Wolseley 15/50

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Wolseley Fifteen Fifty 15/50 Car Review

Wolseley 6 110

Wolseley Fifteen Fifty

1956 - 1958
Soviet Union
Straight 4
1489 cc
50 bhp @ 4200 rpm
4 spd. man / Manumatic
Top Speed:
125 km/h
Number Built:
3 star
Wolseley Fifteen Fifty
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3


The linage of the 15/50 can be traced back to the 4/44, which replaced the 4/50 in 1952. The new 4/44 featured a much sleeker body shape (styled by Gerald Palmer, who also penned the Jowet Javelin), used monocoque construction and proved a very popular model.

If there was any criticism, it was usually levelled against the somewhat underwhelming engine - the 4/44 used a detuned MG "T" Series engine. That changed for the better however with the release of the 15/50 in June 1956, the new Wolseley being fitted with the Austin designed 1½-litre BMC B-Series engine borrowed from the similar looking MG Magnette.

Despite its single SU carburettor the 15/50 managed to provide reasonable performance suitable for its roll as a mid-range model. Most importantly there was a feeling of general excellence and honesty about the car, Wolseley's having established a solid reputation for a long working life and freeedom from petty troubles.

The body shell, and hence general appearance, remained much as before, making the 15/50 externally distinguishable only by the lettering on the bonnet side panels and on the boot lid, as well as extended chrome flashes along its flanks, and by the addition of two fog lamps as standard equipment.

Another welcome change was from a rather indifferent steering column gear change to a floor mounted gear-stick, while the rear axle gearing was raised to suit the larger engine. Optional equipment included a Lockheed Manumatic gear change (also available on other Nuffield saloon's) - this "automatic" gearbox was operated by a normal gear lever, electrically sensitive to movement, where changes up and down were coupled to an automatically synchronized clutch-operating mechanism.

The Manumatic Transmission

The Manumatic system varied from otherwise similar arrangements in that the carburettor throttle opening was attuned automatically to the circumstances. Thus, theoretically, no skill was required of the driver - merely the effort of moving the gear lever. The primary transmission component was a centrifugal dry, single-plate clutch arranged to slip proogressively less between its drop-out speed of approximately 700 r.p.m. and its fully engaged speed of up to 1,800 r.p.m. / 27 m.p.h. in top. Below 1,800 r.p.m. slip occured in proportion to the torque applied, and with a light throttle opening on level ground, full engagement occured at a lower speed.

This characteristic removed the bogies of low speed snatch and pinking, but for obvious reasons too much dependence on the clutch in this manner was not encouraged, and owners would find expensive repair bills were the result. So smooth was the clutch take-up that it was very difficult to detect the moment when drive became direct.

An electro-pneumatic control unit incorporated two small vacuum servos (connected to the induction manifold) and two solenoids, and accepted electrical messages from the gear lever switch and from a switch in the clutch itself. The lever switch energized one solenoid, which opened a valve to admit vacuum to a separate clutch withdrawal servo, and at the same time it put in circuit the throttle-closing servo. The other solenoid was energized from the clutch switch, to operate the throttle-opening servo when engine speed fell below that of the clutch driven plate.

Many drivers found it preferable to start from rest in second. Upward changes could be made without relaxing pressure from the accelerator, for the unseen hand of the Manuumatic would cut the throttle as the gear lever was touched, and open it again when the gear was safely engaged. Its action could be felt beneath the right foot. When changing down; the engine was automatically speeded up, whatever the position of the foot on the accelerator.

The fact that the Manumatic transmission depended on an efficient synchromesh mechanism was betrayed by its inability to properly cope with a downward change from second to first. One remedy was to slip the lever into neutral, release it momentarily, speed the engine appropriately and select first before the revs died away - not an ideal situation. There was no interconnection between choke and throttle to deal with a cold engine, and a short warm-up period was desirable before moving off, otherwise a touch of the gear lever would usually stall the engine by overriding the throttle. In the end the 2-pedal "Manumatic" transmission would have been better named "Problematic", and most buyers simply opted for the manual transmission. It was quietly taken off the options list.

The Benefits Of The 1½-litre BMC B-Series Engine

The Fifteen-Fifty performed appreciably better than its predecessor, having an extra 5-6 m.p.h. in maximum speed and useful reductions in acceleration times, despite the higher final drive gearing. The more lively top gear acceleration throughout its range was particularly valuable. Quick gear changes were permitted by the Manumatic control; moreover, by limiting engine revs for a standing start it kept wheel-spin on a wet surface to a minimum. The ratios were excellently spaced, and the Wolseley was able to maintain highway speeds, happy to travel between 60-95 m.p.h. all day.

