Five Clas­sic Tri­als

…Mor­ris Cowley

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - Richard Gunn WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY

‘Ev­ery­thing your in­sruc­tor taught you about stop and go is now null and void’

Distinc­tive ra­di­a­tor sur­rounds have been the mak­ing of some car com­pa­nies. Where would Roll­sRoyce be with­out its sparkling Pal­la­dian arch, topped by the Spirit of Ec­stasy? As­ton Martin’s peaked ef­fort has per­sisted de­spite decades of chang­ing fash­ions and shapes. Imag­ine a BMW steak with­out kid­neys. Or a Daim­ler com­po­si­tion with­out the tra­di­tional flute sec­tion.

Mor­ris’s Ox­fords and Cow­leys earned their ‘Bullnose’ nick­name thanks to their rounded ra­di­a­tors. The style only lasted 13 years un­til 1926, but it’s still fa­mous to­day. And af­ter a more con­ven­tional flat ra­di­a­tor was adopted, who could re­ally dis­agree that Mor­rises lost some of their in­di­vid­u­al­ity?

This two-seater Cowley 3/4 Coupé just sneaked out be­fore the change, be­ing reg­is­tered in March 1926. It is a charm­ing and neat lit­tle de­sign, with its tall wood­framed cabin topped and tailed by a bul­let nose and ta­per­ing rear, ap­pro­pri­ately fin­ished in Oxford Blue.

Get­ting in­side is via the pas­sen­ger side door – there is no driver’s equiv­a­lent thanks to the spare wheel be­ing stowed on the run­ning board there. De­spite the up­right hand­brake and gear­stick sprout­ing from the floor­boards in the cen­tre, it’s easy enough to slide your­self along the bench seat and into place un­der the big steer­ing wheel.

Start­ing in­volves reach­ing un­der the dash to flick the fuel tap for the grav­ity-feed sys­tem. Then turn on the elec­tri­cal juice us­ing the switch un­der the Lu­cas am­me­ter and push the starter but­ton. There’s a pro­longed whirr, just long enough to con­vince you the Mor­ris isn’t go­ing to fire, be­fore the Hotchkiss-de­signed side­valve catches and grum­bles into life.

Deft ma­nip­u­la­tion of the steer­ing col­umn ad­vance and re­tard con­trols even­tu­ally results in a smooth if rather noisy idle. It’s agri­cul­tural, but this is al­most a cen­tury old tech­nol­ogy af­ter all.

And you need to cast aside your mod­ern ideas of driv­ing. The Mor­ris makes do with a crash gear­box and trans­posed ac­cel­er­a­tor and brake ped­als. Ev­ery­thing your driv­ing in­struc­tor taught you about stop and go is now null and void. Truth be told, it’s not that tricky. Non-syn­chro­mesh gear changes, dip­ping the clutch between each shift, are a lit­tle laboured. But af­ter a few teeth-grat­ing grinds, your first screech-free slot feels like a mi­nor tri­umph.

Once in top, the Cowley seems quite con­tent to just pot­ter around, tak­ing ad­van­tage of its torque rather than ex­pect­ing you to do the all the work. Which is just as well, as chang­ing down is much more of a chal­lenge, the trick be­ing to match engine speed to revs.

Ad­just­ing to the al­ter­na­tive po­si­tions of the ac­cel­er­a­tor and brake is much eas­ier, and you’re soon bowl­ing along with­out hav­ing to think about what your feet are do­ing.

First-gear take-off is sharp, al­though the at­ten­dant trans­mis­sion whine en­cour­ages you to row through to more re­fined top as soon as pos­si­ble. An ideal cruis­ing speed is – well, it’s a brave per­son who takes his eyes off the road to glance at the speedome­ter on the left-hand side dash­board – but let’s say about 35-40mph.

At that speed, the rod-and-spring brakes do their job ad­e­quately, but en­gag­ing the an­chors sooner rather than later is the best op­tion. Steer­ing is more un­ex­pect­edly di­rect and light, al­though the tall, skinny tyres and leaf springs mean the ride is a lit­tle hard and bouncy.

But for a 91-year-old ve­hi­cle, this Mor­ris still gives a very cred­i­ble ac­count of it­self on mi­nor roads. While it de­mands con­cen­tra­tion, it’s also en­ter­tain­ing, with so much more driver en­gage­ment than you get with later ve­hi­cles. You feel more con­nected and, if you’ve any ap­pre­ci­a­tion of clas­sic en­gi­neer­ing, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to rel­ish the ex­pe­ri­ence of a Mor­ris Cowley Bullnose.

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