Some B.M.C. products

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71

The Editor samples the Wolseley 16/60 Saloon, diesel-engined Morris-Oxford Series VI, Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf

It is hard to reconcile the pace of modern traffic with the continued production of heavy, unresponsive, wood-and-leather-trimmed cars like the Wolseley 16/60. Britons love tradition and tradition insists that an expensive motor car from Coventry or Crewe should have leather upholstery (of which, if it is genuine hide, I am all in favour) and plenty of nicely veneered woodwork round its windows and instruments. Cars of the power of a Daimler V8 Majestic Major (one of the World’s outstanding luxury cars), Jaguar Mk. 10, Rolls-Royce or Bentley can carry off such weighty embellishments, which do not drag down the available performance to any noticeable degree, so that their bowler-hatted occupants, smartly saluted by a commissionaire or hall-porter likewise weighted down by gold-braid, can accelerate smartly away to cruising speeds of 1 1/2-miles-a-minute or more.

But is it wise for owners of less expensive and infinitely less powerful carriages to ask for at least a proportion of this interior luxury? Rover always supplies it, but until the advent of their 3-litre, and now their revolutionary (for Solihull) 2-litre, the true advocates of this make tended to be rather frail old gentlemen addicted to bowling greens and panama hats. Similarly, tweed-clad ladies feel uncomfortably naked unless they are ensconced in the bulkier Wolseley. Riley, Humber or Vanden Plas saloons. Cars of this kind should have gone out with “tweenies” and carefully-tended carriage-drives; but the demand apparently persists. Indeed, I feel a touch of nostalgia and would be sorry to see the last of the lesser breeds of sumptuously appointed cars vanish into limbo – and so, I expect, would those who veneer woods and cure hides.

Such cars may be comparatively weighty and unresponsive but their defence might be that, although ingenious engineering is praised for the low structure weight of a Ford Consul Cortina, unkind critics have been heard to suggest that this was only achieved because Vic Raviolo had to aim at such strict cost targets, although this gives him no credit for the stiffness of the structure.

Be that as it may, I found myself investigating one of the least expensive of the feather-and-veneer brigade, a car of the kind with which to become one up on those Joneses and ideally suited for taking wealthy aunts for a (possibly lucrative) airing in Regent’s Park – to wit, a Wolseley 16/60 saloon.

The B-series B.M.C. family, comprising the Austin A60 Cambridge, M.G. Magnette Mk. IV, Morris Oxford Series VI, Riley 4/72 and Wolseley 16/60 Farinas, has had a very long innings, with minor mods. from time to time, and cannot have much longer to run. Yet, in spite of instinct telling me that modern family ears should be light, compact, constructed of steel and plastic, leaving the wood on the trees, cars designed to be responsive and lively, the comforts of the Club permissible only if such muffled horse-power is available to offset such weight and bulk, I found that the Wolseley 16/60 which Ken Revis of the B.M.C. produced for appraisal was quite to my liking. Indeed, I used it for a greater distance than any other Press car tested last year, with the exception of a VW 1500, and, far from making brief journeys between bridge parties and country clubs, this Wolseley was driven hard for more than 1,600 miles and, finding that it had a useful tow-hitch, it was used to trail the 1898 Decauville I drove in the Brighton Run from High Wycombe to London, a job it did without complaint. By no means a new car, the only trouble was a loose rear-view mirror, easily fixed with the aid of a screwdriver, although clonkings from the region of the bonnet did suggest that new engine mounting rubbers were required, and the screen-washers wouldn’t work.

