Over the Top in Upper Hutt ... by Nik James

It all started with a rusty radiator.

My current “rescue” project is a 61 4 door Morris Minor – a choice for which I have no valid reason.

I have started a “fixing MM” blog on the website at http://www.constructorscarclub.org.nz/index.php?page=Blog for people who might be interested in such follies.

The car had no major faults other than the rust bug, which had been assessed and estimated before purchase, but the many small items requiring attention certainly take some time to address.

The Morrie sports a giant radiator – giant that is, in the light of its very modest power and heat generation capabilities. This component just about fills the wide mouth of the Morrie and has a header tank of impressive proportions. The Mini used a similar A-series engine, and made do with a radiator around 1/3 the size..

A bonus that comes with the overkill radiator is that it can be mightily munted, but still keep the engine cool. The example on my car (hitherto referred to as the Yellow) is so stuffed as to apparently have no functioning air passage through it at all. (see picture). Over the short distances (pre-WOF) driven, the little 948cc engine has hardly reached operating temp. I suspect it has no functioning thermostat either.

After some fruitless searching around for a “better radiator”, I placed a wanted ad in TM – the first time I have done that……

A few days later was loitering around the house in my socks (and other clothes!) when a well used Ford Courier ute pulled up outside shortly followed by the ding of the front doorbell.

Padding down in my socks and opening the door revealed a visitor bearing a radiator. This bearer of good stuff looked familiar – Ah yes - I had sold him some Morrie doors way long ago.

This is Darren, a local entrepreneurial petrol head of some note – the type of Kiwi bloke who I can immediately identify with, and gas with, for hours.

We toured my modest group of cars and projects, and Darren was particularly interested in my son’s MX5/Morrie-Minor hybrid which is half hanging from the garage roof, and very much in concept phase. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Darren declared that he had already done one…. (he has done most things other petrol heads only dream of – read on).

A quick check of the radiator he had brought confirmed it was for an arlier Morrie than mine, in fact the 981cc side valve model. Amazingly this earlier model was (a) in really good shape and (b) was evem BIGGER that the one I already have, with huge inlet and outlet pipes… and this for a 981cc sidevalve engine!

Pausing only to put some shoes on,  I followed Darren out to the Courier to go see his version of a Morrinator. Slipping into the well-used passenger seat, I shouldn’t had been surprised to have to place my feet carefully among bits of loom and a CPU that was on the floor.

The reason for this electronic floor covering became apparent when Darren started up the 3.8 litre Holden v6 Ecotec engine that was under the bonnet! This torquey transplant pumped up the Holden tranny and surged over to Darren’s place, only a km or so from my abode.

Darren’s place is not merely a man-cave – more a labyrinth of man-caves – all dedicated to the petrolheads obession……..

The first thing to do was to open the bonnet of the Courier.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but the v6 looked like it grew there – an excellent conversion. The only external sign of the transplant was a neat raised bonnet line.. the v6 is tall.


Just across the yard in an obviously very busy area was Darren’s Morrinator.

He has taken a mild mannered MX5 1600 auto, and morphed it into something that could certainly audition for Mad Max.

The guards and screen frame are removed, but the MX5 door retained. Then a hapless MM Morrie was skinned alive, removing all the outer panels. The roof line was severely chopped, and a section welded into the bonnet roof and boot to give it a wide, mean, squat look. The Morrie door skins are grafted on the the MX5 shells. The roof chop has resulted in a definite letter box look to the screen, side windows and rear window. The screen will be made in to a cut down version of the MM split screen, thus allowing it to be made from custom flat glass. Like it or loathe it, the car has no compromises, and looks quite threatening from the front, where Darren has given it large chrome teeth.

The headroom is quite generous  for a vertically challenged bloke like me.

A totally OTT vehicle, made simply because Darren fancied it!

Through another door into another cave, to see the 23 T car.

This has what appears to be a mountain of aluminium where the engine should be. Closer examination reveals there are two BIG super chargers mounted on top of a v8, which is effectively dwarfed by the big pumps that are on its back..

The superchargers are sequential and exit through a water to air intercooler

The car is road legal and “does good skids”.

A bit punch drunk, your Editor was ushered through into the main cave where a couple of definitely muscular shapes lurked under dust sheets.

Pulling aside the covering revealed two gobsmacking Graham Berry Almac Cobras – a brutish one for Darren and a girlie one for his wife. The silver brute is reputed to be the last turnkey Cobra made by Graham Berry – it has a signed plaque commemorating this. It has a mighty 454 big block and was absolutely fabulous. The wife’s car is a mere 304 cu inch and has some lovely detail work – the purple paint is deep enough to dive into, and the interior is quite magnificent.

After covering them up again, Darren led me into the daylight to a large detached building that looked like a shining alloy cathedral. Entry through a small side door revealed an astonishing sight – a huge road train truck and trailer. This is a VERY BIG vehicle, hence the VERY BIG shed to keep it in. The intent for this giant vehicle is to convert it into a house truck, for the family – and the two Cobras.

It was dark in there, so no pictures……..

Over the Top indeed.

Each of Darren’s projects deserves a series of articles – I could fill several magazines with the stories of his vehicles.

Many thanks to him for showing me round.

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