Wolseley's still-born record car

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Although the well-established Wolseley tool and Motor Car Company had not raced since the days of Herbert Austin’s Wolseley ‘Beetles’, it could not ignore the publicity value of record-breaking on Brooklands Track. So around 1911 it built a car to attack the World’s One-Hour record, a useful goal in the prestige stakes.

Wolseley’s had been making a wide range of cars for some time and selected for the task a racing version of their 16/20hp four-cylinder chassis. It had a mm side-valve engine with dual ignition, until the coil was deleted after 1912. At the time the hour record had been held since 1909 by a big 59.8hp six-cylinder Thames.

However, events overtook the Wolseley. Late in 1912 Louis Coatalen’s Sunbeam had the world’s hour figure at 92.45mph before Victor Hemery, with a 15-litre GP Lorraine Dietrich, put it to 97.59mph. In 1913 came the first 100 miles in an hour, when Percy Lambert averaged 103.84mph in a 25hp Talbot, this landmark record later beaten by Jules Goux in a 1912 GP Peugeot (106.22mph) and then by Jean Chassagne’s 9-litre V12 Sunbeam (107.95mph). It was all too much for Wolseley.

Their single-seater was never seen in a race or record bid, as far as is known. I was kindly sent its photographs by John End, builder of a very good replica of a Wolseley ‘Moth’, which he ran in VSCC events. He says the mystery Wolseley, of which even the Wolseley Register has no information, was converted into a two-seater by the Wolseley works manager. It certainly had been registered in Birmingham when in racing trim.

After that it was left to Capt (later Sir) Alastair Miller to persuade Wolseley to enter for Brooklands races, with the eminently successful pair of single-seater Wolseley 10 ‘Moths’, the two-seater Wolseley 10, the 2.0/2.7-litre car with that choice of engines, and the 11-litre aero-engined Wolseley Viper, a team emanating from 1921.

There is rather a nice sequel. Apparently Miller, driving through Henley some time after he had turned to driving other racing cars, saw one of his `Moths’ in a showroom window. Entering, he was no doubt able to parry the eager salesman’s excessive praise of the little car and its speed! Sir Alastair bought it and achieved his ambition of winning the Founder’s Gold Cup BARC Handicap with the ancient little racer, in 1930, ‘Moth II’ lapping at 83.28mph.

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