It seems to be an odd place to garage a fleet of early 1960s Minis, this green valley tucked into the foothills of the Victorian alps. The original Mini was, after all, the essence of inner city chic. They were smart cars before congestion spawned the Smart Car.
Yet here they are, 45 of them garaged on the side of an unsealed road that ends at the highway to the snowfields. Peter and Karen Morris don’t argue with the term ‘obsession’ for their love of the Mini 850. Peter has restored 16 of them, of which all but two are club-registered and driven regularly.
He does everything: panel beating, painting, most of the engine restoration, and upholstering. Karen writes the cheques so Peter can say his cars have cost him not one cent. “I encourage Peter,” says Karen. “I love them just as much as he does.”
The extraordinary thing is the fleet has been put together in only seven years, reconnecting Karen and Peter with the cars they enjoyed before children came along. “We had Minis before we got married,” Karen says, “but after Christopher was born I couldn’t get his bassinet in the car, so in 1982 we sold them.”
While he plans more restorations, Peter’s real pleasure is driving: at least once a year one of the fleet is chosen for the trip to Queensland to visit grandchildren.
Meanwhile, Peter organises convoys of his fleet, loaning them out for others to drive on local roads. “I love seeing them on the road,” Peter says. “The trouble is I am always at the front (of the convoy) so I don’t get to see that much.”
Nor does he worry about them being driven over unsealed roads. “The Mini got a very good review for its suspension on corrugated roads very early in the piece,” Peter says.
Each of their cars has a name, even those that, like ‘Houdini’, are yet to be restored. ‘Alla’ was bought in the town of Kialla; ‘Yack’ from Yackandandah; and Houdini? Houdini almost bounced off the trailer bringing him home, so Peter reckoned he was an aspiring escape artist. Just once Karen and Peter have had to call on the club’s roadside assistance service.
“We were up in Sydney with ‘Darrell’ (a 1963 model named for his previous owner),” Peter explains. “We had been driving in pouring rain for a few hours and stopped to buy milk and ‘Darrell’ wouldn’t restart.” Darrell did eventually restart, but only as the tow truck arrived.
There is one quality the Minis have that they lacked when they rolled off the production line. That is, the ability to connect people. “Wherever you go, people want to tell you their story, what they did in their Mini,” Peter says. “They might complain that they were always running out of petrol because the tanks were too small … but they all tell their story with a smile on their face.”
It has a Morris Minor bonnet and a Mini engine. It looks like a home-made jeep. It is the odd one out of Peter and Karen’s Mini collection. If anyone knows its history, Peter would like to hear it. He can be contacted on 5778 7515.