The story of Pipe Perfection’s Australian Morris J Van

 Ask any plumber and he’ll tell you they stumble across all sorts of things as they visit their customers. That’s how Darren Clancy came up with the idea of restoring a J Van.

Darren was doing some plumbing work for Newtown car photographer, Peter Bateman, when he set eyes on the photographer’s Morris J-Type van. It was love at first sight – but the van was definitely not for sale.

“I decided there and then we’d have to get one,” recalls Darren. “Apart from anything else, a vintage van looked like a fun way to help promote our expertise in plumbing for vintage houses.”

J-Type vans don’t come on the market that often, but pretty soon Darren and partner Alayne had tracked one down near Cairns and a deal was done.

A van that earned its crust

Like most J Vans (as they are known), the Pipe Perfection van was put to work as soon as it was ready for the road in 1958. After arriving in Australia in CKD (Completely Knocked Down) form, it was assembled at the Nuffield plant in Rosebery in Sydney.

First delivered to Guest’s Bakery in Wangaratta, it was soon sporting the Sunnycrest livery after Guest’s was taken over. After long service – perhaps 20 years – ownership passed to the ‘Wang Rovers’ footie club, which used it as a their party van and mobile Esky. Worse still, it was painted in a glittering purple!

Luckily, the van was then purchased by J Van enthusiast (or custodian, as they like to be called) Steve Hartnell, who took it to Queensland and commenced restoration. Sanding back the hideous purple paint revealed the Sunnycrest red – and the van’s history literally came to light. While restoration stalled, Steve had painted the van the green it is today before putting it on the market in 2011.

Missing in action

After finding the van, the next hurdle was transporting it 2,500kms back to Sydney.

You might think that sending a truck to bring a small van back to Sydney would be pretty straight forward. Not so, as it turned out. The first truck driver refused to load the van because it had some parts in the back. The next trucking company subcontracted the job – and then the fun really began. “The van left Cairns as planned, but the trucking company lost track of it,” says Darren. “This went for about three weeks, at which stage we asked whether we should report it stolen from their yard!”

Meanwhile, the word went out among the J Van fraternity – which turned out to be the right move. Soon, Brisbane truck driver and J Van custodian Michael Freeman called Peter Bateman saying that he’d just seen a green J-Type going south over the Gateway Bridge! “This was the first we knew of it even having left Cairns,” says Darren. “Mike had some contacts and was able to find out where it was.”

Getting stuck into restoration

By now it was January 2012. Luckily, the local mechanic who services Pipe Perfection’s vans had done his apprenticeship on Morris vehicles and was able to get the engine running again. The radiator was full of rust and mud and had to be rebuilt. “I’ve seen some blocked drains in my life, but this rivalled any of them,” says Darren. Meanwhile, Darren and Alayne were busy sourcing parts from the UK, New Zealand and Australia – and where they couldn’t be found, had them custom made.

Replacement drum brakes turned out to be the hardest parts to find. Darren recalls, “We called, emailed and hassled people from Campbelltown to the UK with no luck, but the Peter Bateman located what we needed in the roof of a home in the northern beaches.”

Another challenge was rewiring the old girl. Unable to find an auto electrician who was interested in the task, Darren spent 30 hours rewiring the van, using some 20 metres of wiring in the process. “It was a bit like restoring the plumbing of an old house,” comments Darren, “If you can’t get what you need ‘off-the-shelf’, you have to use a little ingenuity to solve the problems that arise.”

Then it was time get a ‘Blue Slip’ – and after a minor setback on the first attempt, the Pipe Perfection J Van – by now named ‘Pippy’ by Darren and Alayne’s kids – was back on the road after a rest of nearly 30 years!

The finishing touch

There was one last thing to do before the J Van could start earning her keep as a mobile billboard. “We wanted to signwrite her for the business,” says Alayne Clancy, “But the modern livery of our other vehicles didn’t seem right. So we came up with the idea of using the old plumber’s wrench as a symbol and the slogan ‘Have a happy day’. And you know, that’s what our little van does. She puts a smile on the face of every one who sees her.”

As a matter of interest, Pippy has become perhaps the most travelled (including being towed) J Van in the world. It went from Wangaratta to Darwin and then on to Cairns then back to Sydney!

About Morris J Vans in Australia

It is not known how many J vans worked in Australia but thousands were assembled at the Nuffield (BMC) plant in Joynton Avenue, Rosebery in Sydney. Although the plant is long gone and has been replaced by a huge apartment development, new streets such as Morris Ave and Wolseley Ave serve as reminders of the area’s past. So does the area’s new name, Victoria Park – the name of a racecourse that occupied the ground before the Nuffield works.

Large customers included the NRMA with 101 J-Types and the Gas & Fuel Corporation, while many bakery fleets across the country relied on them to deliver fresh bread to homes and businesses.

John Young

About Pipe Perfection

Pipe Perfection is Sydney’s only plumbing expert with a money-back happiness guarantee. Being based in the inner west, Pipe Perfection has built up specialised expertise in taking care of plumbing, drainage, roofing and gas installation and repairs for the vintage houses so popular in the area – with an old-fashioned commitment to punctuality and courtesy. Need a plumber? Call Pipe Perfection… and have a happy day!

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