By on July 30, 2011

“Ask Amy” advice columnist and self-help memoir author Amy Dickinson has the late Ann Landers’ old slot on the Chicago Tribune. She also has a 1967 Morris Minor. She fell in love with the car the first time she saw one, soon after she moved to London with her then-husband, in 1986. “They are so cute, they look like ice cream cones,” she says. She loves the clatter of its engine, and the way people smile when she drives by, and she says it is her favorite material object in the world.

So after her husband embarked on an open-endedly extended business trip, in 1988, Dickinson, then a housewife, took her five week old baby, Emily, in a taxi to a dealer who restored Morrises, and made her purchase, for 1,500 pounds (roughly $5,000 in current dollars). “One advantage of driving a beautiful, quirky vintage car is that it really helped me meet people,” she says. “So many men said to me, ‘I had one of these,’ and ‘my dad had one of these,’ not to mention ‘getting rid of my Morris Minor was my biggest mistake.’”

Soon her marriage came undone, and in 1990 Dickinson returned to the US with her daughter, to become a journalist. Before she left London, she was able to have the steering wheel and controls switched from right to left, an operation that was easy by design, since British Motor Corporation sold Morris Minors all over the world. (This was the first British car to produce a million copies, the millionth rolling off the assembly line on December 22, 1960, according to the Morris Minor Owners’ Club.)

The car actually jump-started Amy’s career. Her first radio piece was a commentary on National Public Radio, where she described the Morris as “…shaped like a Volkswagen [old] Beetle with a water retention problem. It manages to seem both massive and tiny at the same time. It has kind of full-figured fenders that remind me of the Duchess of York’s hips. And the grill in front looks like a gaping, demented, laughing clown mouth, the kind that shows up in your dreams when you’re a kid.”

Those descriptions notwithstanding, Amy also has a sophisticated… uh, well, experiential appreciation for this well-regarded 20th century design by Sir Alec Issigonis, who is perhaps best known for penning the original Mini, but whose reputation extends well beyond the world of cars. “There is not a plane on the entire surface of that car,” says Amy. “You realize this when you try to put your cup of coffee down somewhere as you go to open the door.” (Amy admits to having spilled her coffee more than once.)
Amy drove the un-air conditioned and poorly heated car year-round, joyously ferrying her daughter hither and yon, despite Washington, DC’s miserably hot and humid summers. Daughter Emily says that the Morris always got lots of attention, and one of her friends used to love to ride in the car so he could get noticed doing the Presidential wave, and that when her mother let her off for preschool, a neighbor of the preschool would always let her mother park the Morris in his driveway. Unfortunately, the winter salt corroded the sheet metal, and in 1995, Amy regretfully stowed the Morris, and bought one of those rust-free, plastic Saturns.

“The Morris sat in a garage [for eight years], quite neglected, like an old boyfriend, and I got to where I felt so bad about it I couldn’t even look at it,” she says, mournfully. But remembering all the Englishmen who had told her how much they had regretted selling theirs, she hung on to hers.
Then, in 2003, the Chicago Tribune hired her, boosting her finances, enabling a resurrection. Before she and her daughter set off for the windy city, she drove the Morris to Vintage Restorations, now in Mt. Airy, Maryland, where they worked on pride and joy whenever she could send money.

“She’s an unusual kind of person,” says John Tokar, owner of Vintage Restorations, noting that the handful of owners of Morris Minors he has restored have all been endearingly eccentric.

Amy says her love for vehicles of all sorts stems from having been raised on a dairy farm. “My family’s primary vehicle for some years was a dump truck, which my mother drove like a pro,” she says. “I’m not a gearhead, but I do love cars. I always have. And I love to drive.”

In 2008, Amy moved back to her hometown, Freeville, NY, population 505, not far from that dairy farm, to help care for her elderly mother. There, the Morris gave Amy valuable cred with some important people at a critical juncture in her life. She took up with a local guy she’d known since seventh grade. Soon they were married. “He has four daughters,” she says. “Once they got a load of this car, I think that increased my mystique.”

One of the great things about the car, says Amy, is that it spreads good cheer everywhere it goes. It looks cheerful, she says. The Morris even cheered Amy after her recent bereavement. “My mom passed away in February, and I had the car in the barn [for the winter], and I couldn’t wait for spring to come so I could pull the cover off, jump in, and tool around,” she says.

In the Morris, says Amy, she thinks not about where she’s going, “but how much fun I’m having getting there. There’s no radio to distract me, the engine chugs along, the windows squeak up and down, and people smile, wave, and honk. It’s really fun to tool around in something that inspires universally positive reactions.

“You know how beautiful women get notes? My car gets mash notes. Instead of people asking me for my phone number, very frequently there will be a note on the car, addressed to the car, saying ‘if you ever want a new home, call me.’”
In fact, despite the ample cost of the restoration, Amy says that if you amortize all the money she has spent on the Morris over the 23 years she has owned it, or even just the 15 years she’s had it running, it has bought her a cornucopia of inexpensive joy.

