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Beetling about in a Morris 8 Series E called ‘Coleoptera’

Martin Smith’s Morris 8 Series E was called ‘Coleoptera’ after the genus of beetles because it looked like one. Picture supplied by Martin Smith

Martin Smith’s Morris 8 Series E was called ‘Coleoptera’ after the genus of beetles because it looked like one. Picture supplied by Martin Smith

supplied by Martin Smith

Martin Smith christened his first four-wheeled car ‘Coleoptera’ because the Morris 8 Series E looked like a beetle.

This is the tale of my first four-wheeled car. To explain, I helped at a motorcycle shop from about the age of 14. Bikers would come in to show off newly-acquired 650s one week then return with broken limbs – and bikes – the next.

Deciding that wasn’t for me, when I reached 16 in 1965, I bought a Bond three-wheeler – 250cc of soft-top freedom. All went well for about six months until I was stopped by a policeman who asserted I wasn’t allowed to drive it – in those days, at 16, you didn’t argue and accepted a policeman knew the law. Now, I’m sure he was wrong.

Anyway, I sold the Bond and bought a 125cc MV Agusta which went rather well but I always felt vulnerable, even though I only ‘dropped’ it once.

As soon as I reached 17, a ‘real’ car beckoned so I sold the MV and used the funds to get a black Morris 8 Series E.

The reasons were that it was within budget at £15 plus £15 insurance, a school friend already had one, it came as standard with a cool opening sunroof and, probably the main reason, it wasn’t a Ford which, at that time, were mainly three speed with rod brakes and pneumatic wipers. The Morris was the height of affordable sophistication with a four-speed gearbox, hydraulic brakes and electric wipers.

OK, it also had six-volt electrics, so rubbish lights, wooden floors and no heater – demisting was accomplished by opening the windscreen a tad, if it wasn’t raining too hard.

It only had one real flaw. When starting off it would jump out of first gear if not held in with the gearstick. Not a problem, except on hill starts – hand on handbrake, knee under gearstick and foot on clutch.

Amazingly, I passed my driving test, including a hill start, in it – the examiner sold me a reconditioned gearbox and a ‘Silvertop’ high-performance alloy head. As its reward, I fitted the gearbox and head, repainted its bonnet and roof a fetching maroon and christened it ‘Coleoptera’ – the genus of beetles as the Morris 8 looked beetle-like and it was a play on ‘Cleopatra’.

I never did see any performance improvement from the alloy head. Acceleration was best described as torpid – probably a godsend given the handling with beam axle on cartsprings.

The Jet garage sold petrol at four shillings and 11 pence (24p) a gallon and open pint glass bottles of thick oil – it used a few drops.

It never broke down and saw me through my college days. I eventually sold it to a college friend and bought £28 worth of Morris Minor.

Some time later, it came back to have a holed piston replaced and was then sold to another friend – the driver in the picture. To my regret, I didn’t take photos of any of my early cars.

Tell us about the adventures you had in your first car – email your memories with a picture of the car to or post it to Andy Russell, Archant motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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