Car being restored in son's memory

WHEN the MG Midget arrived for repairs at Peter Morton's garage John Major was prime minister and excitement was growing about football coming home for Euro 96.

WHEN the MG Midget arrived for repairs at Peter Morton's garage John Major was prime minister and excitement was growing about football coming home for Euro 96.

Thirteen years on and the 1970 English classic, partially covered by a sheet, is still a silent fixture amid the clutter of tools and leads in the village workshop, its throaty engine still not ready to roar back into life.

Tucked away at the back and obscured by a ramp, its continued presence - through the entire Blair years and three World Cups - has become a long-standing joke among customers of PDM Autocare in North Burlingham, near Norwich.

Mr Morton, 46, who has run the thriving neighbourhood garage in Main Road since 1985, takes all the leg-pulling in good part but he is quick to point out the time the job has taken has nothing to do with the pace of Norfolk life and everything to do with a set of very unusual circumstances.

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The father of two said: “The work was commissioned by Simon Needham for whom I had done a previous restoration. When I picked up the MG from Cantley it was no more than a shell and a box of bits.”

As was always the case with a big project, he impressed on the customer that he could not say how long it would take because it had to be fitted in as a labour of love around his regular servicing and repair work.

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In this case, the pace of work had been slowed even more by the fact that classic car enthusiast Mr Needham lived in Germany where he worked for a bank.

Initially, he had dropped in every six months or so to give instructions on what work to do next, but over time the contact had become less frequent because of Mr Morton's busy lifestyle.

Four years ago, Mr Morton heard that Mr Needham had died and he moved the unfinished car to his father's barn at Church Farm, North Burlingham, until someone claimed it.

He said: “It was about two years ago when my father wanted me to move the car out the barn that I managed to make contact with Mr Needham's father and he said he wanted me to finish the job.

“He was in no hurry but I have done a lot of hours in the last two years and I have said it will be finished this year. He comes in every Friday now to see me and watch the progress.”

Owen Needham, 76, of Blofield, near Norwich, said when his son died at the age of 47 leaving his widow Anita and two daughters he had been unaware of the car's existence.

He said: “I knew Simon had one classic car but not two. Because he was having it done up for his wife I decided I wanted the restoration completed to showroom condition to present it to her.”

Mr Needham, a retired manager at Cantley sugar factory, said he would ask her whether she wanted him to take it over to her home in Trier, in Germany, or sell it and give her the proceeds.

Meanwhile, yesterday busily finishing work on a modern Rover 45, Mr Morton promised that his regular customers could be guaranteed a service measured in days and hours - rather than years.

And he added that it was not so uncommon for garages to have cars in their workshop for long periods for various reasons.

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