1958 Morris Minor Woody Wagon: ‘The Traveler’

Steve Dubey grew up in the Southern California surfing culture back in the 1960s, so it was only natural that a car-loving surfer would want a woody — the perfect surf wagon. On a trip to California in 1995, he finally stumbled upon the car of his dreams in Pasadena, Calif.

The previous owner had done a lot of mechanical work on the 1958 Morris Traveler and then let it sit a few years. It was a rust-free car, so Dubey bought it and shipped it to Kaua‘i, where it fit right in with the surfing culture. Like many people on Kaua‘i, the Morris has genes from different countries, cultures and ethnicities. Several times this little classic has been in Kaua‘i fashion photo shoots.

Since he brought the car to Kaua‘i, Dubey, who for 31 years has been licensed as both a naturopathic physician and an acupuncturist on the island, has replaced all the wood and rubber on the vehicle. The car also received a fresh coat of paint with the assistance of Peter from Pete’s Classic Car. The color was a bit of a mistake; instead of British Racing Green, it turned out more like John Deere Green. It still looks good, although a 6-year-old once asked Dubey, “Is this the car that Goofy drove in the cartoons?”

Morris Minor cars were made in England from 1948 to 1971 and provided a bit of competition for Volkswagen. Both were similar in size, power (or lack thereof), price and appearance. The major difference was the placement of the engine; Morris engines were up front under the hood, while VW Beetle engines were in the rear. Like early Volkswagens, Morris Minors did not change body styles from year to year, so the doors, hoods and fenders are interchangeable on the sedan, convertible or Woody Wagon, also called the “Traveler.”

Because the Morris was considered very under-powered, many owners installed engines from an MG or Datsun, and added disc brakes from an Austin-Healey Sprite or MG Midget. That’s what Dubey’s woody has, a 1500 c.c. four-cylinder engine from a 1979 Datsun B210, and disc brakes. It’s a mix of British and Japanese that makes it “multi-ethnic.”

This model of Morris is interesting in that the entire upper rear two-thirds of the car is wood-framed, and the rear roof is a separate aluminum piece. The rear doors are completely wood-framed and paneled, and it is all solid ash — no laminates or plywood were utilized. The rear fenders are fastened to the rear (wood) side frames. It has the classic lines of the cars built in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, with styling echoed in the Chrysler PT Cruiser and other modern, hip-looking, retro-styled autos.

The addition of the larger Datsun engine and a five-speed transmission made the woody a modern “freeway flyer” — a necessity in Southern California. The engine has custom headers and a Weber carburetor. Underneath, there are front disc brakes, an MG rear differential, upgraded shocks and an anti-sway bar. The stock four-inch-wide rims were widened to accommodate standard size tires, rather than the rare and expensive little tires that were standard. The end result is a powerful, fast little woody that handles like a sports car.

Twice, Kaua‘i residents have offered Dubey an aging Morris Minor woody that was just sitting and rusting away. One such Morris was found in a shed in the middle of a Moloa’a papaya field, surrounded by jungle. The backhoe operator hired to clear the jungle found it, called Dubey and invited him to take a look. It had been sitting for at least 15 years, but had some very useable parts. Dubey loaded it onto a friend’s tractor-trailer and took it home. Several years later, the “found” woody was the subject of his daughter’s photo project when the vines grew through the windows.

Some old car enthusiasts enjoy the hunt, and Dubey feels it is time to look for another woody. Thus, his 1958 Morris Minor “Traveler,” valued at $14,500, is up for sale, along with a lot of spare parts. It makes a great daily driver, Sunday surf wagon or a hot window dressing for someone’s surf shop.

• Wheels in Motion is a weekly feature showcasing interesting island vehicles and the people who own them. Email wheels@thegardenisland.com to suggest a vehicle that should be featured.

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