Morris & Paeroa

By: Lyndsay Whittle, Photography by: Lyndsay Whittle

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This Morris FGK30, first registered in 1967, has a current COF and registration, starts first time without a choke and runs like a dream!

It's a brightly-coloured truck and would make a fantastic promotional vehicle that could potentially be used as an everyday vehicle in any major city.

Phil Berry, managing director of Paeroa Engineering & Auto Services, is selling this immaculately presented old-timer on behalf of its owners, N&B Contractors.

Berry actually remembers the day the truck came in for its pre-delivery check back in 1967, when he was working as an apprentice mechanic for Aston Motors in Paeroa. In fact, he told me that the truck has followed him around to various workshops throughout his working life.

Berry has never owned the vehicle himself, but says he'll be quite sad to se the old girl sold, especially if it goes to a buyer outside of the immediate Paeroa area.

From this writer's point of view, I've always considered myself to be a Bedford man when it comes to old-time trucks. But I'll confess to being very fond of FGK-series Morris/Austins, because I drove a five-ton version in the 1970s.

Back then, I drove the vehicle for a few months and was impressed with the excellent visibility offered by the wrap-around windows on the left and right front-quarters, a revolutionary design feature for the time. In fact, as time went by I almost got to like it better than the Bedford. Almost!

Another quirky feature: rear-hinged inward-facing doors. While the concept is a little hard to get one's head around, in practise it makes a lot of sense from a city delivery point of view.

The concept of the rear-hinged doors harks back to cars from the late 1930s and 1940s. Dubbed as 'suicide doors', they became less popular by the 1950s and almost extinct later that decade.

In the FGK case, where the doors are set-in at what I would estimate to be 30 degrees to the side of the vehicle, the door opens against the rear body of the truck, thus providing a safe area for the driver to stand prior to exiting the vehicle and stepping into oncoming traffic.

This is a design feature that could be easily be rekindled by 21st century commercial-vehicle designers.

FGK30 cab and chassis vehicles were extensively used as Mr Whippy vans in the 1960s. Many readers will remember the safety-conscious company, Soft Serve Products, emblazoning the safety message 'Mind That Child' across the rear of each van.

I often wondered why that particular child was always in the way!

Seriously though, the company must have applied the same logic to the safety of its drivers by providing them with an added safety feature when stepping out of the van onto busy city streets.

The original owner of the featured FGK30 was a solid plasterer who also had an interest in Ferro-cement boatbuilding, which led him to fit a plaster deck to his truck.

The theory behind the indulgence was that it would be easier to shovel sand and other such paraphernalia of plasterers, from a smooth surface rather than a conventional wooden deck.

Quite why he didn't consider fitting a steel deck was never explained, as the plaster deck is around 50mm thick and probably weighs 300kg, whereas a suitably-thick steel deck would have weighed considerably less.

However, in stark contrast to what the majority of people might think about the longevity of a plaster truck deck, it has endured the test of time and appears to be in 'as new' condition 45 years later.

In spite of space-age design, the FGK30 is powered by the equivalent of an Austin A90 motor, which only has four cylinders. Its left many old-time operators wondering why BMC (British Motor Corporation) didn't take a leaf out of the General Motors book and fit a six-cylinder powerplant as Bedford did - even in its smaller K, A and J models.

That said, the gearing in the FGK has been configured accordingly and these little trucks will happily cruise along at 80-90 clicks all day. The FGK-series trucks started life in the mid-1960s badged as either Austin or Morris, but later in the decade the Austin badge was discontinued and by the 1970s they wore a Leyland badge only.

FGK-series trucks were seen in rather large numbers at airports, even into the late-1980s. Common applications included canteen and baggage delivery on the tarmac and scissor-lifts.

I can even recall them being used by Air New Zealand as mobile staircases, prior to the widespread use of air-bridges at Auckland's international and domestic airports.

I can't say for certain, but perhaps the reason they were so popular at airports was because of the added safety factor afforded to both driver and passenger when exiting the vehicle on the tarmac.

There you have it, all you vehicle design-engineers of tomorrow. Come up with a truck that has glass panels in both front quarters, inner-facing rear-mounted doors and a plaster deck and who knows? You could be onto a winning formula.

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