x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Classic Minor is a major hit for Irish expatriate

A look at John Campbell of Dubai and his 1970 Morris Minor van.

John Campbell plans to rent his classic 1970 Morris Minor Van as a promotion vehicle. Razan Alzayani / The National
John Campbell plans to rent his classic 1970 Morris Minor Van as a promotion vehicle. Razan Alzayani / The National

In the glitzy world of the UAE, Ferraris and Lamborghinis fit in perfectly next to the gleaming skyscrapers and futuristic shopping malls. Even the increasingly popular classic cars are usually the crème de la crème of the past, with old Rolls-Royces and Mercedes the leading choices for those who want to be seen in something with a bit more history and panache.

What doesn’t fit in at all among all this glamour (which makes it even cooler) is the humble little Morris Minor. Released in 1948 as the UK’s answer to budget motoring, the Minor would go on to sell more than 1.3 million units, with production running for an incredible 24 years.

What also doesn’t match the rest of the automotive crowd in the UAE is the engine. While many people scoff at the idea of having less than six cylinders, and a large percentage of the populous scooting around with eight or more under the bonnet, the Minor makes do with a frugal 918cc, four-cylinder engine.

This tiny unit was good for just 27.5hp and 53Nm of torque, giving the little car a top speed of just 103kph. Before you ask, you’d need an egg timer to measure the acceleration to 100.

Perhaps its anti-glitz stance was part of the reason John Campbell brought his stunning 1970 Minor over to the UAE. His car is an even stranger sight in the country, as it’s a Morris Minor van. The car was originally used as a Post Office Telephones van before being exported to Malta in 1974, where a farmer used it as a workhorse. It was then discovered in 2008 by an enthusiast, restored from the ground up and repainted in its original Post Office yellow. Since the car arrived in the country, Campbell has added the period correct logos on the side.

“My family have had Minors back in Ireland for years,” says Campbell. “My father had a few and it started my passion for old commercial vehicles. My dream classic isn’t a Ferrari 250 GTO or something like that. It’d be a Ford Model T van or pickup.”

But the Minor isn’t just for fun. Campbell has a potential money-spinning sideline to the car as well. “We’re investigating starting a small business renting the car out to help promote companies,” says Campbell. “It’s really eye catching and everyone looks at it. Everywhere you go people take pictures of the car. It’s the perfect billboard.

“When I drive it, people wave and shout ‘cool car’ at me. I think they are really surprised to see it in the UAE. One lady even took a picture of it and put it on her blog,” he adds.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the car is the cost. The total price, including shipping to the UAE, came to just Dh55,000. That’s real bargain classic motoring.

“I really want to drive it to one of the big, five-star hotels behind a few supercars and see the valet parking guy’s face when I pull up in my van,” says Campbell with a smile. “So far, I’ve only been to the mall and back in it, as it’s too hot for the car during the summer. Once the cooler weather arrives, I’ll venture a little farther.”

Campbell also has a second Minor van being prepared for registration. Luckily for him, his wife Nazy loves the Minors as much as he does. “The clutch is hard and the seat doesn’t adjust, but they’re fun. It’s like driving a toy,” she adds.

With a head-turning classic on the driveway, a low purchase price, cheap running costs and a potential new business in the pipeline, the Minor van may just be the perfect classic. You never know, we may see loads of them running around the country if the idea catches on.


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