By Libby Christmas.
Designers aspire to produce products that will last. But in reality, we know that markets change and products are increasingly and rapidly superseded by newer and faster models. We therefore need to be mindful and plan for end of life, material consumption and design for disassembly. This expiry timeline applies to all products, including large ones like cars.
I recently decided to acquire some new skills and take on a challenge by reviving a 1961 Morris Minor. This car has a great design story and is a great example of early 1950’s styling. But it is 55 years old, has a bit of rust and a non-functioning engine that (if running, which it is not…) has less power than most current motorbikes. Not to be discouraged, the important thing is that it has the ‘potential’ to be revitalised into a product (skills allowing) that should live on for another 50-odd years. Many products of our era will have little chance of having a 10 year lifespan let alone 50, so the fact that this little car has endured for so long is an impressive feat already.
Although originally drawn to the Morris for its aesthetics, I’ve discovered it has a lot more to offer. This car, by no means a perfect specimen worth restoring, has allowed me to have some fun customising it rather than keeping true to its original condition. This has led me to consider what changes can be made to not only increase my driving comfort and the cars capacity to handle ‘modern’ driving conditions, but to also think about what other improvements can be made. So, last weekend I decided it would be great to replace the stick that holds the boot open with struts. (Apologies to Morris purists out there!) New struts could have been purchased but the issue was that I didn’t know exactly what strut I needed plus what mounts were required. It was decided that a visit to the local wreckers was in order.
Although these places look like junkyards, they open up a whole new world of re-use and recycling. For the cost of one new strut I was able to get 4, including mounts and brackets. I saved these mixed-material parts from potential landfill, sourced them from the next suburb from my house (so didn’t need to get them shipped from an overseas manufacturer) and paid my money to a local business providing a great service. They came from a car and a van that had both been in accidents; but a dinged up driver’s door doesn’t affect the functionality of these boot struts.
Old cars have charm and great design stories, and have long ago amortised their production energy and costs. With a bit of effort, there is potential to re-use or even upgrade these vehicles rather than either letting them rot or simply recycling them as low grade scrap.By re-invigorating various body, engine and other parts, a reclaimed and upgraded car can emerge from the rubble.
But aren’t these old cars just gas-guzzling hot-rods? Yeah there are a lot of these, but that’s not all of them. In addition to the recycling of parts, by incorporating current emissions and fuel technologies, these cars don’t have to be the gas-guzzlers you think of when you see a pimped up 1950’s style hot-rod. Instead they can run performance bio-fuels such as e85, or even be drag champion electric vehicles.
These types of modifications are gaining popularity with efficient and powerful 4 cylinder engines, and newer high-torque electric options. They’re often discussed by traditional car enthusiasts, with the most popular car show on YouTube Mighty Car Mods dedicating full episodes to an electric car, a bio-fuel facility, and several episodes modifying their vehicles to run e85 instead of ‘burning dinosaurs’ (oil).
Of course each of these has the potential to be good or bad depending on how the materials and fuel sources are produced, but that applies to all cars and is another topic altogether.
So next time you see a modified vintage car cruising past, consider the re-used and upcycled parts, the extended lifespan of the product and the local community supported during its build. And you never know, it might not be burning dinosaurs after all.