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 1901 - 1975
At Unique Cars and Parts, we dont know of any other car make that rose from a more unlikely partnership than Wolseley - a partnership between a manufacturer of sheep-shearing machinery and a quick-firing-gun designer, but that is how it was. Their first car, designed by Herbert Austin, appeared in 1896 and the name also appeared on Austin/Morris British Leyland variants until 1975.

The Woolly Whores' Nest

Wolseley seemed to be very fond of stinging and biting names, and their most famous were the Beetles, Wasps, Hornets and Vipers. They were, in a backhanded way, responsible for the formation of the Vintage Sports Car Club; their pretentious Hornet sports car of the 'thirties was considered so terrible by the enthusiasts of the day, who dubbed it 'the Woolly Whores' Nest', that they banded together to perpetuate the good name of proper sports cars and not wobbly, under-powered, under-braked horrors.

The original Wolseley company experienced the most complicated of histories until it finally went bankrupt in 1927 and was purchased by William Morris. At various times in its chequered career, motor cars, aircraft and aero-engines, gliders, railcars, a gyro car, boats, armoured cars, buses and ambulances, mines and depth-charges were all produced.

Frederick York Wolseley

Dublin born Frederick York Wolseley was managing a sheep station in Australia toward the end of the 1860s when he set his mind to solving the problem of getting the sheep sheared in the most efficient manner. After three years hard work, he was awarded a patent for a new kind of fleece-cutter, which he continued to improve over the years until he formed the Wolseley Sheep-Shearing Machine Co Ltd in 1887 to exploit the growing numbers of patents under his name.

Herbert Austin

By the time an English company took over in 1899 there were more than ninety patents but the firm was doing less than well due to the difficulties of supply and manufacture in Australia at that time. And this is where Herbert Austin came in. Austin was a Buckinghamshire boy who was working in Australia, managing a North Melbourne engineering shop. In typical Austin style he told the Wolseley company exactly what was wrong with not only their design but their construction methods as well. He had lived in the outback and knew all about service problems for machinery in primitive conditions.

Fred Wolseley was impressed with the cheeky upstart Austin, and gave him the go-ahead. When the Wolseley Sheep-Shearing Co Ltd set up in England, with a capital of £200,000, Bert Austin kept in touch. For eighty £5 shares he turned over all his shares to the company and eventually joined the firm in Britain as manager in the winter of 1893. He found the company in a bad way and Fred Wolseley himself ill and disheartened. It wasn't long before Wolseley resigned and then quietly passed away during the winter of 1899.

The company was suffering from a lack of understanding of its own product and from the lack of any realistic quality control. Austin gave some draconian advice which they took: scrap the faulty stocks of both parts and machines, buy back any faulty machines, and start all over again. They did this, and next moved to Sydney Works, Alma Street, Aston, Birmingham, there to make the whole machine themselves under the tight supervision by Austin. His next move in 1895 was to add cycle-making to sheep-shears.

The First Wolseley - Almost

Austin had an eye for any profitable product and when he heard that in France and Germany people were driving about without horses in a device driven by gas or paraffin he left for Paris as quickly as he could to take a look at the new transport; a fateful trip for all of us today. Back in Aston he designed and made the first Wolseley, a three-wheeler which was really a copy of the Bollee but with his own improvements. This car had impressed him more than most of the other French models, which he had found too heavy, clumsy and complicated. He eschewed the single-cylinder engine which lacked balance and vibrated, and chose a twin instead. But this car never saw the light of day, probably because he was frightened off by the infamous British Motor Syndicate Ltd, which claimed to have bought all the patent rights of the Bollee Voiturette and were sueing everyone in sight.

