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Vauxhall Corsavan

Vauxhall Corsavan Published: 30th Apr 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Vauxhall Corsavan
Vauxhall Corsavan
Vauxhall Corsavan
Vauxhall Corsavan
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Take a Vauxhall Corsavan and graft on a Minor front end and you have the Corsor – and it works as good as it looks reckons Richard Dredge

Few cars are as instantly recognisable as the Morris Minor, 70 this year, but when you see George Hillier’s commercial model head-on, something doesn’t look quite right. The roof line is a bit too high, so you move round to get a better look and things start to get seriously weird. The shut lines are far better than anything that ever came out of Cowley in the 1960s, and on the offside there’s a sliding door that looks distinctly 21st century. That’s because it isn’t a Morris Minor – it’s a Corsa-based Vauxhall Combo van with a Minor nose grafted on.

George told us: “Back in 2009 I had a friend called Chris who wanted to buy a Morris Minor van. He used to restore them for other people as a hobby and he really wanted one with a diesel engine, but of course they didn’t make such a thing. By chance I happened to buy a crash-damaged Vauxhall Combo van that needed new front-end panels. I fitted standard replacement parts then Chris noticed that the width was very similar to that of the Minor. Could we buy a set of Minor panels and make them fit?.”

The ex-BT van had covered just 22,000 miles so it was in rude health, its 1248cc diesel engine being barely run in. Morris Minor panels are easy to source on a new basis, thanks to a network of specialists and a very active owners’ club. One of those specialists was based near George and when it was approached about getting involved in the project it was only too happy to donate a decent bonnet – it was keen to see the project reach fruition as it was intrigued by the whole thing. With the requisite parts acquired, George and Chris set about fitting them to the Vauxhall.

George continues: “To ensure that the car continued to comply with all of the relevant regulations we had to retain its basic front end, which meant its inner wings, support panels and the slam panel. Making everything fit was tricky because you need everything to line up, and obviously the Combo van’s nose has a different profile from the Minor’s. The hardest part of all was accommodating the fusebox as the wing encroaches into the space on which it’s mounted on the inner wing. But with a lot of fettling we made it all fit, although it took a lot of work to make everything line up”.

Having created something so brilliant, George decided he’d rather like to put it into limited production, so other people could enjoy the practicality of a diesel-powered Minor van. His first step was to go to a Morris Minor show where, unsurprisingly, his creation went down a storm.

There were some sceptics too, who reckoned the market was non-existent, but George proved them wrong by getting four people to sign up to buying one.

He adds: “I set up a website, now defunct, to gauge interest and it became clear that if the conversion was priced somewhere between £2000 and £3000 there were enough people keen enough to justify setting up small-scale production. Of the four people who were seriously interested, two were disabled as the Combo is very wheelchair-friendly. They found the idea of a small diesel-powered van with that retro look very appealing, but to move the project to the next stage was going to take more time than I had available, so it all went a bit quiet”.

Looking at George’s creation it’s clear that it’s a prototype as it doesn’t have the polish of a production car. It’s 95 per cent of the way there, but it’s that last five per cent that takes the time, getting everything to line up perfectly with tight, even gaps. But it’s impressive that everything looks and coordinates as good as it does, considering the two cars that have been mated together were built decades apart.

To ensure the bonnet release mechanism works properly, the original bonnet is retained and the Minor item is fixed on top. That might not sound very slick but in fact it actually works very well, and although the release mechanism is awkward to reach, the bonnet opens and shuts without a problem. The Union Jack grille is a nice touch too.

Says George: “When the project fizzled out I continued to run the vehicle and it’s continued to get lots of interest wherever I’ve taken it. I get stopped sometimes, by people keen to take pictures because they can’t believe what they’re seeing. It would have been great to have produced a few more, but it was just going to take too much time to pull everything together and I had too many other things going on”.

Now, after eight years with his van, George has decided to sell it. Earlier this year he listed it on eBay and with 28,740 views – and no fewer than 970 people watching it – you’d think the van would have found a buyer easily enough. But the reserve wasn’t reached so it remains in George’s barn.

If he can find someone prepared to part with the requisite £3750 the van will be sold on, but otherwise, George has plans for it.

Having briefly driven the Corsor (or is it a Mina?) on the rural roads around George’s home, it’s easy to see why he doesn’t really mind if it fails to find a new home. The first thing that strikes you on the outside with the engine ticking over, is how the diesel clatter isn’t especially incongruous.

The CDTi engine sounds little noisier than a tappety petrol powerplant.

As you’d expect, there’s not even the merest hint of Minor about the driving experience once you’re on the move – it’s pure Vauxhall Combo. As such things major on comfort rather than speed, the soft suspension soaking up the bumps with ease. The steering is nicely weighted if rather devoid of feel (unlike the Morris), but the gearchange is slick and at low speeds the engine provides plenty of torque so the pick up is excellent. As you accelerate through the gears the engine gets a bit clattery but the power delivery (such as it is) is very linear, with no hint of peakiness.

Despite the Combo having been turned into a Minor over seven years ago, it’s still covered only 30,000 miles so it’s got plenty of life left in it. If it doesn’t sell, George’s plan is to turn it into a hybrid. As an eco-minded inventor George is constantly working on something or other to reduce his carbon footprint.

The current project is the creation of a fifth wheel which can mount onto the back of a car – or van. Based on an outboard motor, this wheel will sit behind the car and will act as a turbine to charge up a battery pack that sits in the van’s load bay. Then, with the batteries charged up, they can be used to power the fifth wheel which will push the van along at speeds of up to 70mph. This all sounds very high-tech for a lowly Vauxhall Combo van, but when the Morris Minor van was still in production, such technology would have been the stuff of science fiction. If you’re interested in buying George’s Vauxhall Minor van you can reach him on 01386 830 724 – but only drop him a line if you’re happy to be the centre of attention wherever you go.

A commercial break for the minor

Launched in 1948, the Morris Minor was the first British car to sell a million examples. Initially it came with a 918cc side-valve engine but from 1952 an 803cc A-Series overhead-valve unit was fitted. A year later the first LCVs (Light Commercial Vehicles) were delivered, with the 803cc engine; from 1956 this was upgraded to a 948cc unit then a 1098cc A-Series unit was fitted from 1962. All were petrol engines of course; while BMC did sell diesel-engined cars in the 1960s, the Minor wasn’t one of them. The last Minor LCV was built in February 1972, almost a year after the final saloon was made. Along the way 225,996 LCVs were produced, almost a quarter of which were snapped up by the Post Office, some fitted with novel rubber front wings for protection.

Tech spec

Engine: 1248cc, 4-cyl, 16-valve
Power: 73bhp
Torque: 125lb ft
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Top speed: 94mph
0-62mph: 15.9 seconds
CO2: 138g/km

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