Wolseley Hornet Special
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
The True Brisith Sports Car Era
There are some enthusiasts in this world of motoring who will stubbornly maintain that the British haven't made a real sports car since the 1930's. While we don't quite hold with this argument, it is true that the decade, 1930 to 1940, saw the greatest variety of sports cars produced in Britain's history and the post-vintage-thoroughbreds which emerged from the largest and the smallest motor factories gained tremendous prestige throughout the world.
The memory of the classic, spindly-wheeled open two and four-seaters of the era can't be easily erased, although many names have long since passed into obscurity. Those days, it was fashionable for the major manufacturers to have sports cars in their range. This practice is still continued to a degree today, although some so-called "sports cars" are really only modified or convertible versions of saloons.
The Nuffield group of companies - Wolseley
- between them produced a wonderful array of sports cars and although there was some standardisation of engines
and other mechanical components, each car had its own distinctive appearance and character and was produced in an individual factory.
The Original Wolseley Sports Car
Wolseley's association with sports car was even longer than that of MG, the first Wolseley sports being marketed in 1922. This was based on the 10 hp Wolseley sedan and had a single-overhead-camshaft engine and a top speed of about 70 mph.
Like most other sports cars of the period, it was soon singled out to be raced and a single-seater version once covered 500 miles around Brooklands
at better than 80 miles per hour. Somehow the sports car went out of production and Wolseley
did not have another sports car until 1931, when the Hornet was introduced - mainly because Wolseley enthusiasts had seen fit to have special bodywork
built on the touring chassis.
The First Wolseley Hornet
The first Hornet did not have very exciting specifications, as it used a six cylinder 1275cc single-cam engine with a single carburettor. The relatively heavy bodywork
meant the car was underpowered and so the first Hornet Special, with twin SU's more efficient exhaust system and domed pistons, came into being. This was a far more ranting proposition, particularly as the factory released it only in chassis form and prospective owners could take their pick of the type of body
desired from the many specialist coachbuilders in Britain. This is why there are so many different kinds of Hornets in existence. While each coachbuilder had their own idea of what the body
should look like, they would still fashion the carrosserie to the whim of the customer.
The Lucas Startix
The 1931-1933 Hornet Special was almost mechanically identical to the Wolseley saloon of the time. The engine had three inlet ports and six exhaust ports., and another unusual feature was a Lucas
Startix, a device which automatically restarted the engine it the car stalled in traffic, a malady indeed suffered by these engines unless in perfect tune. Its use was purely optional. The car could be started by turning the key to the right and hitting the starter button, or by turning it to the left and engaging the Startix. If the key was turned to the right the Startix was completely dispensed with.
1934 Wolseley Hornet Special, which was fitted with a six-cylinder 1378cc engine. The Hornet was first introduced in 1931 and powered by a 1271cc engine.
In 1934, the Hornet chassis underwent further modifications to improve handling
and roadholding. Power was upped by streamlining the ports, fitting a separate pipe exhaust manifold and balancing the crankshaft more accurately. Bore and stroke dimensions remained 57 x 83 mm and the engine developed 47 bhp at 5000 rpm. The knowledgeable engineers, employing tuning principles applied to MG's of the time which had virtually identical engines, could easily improve on this. The following year saw the introduction of a 1604cc engine, really the same unit bored to 61.5 mm and stroked to 90 mm, which afforded more performance and a better cruising speed.
While there may have been many different types of Hornets after the war they were considered rare at the best of times - and now they are extremely rare. That the Wolseley Hornet was not on everyones collectors list was a travesty - but at least that kept prices reasonable for the lucky few. But here, we are talking about the immediate post war era - not now, and not as far back as the 1970s
as motoring enthusiasts started to take note of the Hornet's occasional extravagance of chrome-plate, beautiful lines and quality construction. Most Hornets were trimmed in black leather, the wheels finished in a beautiful black enamel and the brake drums chrome-plated.
Bluemel Steering Wheels
The bonnet was long, the passenger's compartment relatively small and a huge 14-gallon petrol tank and spare wheel sat upright at the rear in the proper tradition of cars of the time. The exhaust pipe was small - and emitted a pleasant noise. The driving position was typically British, which meant that it was not possible to adopt a straight-arm attitude popular with Australians. Behind the wheel, you sat behind a genuine Bluemels Brooklands
wheel, of which British sports car authority Gregor Grant stated when the Wolseley Hornet was at its peak ... "on sports cars Bluemel steering
wheels are the fashionable wear. These spring-spoked wheels are a lasting tribute to the none-too-smooth surface of Brooklands, where high-speed lappery for lengthy periods was quite out of the question unless a fairly flexible steering wheel was used."
We are unsure exactly how many Hornets were manufactured (other sources claim 31,686), but around 100 of these highly desirable cars were imported to Australia - a handful of these doing time in competition work. We found an old Autocourse magazine brimming with reader reviews - and most testified to the Hornet's incredible reliability. Some owners quoted mileages of 150,000 without major work to the engine - and for engines from this era, that is simply amazing.