Austin's first Wolseley had a frame made up cycle-style of welded tubing and a twin-cylinder horizontally-opposed, air-cooled engine said to have developed a whole two horse-power, size unknown. It had a single driven rear wheel and the driver sat in front, which was not the Bollee way, so steering layout was Austin rather than Bollee. He had mechanical inlet valves, which were a great innovation then, most people using the automatic valve which was opened by engine suction. He also used plenty of bronze in the construction, and both pistons were fired on the same power stroke at once. The engine was on the nearside of the frame driving the gearbox by a flat belt. There was no clutch, and gear-changing (three speeds, no reverse) was achieved by swinging the whole gearbox to allow the belt to slip.

1903 Wolseley four seater - then the work of Frederick Wolseley and Herbert Austin
1903 Wolseley four seater - then the work of Frederick Wolseley and Herbert Austin.

1903 Wolseley 12hp tourer
1903 Wolseley 12hp tourer.

Early Wolseley horseless carriage
Early Wolseley horseless carriage, circa approx 1904.

1904 Wolseley Tourer
1904 Wolseley Tourer.

1905 Siddeley manufactured by Wolseley for the Gordon Bennett event
1905 Siddeley manufactured by Wolseley for the Gordon Bennett event.

1910 Wolseley Four-Seater tourer. By this time, Herbert Austin.

1932 Wolseley Viper, powered by a 2025cc six-cylinder with overhead cam
1932 Wolseley Viper, powered by a 2025cc six-cylinder with overhead cam.

Wolseley Dashboard
Dashboard photo of a circa 1930's Wolseley, with coachwork and trim by Eustance Watkins.

1934 Wolseley Hornet Special
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.

1946 Wolseley Ten
1946 Wolseley Ten.

1949 Wolseley Four-Fifty saloon
1949 Wolseley Four-Fifty saloon, powered by a four-cylinder 1476cc engine good for 51 bhp @ 4400 rpm.

1949 Wolseley Four-Fifty
1949 Wolseley Four-Fifty.

1951 Wolseley Six Eighty and Four Fifty
1951 Wolseley Six Eighty and Four Fifty brochure cover, featuring the by now famous illuminated radiator emblem.

1960 Wolseley Fifteen Hundred
1960 Wolseley Fifteen Hundred.

1961 Wolseley 16/60
1961 Wolseley 16/60.

1961 Wolsely Hornet
In 1961 Wolsely would resurrect the Hornet name.

1961 Wolseley 16/60
1961 Wolseley 16/60.

1963 Wolseley Hornet
1963 BMC Wolseley Hornet.

1963 Wolseley 1500 sedan
1963 Wolseley 1500 sedan.

1965 Wolseley 1100
1965 Wolseley 1100.

The National Cycle Exhibition at Crystal Palace

Bollee's way was to move the rear wheel. As the gearlever was moved, the belt slipped automatically. There was a nine-inch drum brake on the single rear wheel, and Ackermann steering by tiller. The second car (1896), which was also not produced, had been turned about-face with the single wheel at the front and was actually shown at the National Cycle Exhibition at Crystal Palace and offered for sale. It offered two seats back to back, and was described in 'The Engineer' as being like a bath-chair. This one was water-cooled and had a reverse gear. It was said that the exhaust was used to cool the water, but how was not described, and there appears to be no current record of this peculiarity as drawings exist of the transmission only.

Austin actually drove the car 250 miles from Birmingham to Rhyl and back in June 1898 at an average speed of 8 mph, but that was as far as it ever went. Many years later Austin was asked if this car was fitted with his patent epicyclic gear when he drove it or had been converted to belts, but he could not remember for sure, although he thought belts. There was a lot of bronze in this car too, including the cylinder block and crankcase in one casting. By this time Austin had interested his employers in his experiments, and a catalogue - one of the first in England - was issued for this never-sold car.