The Wolseley wasn’t a fast car, sixty seeming sufficient, or 70 on a long straight road, for the drum brakes and the roadholding. But it is a sensible car, with a big, easy-to-load boot, a very nice floor gear-change, a big lockable cubby-hole, useable parcels’ shelves and neatly labelled but unilluminated heater knobs. The sense of luxury was diminished by bad air leaks into the body, even with all the windows shut, the firm archaic suspension vibrated the back seat (to the dog’s disgust) and shook things off the under-facia shelf, and the array of flick-switches was confusing on early acquaintance with the 16/60. The bonnet release and safety catches are both inaccessible. The locking arrangements were convenient, although the interior handles for the back doors were not handed, one moving up, the other down, to secure the doors. The r.h. indicators’ stalk is convenient and has the warning light at its extremity, and the hand-brake lever on the right is well placed and doesn’t obstruct the driver’s door. Oil pressure on the combination dial read 60 lb./sq. in. and the car would run 275 miles before the fuel gauge reading suggested more petrol. The engine was commendably economical, at 30.2 m.p.g., and when idling was so unobtrusive you could hear the ticking of the clock, which is a luxury-car criterion! I like the gear-change, which surely deserves praise equal to that accorded by Charles Bulmer, B.Sc., Technical Editor of The Motor, to the Ford Cortina GT, when he observed that “one has the impression of prodding the lever towards the right corner and allowing it to be sucked into place ” – except that as B.M.C. contrives it, the action is more precise. Moreover, the steering once the car is on the move, was unexpectedly light. The Wolseley 16/60 is an antiquated but acceptable imitation luxury-car, the performance of which, if it isn’t inspiring, is pleasantly restful, B.M.C. contrive to market it for £837 6s. 8d. Like the Police, those who drive it at night have the distinction of an illuminated radiator badge.

If the Wolseley 16/60 was restful the next B.M.C. product I drove, a compression-ignition Morris-Oxford, was positively somnambulant. This model has the same luxury accoutrements as the Wolseley but is propelled by a B.M.C. diesel-fuel-burning engine of 1,489 c.c., developing 40 b.h.p. at 4,000 r.p.m. and, with its 23-to-1 c.r., being independent of electric ignition. This engine is creditably smooth once it begins to turn over reasonably quickly but its heavy flywheel makes pick-up sluggish and, conversely, eliminates the normal engine-braking on the over-run. When it is idling “diesel-knock” prompts bystanders to inquire after the state of the bearings, and as the car carries no label to signify that it isn’t a petrol-engined Oxford, bets could no doubt be won fairly easily from this standpoint!

The gear ratios are lower than those used with the 61-b.h.p. petrol engine, and the performance is naturally not inspiring; in the low gears indicated maxima of 19, 31 and 50 m.p.h. are the absolute, although in the 4.5-to-1 top gear this heavy oil-burning 1 1/2-litre saloon goes along comfortably at between 60 and 70 m.p.h.

Apart from its smoothness, the compact engine is notably smokeless, and there are no complications, apart from turning the ignition/starter key to the left for some 20 seconds on cold morning to bring the heater plugs into action. I had this fascinatingly “different” Morris-Oxford for too brief a time to check its fuel consumption but compression-ignition engines are known to be economical, and the fuel-gauge needle was reluctant to drop. Moreover, diesel fuel, or “Derv,” is less expensive than petrol, and c.i. engines have a long life.

So those people, such as farmers, Who have access to such fuel will no doubt consider this British c.i. model well worth the extra outlay of £102 14s. 2d. involved – the total price is £868 2s. 11d., p.t. included, in de luxe form, as tested. The steering was even lighter than that of the Wolseley and the brakes even a trifle fierce, so the slight additional weight of the c.i. engine, perhaps 60 lb., is unnoticeable. And those timid motorists who strap themselves firmly to their vehicles before turning a wheel will surely gain additional comfort from thinking about the non-inflammable properties of fuel-oil?

