1950 Morris J-type Van - Reader Resto

By: Peter Bateman, Photography by: Peter Bateman

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Many were sent to Japan in the '70s to be recycled as Nissans or refrigerators

In 1950s and ’60s Australia, Morris J type vans were the Mitsubishi L300s of their time. Back then it was more personal. Your baker delivered bread to your door, the greengrocer delivered the veg and companies like Moran & Cato brought the groceries. The J type van was perfect for these jobs.

In NSW the NRMA had a road service fleet of 101 J vans and the Gas & Fuel Corporation had a large fleet running around the Melbourne metropolis. Large bakeries like Tip Top and Buttercup had Morris Js as did smaller bakeries in country towns.

Morris J Van

Where did they all go?  Many were squashed and sent to Japan in the ’70s to be recycled as Nissans or refrigerators. Some became chook sheds and kiddies cubbies and some left to guard paddocks. Many a speedway sprint car used an old J type differential to speed around the dirt circles.

| Return of the Morris J-Van

A few surfers and hippies in the 1970s had J vans but these wheels never had the highway cred of the VW Type 2 Kombi. The old splitties of which there were about 1.85 million made world wide, could run all day at 55mph and not deafen the passengers. Some J van owners plonked Holden sixes in lieu of the Morris fours and got to a brisk pace but a quick J was never on the original must haves list.

Morris J Van

Decades ago you’d have seen thousands of these on our roads

Little is known of just where the idea for the J came from. Commercial record keeping was shredded during the ’80s and lost. Immediately after WWII the UK needed valuable export income and a 10cwt forward control commercial van seemed like a good idea for the recovering British economy. Just prior to WWII a larger, 15/20 cwt vehicle had reached production, called the PV, but was halted for armament production after only six units were completed.  After the conflagration ended the British plants got working again but much of the PV design was then old-fashioned and a team got to work on a small forward control van with sliding doors. The 10cwt J type van was the outcome. Initially the J was to have a new flat-four cylinder engine to enable a very long cargo area but the accounting department said no and the ageing side-valve engine from the Morris Oxford was used. In 1948 a prototype was exhibited at the Earls Court Commercial Vehicle show and in ’49 another was displayed at the Geneva Commercial Vehicle Show.

Morris J Van

Production of the new Morris J 10cwt van started in late ’49 with the export market a commercial priority. 

| Reader Ride: 1962 Alfa Romeo Hightop

This goes a long way to understanding why Australia has some of the earliest J vans still existing. The earliest known complete van, a 1949 build and the 649th made, is in South Australia. Chassis plate J/R 478 resides in Tasmania and J/R 953, very badly rusted, lies discarded in southern Queensland.  Packham’s Bakery, then in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville, owned two of the first three J types to arrive in Australia.

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Also among the early users of the J was the Yellow Express transport company in Sydney. From 1926 Yellow Express was a major haulage company undertaking interstate services, heavy haulage and local parcel deliveries.  Yellow Express helped transport Kingsford Smith’s dismantled Southern Cross plane and delivered girders for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Yellow Express were huge. For light deliveries in the ’50s & ’60s they used Morris J type vans. 

For some years, Justin Lewis, who was running, Yellow Express, had been searching to replace one of their most iconic delivery vehicles. He has photographs in the company archives of Yellow Express van #7 at Mascot pictured with a Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. What better way to publicise the company? Eventually the sale of an interrupted restoration project came to Justin’s notice and he jumped at the chance.

 Morris J Van cabin

Justin transported the van to Sydney and immediately dispatched it to Vehicle Color Design Centre’s paint shop. It just needed a coat of paint and bolting back together. Simple? Not quite, but over the past 15 years the hard work had been done. Boxes of parts came with the van. The guards had already been painted black, it had an original Workshop Manual and there was even a little snippet of its history.

Chassis number J/R 4875 was built in September 1950 in the UK Morris works at Adderley Park, Birmingham. It has a stock plate #3809 from Lanes Motors, indicating it was first sold in Melbourne in 1951. What it did for the next 49 years are unknown.

