Specialising in customising & restoring Minis & Mokes for over thirty years, Geoff Morgan’s the go-to for these British classics.
You bend it, I mend it”. As a motto for a business sign it’s an oldie but a goodie, and it reflects the all-round talents of Geoff Morgan and his Custom Design Body Works operation. Based at Boyne Island near Gladstone, Queensland, the 49-year old’s been panel beating, rust repairing, spray painting, restoring and mechanically enhancing for over three decades. His speciality is Minis and Mini Mokes, but as a true all-rounder, insists there isn’t a brand or vehicle type he won’t fix or restore.
Over the years his custom work has been seen on everything from a front-end loader to a fridge (really), and practically all else in between. “I’ll do motorbikes, tractors, trucks, everything,” he said, although it’s not hard to see his passion lies very strongly with the Mini badge. “I got my first Mini at age 14, and got pulled over in it by the cops at 15, so they took that off me for a little while,” he explained. “It didn’t help it was a yellow Mini with white roof and orange boot.”
This passion for the less-that-subtle has been reflected in Geoff’s work across the decades. His ‘HotMoke’ in the pictures has gone through numerous iterations over the years, and right now features a 1275cc Mini engine bored out to 1380cc, is coated in Spray Chief Violet Shim R paint and houses a custom stereo/TV combination in the back made of timber and fibreglass.
Such custom work isn’t as in demand as it used to be. It’s the full restorations to original that fills most of Geoff’s time. And the business in breathing renewed life into Minis and Mokes is stronger than ever, considering their value. Check the online classifieds and you’ll find a Moke on there for $80,000, and a handful more for over $50,000. Huge money. Classic Mini Coopers, too, have long now been the reserve of the wealthy enthusiast.
“This year I have five complete restoration jobs on Mokes and Minis, which is a full-time job in itself,” Geoff said. “The Mokes are easier as they’ve got less bits on them – they’re basically a trailer on wheels. Panels on a Moke are nearly all straight too, while on a Mini they’re obviously not.”
Geoff says he’ll do everything on them except upholstery, “but if I had a sewing machine I’d do that too,” he joked. His workshop has hoists and a spray booth, and, by the sounds of it, near endless storage. He reckons he has 70 cars at his premises, with some 35 of those in his storage shed. “About half of all of them work, the rest may be shells I bought for their dashboards, seats, even just their wheels,” Geoff said.
Considering today’s lofty values for such cars, and their increasing scarcity, Geoff’s large inventory of parts is a huge advantage. “People do occasionally bring me their car to restore, but mainly I have to source them or have something here already,” he said. “People have a wish list of what they want and I put together a price, although like most people, they change their mind half way through. It’s hard to put a price on the work when every car is different: a motor and ‘box today are worth $10,000 alone.”
Geoff said parts are easy to come by “because I’ve hoarded so many!” and he has folders and rollers on site for the body work. A full restoration on a Mini Cooper S costs around $30,000 he said, and that’s on top of the $20,000 you may need to spend to buy a beat-up example.
While Geoff likes the famed 1275cc engine – the big block of Minis – and can bore them out for better performance, his other trick is transplanting a 1.3-litre Toyota Starlet turbo motor into a Mini’s cramped engine bay. “Sometimes the purists don’t like that, but you’re getting over 160hp in a car that started with around 48hp,” he said. “I put four-wheel disc brakes in them to make sure they pull up, of course.”
Things can get more extreme. Geoff has a Mini pickup, converted to rear-wheel-drive, with turbocharged Mazda 12A rotary engine transplant good for 450hp. Then there’s his DeSoto hot rod, GT Capri, LJ Toranas, Ford Escorts and handful of more modern performance Fords all helping to keep him busy.
Although he’s in the business, his advice to anyone considering a restoration job is to have the skills to do it yourself as it’s so expensive to have others do it for you. “Hypothetically you could get a car already restored to save you money and time, but you sometimes don’t know what you’re getting,” Geoff explained. “If you do a classic restoration yourself, make sure you buy two of the same model if you can – one to do up, the other for spares.”
Even after all these years, Geoff’s passion appears as strong as ever. He’s proud that over the 21 years in a row he’s attended the Mini Owners Club of Queensland’s show, he’s managed to bring a different car or a different version of his ever-changing Moke. “It’s the go-kart feel of the Minis I like,” he said. “I love driving them and working on them.” A man satisfied in his work. What more could you ask for?
For more information visit www.hotmoke.com