Wolseley 18/85

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Wolseley 18/85 Landcrab Car Review

Wolseley 18/85

Wolseley 18/85 "Landcrab"

1966 - 1972
Soviet Union
1798 cc
85 bhp @ 5,300 rpm
3 spd. auto
Top Speed:
90 mph
Number Built:
2 star
Wolseley 18/85 "Landcrab"
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2


The upmarket Wolseley "Landcrab" was first introduced to the public at the Geneva Motor Show in March, 1966, as yet another variant of what was B.M.C.'s biggest transverse-engine front wheel drive design. Power assistance for the rack-and-pinion steering was standard and a modified Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic transmission and torque converter, driven via a Morse Hy-Vo chain, was offered as an extra for the first time.

Beneath the walnut and leather the car was basically the same as the less luxurious Austin and Morris 1800's which first appeared in October 1964 and spring 1966 respectively; these cars featured an immensely strong integrally built body with as much room behind as in front, riding on all-independent Hydrolastic interconnected suspension with servo-assisted front disc and rear drum brakes.

The five-bearing 1,798 c.c. four-cylinder engine developed 85 b.h.p at 5,300 r.p.m., and on the automatic cars the final drive ratio was lowered slightly (3·94 instead of 3·88 to-1). This gearing was almost perfect for the car, giving a mean maximum speed of 90 m.p.h. with the engine turning over at 5,150 r.p.m. It would rev to 6,000 r.p.m. in Low and Intermediate ranges if held that far (by putting the selector in "L "), but there was no point in making the engine suffer.

The maximum automatic change points with the accelerator "kicked down" were 37 and 62 m.p.h., corresponding to roughly 5,100 r.p.m. By "locking-up" until 40 and 66 (5,500 r.p.m.) you could improve acceleration times only to 70 and 80 m.p.h. and then by only 1 second in each case. Surprisingly, in view of its heavier-looking furnishings, the 18/85 automatic was 25lb lighter than the Morris 1800. However, the usual slight inefficiency of the torque converter on those fitted with the auto trans absorbed the Wolseley's 5 b.h.p. advantage over the 80 b.h.p. Morris, so that the performance figures suffered slightly.

The 0-60 m.p.h. time for the automatic was 18·0 instead of 17·4 sec; 0-80 m.p.h. took 43·9 instead of 38·7 sec and the standing quarter-mile 21·2 against 20·9 sec. Fuel consumption at a steady 60 m.p.h. deteriorated to 28·5 m.p.g. from the Morris' 32·8 m.p.g. with similar trends throughout the speed range. Overall fuel consumption went up to 21·9 from 23·2 m.p.g. although on a touring country tun 25 m.p.g. could be achieved.

As these figures suggest, the Wolseley 18/85 was not a fast car. At 23·2 cwt it was never likely to be, yet it was capable of making remarkably fast cross-country runs with great ease and lack of fuss - and it was this very quality that endeared the 1800, and of course the Wolseley, to so many - and explains why today it is so fondly remembered by those lucky enough to have owned one. Owners have told us the car could be driven with very little effort, thanks to the level ride, the light steering and brakes and the smooth delivery of power. Only when you were driving the car flat-out did the auto transmission jerk really noticeably; otherwise it made gearchanges very subtly. When the car was gently driven from rest, it changed gear very early almost without the driver realizing. The only auto transmission noises owners have told us about come from a "moan" at high r.p.m., while there was little sound from the engine except some slight clatter when cold.

Starting was always easy with the mixture handle pulled out; this was needed only for the first half kilometre or so, but could be easily forgotten as it was lost from view under the parcel shelf. Car reviewers noted the body noise level was low except in some circumstances. As with so many cars, then and now, coarsely dressed asphalt surfaces generated tyre roar which was easily heard inside. Curiously enough "bump-thump" was worst at 40 m.p.h.; at higher speeds it was not so noticeable. There was little wind noise from outside, but at speed the adjustable, shuttered fresh-air inlets hissed loudly when opened slightly. The steering of the Wolse1ey received mixed reviews, some loved it, others were not so sure. It was accurate and free of any trace of lost movement - as was usual with all B.M.C. rack-and-pinion systems of the era.