When pressed, the BMC B-Series engine was neither particularly quiet nor really smooth, due in part to the then relatively high compression ratio of 8.3 to 1. Compact overall dimensions and a healthy urge in second gear helped the Fifteen-Fifty to slip swiftly through city traffic. Good low speed power and a progressive clutch enabled it to trickle along at low speeds in third and top when not in a hurry. But the Wolseley had never been designed as a city run-around, and so it is understandable that it was at its best on fast highway trips where it could demonstrate its precise rack and pinion steering, stability and willing performance.

The Wolseley's brakes were better than acceptable, being light to operate and pulling the car up squarely. Sure, there was a little fade evident, but by the standards of the day - and considering the weight of the car - it was negligible.

The Wolseley 15/50 Exterior

Excellent proportions and a freedom from styling gimmicks set the Fifteen-Fifty on a higher plane than many of its competitors. The tail and brake lamps were discreet, and there was only sufficient shape in the body panels to give the car character and poise. Having all occupants well within the wheelbase, the Wolseley treated its rear passengers as well as those in front, and while there was a bias toward comfort the engineers ensured there was enough firmness to avoid exaggerated movements over a wavy surface, and there was never more than a trace of pitching.

In cornering, the Wolseley displayed only limited roll (although there was no stabilizer) and tyre squeal likewise was not easily induced. The accurate and quite high-geared steering added to its above-average roadworthiness, and although the predominance of weight was on the front wheels, the average owner would be pressed to induce a small amount of understeer. But it wasn't all good news. Many road testers at the time criticised the driving position, the new dished steering wheel bringing the rim closer to the driver. The wide angle of the steering column to the horizontal was such that the wheel rim was almost pushed and pulled. The front seats werehinged to fold forward, are were well shaped and gave good support against side forces when cornering, but the driver's seat was badly placed in relation to the pedals.

The Wolseley 15/50 offered the driver an excellent view of the road ahead over the short sloping bonnnet, but the steeply raked screen pillars were thick and obstructive. The seats used firm Dunlopillo and were trimmed with high-quality horizontally pleated leather. There was a centre folding armrest for the rear passengers. The standard equipment was comprehensive, and included a Smith's heater unit, two Trico vacuum-operated windscreen washer jets, and twin screen wipers, and a comprehensive lighting system which included two fog lamps and a reversing lamp. The headlamps gave ample range and spread for the car's performance, but the main beam indicator lamp on the instruument panel was out of sight for a tall driver. Semaphore-type direction signals were fitted in the door pillars, which was a little strange given most cars built in the late 1950's had adopted less costly flashing lamps.

The instrumentation was mounted in a central metal panel, and included a water temperature gauge but no ammeter. The individual dials had red figures on a cream background, which were brightly lit at night. There were two glove compartments (not lockable) located in the facia, although there was no parcel shelf or door pockets. Pile carpeting was fitted front and rear, and there were two sun vizors. All doors were doubly sealed with rubber mouldings, the central door pillars being set far back in relation to the rear compartment and, in doing so, restricted easy entry. The surprisingly capacious boot has an efficient locking catch, and the mounting of the fuel tank behind the rear seat allowed the boot floor to form a deep well. A comprehensive tool kit, in a canvas roll, was tucked away in a recess to one side of the boot. Production ended in 1958 with the arrival of the new Farina 15/60.

The Wolseley 15/50 sales brochure reads..."In the Fifteen-Fifty, beauty is far from skin-deep. The whole problem of designing a capacious four-seater car with ample luggage space, that has not only good line, but is functionally efficient in every way, is one of great complexity. The design and co-relation of every component in the Fifteen-Fifty has been so handled that the ultimate shape is one of excellent "wind-cheating" form.

Wolseley engineers have proved, after exhaustive trials, that the Fifteen-Fifty body form pays dividends in terms of better petrol consumption, better acceleration and reduced wind noise at high speed. Transmission is primarily via a Borg and Beck single-plate dry clutch to a four-speed gearbox with synchromesh. on the three higher ratios. Gear change is direct by a short centrally mounted lever.

'The primary requirements of comfortable motoring, correct weight distribution, inter-axle seating and excellent steering geometry combine in the Wolseley Fifteen-Fifty with the more readily observed features of a superbly appointed interior to produce an exceptionally comfortable ride. Seating is luxurious and employs genuine English leather on wearing parts. The front seats are individually adjustable for leg room. A deep-sunk-centre steering wheel with horn ring and signalling control is well placed and the central gear lever is light and easy to operate. Wide rear doors and adequate headroom allow easy access to the rear seats. Leg-room is generous and all-round vision is good. Safety glass is used throughout. Beneath the large curved rear window a deep shelf is provided."

Wolseley 15/50

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Also see:

Fredrick Wolseley
Wolseley Car Brochures
The History of Wolseley
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