Car Restoration Projects
The Morris Goddess of Fertility – Isis
An all-new Morris, powered by an overhead camshaft, six-cylinder, 2.5-litre capacity engine was launched in 1929 to the fanfare of what more suitable a name than Isis the Egyptian Goddess of Fertility. William Morris (later Lord Nuffield) claimed ‘Isis’ represented everything desirable in a motor car.
For some time William Morris had been aware of the successful, time-saving production of an all-steel, pressed car body. The Budd Company of Philadelphia was using the process for Dodge Brothers’ car bodies in the United States of America.
William Morris travelled to the USA in the mid-1920s, on a fact-finding mission, to investigate the possibility of its economical use in streamlining and therefore increasing production. He also wanted to check if an all-steel body would improve the structural integrity and torsional rigidity of his Morris cars, in contrast to the traditional metal panel over wooden frame construction method.
On arrival he met with Edward Budd and his vice president, Hugh Leander Adams. The pair convinced Morris of the advantages of the all-metal-body-construction system, which resulted in Morris Motors joining forces with the Budd Company, to set up a factory in England, to produce Budd bodies under licence. It became the Pressed Steel Company.
After establishing facilities in England, adjacent to Morris’ Coventry car manufacturing plant, it took two years before the Pressed Steel Company was ready to go into production with the dies from Budd in Philadelphia (some shared with Dodge) that William Morris had spent a reported £120,000 buying.
At first there were many teething problems, as the Morris workforce was unaccustomed to working with this type of construction, but with supervision from some of Budd’s American technicians it was sorted.
The first all-steel bodies were fitted to Morris Oxford chassis and William Morris seemed to have solved the problem of producing bodies in sufficient quantity to match the production of chassis.
The Morris Isis was a ground-breaking model in 1929, as it was fitted with the first-for-Morris, six-cylinder, overhead camshaft engine from the 1927 Morris Six and was the first Morris to have hydraulic brakes. On top of that, it had an all-steel Pressed Steel Company body that drew on technology from both sides of the Atlantic. It could have been called appropriately an Anglo-American model, if you like.
In that first year of manufacture there were four model variants – a tourer, saloon and deluxe saloon for a £10 premium, plus a coupé with a fabric body and what was described as a ‘sliding head’ (sunroof).
All models had traditional stove-black-enamel finish mudguards, but the brake drums and wheels broke with tradition by being coloured. Domestic models had wire-spokes and export vehicles were fitted with five-stud, artillery style wheels.
After two years, William Morris relinquished his partnership in the Pressed Steel Company due to pressure from rival car manufacturers, who were reluctant to use the Pressed Steel Company’s bodies because of Morris’s involvement in the company. He was, of course, one of their car-manufacturing competitors.
So, 1931 model year was the end of the ground-breaking Series One Isis, of which 3939 had been manufactured. An all-new-specification Isis Series Two was developed for 1932, using a traditional wooden-frame British body.
Isis for Australia
The following newspaper article – possibly based on a Morris Motors media release – and sourced from the Australian National Library, is from The Bunbury Herald and Blackwood Express in Western Australia, dated Monday 14th October 1929.
Morris Isis Six
Eighteen months ago, after a personal investigation of our conditions, Sir William Morris made a definite promise to the Australian public that he would produce a car, which would be eminently suitable for all conditions met within Australia.
The introduction of the Isis six-cylinder saloon fulfils this promise, exceeding the most sanguine expectations and challenging any comparison, meeting every Australian demand as to power, track, braking, springing, gearing and clearance. Anticipating the future productions of other manufacturers and setting a new standard in beauty and performance, the Isis six marks a new epoch in the world’s motor trade.
To attempt to describe this car in detail would take pages, but briefly, the frame itself is built up of a number of steel pressings; the dash is another pressing; the cross members, wings, and luggage grid are all pressings, and so is the body throughout.
The salient feature of the whole construction is that the complete body drops over the chassis and is rigidly secured to the latter by means of 25 bolts, all easily accessed. So rigid is the whole construction, that no matter what angle you have the car, there is no distortion whatever; this means not only a very strong saloon car, but also a permanently silent one.
The frame, from a point just aft the rear engine mounting to immediately in front of the back seats, is no less than 8 inches in depth; at this point it sweeps upwards immediately under the rear seats, being 48 inches wide from front to rear of body.
The chassis and the body are literally one and no matter how rough the country no creaking or jamming of doors can ensue.
The radiator is entirely new in design, being chromium plated, handsome, imposing and ample for its task. The engine of six cylinders with a bore and stroke of 69mm x110mm, with an 18hp RAC rating, develops 55hp and is mounted by four special anti-vibration rubber mountings.
An overhead camshaft and rocker gear actuate the valves, with the shaft driven by an inverted tooth chain: the whole being exceptionally neat and symmetrical.
Behind the engine, and integral with it, is a compact three-speed gearbox, operated by a long, centrally placed gear lever working in a ball joint.
