I had envisaged restoring this van, probably with a touch of an oily rag finish, and using it as a practical and fun runabout. That idea's pretty much out of the window now.

For the time being the van (now known as Dee-Daw due to her registration number and previous occupation) is stored away with all of her spare parts in a safe, dry place whilst we figure out what to do next.

What do we do now? I (and my wife too) do have those other project cars to finish, after all. First in, first out, and all that. Dee-Daw’s provenance and seemingly one-of-a-kind status throws up lots of dilemmas but, one thing’s for sure: this van really ought to be restored back to an original condition.

Dee-Daw is a lost part of British history. Is bringing her back to her rightful condition a job for me or should we pass the baton to someone else? It’s something my wife and I periodically discuss, but the jury’s still out and Dee-Daw's still locked safely away whilst we play with our other toys.

Well, you tell me. What would you do?

Dee-Daw's Custodian

It's My Classic is pleased to be able to share the story of Dee-Daw, the lost and found police van on behalf of its current custodians. If you have any relevant information for Dee-Daw's owners or would like to contact them to discuss this rare survivor, please email It's My Classic here and we'll forward your email.

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