Fifty-eight years ago I bought Mortheus. (It would be a neater tale if this was the sixtieth year but I have no control when these stories emerge from my subconscious mind). The original Morpheus was the son of the mythical Greek God Hypnos – the god of dreams. Like the drug morphine – driving him induced a dreamy slowness. Hence the name I gave him was obviously relevant as he was a sleepy Ford.
It was fifty-eight years ago, in 1962, when I walked into Ansett Motors in Hamilton and asked if I could take a test drive in the old banger they had on their second hand car yard advertised for sale at £80. The 1950 Ford Prefect was painted in a slow green colour – lighter than the colour used in the attachment. This colour meant it was camouflaged wherever it went. This green machine was the fast back model. (Most Australian motorists preferred the model with the short boot.)
The car was higher that it was wide. It was blessed with a tiny motor to drive its rear wheels from a three speed manual great box. (As only my brother-in-law Bill Woods could say, “it couldn’t pull the skin off a custard.” In fact it was more like a green box with wheels than a sleek motor. Yet he was mine. (He was the first car I owned outright. And according to the registration papers, he came with, I was the third owner.)
Ford boasted the post war Prefect had a top speed of 60 mph. I preferred to dive it at 35 mph (just under 60 kph – oh on the odd occasion I might have forced it to race along at 80 kph. ) I never drove it any faster than this even, in top gear, I was fearful it would break. The good news for me was, I rarely had to slow to the 30 mph speed limit in built-up-areas when driving.
Like many cars its age it was mechanically basic. For instance when driving at night one had to go to the back of the car, and pull on the taillight switch – to turn the single tail light on. When it came time to park the car, it meant one had to take the return trip, and push in the button to switch off the light. All too frequently I left the taillight blazing and when I returned the battery was too flat to turn the starter motor. Fortunately the car came with a crank handle one turned by hand. (The motor compression was so poor it was not too hard to crank it a couple of times to get it going. It only became a nuisance if I left the light on the whole weekend and I drained the battery.)
The car also had very poor headlights. This meant it was hard to see the edge of road on low beam. Reflectors and blinkers had not made their way to cars of this age. Some cars had a car radio but Morpheus was not into that sort of thing. No heater. No seat belts. No electric windows. No GPS. Nothing but a very basic set of wheels.
Common to all driving back then, one used hand signals to indicate a change in direction, or to stop. To do this you wound down the driver’s window and popped your arm into the traffic in all weather and signalled your intention. (The car had little arms fitted to each front door column so it was possible to indicate a directional change without doing this – but they were illegal to use here in Australia. They were of no use when you planned to stop and therefore you still had to indicate whenever you stopped so I suppose the reason these little wings were illegal made sense.)
I did have trouble with the narrow body of the tall car in the first couple of weeks I owned it. I was driving on a corrugated gravel road in some forested area and the car was hard to control so I gently slowed. The car was still bucking about on the rough road when I came to a sharp bend. The car started around the bend and then it fell over. I was on a road I didn’t know in a forest and the car was on its side. I climbed out, unhurt, and lifted it back on its four wheels.
The car seemed undamaged except for a dent on the rear top corner of the body that I latter attacked with a hammer to attempt to straighten it out. I didn’t, but I lived with the damage while ever I kept the car. After the weekend I took it back to Ansett Motors . They diagnosed the front end had worn bearings and the front wheels acted independently on the rough road. (Today it would not have passed the safety check required in a road worthy test. Therefore no fault of theirs was accepted and I paid for the refurbishment of the bearings.) After that experience the car drove well on gravel, however I was aware the car was top heavy and too narrow to ever turn too sharply.
As if driving a car until it flipped on its side was bad – I found the windscreen wipers on this car it’s worst feature. Rain was a constant companion on the western district roads that first winter. Unless I was cruising along on a straight stretch of road the windscreen wipers could not keep up with the rain. (All cars had to wait some time before they had multi speed wipers). In the Ford Prefect they were one speed -except and until – the vacuum pump that drove them ran out of vacuum as it did when accelerating. So if you had to change up the gear range and accelerate the vacuum driven wipers slowed, or they stopped until vacuum built up in the exhaust system again.
Fortunately I was smart enough to get a girlfriend. Jennie was her name. With her help I never had wiper trouble. If they began to slow down she reached under the dashboard and grabbed hold of the wiper linkage and moved her hand back and forth under the dashboard and maintained the rhythm. In time I thought she needed some recognition and I found the right thing.
Next time Roy Lewis, a salesman of millinery products visited her family – as he often did. (His sideline was to on-sell the cigarette allowance the company gave him as part payment, to family members at a discount to the retail price. He sold so much I doubt they were all part of his salary package) Among the feathery treasures Roy carried he had a case of imitation birds. (Difficult to describe a fake cotton wool bird as a bird – sufficient to say they were lifelike.)
I got one for Jen and fixed it to the dashboard just in front of where she would sit. I called it Evol much to the dislike of Aunt Gertrude, but Jennie and I shared the meaning hidden in the name Evol as an innocent joke.
The thrift of my Scottish blood determined my choice of Morpheus because I couldn’t afford anything better and it was cheap to run. The car, at its peak, would drive thirty-five miles to a gallon of fuel. I drove her a long way in the months I had her without the trouble previously mentioned.
I think we were better organised in those days. If we wanted fuel we had to buy it before 5pm Monday to Friday, or on Saturday mornings. All other times if you ran out of fuel it was your bad luck. The only exception I can think of when maverick businessman Ian Sykes started his own petroleum company. XL petroleum. ( in my haste to complete this article I cannot find a easy reference to his company) XL had an after hours automatic bowser on Highway 1, just west of Colac. Here you could buy petrol in 2 shilling amounts. One gallon of fuel was around 3 shillings in 1964.
Morpheus was my other companion for the next eight months or so until I upgraded to a 1956 Hillman Minx.