The power assistance reduced driver effort - as it was supposed to do - except when turning on to full lock after running slowly with the transmission in high ratio; this would need a marked increase in effort at the wheel. It also had an odd" feel" when you started to turn a few degrees either side of the straight-ahead position; the load at the rim was at first quite high and would then drop to its normal level as the wheel was moved farther.This was not an unusual phenomenon, since most power-assisted systems gave their help only when it was needed - but there was usually a small delay while they sensed the need, and in the 18/85's case by "feeling" the reaction of the steering pinion housing to wheel effort. This effect would have the Wolseley, once urged slightly left or right, wanting to take charge and gently deviate further; also the self-centring action was not quite strong enough, so that when rounding tight corners it would often need full lock because of the big turning circle, and the driver would need to give their own active assistance with the "winding-back."

Wolseley 18/85
The Wolseley 18/85 improved what was already very good...

Hydrolastic Suspension Provided Superb Ride and handling Qualities

Though not quite as softly sprung as some other inter-connected suspension designs, the 18/85 would handle almost any surface (or lack of it) with remarkable equanimity. We have been lucky enough to spend some time in an 1800 on unmade roads, and the first thing that impressed us was how solid the car felt, and how comfortable, and especially how much room was in the back. Unlike most of the Wolseley's competitors, which would float and yaw because their wheels were in contact with the road only now and then, the Wolseley would run straight and true, and could be braked hard from 60 m.p.h. without any evidence of intermittent wheel locking.

Roll on corners was almost imperceptible - to such an extent that it was often only the squeal from the Dunlop SP41 radial-ply tyres that would remind the driver how fast they were turning. Freedom from pitch coupled with this lack of roll made for remarkably easy, relaxed driving. Roadholding power was exceptionally high and it was only by forcing things in a most un-Wolseley like manner on a closed track that road testers could actually find that limit.

If you rushed at a corner too fast the car's basic understeer built up strongly, the front sliding straight-on until enough speed had been "scrubbed-off" and it went where the driver wanted. Two normal characteristics of front wheel drive cars were almost entirely missing; there was no "tucking-in" of the front when under power on a corner, the accelerator foot was lifted; and it was almost impossible to induce any "inertia oversteer" by jerking the steering wheel hard and making the back wheels slide out by the suddenness of the movement.

The downside was that the 18/85 was not a "swerveable" car in emergencies, but on the upside the landcrab would still be rounding a corner safely when most other cars with less sophisticated suspensions would be in trouble. Brake fade tests showed that the servo-assisted disc and drum brakes did fade noticeably, although they had a very good ultimate braking figure of 1·04g, and needing a higher pedal pressure than 75 lb to lock the back wheels. Retardation was always smooth, light and progressive with hardly any nose dip.

The Controversial Driving Position

Some drivers we have spoken to do not like the angle of the steering wheel which they found too near horizontal; while others (most of whom said they were accustomed to B.M.C. Minis or 1100s) were not bothered by it. A more common complaint was that with the seat adjusted so that the wheel was held with arms at "three-quarter stretch" only the indicator lever and the tip of the gear range selector could be reached without leaning forward, the dashboard controls being out of reach. Thankfully Inertia-reel seat belts were fitted and it was only by their inclusion that you could move forward and reach the rest of the controls without unbelting.

Wipers and electric screen washers were worked from one switch, as were the side and head-lamps from another. Instrument lighting was not variable on the first cars to roll off the production line, instead simply being set at a level which did not distract: Warn- ing lights for the generator, headlamp main beam and blocked oil filter are set in the speedometer. Except for an ammeter, a full set of instruments was provided, clearly marked and neatly framed by the top half of the steering wheel. Visibility was excellent both fore and aft, with generous widths of glass all round. The tail could not be seen from the driving seat but as there was only 30in. of overhang beyond the back wheels this was not such a problem.

Two things are noticeable and seemingly an oversight, but we assume BMC were using existing parts. The first was the rearview mirror, a small flat aparatus that did not take advantage of the large rear glass area. The other was the handbrake, BMC opting for an umbrella-type which was out of place on such a car; a right hand lever alongside the seat would have been more appropriate and would also be within easier reach. From the "passive" safety point of view there was padding on top of the facia and on the bottom of the parcel shelf. Sun visors were crushable but the chromium-plated bar and bracket from which they hung was definitely not. One possible advantage of the steeply angled steering column was that it would bend forwards away from the driver's chest in a bad collision. From the much more important "active" safety aspect - the ability to avoid accidents through superior road grip and the strength of the body structure - the 18/85 was well ahead of its time.