“If I were a car, I would be this car—a little past my prime, but I still run pretty well, pretty simple, not too complicated,” says Amy. She adds that “I have always enjoyed lots of different vintage things,” including vintage clothing. “People who know me say, ‘oh, yeah, that car is you.’”
* * *

Fun fact about Morris Minors, courtesy of Amy: The Tamil Tigers, a militant separatist organization, would remove the drive shafts, and use them as rocket launchers, after which they’d reinstall them and drive off.

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35 Comments on ““Ask Amy”: Why The Morris Minor?...”


  • avatar

    The first photo is Amy on Connecticut Ave., Wash. DC, probably spring 1994. The second is the cover of the Italian translation of her self-help memoir, The Might Queens of Freeville.

  • avatar

    “The Morris sat in a garage [for eight years], quite neglected, like an old boyfriend,

    David’s unhappy with my comment so out of respect to him, I’m revising it. The sisterhood is powerful (see what they did to Glucker?) and I don’t want to cause David any grief. I don’t know Ms. Dickinson’s writing but since advice columns don’t stay in print long if they don’t pander to the distaff side, she’s not going to say anything that won’t get approving nods from females.

    The subtitle of her book is A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them. Now I have no idea if the book’s title is referring to Ms. Dickinson and her mother or to Ms. Dickinson and her daughter, but I would like to point out that Ms. Dickinson’s daughter indeed has a father. His name is Anthony Mason, also a journalist, who works for CBS News. Again, I have no idea what kind of father Mr. Mason is, but he’s since remarried and lives with his second wife and their two daughters so I assume he understands the importance of having a father in a child’s life.

    Ms. Dickinson was apparently abandoned by her own father. I wonder how much effort she’s made to make sure that Emily’s father has been in her life.

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      Ronnie,

      Highjacking another contributor’s post with a dopey comment that has nothing to do with cars, car culture or the auto industry is rude and amateurish. I come here to read about cars; I don’t care what you have to say about social issues.

      How two people choose to raise their child is their concern and theirs alone. You stuck your nose into Ms. Dickinson and Mr. Mason’s business without their knowledge or consent. I’d like to suggest that you butt out. I imagine they aren’t interested in your input and I’m certain that I’m not.

      The world has enough nosy busy-bodies that can’t mind their own business. If you just can’t stop intruding into the personal lives of strangers and want to pontificate about social issues, please find an appropriate forum – The Truth About Cars isn’t it.

      • 0 avatar

        Ms. Dickinson made her personal life everyone’s business when she published her memoirs.

        As Henry Ford II said, “never complain, never explain”.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Highjacking another contributor’s post with a dopey comment that has nothing to do with cars, car culture or the auto industry is rude and amateurish.

        If I am understanding this correctly, Mr. Holzman was fooled into believing that he reviewed a book about a woman and her on-again/ off-again love affair with her quirky British* car.

        But fortunately, we have Mr. Schreiber here, who apparently hasn’t read the book, to expose this vile tome (that he hasn’t read) for what it is, namely some hate-filled feminazi Andrea Dworkinesque militant lesbian rant against men.

        Of course, he managed to “figure this out” by completing misunderstanding the “neglected boyfriend” metaphor and without apparently reading the book, but still, I don’t see why truth should be allowed to get in the way of a good argument, do you?

        *Yes, I know that “quirky” and “British” are redundant.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        The comments on this thread did give me insight into why Ronnie is consistently such an insufferable scold in his comments, so there is that.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        ” I come here to read about cars; I don’t care what you have to say about social issues”

        +1. There are plenty of sites where those political opinions would be welcomed. Redstate, Freerepublic, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        windswords

        I can’t help wondering if Amy Dickinson had been an ex-Nazi and KKK member (long since renounced) and had worked as an exec for a tobacco and a big pharma company before becoming a journalist if the same people would be saying “Oh no’s, we can’t have discussions on political and social topics here, this is just a car blog”.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Windswords – your example is humorous but wrong. This specific article was about a classic car and it’s (female) driver. Somehow that gets taken by a contributor into the realms of social policy and from a very raw and personal perspective from the sounds of it.

        In the bigger picture I don’t find people on TTAC going of on many political tangents – the only two big ones are a) the whole bailout situation and b) the UAW. These are both valid since they are car based. Feminism is not car based, so not really worth discussing on here. Same for abortion, immigration etc etc. As Sam P said there are other sites for those and whenever these are raised it is usually by the redstate type people. Just an observation.

  • avatar
    50merc

    “And the grill in front looks like a gaping, demented, laughing clown mouth”. Maybe she would be interested in a Mazda.

    I wonder what her daughter thinks about being named “Emily”.

  • avatar

    Ronnie,

    Your revised comment, while no longer extremely distasteful, is still your attempt to graft your own (valid, from a policy perspective) concern about fathers losing rights in divorces onto Ms. Dickinson, in ignorance of her history. In other words, your comment is really about you.