The Midland Cycle and Motor Car Exhibition

The first model to hit the market was his third attempt, this time a four-wheeler 3½ horsepower model reverting to a single-cylinder horizontal engine 4.5 inches by 5 inches with 1296 cc capacity producing 3.3 horsepower at 900 rpm. In the first great motoring competition, 38 miles from Birmingham to Coventry and back, plus a climb of Mucknow Hill, Halesowen, Austin's Wolseley finished second. The competition was run between the 27th and 31st January 1900 in conjunction with the Midland Cycle and Motor Car Exhibition, and the car called the Wolseley Voiturette. It was not really a race (road racing was forbidden) but the cars were all numbered and timed and the first home became No 1. Austin did the 38 miles in 4 hrs 58 mins 45 secs and climbed the one-mile hill in 11 minutes 2 secs winning a silver medal and winning the first Wolseley competition trophy.

But the big show was yet to come, the Thousand Miles Trial of 1900 run by the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland to demonstrate reliability. Thousands of people had never seen a car, but the Thousand Miles Trial was to change all that. In eleven days of driving the cars went from London to Scotland, the West Country, Midlands and North, and climbed the four best-known and steepest hills. Austin in his Wolseley won first prize in Class B, the Silver Medal of the Automobile Club of France and UK£10 from the Daily Mail. The car cost £270, and its win was a striking demonstration as there was only the one Wolseley entered for the entire race.

Sir Hiram Maxim

Austin soon became involved with Sir Hiram Maxim, the quick-fire-gun man, for advice on a steam-driven flying machine and made some of the parts. The engineering firm of Vickers Sons & Co Ltd had also made parts, and the upshot was a seat on the board of an amalgamated Vickers & Maxim company for Sir Hiram. The sheep-shearing people were afraid of venturing too deep into motor-cars, whereas Sir Hiram was a car fanatic, and so Vickers registered the Wolseley Tool & Motor Car Co Ltd with works at Adderley Park, Birmingham and offices at 32 Victoria Street, Westminster. The main shop, 300 feet by 209 feet, stood on 3½ acres.

The tool company bought the sheep-shearing company for £12,400 in cash plus 67 five per cent second debentures of £100 each and 33 similar debentures to Herbert Austin. The new company held all Austin patents, and the old company was left to its shearing but excluded from the motor trade. Austin was made manager of the new company with £40,000 capital, in 30,000 ordinary shares of £1 each and 10,000 five per cent cumulative preference shares of £1 each. The sheep-shearers paid cash for 20,000 ordinary shares. There was also an immediate issue of £40,000 first debentures, and £31,545 of this was used to buy Adderley Park works from Vickers, and £12,400 paid to the sheep men.

By May 1901 the company issued its first catalogue of Wolseley cars. There were two models, a 5 hp single-cylinder with the same engine as the first model, and a 10 hp twin, both of which could be had with either phaeton or tonneau bodies at prices from £270 to £360. They also listed a racing car and two delivery vans. The so-called racing car looked a bit like a delivery van itself, with a box on the back for carrying goods, and was said to have a four-cylinder horizontal engine developing over 20 horsepower. On the other models, belts had given place to chains of inverted tooth profile, so the gearbox no longer needed to swing about. Instead there was a metal-to-Ieather cone clutch for gear-changing.

At this early stage in the development of the motorcar a dichotomy developed between the supporters of the horizontal engine and the followers of the vertical power-plant. Austin was a horizontal man; although most designers were taking the other path, with a vertical engine in front of a clutch and gearbox, with shaft to a bevel box and then chains to the rear wheels. So Wolseley trod a lonely path, as Austin became most heated on this subject and said he would use a vertical engine only when cars were pushed along by fans behind them. But in spite of Austin's enthusiasm the company lost £5,429 in its first ten months. In fact, when Austin presented himself for a bouquet that year he was told instead: 'car production has not pulled up many trees.

