THERE’S an old line about complimenting someone on their antiques – “what antiques?” – that comes to mind as Geoff Morse explains his field of specialty. As does another old line: choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
When Morse, 68, started repairing cars in his original service station 43 years ago, Leyland Australia was still manufacturing cars like the P76 and Mini, and a significant number of cars on the road were British.
That was especially true among sports cars, with dominant 1960s machines like the MGB and Austin Healey Sprite, by then even more affordable on the used market.
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Morse’s servo in Sydney’s Beacon Hill gained a good reputation because he put his money where his mouth was. He raced Group S (classic sports cars) for more than 35 years, only letting his CAMS licence lapse last year.
“Back then I had various race cars; an early [Lotus] Clubman, a Sunbeam Tiger, MGs. I always put them out the front of the service station because I see it as a good way to attract new business.”
Business expanded to two service stations and there was no shortage of interesting stuff to work on. “We used to work on a P76 Targa Florio, an ex-works car, that belonged to Evan Green. He lived just down the road from us.”
Almost unnoticed over the first 17 years, the regular Pommy shitters fell away, but sports car business at Morse’s servos just kept on keeping on. In 1991, he bought the Morris Minor Centre in nearby Manly Vale and moved everything, including similarly experienced mechanic Richard Caller, over there. In 2001, the business was rebranded as Peninsula Sports Cars.
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Today, Morse and Caller also work on modern sports cars and they still get a “dribbling” of Morrises, Minis and the like. But 75 percent of the business is MGs, going back to pre-war P and T types, but mostly As and Bs.
Asked to describe the typical MG customer, Morse says, “Old folks like me! Probably 70 percent are in their 60s or older, probably owned an MG before the kids and mortgage came along. Or they lusted after one and they’re getting it as a retirement toy.
“We’re restoring a ’71 B for a customer whose had it since brand new, but the last 10 years it’s sat in a carport with rats living in it. It’s a full restoration; it’s taken us a year to do it.
“We would do three or four full restos a year,” he continues. “We send out the bodywork and paint, but we do all the mechanical, trim, and electricals in-house. But the majority of our work is maintenance and improvements. We do five-speed gearbox conversions, brake upgrades, that kind of stuff.
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“A lot of our customers keep things totally original, but we have another section that wants a car that’s reliable and fun to drive. They want cars that are better on the road, but with period parts in them so they look right when you open the bonnet.”
Sometimes, old and new worlds collide: Morse is currently building an MGB Mk1 with complete MX-5 running gear.
There’s a lively industry in reproduction MG parts and Peninsula is an agent for one such, Moss Motors, from the US. A few canny businesses in the UK and Australia years ago cornered stashes of genuine BMC spares. “We’re working on a pre-war TA at the moment, and we’ve managed to get everything we need.”
What most concerns Morse is that nobody’s reproducing the likes of him and Caller. “That’s the biggest problem. My youngest mechanic here is 51. It really does make me worry, because there’s no young blokes coming along to learn the older cars and they don’t teach that stuff at tech. You hand them a carburettor or a distributor, they don’t even know what it is.”