This morning I woke to the sad news that Charles Ware had passed away. Of course there is a slim chance that the name will mean nothing to you, but for Morris Minor enthusiasts and owners of a certain age, he could arguably be regarded as one cog in the machine that kept the humble ‘Moggy’ on the road for future generations to love and enjoy.
Now before I go all misty-eyed, I shall point out two things: firstly that I only ever met the man once and secondly, that at the time I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of what Mr Ware’s outfit seemed to pushing heavily – the theory that in order to keep the Morris Minor on the road, it was best to uprate and modify various key components.
Of course, 23 years later, and I’ll admit that perhaps my opposition was a little misguided, but at the time I was an eager wannabe Morris 1000 owner that truly believed that things should be left alone and that if I wanted disc brakes, then I should bloody well go and buy a modern car. In hindsight, the disc-brake conversion and 1275cc Marina engine swap that seemed to form the basis for Charles Ware’s upgrade package was actually very well thought out and not at all that drastic – certainly not compared to some of the more extreme conversions that have been done since, but at the time it felt like heresy.
Living near Newbury, I also never had any reason to go to Ware’s centre which, at the time, was based in Bath, but rather handily he had an outpost just 15 minutes up the road from me in Inkpen.
Officially dubbed the ‘Sales Centre’, this was in effect a huge old farm building that housed the stock that Bath couldn’t fit, but for me it was some sort of Mecca and I practically lived there.
During my ‘wilderness year’ (the 12 months spent driving an Austin Mini Metro while I yearned for my first ‘proper’ classic), I would frequent the Sales Centre that, unless you had the official ‘find us’ map, could well have remained a mystery for evermore.
Saturday mornings were my favourite time to visit (they were open until 12pm), and I would park my Metro out of sight and casually amble in and spend as long as I could justify nosing around the stock – mentally picking out a favourite and wondering how I could afford it. Of course, these were all ‘au naturel’ – untouched by the hand of Ware other than to give them the once over and deem them fit for sale; the modified ‘showcase’ cars were in Bath and seemed to fly off the forecourt. Fortunately for me, they were also way out of my financial reach.
Eventually I managed to ditch the Metro and let my father persuade me into buying a 1971 Traveller that was half-rotten thanks to being kept in an open-sided car port, yet that just gave me even more reason to spend my weekends at Inkpen and this time I could justifiably bother the mechanics there as well, although I don’t think I ever told them about our method of levering the new side of ash frame in to place with a section of old oak starcase…
I swear that it was no coincidence that the road leading up to the Sales Centre was one of the worst I have ever known, and I truly believed that it was a cunning plan to shake as many bits off of an owners Moggy en route, before then boosting your parts sales once they arrived, but it was a price I was willing to pay on a regular basis.
Then one weekday when I happened not to be travelling to art college, I arrived at Inkpen only to be met by the man himself. From memory he was a serious chap that didn’t seem to suffer fools gladly, but he was also a very fair man and I was constantly surprised that the cars he had up for sale didn’t have higher price tags attached to them. Clearly profit was not his prime concern in life and that was born out when he offered to put my recent acquisition up on the ramps and give me a verdict.
Once again, with hindsight, I believe he could have ripped the car to bits, such was its lack of structural integrity, but instead he saw a 19-year old who had finally achieved his dream and instead simply pointed out several bits and bobs that could ‘probably do with a bit of help’.
He didn’t quote for the work; he didn’t suggest I leave it with his mechanics; he didn’t even mention swapping the back axle for a Marina alternative or poke fun at my tired 1098cc engine, but he did send me away feeling good that I had now joined the ranks of happy Morris Minor owners.
Two decades on, and I now realise just how important Charles Ware’s offerings for the Moggy really were. The late 1980s and 1990s were a time when if it weren’t for true enthusiasts, humble classics at the non-London-based banker end of the market such as the Minor could easily have slipped onto the endangered list, but Ware devoted a part of his life to convincing people that if they wanted to use them every day, they could, and what’s more, they could do it convincingly.
I’m still not one for upgrading classics to be honest, but during my next oil change, I shall raise a pot of 20w50 to the man whose well-hidden Sales Centre was my place of worship and undoubtedly helped form my future hobby and career. Rest in Peace Mr Ware.