1926 Bullnose Morris Cowley runabout “Little Olive”

The Bullnose Morris depicted [below] and proudly owned by John Tilbrook at Tuross Head NSW was acquired from W.A. in 2011. John was a former member of the CACMC from the mid 1980’s until 1996 when he relocated from Kaleen ACT to Tuross Head allegedly to retire. In his years as a member of this Club he spent time as the Events Member and as the Editor of the CACMC under the close stewardship of Vin Liston. During his time with CACMC his pride and joy was an oxford green 1925 Bullnose Morris Cowley Runabout (2 door) which was eventually sold to a retired doctor in Melbourne in 1996 as John feared that the salt air on the beach front at Tuross would reduce the Bullnose to a rust ridden wreckage.

With too much time on his hands on the leisure coast John happened to take a Sunday drive to Bermagui back in 2009 and stumbled across a display of vintage and classic cars and motor cycles that had just completed the Batemans Bay to Bermagui rally which was run by the Classic & Vintage Motor Club of Eurobodalla (CVMCE). Wandering amongst the display with other indifferent spectator members of the public he was confronted by a 1925 Bullnose Morris Cowley Runabout up from Victoria. John was immediately smitten by the dreaded incurable ‘Bullnose bug’ and vowed to own one again, this time for keeps (no matter what ‘her indoors’ says).

Being rarer than rocking horse poo in Australia, the search for a ‘Bullnose’ switched to Britain and Ireland in 2011, whereby detailed negotiations and transhipment costs were being deliberated upon for the acquisition a nice oxford green 1925 Bullnose that was put on the world market by a motor museum in Belfast. It was a very old restoration and had been laid up in the museum for the past 25 years, so it represented an iffy business risk decision. In this case, as Murphy’s Law would have it, a final internet search for a Bullnose in Australia delivered gold! The Gumtree website promulgated a ‘Morris Cowley Bullnose’ in the Bunbury region of WA and as they say the rest is history.

John contacted the then current owner, David Mottram, from Manjimup in far south west of W.A. and the exchange of photographs and long distance ‘sight unseen’ negotiations began and a deal was struck. The sale price was the equivalent cost of only 311 cartons of Tooheys New 30 Block (for the curious mathematically minded readers, this purchase price may also be able to be translated into just how many truckloads of beer?).

Until acquired in 2011 and transported to ACT (in transit) and NSW – the history of ‘Olive’ is embedded in W.A. The chassis, motor and running gear was imported from the UK in 1926 and the car and bodywork was assembled by Craiks Ltd Motor Body Works at Mount Lawley W.A. as a single (1) door Runabout. The MC11.9 engine number of 184136 is the original motor and matches the identification plates affixed to the bodywork.

David Mottram had acquired ‘Olive’ in the 1970’s as an older restoration, and subsequently disposed of her as he had other interests aside from his busy business in the timber industry. David Mottram found that the vehicle was too slow, boiled regularly because of W.A.’s very hot climate, and could not handle the big hills around Manjimup and Busselton. In the latter years of his ownership David Mottram did not rally the vehicle frequently, and his operation of the vehicle seemed to have been confined to short runs connected with annual registration inspections by the local Registrar of the Veteran Car Club of W.A. (last inspected on 19 March 2011).

Notwithstanding its lack of use David Mottram swore on the Pope’s singlet that the car was in good mechanical order.

With information provided by the vendor John Tilbrook made contact with the person who originally restored the vehicle, Terence Royan (a Pommie) from Mount Richon, a suburb of Perth. It was then established that the 1926 Bullnose Runabout was initially purchased by a W.A. Police Sergeant who lived and was stationed at Kalamunda, then regarded as a country post. The vehicle was subsequently passed down to his son during WW2 as his first car, but when it eventually failed to proceed in the late 1940’s, it languished in the backyard at Kalamunda until it was acquired by Terence Royan as a restoration project. According to Terry Royan the restoration of little ‘Olive’ was completed before 1960, and as a timeline he could distinctly recall that he acquired the brass bulb Horn in 1956 whilst on a trip to New Zealand.

In August 2011 John Tilbrook arranged for little ‘Olive’ to be transported by road from Perth to Canberra inside of a covered car carrier operated by CEVA Logistics (equivalent cost of just 33 cartons of Tooheys New 30 block Beer, this being the most stable currency in Australia). When John travelled to Canberra to take delivery of ‘Olive’, he was met at the CEVA transportation yard at Mitchell by two very enthusiastic Morris stalwarts, namely Malcolm Noad and Vin Liston, who helped fire up the car and secure it onto a car trailer for the trip down the Kings Highway and Clyde Mountain to its new home at Tuross.

Little ‘Olive’ was transferred from W.A. vintage club registration to NSW vintage registration with the aforementioned CVMCE car club in the Eurobodalla. Little ‘Olive’ was tidied up somewhat after decades of garaging, but evidence of the clutch wear problems and overheating came to the fore during the 2011 Christmas Eve NSW Rural Fire Service’s community Santa’s run, when the heat and hills took its toll.

With a slipping clutch little ‘Olive’ managed to limp along at AUSTPost snail mail pace over big hills and to be garaged indefinitely at the Tuross Lakes Alpaca Park at Turlinjah (another JT diversion) until John had sorted out the current issues with his other poor choice of a Club car, his 1972 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. At this juncture no attempt will be made to debate the MORRIS maker’s promotional slogan in the 1920’s, …BUY BRITISH AND BE PROUD OF IT!

In December 2012 John Tilbrook became acquainted with an elderly retired Salvation Army officer living in Batemans Bay who needed some help in the way of photographs and measurements for a 1926 Bullnose Utility he is restoring, a task he has been trying to complete since he first acquired the old Bullnose in Adelaide back in 1968 in exchange to settle a debt owed to him for the princely sum of $12 (equivalent to a six pack of Tooheys New). As a remarkable coincidence his name is Graham Bruce (who knew but is no relation to the late but never to be forgotten gentleman – ‘Jimmy’ Bruce).

The aforementioned digression is simply mentioned because John put Graham Bruce in e-mail contact with the ‘Bullnose Morris’ man himself…. Malcolm Noad (who CACMC will recall is the son-in-law of the founding father of Bullnose Morris men …the late ‘Jimmy’ Bruce). The upshot of this coincidence is that Malcolm Noad did not hesitate in volunteering his hard won expertise in overhauling little ‘Olive’ so that the little beast will be ready and signed up to participate in the forthcoming MORRIS 100 National Rally in Canberra being organised to as the ‘Centenary Celebration of the production of the First Morris Car’, namely the 1913 Bullnose Morris. Malcolm Noad is right behind this long awaited event, and his dedication and contribution of valuable family recreational time for the selfless task is for the sole purpose of making sure that yet another ‘Bullnose’ makes it across the starter’s line at the forthcoming Morris centennial Rally in April 2013.

In just 3 short weeks (as at 20 Jan 13) Malcolm Noad has the mechanical overhaul project well underway, discovering other issues yet to be rectified. Of diagnostic interest he found that the (55 year old) clutch plate of Little ‘Olive’ only had six corks remaining out of the total of 52 corks that make up the complete array. Given that ‘Olive’ made the 11 km trip from Tuross to Turlinjah over steep terrain, including the Princes Highway, with just 3% of clutch efficiency can only be described as yet another Morris miracle!

P.S. John Tilbrook wishes it be known that he is a red wine man, not a beer drinker!

Leave a Reply