The British Motor Syndicate

1902 brought a £5,400 profit, and 1903 a total of £12,512 and a ten per cent dividend. But the next five years each showed a loss. One of the problems was over carburettors, as the British Motor Syndicate Ltd was still causing trouble over its patents. Poor batteries, coils and spark plugs also gave bother. Austin pressed on, winning prizes with his Wolseley in the Glasgow trials of 1901, and a gold medal at the Paris show of 1902 for elegance, and also put on a racing programme. Driving was still difficult in England, but in France they were racing on the public roads from Paris to Bordeaux and Paris to Marseilles. He decided to go for the Paris-Vienna, a four-day race in a car with a four-cylinder horizontal (of course) engine of 5 inch bore and stroke producing 30 hp, and following the general lines of the touring car.

Austin drove it at Bexhill (UK) speed trials as a curtain-raiser and then at Welbeck Park (UK), covering a flying kilo in 51.33 secs, a speed of 43.66 mph. In the Paris-Vienna event he broke the crank before the start, put in a new one at the roadside, but broke it again halfway through the event. Three Wolseleys set out on the ill-fated Paris-Madrid, which put a stop to all long-distance road racing. Two drivers, Austin and Harvey Foster did not make Bordeaux, and the third, Leslie Porter, hit a house trying to dodge a closed level-crossing, killed his mechanic and burned the car. Much later Wolseley still had the charred remains of the steering wheel.

The Beetle

Racing went on with such big-name drivers as Charles Jarrott, Sidney Girling, and even C. S. Rolls. One racing car was called The Beetle because that was the way it looked. But racing was proving too expensive, and in 1905 the company pulled out. The decision may also have been affected by the way companies competed to be selected for the national teams in the Gordon-Bennett races, in which Wolseleys made the team but failed to win the race. Austin's mania for the horizontal engine then took a knock when his company agreed to make the Siddeley car for Mr J. D. Siddeley (later Lord Kenilworth) with a vertical engine.

The Siddeley soon began to outsell the Wolseley, and after two years of this the Wolseley company bought out the Siddeley people and made the car for themselves, moving premises to the old Niagara Skating Rink in Westminster (UK) for their head office staff. Siddeley himself became sales manager. Austin's popularity was at a low ebb because of his obstinacy about the horizontal engine and his costly racing programme. In 1905 he resigned and Siddeley became general mariager. That year the company showed both horizontal and vertical engine models at the Olympia show, a little 6 and 8 hp with the former and the bigger 15, 18 and 32 hp upright. The motoring press greeted the uprights as 'a distinct departure in Wolseley practice'.


Thus began phase two of the company's history without the dynamic leadership and questing spirit of Austin. The cars were sold as Wolseley-Siddeleys, and there was an interesting match-race between an 18 hp model and a 24 hp de Dietrich after The Times had claimed that a British-built car held the world record for reliability. Paul Meyan, editor of La France Automobile issued a challenge based on 4,400 kilometres in daily runs of 350 kilometres for 10,000 francs a side against his two-year-old car. The day's run began at 5 a.m. for 200 miles with a very French two hours for lunch, over roads north as far as Lille, down to Aix-Ies-Bains, Mont Cenis and south to Nice, west to Bordeaux, Brest, Trouville and Paris. Neither car lost a mark and it was a dead heat, in spite of tyre troubles and overheating.

By 1906 Wolseleys were all vertically engined, with a 12 hp twin, a 15 hp four, and a 25. The small car had a live axle with bevel drive, but this was still thought only suitable for small cars, and the big bangers used a countershaft and chains to the rear wheels. Then Lionel Rothschild came into the picture, bringing his money, but the board were unhappy because people were calling the cars simply 'Siddeleys' - and more to the point profits were slim. In 1909 matters came to a head and Siddeley left, followed by Rothschild, and all plant was moved to the Birmingham factory, along with the head office.

The Wolseley-Stellite

Ernest Hopwood from British Electric Traction then became managing director. In all 7500 of the 12/16 and 16/20 models were made. They ran on from 1910 - 1914 and came back after the war from 1918 - 1920. In 1911 A. J. McCormack became joint managing director with Hopwood. Expansion was needed to produce the commercial vehicles added to the range in 1912, and Adderley Park was made larger. Expansion too meant that Wolseley took under its wing the Stellite, which it designed but had made by a Vickers subsidiary Electric and Ordanance Accessories Co Ltd at Aston and later at Ward End, which became the Wolseley home. It became the Wolseley-Stellite, and was widely sold in many overseas countries.