Steering gear direction is obtained by means of a Bishop cam-gear, embodying the cam and roller action, a distinct advance on anything of its kind yet produced. Only by handling the wheel will the extreme lightness and instant responsiveness of the steering be appreciated.
The hydraulic brakes are powerful and silent in operation, being housed in 14-inch drums, which are proofed against the entry of wet and grit. The swift imperceptible action of the Isis’ braking affords a feeling of safety dispelling any concern at utilising the car’s speed when so desired.
The finish and equipment are on the usual lavish and complete scale associated with Morris products and include pneumatic cushions, leather upholstery, adjustable front seats, triplex glass, roof ventilation, adjustable foot rail, speedometer, clock, dipping headlight, electric petrol gauge, Wilmot bumpers, electric automatic windscreen wiper and spring gaiters.
You should take advantage of the first opportunity to try this car. Take it on the road and see if you have ever driven any car that glides along at 30mph with greater ease. It is wonderfully smooth in its instant acceleration, with 60mph being reached before you realise it, and 25mph being obtained on general running.
Registration is only £7.
Definitely something out of the ordinary; something different and something of beauty to last a lifetime.
Our featured car is owned by Rodney White, who bought this unique 1929 Morris in Bowral NSW during 1986, as a restoration project. According to Rodney, there are only a half dozen Morris Isis of this genre to have survived the tyranny of time in Australia.
This car is the first of the series manufactured until 1931, before specification changes from 1932 to 1935 were made.
Rodney undertook a 25-year journey, locating parts and restoring his treasured piece of motoring history to a standard that is a credit to his determination and skill, as not only a first-class motor mechanic and machinist, but also to his expertise in metal fabrication and spray painting.
Rodney lived in Goulburn, firstly serving as an apprentice motor mechanic and engine reconditioning machinist and later owning his own business, with machine shop, diesel injection pump reconditioning and calibration room, as well as handling the repair and sale of new and used farming equipment.
He said: “The Isis was fairly complete, but there were still many parts to source that were either missing or in non-reclaimable condition, so I spent many weekends scouring swap meets and jumble sales in search of elusive components.
“In fact, I had located a complete car in the nearby town of Yass and I knew it would be a great parts donor for the project, but the owner had intentions of restoring and didn’t wish to sell it.”
However, Rodney used to call in from time to time until, finally, one day the guy said the restoration was beyond him and he’d let it go.
By this time the car had been stripped and parts were all around the property, with the body resting in the open, so the conglomeration took a day and a half to round up after Rodney purchased it, but he knew he would be able to salvage many valuable items that he may need.
As it happened, he used much of the body from the donor car he’d bought in Yass.
He also found many pieces of brassware at swap meets.
“As luck would have it, I found the unique centre section of the front bumper bar by chance at a swap meeting in Berrima,” said Rodney.
Another gem was uncovered at a jumble sale where, after sorting through a pile of tinware, he came across a hubcap with the word ‘Isis’ inscribed on it.
When Rodney asked the price, the stall-holder was curious as to why he wanted it. Rodney just asked again how much he wanted for it and , to his surprise, the stall-holder said ‘$10’. Rodney smiled: “It was the spare wheel centre cap that I thought I would never find.”
When it came time for painting, the mudguards were sprayed in black two-pack by the panel shop that fettled much of both the original and Yass bodywork, but Rodney painted the main section of the body and wheels himself.
“Fortunately most of the interior was intact,” said Rodney. “So a local upholster was able to use it as a template, covering the seats in the same quality of leather as the original.
“He also re-covered the door cards to original spec’, as well as the headlining and rear window blind.”
As you would expect, with Rodney’s mechanical trade background, he rebuilt the engine himself. He had the pistons made by JD in Adelaide and re-metalled the main and big-ends bearings himself in the time-honoured fashion – no slipper bearing inserts in those days.
He said: “I scratched my head as to where I would get a timing chain and then I looked up a Morse chain catalogue and sure enough it was just a standard Morse chain.
“The replacement valves are standard Chev V8 and I just bored the old guides to suit the stems.
“I also re-raced the three-speed gearbox and differential and furbished the 14-inch drum diameter Lockheed hydraulic braking system.”
Rodney said the clutch was a challenge:
“The original clutch plate had cork inserts and ran in oil from the engine sump, but when I relined it with standard facings it refused to disengage.
“After removing the gearbox and inspecting it, the reason was obvious: while the linings had oil slots, there was still too much frictional clamping area, so with some experimentation and with the use of fewer and lighter-tension pressure plate springs – plus some frustration – I finally had it operating perfectly.”
Rodney said the thrust bearing system is quite unusual, being fed with oil from the engine.
Another unique operating system worked the Lucas ‘King of the Road’ headlights:
“They’re vacuum-controlled to dip by tilting the entire headlight assembly and at the same time one of them turns off in sympathy with the dipping mechanism, apparently to eliminate glare to oncoming traffic!” laughed Rodney.
Rodney White is a member of the NSW South Coast Classic and Vintage Motor Club and was proud to take home a trophy for the People’s Choice Best Car Award from the Club’s 2014 display day.