Enthusiasts’ rapid response to Minor matters

Ambulance responders David England, left, and Dick Tracey give one of their Morris Minors a health check

Ambulance responders David England, left, and Dick Tracey give one of their Morris Minors a health check Buy this photo

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by

IN their jobs for South Central Ambulance Service, Dick Tracey and David England’s rapid response can mean the difference between life and death. But at weekends the classic car enthusiasts slow down the traffic for a very different reason.

A former frontline ambulance driver and now Division Responder Manager for South Central, Richard ‘Dick’ Tracey, 57, from West Oxfordshire, is in charge of a volunteer force of 800 Community First Responders (CFRs) and Co-Responders across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.

Each week Mr Tracey himself responds to an average of 10 calls in his own high speed Volvo V70, which he can drive at speeds of up to 105 miles per hour.

But outside of work his speed shifts down a gear and his responsibility transfers to preserving the life of something completely different – a 1954 split-screen Morris Minor he calls ‘Maggie’.

He explained: “This is my third Morris Minor. I got the bug because my dad drove them when I was small.

“I bought her over six months ago for £5,000 from a classic car dealer here in the county, and though she shows 23,000 miles on the clock, I don’t know how many times she has been around that clock – even so, I absolutely love her.

“She is the oldest Morris I’ve had so far – even older than me.

“She has a choke, a crank handle, traffic-ators – small arms which come out of the windows to indicate you are turning – plus an 800cc engine which means she is incredibly slow.

“But she was made here and I feel an incredible sense of responsibility about preserving a small part of Oxfordshire’s heritage.

“And whereas most people travelling behind a car going 40 might normally beep and get impatient, they don’t with a Morris – they just wait and watch and give you a wave.”

Working alongside Mr Tracey is fellow Morris enthusiast David England.

Mr England, 38 and from Botley, is also former frontline ambulance crew, and as South Central’s community liaison and training officer still carries out high-speed, first response calls each week.

But away from his Skoda Octavia’s computerised controls, hands-free and blue lights, he is more at home in his 1964, powder-blue, Morris Minor 1000 saloon.

He explained: “I’ve had Jack – named because his number plate is LJH, like Little Jack Horner – for over seven months.

“There’s no power-steering or air con, you really have to drive it, but I could not be happier with it.

“My grandad worked for Morris, my dad works for BMW and each week when I was small my grampy would pick me up in his Morris from school.

“Now, when I get behind the wheel – although I am six feet five and it’s a bit of a squeeze – that same, magical, oily Morris smell is still there.

“And even though I hold up the traffic a bit with a max speed of about 60, people look as if they wish they had one too.”

Morris Motors began in 1912 when bicycle manufacturer William Morris moved on from the sale, hire, and repair of cars to car manufacturing.

The Morris Minor debuted at the Earls Court Motor Show, London, on September 20, 1948.

Designed under the leadership of Alec Issigonis, more than 1.3 million were manufactured, mainly in Cowley, between 1948 and 1972.

Both Mr England and Mr Tracey say people are surprised when they learn what they drive.

Mr England said: “People expect us to drive fast cars. But I think that doing what Dick and I do, the road traffic accidents we get called to, and the things we see, we find it reassuring to get into a car with a low speed and just leisurely drive through the countryside.”

Iconic marques live long in the memory

Oxfordshire has a proud history when it comes to designing and building world-famous cars and although many of the brands are no longer produced they still have a devoted following.

Iconic marques including Morris, Mini, Austin and MG rolled out of factories in Cowley, Oxford and Abingdon for decades.

Oxford Mail:

  • The new five-door Mini rolls off the Cowley plant this year

The MG Car Club, which boasts about 50,000 members across the world, is based in Abingdon, where MGs were produced from 1929 until 1980 when the factory closed.

General manager of the club, Julian White, said: “Oxfordshire made a massive contribution to the car industry and what we would now call the classic car industry. 

“I think our central location probably helped because the cars were close to London, close to Birmingham and close to the port in Southampton for export.

Oxford Mail:

  • MG Car Club’s Julian White with an MG YB

“It always amazes me when I travel and I see the passion MG inspires in people all over the world.

Oxford Mail:

  • The Cowley-built Morris Marina

“We have 88 affiliated societies worldwide including in Uruguay, Egypt and Nepal.
“No other car brand has the same passionate following as MG.”

MG is now owned by Chinese car company SAIC Motor and the cars are produced in China and Birmingham.