World War 1 brought an end to the Stellite, but Wolseley had also been making buses, fire-engines and custom made vehicles for the British Vacuum Cleaner Co Ltd designed to stand outside houses with their vacuum pipes up through the windows doing the spring cleaning. There were also rail coaches for the LNER and for the Delaware & Hudson Co in America. These were started up with a bang by a cordite cartridge, but were petrol-electric. In Siddeley times they also made taxi-cabs, used by the London and Provincial Cab Company in London, Birmingham and Glasgow to counter the foreign invasion of twin-cylinder Renaults used by the London Motor Cab Co. These were built at the Crayford Works of Vickers, and some 500 were in use between 1907 and 1909. One was sold to a Mr William R. Morris, of Oxford who later bought the Wolseley company.

Marine Engines

Wolseley taximeter cabs were in trouble with the police for smoking too much due to their splash lubrication system with pick-up dippers on the big-ends. History records that, after attention, 'trouble swiftly disappeared'. There was also Wolseley marine - engines, including a 60hp for the Duke of Westminster's launch. Later he had a racer built with twin Wolseley 12-cylinder engines of 7¼ x 7½ in bore and stroke which won the Prix de Monte Carlo and various other events plus a distance speed record at 34.8 knots. The range was from a 12 hp for a small boat up to 250hp. Engines were fitted to the boats of Teddington Launch Works, and sea-going craft made by S. E. Saunders Ltd at Cowes, Isle of Wight. They also went in lifeboats, and there was a 120 hp V8 for hydroplanes.

Captain Scott of Antarctica

Petrol engines for aircraft followed, and machinery for the ill-fated Mayfly airship which broke its back on its maiden test flight from Barrow. Before the war 16-cylinder engines for submarines were also supplied, and caterpillar tractors for Captain Scott of Antarctica with air-cooled Wolseley 12 hp engines with heated carburettors. In 1912 came the strangest machine of all, the Gyrocar two-wheeler made for a Russian lawyer, His Excellency Captain Peter Schilowsky, like a giant motorbike with a motor-coach body. It was kept on its feet by a gyroscope with safety wheels like a modern child's bicycle to prop it up if all else failed, and could seat half-a-dozen people. On its big demonstration run it collapsed onto its sprag with a distinct lefthand bias, but was later successfully demonstrated in Regents Park.

During the war the Captain disappeared and the machine was buried in a big hole; years later it was dug up and scrapped. Before 1914 Wolseley offered six kinds of trucks (one 1912 model was apparently recorded as still running in 1949). After Lord Nuffield had bought the bankrupt company in 1927 he turned the main Adderley Park works over to building Morris Commercials. By World War 1 Wolseley were probably the biggest car producers in England, making 3000 vehicles in 1914, and changed its name to Wolseley Motors Ltd. They then turned to aero engines, making V8s and V12s and a water-cooled six-cylinder Maybach as used in the German Zeppelins.

The Dragonfly

There was also a nine-cylinder, the Dragonfly, and 14-cylinder Boucier air-cooled radials, but the Hispano-style V8 Viper was the best known, powering as it did the S.E.S fighter. By 1918 they were making 60 Vipers a week, and in all built 4,000 aero engines and spares equal to a further 1,500. There were also special engines for admiralty airships and the transmission for British rigid airships. Shells were manufactured, gun sights, firing gear, mountings and later complete aeroplanes, 700 in all, plus 850 wings and tail planes and 6000 propellers. There were armoured cars too.

