A car trip down memory lane

By Kristy Turner, Museum Manager and Curator

If you visit our lovely museum, on the ground floor you will find an amazing old car, a Bullnose Morris, that dates from 1923. Amazingly, in the 1920’s, 45% of all cars on the roads in the UK were Bullnose Morris, mainly because of their reliability. All the engines, gearboxes and axles were manufactured in Detroit, America and then assembled in Cowley, Oxfordshire. It gained its endearing name from the shape of its radiator.

The engine is a 1500 side valve, mated to a 3 speed gearbox which produced about 15bhp. At that time it was said to have a  ‘sprightly turn of speed’ of up to 45mph, but to drive at those speeds would have been madness with only having brakes on the two rear wheels.

The hand stitched leather seats, the crank handle at the front to start it and an antique air pump horn, take us back to a time when driving was a luxury. The running boards along the sides give it a real Chitty Chitty Bang Bang look.

The YA number plate tells us that the car was first registered for road use in 1923 in Somerset and originally it was a two seater runabout with a ‘dicky seat’ or trunk at the rear. The canvas hood would have folded back for glamorous travelling on sunny days but it can now no longer be dropped due to the alterations. In the 1930’s or 40’s, when the car would have been considered old, a Devon farmer bought it and converted it into a pickup truck. The rear section was removed and a cage back added to transport animals to and from the farm. Recycling at its best!

There are several plaques and badges on the car suggesting that the owner in the 1950’s joined the Morris Bullnose Club and attended several rallies. This club is still in existence today.

In the year 2000 the Museum of Dartmoor Life purchased the ‘truck’ for £5000 which was 25 times the price it would have been when new. If funds ever become available, the museum would really love to be able to restore the vehicle to its former glory.