Dream shop truck: Resto mod Morris J-type Van

Graeme Collins's Morris J-van goes, stops, does skids and looks damn cool


Two blokes called Graeme work some magic on a couple of beat-up Morris J-type vans to create this Holden V6-powered wonder

This article on Graeme’s van as originally published in the July 2015 issue of Street Machine

ALL Morris J-type vans turn heads, but Graeme Collins’s V6 J-type positively cricks the spine. Graeme started with a spare V6, two abandoned J-type vans and a long-held idea. But transforming that idea into the super-slick van you see before you didn’t happen overnight.

Morris J-van rearA clue to how this all began can be found in the ‘Fitzroy Motors’ signwriting on Graeme’s Morris J hottie. Fitzroy Motors was started in 1948 by Graeme’s dad Stan and wartime chum Roy Willi. At a loose end after exploits in Papua New Guinea, the two friends returned home to Warwick, Queensland, and started a garage that sold Jowett Javelins, Fiat cars and tractors. In the early 50s the agency for Austin came their way; BMC and Leyland soon followed.

Graeme began a mechanical apprenticeship there in ’64, and took over the reins of the dealership in the early 70s.

As a teenager Graeme had noticed the occasional Morris J driving around town; it was a popular delivery vehicle back in the 50s. Assembled at Zetland in Sydney from components shipped from the UK, J-vans were used by The NRMA, Tip Top Bakeries, the Gas & Fuel Corporation of Victoria and large grocery chains like Moran & Cato.

Morris J-van frontBasically, operators who wanted a small workhorse chose the Morrie J; they were not fast, they were not luxurious, but in the 50s being practical and functional worked. The local milkman had bought three from Graeme’s dad.

But there was one 1956-era van, parked and neglected, that Graeme walked past daily for 30 years. Following a frontal prang in the late 50s, this van had gone to a wrecker, who used it to keep his firewood dry. Graeme took it upon himself to rescue the van to kickstart his own J-van dream.

Morris J-vanHe cleaned out the firewood and stored the van in his workshop to sit beside his other impressive pet projects until a good chassis could be found.

Eventually Graeme stumbled upon a second Morrie J, this one a 1954 model. It had been a paddock feature on the Cairns-Redlynch road for well over 25 years. The front nosecone, grille and rolling chassis were useable, but most repairers would have seen it as a nightmare to return to working order. It had to be wrapped in plastic to stop it falling apart for the journey down to Warwick. This van was to donate its chassis and nose section for Graeme’s V6 J.

Morris J-van interiorAn old Ford Econovan was used to supply front and rear ends and a V6 powerplant from a VR Commodore was positioned in the old J chassis. But it soon became apparent that some specialist skill was needed if Graeme was to complete his dream, so Oz Rods near Brisbane was offered the project. As Oz Rods’ Graeme Parmenter dryly puts it: “We’ll take on any shit here!”

The two Graemes collaborated on a remarkable transformation. Oz Rods started by dropping the engine lower in the existing J-type chassis. A four-link coil-over system was added to the rear end, to allow for a lower stance.

Oz Rods added a fair bit of steel bracing in and around the original J’s chassis to ensure a rigid base on which to carry a much-strengthened body, all to facilitate more oomph – the original four-pot sidevalve could only manage 36hp, after all!

Morris J-vanGraeme Parmenter says the body wasn’t too bad, though “we had to split the back section behind the doors and pump it out a fair bit”.

Heaps of beating and shrinking is required on any Morrie J to get the sides taut and looking straight; this was no exception. A large amount of rust-cutting was required in the usual places – around the wheelarches, the sills, and the back where the body sits on the chassis. There was also a window hole to be filled in; not an easy task with such large flat sides. It’s a credit to the Oz Rods team that the body is so straight.

It’s the work done on the grille, though, that truly stands out. Graeme Collins only had the rusted grille from the Redlynch van, which had been sitting in the red Atherton Tableland dirt and had lost the base to rust. Thanks to the skill of Oz Rods’ metal artisans, it is now perfect.

Morris J-van interiorGraeme Collins chose a dash from a ’51 Chev styleside ute that had been lying around. It needed to be narrowed and tidied to fit, but now it really looks the part. All mod cons are now included, too, and not only does the V6 rapidly punt the van along, it now has effective stoppers.

In the old days the J-type did have a good turning circle, but even Popeye needed two cans of spinach to do a three-point turn. Thankfully this diet is no longer required. A Flaming River steering set-up has been fitted and has proved to be a very comfortable and accurate unit, and coupled with nicely located and comfortable leather-trimmed seats from a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, cruising for hours is a breeze.

Old J drivers became somewhat hard of hearing due to the prolonged clatter from the back and the screaming from the four cylinders beside your left leg, but this has now been completely rectified thanks to acres of Dynamat. Let us also not forget the old engine’s radiant heat, which cooked many a left leg! Graeme has solved this problem by relocating the engine to fit under the seats, with ducting and Dynamat to keep things cool.

Morris van fenderGraeme Collins had planned to paint his J a modern shade of grey, but on a regular visit to Oz Rods he noticed a paintjob in a champagne hue; hence, the van now shimmers in the old HK Monaro Silver Mink.

Completing the J’s transformation is another HK element – the front bumper. The old Js either had none, which the Australian authorities found a statute or six to get upset about, or a ‘bumper’ that took skin off your shins or tore your best strides if you passed too close. So Graeme shortened a front HK bumper, trimming it to fit. It is so good you barely notice it; there’s no chance of tagging your shins on this one.

Morris J-van onroadSince being registered, Graeme’s van has been to a couple of Queensland shows, to very positive reactions. The old timers relive fond memories, while the youngsters want to know what the hell it is.

It will soon see serious roadwork after Graeme puts a protective layer on the leading edge of the rear guards – they pick up too many stone chips, and that just won’t do.

Morris J-van onroadNow, after half a lifetime, Graeme has arguably the best modified J in the world. It has a new donk, it sits lower, it boogies, it stops – and it turns heads just like the old Js did.

Colour: Silver Mink

Donk: Holden 3.8-litre V6
Box: Four-speed auto

Front end: Ford Econovan
Rear end: Econovan diff and axles, four-link, coil-overs
Brakes: Discs all ’round

Dash: Customised Chev styleside ute
Wheel: Billet Specialties Outlaw, Flaming River column
Gauges: Classic Instruments
Seats: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, retrimmed in leather

Rims: American Racing (f & r)
Tyres: Maxxis MA-P1 205/65R15 (f), Maxxis Bravo H/T 255/70R15 (r)