My First Car: Remembering the 1956 Morris Oxford

Like many first cars, this 1956 Morris Oxford had its fair share of quirks—and then some!

The year was 1962. I had just turned 21 when I bought my first car, which cost $400 and my dad had to co-sign. It was a dark-green 1956 four-seater Morris Oxford—with some pretty serious idiosyncrasies, as it turned out.

A big one was the recurring need to get the car going with a push, while manipulating the gas and clutch pedals at the same time; this, of course, usually happened to me when I was trying to get off to work in the pouring rain.

I was renting a room in Vancouver at the time, about 30 miles away from my parents’ home. It was located in a congested neighbourhood with cars parked on both sides of the street, leaving one tiny lane for traffic. Another little gem of a gremlin in the works was that the gas pedal would stick—always very exciting on those narrow streets!

And then, why not, the brake pedal would stick, too. Just great, after push-starting the car and grinding my way up through the gears, the brake would engage all by itself and I’d grind to a sudden halt. I’m sure these occurrences gave rise to more than a few derisive comments about female drivers from the usual suspects.

Things gradually calmed down until one day, while driving a girl friend home, all of a sudden—no power! I rolled to a stop in front of a store and my friend went in to use the phone (pre-cellphone days!) to call her husband. Hubby showed up soon enough and, checking under the hood, he muttered something about a missing fuel pump. I wouldn’t know a fuel pump from a flashlight! After more muttering, he popped open the trunk—the “boot” to us Brits—and lo and behold, there it was! He dickered with the gizmo for a while and I was soon off and running. But these random power outages rapidly became another of the car’s notorious character traits. Every time it happened, I’d glide to a stop, open the trunk and kick at the fuel pump until the engine ticked over.

Wipe Away the Tears

You wouldn’t think that windshield wipers could be a major problem but, on this car, they never shut off. As I discovered though, you could take them right off! Hey, no problem—except you had to shut the motor off exactly when a little cog on the wipers was in the right position. And the same rule applied when you wanted to put them back on. I kept the wipers handy in the back seat for rainy weather—quite frequent in Vancouver.

The wipers’ quirk led to the most embarrassing moment I ever had while giving someone a lift. My passenger was an international student—very attractive and worldly, who was working her way around the globe. It started to rain and I began to get strange looks when I didn’t turn on the wipers. I knew then that I’d have to bite the bullet and get those wipers on. I pulled over, shut the motor off, grabbed the wipers from the back seat, got out and jammed them on. But, you guessed it—I forgot to check that the cog was in the right position when I stopped the engine. When I started the car again, the wipers kicked into gear and began clearing rain off of the hood instead of the windshield.

If my passenger had smiled or said something, anything, my embarrassment would not have been so acute. I had better luck with the cog on my second attempt and off we went in awkward silence.

I don’t recall ever seeing that girl again. Oddly enough, I can’t remember selling that most memorable first car. My next one was an Austin Healy Sprite—wonderful! It didn’t like the rain either, but oh those sunny days with the top down—nothing like it!

Next, read the incredible story of how one man missed out on his dream car as a teenager—then found it parked in his driveway 25 years later!

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Originally Published in Our Canada