Australian Agents

Peace brought problems when all this production stopped, but the home-coming soldiers wanted transport and the motor show was back in 1919. Wolseley pushed overseas too, with agents in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and India. A Canadian company was formed. To cope with production Wolseley took over Vickers Ward End factory a mile-and-a-half from Aston for £400,000, payable in ordinary shares. War had brought profits, so money could be spent on re-equipping and extending plant. A London showroom, Wolseley House, was built in Piccadilly for a quarter of a million pounds. Stock to the value of £1,700,000 was issued and a trust deed executed which put a charge of £140,250 annually on a 25-year redemption of charges on property and assets.

Production of pre-war models was resumed. They tried an overhead camshaft engine of Hispano-Suiza style, but people were not ready for it, and the 15 hp was abandoned in favour of a more orthodox 14. The company also went back into motor racing. In 1921 a Ten modified and fitted with a racing body set up fifteen records in the Light Car class at Brooklands. Next day it ran 12 hours at 70.32 mph to cover 843 miles, and the day after ran 12 hours more for a total of 1,456.6 miles at 61.06mph for 24 hours, the first double-twelve record for the British Light Car Class. Similar runs were made with a Fifteen, and for the marginal motorist the company brought out a 7 hp driven by a water-cooled flat twin of 82 x 92 mm. It was a three-speed two-seater with side-valves and coil ignition, and won a gold medal in the Scottish Six Days Reliability Trial.

A moulders' strike hit the booming motor industry in 1920-21, but W. R. Morris shocked them all by cutting the prices of his cars in 1922. Other makers were forced to compete, and in 1926 Wolseley went to the wall owing £2m. There was talk of an American takeover by General Motors, but William Morris stepped in and bought the company for £730,000. Meanwhile there had been other racing activities, such as Brooklands outings by Miller with the Moth. Now was the new era - Lord Nuffield sent the Wolseley Company to Ward End, Morris Commercials to Adderley Park, and the Soho Works and part of Adderley Park were sold off.

The Wolseley Hornet

The famous 16/45 Silent Six was kept in production, a four-cylinder 12/32 version appeared, and later an eight-cylinder 21/60. All were similar ohc designs with a vertical camshaft drive in the big engine coming up through the middle between pots 4 and 5. A new model called the Messenger which was the first step to a monocoque body, with each body-side pressed in one piece appeared in 1928. It was powered by a six-cylinder version of the eight in the 21/60, and seven were sold to the Prince of Wales for use on an African safari. But 1930 brought the model by which Wolseley is perhaps best known apart from its police cars- the Hornet.

Nuffield had produced the Morris Minor two years earlier with a four-cylinder engine, and the idea was to drop a six into this basic model and bring the Six within reach of men with four-cylinder incomes. It promised 75 mph from its ohc engine of 57 x 83 mm in a Minor frame lengthened by 12½ inches. The Light Six was all the rage, and with various fancy bodies including a fabric saloon the Hornet, sold at £175 or £185 with steel panelling. There was a folding sunshine roof for only 50 shillings, and an opening windscreen. From its 127I cc engine the Hornet could reach 60 miles per hour in 30 seconds, very good for its day, and was said to do 33 miles to the gallon. It would do 43 mph in second gear, but suffered from a tiny four-gallon petrol tank on the scuttle inherited from the Minor. The car was 11 ft 1 in long, 4 ft 3 in wide and 5 ft 3 in high. The steering lock was appalling with a 40 foot turning circle and it took 69 feet to stop from 40 mph. But it sold.

Boy-racer open bodies began to proliferate, by Abbey for Eustace Watkins, Salmons of Newport Pagnell, Michael McEvoy, and Swallow, the Jaguar ancestor. It was the epitome of what the United Kingdom Vintage Sports Car Club hated, with cutaway doors, dummy rear petrol tank, fold-flat screen, wire wheels, and usually laden with badges, stone-guards, mirrors and lamps. Later a bigger and fatter body was pushed on by chopping off the vertical dynamo drive to shorten the engine, substituting a timing chain and belt driven dynamo, and the little six grew up into a larger machine.