Next, I became a motoring fairy, in a Riley Elf Mk. II 2-door saloon, although so far Imps have eluded me. Not content with making 1.6-litre imitation luxury-cars, B.M.C. carry the theme down amongst their Mini rannge, i the form of the booted, if not actually spurred, Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet. The engine size has been increased to 998 c.c., which means 38 (net) b.h.p. at 5,250 r.p.m., sufficient to provide a maximum speed of 80 m.p.h. and acceleration in the order of 0-50 m.p.h. in 15.8 sec., 0-60 m.p.h. in 23 sec. The luxury element of the Elf is provided by that irritating mixture of leather-cum-leathercloth upholstery and the boxing in of the Mini’s liberal under-facia shelving by a deep polished veneer facia panel, with two matching pseudo non-lockable lidded cubby-holes. I am strongly in favour of leather seats – you do not sit on plastic at home so why do so in the car? – while cloth, clinging and difficult to clean, has gone right out of fashion. Of greater moment is the provision of sound damping, pile carpets and a carpeted boot, which effectively reduces mechanical cacophony. The doors have sliding windows with improved catches, and short internal handles, the wipers leave a dangerous, unswept patch on the off-side of the windscreen. The Mini door wells and back compartment stowage boxes are retained, and twin sun-vizors, lidded ash-tray on the screen sill, and safety belt fittings are provided. But in a car described as “surely the most luxurious small car in the World,” I was astonished to discover that the Riley Elf lacks self-parking screen-wipers, courtesy interior lighting and a trip mileometer you can zero, and that it has an infuriatingly insensitive heater. The centre veneered panel contains the big 90-m.p.h. speedometer, flanked below by thermometer and an oil gauge, the needle of which normally hangs down to show just over 50 lb./sq. in. pressure. Fluid statistics: Range from full tank to gauge showing almost empty, approximately 170 miles; shopping expedition fuel consumption, 38.5 m.p.g.; scarcely any oil used in nearly 400 miles.

The Elf’s radiator shell is a very good imitation of the radiator found on “real” pre-war Rileys but enthusiasts for these cars become hysterical at the thought of a Mini disguised as a Riley and, furthermore, will be astonished to find that the radiator, though it looks like that of a Riley, never gets hot! Moreover, I don’t think the radiator came up with the bonnet on the old Rileys….!

When all is said and done, however, this is a little car with a strong appeal. To the Mini’s cheeky performance and road-clinging a dash of individuality and luxury have been added, the larger engine provides reasonable acceleration and 70-m.p.h. cruising, the Lockheed drum brakes are entirely adequate, and whereas you cannot keep up with the Ponsford-Smiths in a mere Mini, watch their faces when they see your Riley! The gearchange now has unbeatable synchromesh but the cranked lever is too short, encouraging that under-hand action, and the change was too stiff, even after 10,000 miles’ use. The flick-switches for lamps, wipers and panel lighting are set rather far forward for a strapped-in driver to reach. The screen-washers button, by these standards, is also badly placed. The carburation was lumpy. But at £574 10s. 5d., p.t. paid, complete with heater, duotone finish, rim embellishers, screen-washers and electric clock, the Elf makes a useful business executive’s town-car and an appropriate present for debutantes, daughters, wives and mistresses. The ladies will no doubt welcome the improvement in top-gear acceleration endowed by the engine enlargement and they can have their Elf in Arianca beige/pale ivory with red upholstery; in Cumberland green/Old English white/green; damask red/Whitehall beige/red; Florentine blue/Old English white/blue; birch grey/Old English white/blue, green or red; or in Yukon grey/birch grey/blue, red or grey – which must have made Kay Petre, B.M.C.’s colour consultant, pretty well colour-blind. Come along, girls; make up your minds!

The Wolseley Hornet, called after a former, more sporting o.h.c. model, is virtually the same as the Riley Elf except for less elaborate trim and the open facia shelf and imitation-wood instrument console of the Mini-Coopers. It is interesting how identical cars can differ – the Wolseley had less lumpy low-speed pick-up, its oil gauge showed 75 lb.fsq. in. pressure (hot or cold, which makes me suspect modern oil gauges), but its brakes seemed slightly less effective and were somewhat harsh, although apparently it had covered 2,000 miles less than the Elf. As on the Riley, stiffness spoilt the gear-change. There is a good imitation of the old Wolseley radiator, complete with illuminated badge, which rises with the bonnet to form a cage that foils anyone seeking the dip-stick, etc. Fuel consumption was 36.1 m.p.g., driving hard plus London commuting, giving an absolute range on a tankful of 192 miles. No oil was needed in 300 miles. It costs £556 7s. 11d. inclusive of purchase tax.

On the whole I think the Riley Elf is that much more chic but you save £18 2s. 6d., or a year’s tax and something towards the insurance, by buying the Wolseley Hornet. Both are fun, both constitute very useful “auxiliary” transport; on the whole, I suppose past users of Monacos, Imps, Sprites, Adelphis, Lynx, etc., will go for the Elf, more staid past owners of Wasps, Vipers, 4/44s and 25s, etc., will back the I fornet. – W. B.