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College serves a classic course

THE vehicles may be as old as their parents or grandparents, but age has no boundary when it comes to classic cars.

From September, youngsters will get the chance to work on cars decades older than themselves in a new classic vehicle restoration apprenticeship scheme.

Banbury and Bicester College, working in partnership with Bicester Heritage and the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC) will be one of only two colleges in the country to offer it.

Oxford Mail:

  • Daniel Geoghegan, managing director of Bicester Heritage

Sponsored by Bicester Heritage, which runs a business park for the restoration of classic vehicles at the old RAF bomber station at Bicester, McGrath Maserati and the MG Car Club, students will learn to service, repair and replace faulty mechanical and electrical parts on classic cars.

The college says 1,000 apprentices are needed in the sector over the next five years to replace an aging workforce.

Principal Rose Turner said: “This initiative is so exciting because it will provide people with a direct route into employment in an area where the opportunities are clear. We are delighted to be at the forefront of this scheme and to be one of the first providers to offer the apprenticeship in the UK.”

Classes will take place at the Bicester campus in Telford Road, and the college is looking for students and employers to take part.

Bicester Heritage managing director Daniel Geoghegan said: “The scheme represents a golden opportunity for companies and students alike. Historic vehicle specialists at Bicester Heritage are particularly well located to take on high calibre students from Banbury and Bicester College.”

Applicatons for the course can be made online at banbury-bicester.ac.uk

Giants in their field

Up to 500 classic American cars will roar into Blenheim Palace this Sunday as the Rally of the Giants celebrates its 49th anniversary. 

Oxford Mail:

  • Thomas Newby, five, behind the wheel of his motor at last year’s Rally of the Giants

The Pre ’50 American Auto Club will be at Blenheim for the third year running and president Alan Murphy, 64, expects another big turnout of around 15,000 people.

He said: “It’s a lot of work getting a classic car ready for a show, but once you have it’s not quite so hard to maintain in the long run. 

“I love the style and the engineering of American classic cars. I got into them in the 1960s through an uncle who worked in the motor trade and I’ve been involved ever since. “

Mr Murphy expects a Model T Ford dating from about 1909-16 to be at the show as part of a range of cars from every decade from then through to the 1980s.

He said a Model T is worth between £15,000 and £20,000 today but other cars could attract much more.

“It depends on the type of car,” he said. “But a convertible Cadillac could be worth anything from £50,000 to £60,000.”

The Rally of the Giants is open from 9am on Sunday. Tickets can be bought at blenheimpalace.com and entry is free for annual pass holders. 

The MG – made in Abingdon

FOR more than 50 years MG cars rolled out of Abingdon and gave the town a place in motor racing history.

Last Thursday, members of Abingdon Town Council and the MG Car Club have gathered to open the MG Garden on Ock Street and commemorate the company which was once one of the town’s largest employers.

Oxford Mail:

  •  Three MGs on show

The garden aims to document the history of MG in Abingdon and the impact the factory had on the town.

Oxford Mail:

  • The garden

MG Car Club general manager Julian White said: “It was fantastic to see so many people here for the opening ceremony. It’s been a real community project from the start and it was very rewarding to see the garden being used and enjoyed on such a wonderful evening.”

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Comments (1)

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3:31am Thu 24 Jul 14

Myron Blatz says...

Think Dick will find his old Minor has a 918cc engine, or the later 1098cc version, and whilst they are lovely old classics, they aren't so loveable to use in modern day traffic conditions. Their brakes and suspension are innefective by today's standards, and to make them more useful, enthusiasts put in modern suspension, five-speed gearboxes, electronic ignition, thermostatic fans, seatbelts, negative earth electrics, and much more! aon top of that, they have to be serviced regularly, and aren't very safe for passengers in a crash. Oherwise, am sure they bring hours of endless fun and enjoyment as 'adult toys' for both men and women enthusiasts.
Think Dick will find his old Minor has a 918cc engine, or the later 1098cc version, and whilst they are lovely old classics, they aren't so loveable to use in modern day traffic conditions. Their brakes and suspension are innefective by today's standards, and to make them more useful, enthusiasts put in modern suspension, five-speed gearboxes, electronic ignition, thermostatic fans, seatbelts, negative earth electrics, and much more! aon top of that, they have to be serviced regularly, and aren't very safe for passengers in a crash. Oherwise, am sure they bring hours of endless fun and enjoyment as 'adult toys' for both men and women enthusiasts. Myron Blatz
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