The Wolseley Nine

The Hornet ran from 1930-33, and spawned the Hornet Special. This was sold as a chassis to coach builders like Eustace Watkins, who produced the handsome Daytona. There was also a 1604cc version using the Wolseley Fourteen engine. Some Hornets were raced and rallied in competition with the MGs and Rileys of the day. After the Hornet came the Viper, which was a 16 hp model, and then the Sixteen. Wolseleys began to move into the luxury class with free wheels, automatic clutches, sun roofs and lots of leather and polished wood. This air of richness extended down to small cars like the Nine, a 60 x 90 mm four with all the airs of a big car.

The Wolseley Wasp, Easi-Clean Wheel and Illuminated Radiator Emblem

After the Nines came the Wasp with a marginally bigger engine, and in 1935 came both the Easi-clean wheel and the famous illuminated emblem in the radiator grille. Fourteens, Sixteens and Eighteens which were indistinguishable except by their size then became the staple diet; large, heavy well-built sedans capable of carrying four large coppers in comfort were featured in every British film of the era. Nuffield had been running the company since 1926 as a personal business, but transferred it to Morris Motors in July 1935. Wolseley had been making engines for Morris, but now all engine production went to Coventry so the famous OHC engine disappeared and Wolseley went pushrod.

At this time they dropped the yearly model idea and introduced the Series, in this case the Super-Six range of 16, 21 and 25 hp cars. Series III cars took over from Series II, and the Ten came on the market as a little luxury item for those who wanted a better finished small car. But the Eight didn't make it due to World War 2, which clashed with its launch date of September 1939. But before this the motoring journalist Humphrey Symons and his co-driver H. B. Browning did an England-Cape Town 10,000-mile run in 31 days 22 hours in a big 18/85 Wolseley, including inverting themselves in the Gada river in Nigeria, which was crocodile-infested. They fished it and themselves out and finished.

Bren Gun Carriers

A plan for Shadow Factories to build aircraft and other war-like machines if war came had been ready since 1936. Lord Nuffield had already offered to build his own engine and when that was turned down offered an American Pratt & Whitney engine for the government but that too was turned down. He picked up his hat and gloves in the Air Ministry and said, 'God help you in case of war'. Because of his dispute with the Air Ministry Lord Nuffield pulled Wolseley out of the Shadow scheme to make Bristol engines. The plant of Wolseley Aero Engines was closed and lost to the defence cause, at least for a time. But production of Bren gun carriers was transferred from Nuffield Mechanizations and Aero Ltd to Wolseley, and also making of Morris six-wheeled vehicles for the war office.

The company had its own well-equipped tool room which made it more independent than many companies not so equipped. It made nearly 6,000 six-wheeled trucks by 1942, Bren carriers right through the war, at the rate of 100 a week. The company also designed a simple ambulance body to fit on any car, and bought 600 used cars, chopping off the rear of the bodies to fit their £50 ambulance. Hundreds of cars were also turned into vans for army signals. The company's war output was valued at £30m with fuses, four-inch shells, mines, depth charge pistols, sinkers, Browning gun control parts, Horsa gliders, and wings making up the total.

Nearly £500,000 worth of damage was done to the factory by 176 German air raids in 1939-45. Visitors included Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Montgomery, King Haakon of Norway and the King and Queen. In 1945 Wolseley faced the same problem as other makers. Large areas of their factory had been destroyed and they also had to decide what models to revive. They fixed on the old 12, 14, and 18 models which could be made on a single assembly track, leaving other tracks for newer models. But they had to wait for the end of the war and availability of materials and men.