    • 0 avatar

      David,

      When a woman leaves a man, it’s his fault. When a man leaves a woman, it’s his fault. If a man is walking in the forest and a woman isn’t there, is he still at fault?

      We don’t have her ex-husband’s side of the story, merely the account of a scorned woman, hardly the most impartial witness.

      I’m assuming that Mr. Mason can’t be such a terrible cad, he’s since remarried and is living with his wife and two daughters.

      I walk down the street wearing shorts, black loafers and white socks and a big red beard. You think I care about embarrassing myself?

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        “When a woman leaves a man, it’s his fault. When a man leaves a woman, it’s his fault. If a man is walking in the forest and a woman isn’t there, is he still at fault?”
        Who says?
        Write about cars not social issues – sounds like you have had marriage issues.

    • 0 avatar

      Fuckity fuck fuck. Now that it’s in moderation I’ll leave it up to the editors to decide if my response to David H. violates the no-flaming rule or not. I suppose I could have been butthurt and gone crying to you or Ed about how Holtzman went off on another contributor, in violation of the rules, but when I got dressed this morning I happened to put on flameproof underwear. God save us from feminist men.

      In other words, your comment is really about you

      As everything Bertel writes is about Bertel, and everything Jack writes is about Jack, and everything Ed writes is about Ed, and everything that even David writes is about David.

      Out of respect to a colleague I rewrote my comments. Apparently, that courtesy to you was not perceived as sufficient.

      No, this little exchange is not about your hurt feelings that I slagged off a writer whom you admire and expressed views that you personally find distasteful. No, not at all.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I must respond to the original question; “Why the Morris Minor?” with another question: WHY NOT?

    I used to see these all over back in the day, but the funniest one was when in the air force, a guy had one – gray (weren’t they all?)and put some star-and-bar air force stickers on the doors and bought the largest model airplane red propeller he could find and fixed it on the front of the hood so it would spin whenever he drove it. That always cracked me up!

    The Morris Minor was always one of my favorites I would love to own.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    I can’t seem to recall. Do pianos fall on Morris minors or is it the Morris Marina that has that problem?

  • avatar
    Bryce

    Thousands of Morry Minors still roam New Zealand.
    The Marina was rubbish new, age did not improve them

  • avatar
    anonymic

    Great story about what owning a car should be all about, love. For decades cars have been treated as just another appliance by a lot of manufacturers and owners. Amy found a car that not only had character, but it had a character to match her own. How rare is that anymore? No surprise then that it’s old and British.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    it had a character to match her own.

    I hope that you’re not saying that she’s rusty, underpowered and unreliable. It’s bad enough as is that the car is a hate-filled feminazi Andrea Dworkinesque militant lesbian.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    I had one of the originals with a split windshield and a the 803cc motor.

    It did have a four speed but it wasn’t quick.

    Installed a 1300c motor with twin SUs out of Healey Sprite. It was little faster and a lot more fun.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Nice article David. We don’t often hear about women who appreciate classic cars.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Made up until 1970? with woody wagon, convertible, pickup and van available. Minor was BMC. Marina was BL. Minor proved more durable than the more modern Issigonis FWD hydrolastic AD016.

    Minor quirk – 2nd (or 3rd) emitted a fart-like sound from the exhaust.

  • avatar
    volvo_nut

    There is a Morris Minor Traveler (wood sided wagon version) cruising around my hometown. I can confirm that it too gets the same smile, honk, wave attention.
    Sounds and smells like a small farm tractor, but is interminably cute.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Somewhere I recall these being advertised in the US as doing 0-60 in 60 seconds.

    Seriously . . . !

    Stories like this and about other cars with “character” illustrate one of the unintended consequences of increasingly pervasive regulation of cars: a tendency towards uniformity. Given that smart engineers soon figure out the optimum solution in compliance with the regulations, this should not be surprising.

    Not expressing a value judgment . . . just an observation, and a question: whether younger generations who did not grow up in the quirky world of unregulated cars will have the same interest as those of us who did.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Stories like this and about other cars with “character” illustrate one of the unintended consequences of increasingly pervasive regulation of cars: a tendency towards uniformity.

      If you wanted uniformity in Britain, you would have bought one of these. Well over a million of them were sold during their production run; it’s just that not many of them made it over here.

      Before Ford began making the Model T, there were 100 auto makers in the US alone. By around the time of WWII, three companies (I’m sure that you know who they are) had 95% market share in the US, all without virtually any safety regulations.

      The auto industry is consolidating for the same reason that hardware stores, supermarkets and just about everything else has been consolidating — because size can produce efficiency, which increases profitability.

      Independent automakers simply can’t sell enough cars to be competitive, particularly in a global economy. Steel dashboards and steering columns that don’t collapse wouldn’t do a damn thing to stop it (especially because consumers want safety features, and will now avoid cars that don’t have them.)


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