Morris J Van

In 2000 John Beaton found it in country Victoria, very much worse for wear. There were vents on the roof and a wooden partition behind the driver’s seat like many bakers vans in Australia. It had crunched something - the front was damaged, as was the chassis, and it was badly rusted. J van sills always rust, and with only six bolts holding the body to the chassis, they wobble.

John Beaton concentrated on the chassis, engine, gearbox and diff. Everything was dismantled and the repairs started. Chassis straightened, springs reset, diff and back axle refurbished as were the brakes. Interestingly, parts were not difficult to find. Automotive Surplus at Mitcham were able to supply almost all of the needed parts. Not bad for a 60-year old vehicle. The 90 cubic inch, original side-valve engine, all 1476cc was fully refurbished. Nothing was left to chance. The end result was possibly better than when new and it ran unleaded fuel. Once he had a complete refurbished rolling chassis he prepared to take on the next phase of the body work. A big job was ahead.

Morris J Van cabin

It was at this stage J/R 4875 went to Queensland as rescuer # 1 had found a restored JB van and passed the project on to another brave enthusiast, Michael Freeman.

As rescuer #2, Michael Freeman had owned Js in his youth and wanted to relive that ’70s dream of driving the J van to the surf.         

When he told his workmates he had a J type two mates offered their skills and occasional working bees were arranged.

Being an early export van it has a steel sub-floor in the back. Also unique is the rectangular side lights.

Morris J Van cabin

They are the same as the Austin A90 Atlantic used and only featured on early J vans.

Ready made replacement panels are available from the UK but sometimes delivery times are not fast enough for eager restorers. Local metal shops were a great help as was an experienced welder found through a nearby Hot Rod club.

Eventually the panels arrived from Fairmile Restorations in the UK, welded into place and the van became a solid unit. Readying vans like these for paint requires hours of tapping and beating. Colours had been chosen and the interior had been painted. Guards and engine cowling had been sent to the local spray shop and were now glowing gloss black in the spare bedroom. Restoration was again interrupted when rescuer #2 received a work transfer and the J had to go! Work could not be refused and there was no prospect of a garage. Keeping the J was out of the question.

Morris J Van cargo

15 years had been so far been spent getting this van ready for the final hurdle. So close but yet J/R 4875 was still so vulnerable as without painting the ferrous oxide would take over again.

Justin Lewis was told of this van and quickly decided it would fit Yellow Express perfectly. After arriving at Vehicle Color Design Centre, things started to happen quickly. Within days a colour scheme was chosen based very closely on the original Yellow Express company livery. After being painted it was a case of putting things back together. An auto electrician was brought in to connect + to - and a mechanic to make sure it started. The roof which had been painted separately was bolted into place. Glass was installed and all the chromed pieces and parts from the cardboard boxes were refitted. The original Parts Manual made this task less complicated. Only eight weeks after arriving in Sydney J/R 4875 was registered and driven to take pride of place in the Yellow Express showroom at Victoria Road, Rozelle, where it now lives.

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Pan Am Boeing 377 Stratocruiser & YellowExpress van #7

J/R 4875 would again do some local deliveries and promote the courier company. It received many positive stares. After 65 years the Morris J type van still makes people happy. When this van is out and about people of all ages want to have a photograph taken in front of the van.

For more information contact jtypesaustralia@gmail.com or http://www.jtypevan.com/


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The body as found, a rusted shell. Unique to early export J vans is the steel floor clearly seen here as is the damage to the front. Best described as Seen better days or Has potential.


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Tube steel frames were fitted to align the body during reconstruction.


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To help with the rebuild Some of the replacement panels made by Fairmile Restorations in the UK.


Morris J Van resto

Ready for the next step. Still on the jig to ensure it’s aligned, the new body is ready for the painter.


Morris J van resto

Replaced and etched. Little of the lower body could be salvaged. After grit blasting, the body was etch primed.


Morris J van resto

The internal cabin walls were refinished first along with the door jams. The exterior is almost ready for paint.


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The complete renovated engine, gearbox and rolling chassis.

Original car: 1950 J van
Length of restoration: 15 years


Body: Van
Engine: 1476cc side valve four cylinder
Power: 26kw @ 3500rpm
Transmission: 3 speed manual
Suspension: Front & rear: Semi-elliptic springs, shock absorbers

From Unique Cars #441, June 2020


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