The Wolseley Four-Fifty and Six-Eighty

Just before VE Day in April 1945 their minds were made up for them by the War Office, who ordered a fleet of Eighteens. On 4 September the first postwar Wolseley left the factory. The Ten came back too, but the prototype of the Eight which had been ready in 1939 was stolen and missing for a while, although found in time to go into production. The first two genuine postwar models were the Four-Fifty and Six-Eighty, which featured such untried modern devices as independent torsion-bar front suspension, hypoid rear axle, and steering-column gear-change allied to a reversion to the old Wolseley favourite-ohc. Then on 1st January 1949, the company moved Wolseley car production to Cowley, Oxford, where they ultimately blended into the badge engineering empire of British Leyland.

The two-car range ended in 1954, by this time firm favourites with the police in place of the earlier models. In 1952 Wolseley lost its overhead camshaft again and 4/44 arrived with the pushrod MG engine, first step towards becoming one of five Austin/ Morris/MG/Riley/Wolseley variants on the same theme which was their future. Models in this category have been the 15/50 and 15/60, the 1500 which was a blown-up Morris Minor, the Hornet II and III, which were Minis, the 1300 Mk I, II and III, the 18/85, the 2200 and finally the 18/22 Series. In 1975, it was decided to incorporate all the British Leyland 18/22 variants under the Princess name. Wolseley disappeared from the motor magazine price lists but the Wolseley name was put on ice for possible use in the future.

The Wolseley Gyrocar

Before leaving the Wolseley story, there was one very odd and ambitious car that deserves a mention. This was the two-wheel gyrocar that was built in prototype form in 1913. The story, as told by the makers, says that early in 1913 a bearded Russian calling himself Count Peter Schilowsky arrived at the factory with a sheath of blue-prints under his arm. He said his estates in Russia were divided by lanes so narrow even the horses had trouble getting through. He planned to overcome the problem with a special vehicle. The car turned out to be a two-wheeled, four-seater carriage. Its four cylinder engine drove the back wheel as well as a massive gyroscope placed under the front seat. The gyroscope was controlled by two pendulums so that when the vehicle leaned to one side, the pendulums set the gyro whirring. The car then quickly righted itself.

The vehicle was very long and thin, with a pair of wheels which could be lowered on either side in case the engine stalled and when parking. The Count told an impressive story and asked Wolseley to build the car and left some money as a deposit. Within eight months the car firm had completed the order and the vehicle was ready for test. The Russian took the wheel, the three chief engineers climbed aboard and a group of workmen stood by in case of emergencies. The count started the engine and the vehicle wobbled forward. Then he changed gear and the vehicle shot backwards. After a little experimentation, he successfully drove the length of the factory, ignoring the erratic motion which turned one of the engineers green. Unfortunately, the engine stalled on a corner and the vehicle toppled over. Workmen rushed to the scene but the automatic side wheel held the car up.

When it eventually ventured onto the roads passers-by stared as the gyro car apparently defied the laws of gravity. When, for example, a passenger stepped onto the running board, the gyroscope buzzed into action and the car rose instead of lowering under the weight. And, on the sharpest of corners, the vehicle remained upright instead of leaning into the curve like a motorcycle. After the tests, the car returned to the factory for modification. The Count diplomatically withdrew and was never seen at Wolseley again. The company was left with the huge car on its hands. It waited a decent interval in case the Count came back, then buried it in the factory grounds. In 1936 someone remembered and it was then put on display in the company's main showroom.

Also see: Wolseley Car Reviews | Wolseleys And Other Cars In My Life by Len Knight | Weird And Wonderful Car Inventions

Wolseley 2-Wheeler Gyroscope
The Wolseley 2-Wheeler Gyroscope was one of the weirdest "cars" the company ever made. The two-wheeled monster was held upright by a gyroscope. It was originally built for a Russian Count who wanted to cruise his estates where the lanes were too narrow for a normal car. He never took delivery.
1973 Wolseley Six, which was fitted with a 2.2 litre six-cylinder engine transversely mounted and driving the front wheels
1973 Wolseley Six, which was fitted with a 2.2 litre six-cylinder engine transversely mounted and driving the front wheels.
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