Inside, The Landcrab Felt Much Bigger Than It Was

The 18/85's width was roughly the same as other cars in its class, while its length (13ft 11in.) was around 6in. shorter than most competitors. But inside it was a different story. With the front seat adjusted to suit a six-feet driver - and at which point there was still more adjustment to go -the another 6 foot person sitting behind would have a good 2in of clearance for their knees. It was practical to sit three in the back on a long journey, all seats being generous and comfortable; their only shortcoming was a slight lack of sideways support when cornering hard. Getting in and out was easy, and there was just enough headroom. Arguably more than any car, before or since, the B.M.C. ADO 17 design was built with large families in mind, and at the time no competitor in any price range could match it in all these respects.

No opportunities were lost in the provision of parcel spaces; there were big pockets in all doors, two attractively lined shelves in front under the facia with a separate lockable space above, and another large area under the back window. Ram-fed, cool fresh air only could be directed at will via the adjustable "Venetian blind" vents on each side of the dashboard. Heated air was controlled by one lever for temperature and another for distribution and boost. Both were mounted under the parcel shelf near the middle and were awkward to get at. With the rear quarter lights open, ventilation was adequate without being out-standing.

One of the most pleasant things about the Wolseley was the aura of refined luxury that greeted the driver as they entered the car. Part of this was the unmistakable smell of leather upholstery - the rest was the result of a tastefully opulent blend of walnut veneer dashboard, simulated veneer strips on the doors, a handsome pile carpet and well padded seats. A 17 cu. ft. boot space was more than enough for all normal holiday luggage but there was a 2ft high sill to be surmounted. The fuel tank was just big enough but was a slow filler for the last half-gallon. Headlamps gave a beam of normal spread and intensity, and the foot dipswitch (common for the era) was conveniently placed without getting in the way.

Under the bonnet servicing was relatively easy, although when we have seen the 18/85 at car shows we have noted that the distributor seems to be masked by the steering pump on the end of the dynamo - we are assured it remains easy to get at but we are not convinced. The Wolseley 18/85 was a very remarkable family car with some great virtues. In some respects - grip, braking, ride and, space it had few rivals; it was a very satisfying car to drive and we know first hand that it was a great car to be a passenger in, front or back. It remains much loved by enthusiasts, and those that have owned them. In fact, we have not been able to find any past owner willing to criticise the 1800 - but maybe we will be proved wrong in the comments box below.

A Mark II version was released in 1969. The most obvious changes were to the interior: reclining seats were now standard, the door trim was restyled and was capped by wood and there were changes to the facia and instrument panel. A model known as the 18/85S was introduced in 1969. The 18.85S was fitted with two SU carburettors, rather than one as fitted to the 18/85, had a three branch exhaust manifold and MGB camshaft profile. The Mark II 18/85 and the 18/85S were replaced by the Wolseley Six in 1972.

In 1971, the Australian subsidiary of British Leyland replaced the 1800 with the facelifted "X6" models known as Austin Tasman and Austin Kimberley. These featured new front and rear styling and a 2.2 litre 6-cylinder E series OHC engine (the first front wheel drive car with a transversely mounted six cylinder engine), as well as an updated interior. The X6 series was intended to compete more effectively with the Australian-made rear-wheel drive six cylinder family cars of Holden, Ford and Chrysler. These cars were also offered in New Zealand as Morris models. Despite technical superiority, the X6 was commercially inferior, being superseded by the Leyland P76 in 1973.

As a one-off prototype, an Australian 1800 Mark II body was fitted with the 4.4 litre V8 and modified three-speed automatic transmission of the P76 in the BLMC (Australia) Victoria Park works at Zetland, New South Wales. This vehicle was reportedly shipped to British Leyland in the UK and never seen again.

Wolseley 18/85

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Also see:

Fredrick Wolseley
Wolseley Car Brochures
The History of Wolseley
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