Established in 1896, Wolseley was one of England’s first carmakers, quickly garnering a reputation for building quality vehicles. The first iteration was actually built by Herbert Austin who was, at the time, the companies General Manager. This simple three-wheeler would quickly morph into a four-wheeler, as did so many at the time, and by 1901 there was even a four cylinder five speed racer in the modest 3 model lineup. Over the years Wolseley’s would become increasingly larger and more refined, and by 1906 the J. D. Siddeley designed Wolseley-Siddeley boasted a 3.3 litre 201ci engine. After World War 1 the Wolseley lineup would swell to include the 7, the 10 (which was later replaced by the 11/22), and the 15 (which was later replaced by the 16/35 types). However the company never fully recovered after the war, and was taken over by Nuffield in 1927. Unfortunately it ever so slowly lost its identity over the following decades, particularly when ownership was assumed by BMC, who would simply "re-badge" the same model.
were a few highlights along the way though, such as the Morris Isis derived 21/60 of 1929 which boasted a six cylinder engine and hydraulic brakes. In 1930 came the 1.3 litre Hornet, the six cylinder engine being small in capacity but proving itself to be delightfully smooth and powerful. Through the 1930’s the company adopted the use of the famous “illuminated” Wolseley logo on the radiators, a feature that would remain a part of all Wolseley’s until the companies eventual demise. Following World War 2 there was the Eight, Ten and Twenty-Five, and by 1949 2 completely new models were released, the four cylinder 4/60 and the six cylinder 6/80, both engines being of overhead cam design.
But as rationalization spread through the British car industry, the Wolseley name became ever increasingly a badge over a brand. The last Wolseley appeared in 1975, then a re-badged Morris 1100, but when Leyland took control they re-named the car the Princess, and the Wolseley name was lost forever. It is somewhat ironic that only Austin and Morris survived at this time, because they were involved in an auction for the purchase of Wolseley when the firm ran into difficulties in 1926. Sir Herbert Austin originally wanted an Austin/Morris/Wolseley merger to meet the difficulties imposed by the repeal of the McKenna duties of one-third of the value on cars imported into England.
The Labour Government repealed these in 1924 and frightened British makers who had enjoyed a protected market. But next year they were restored with a change of government. Austin wanted the new combine to be headquartered at his Longbridge works, but Morris profits were running at three times those of Austin and he did not accept equal valuations of the two companies and the scheme fell through. When Wolseley failed Lord Nuffield figured that he would get a first-class design staff if he could buy the company, a modern, extensive, integrated plant, and a six-cylinder car, the 'Silent Six' which he liked. He did not want the company to go foreign (to General Motors), and bid £600,000, paying £60,000 deposit, but the unnamed foreign company bid higher. The courts ruled that the receiver was not bound to accept the higher offer, although Morris' second bid was after the set time-limit, and they gave up. Austin and Morris then began their auction, and finally Austin's man asked Morris how far he was prepared to go; 'I am going just a bit further than you', said Morris, and got the Wolseley business for £730,000.
Also see: The History of Wolseley