Monday, 8 October 2012

Weep for a Wolseley

When a serious commentator like Martin Buckley contemplates a Wolseley Six Eighty you are obliged to help. We were a Wolseley family, and while I wouldn’t put the 6/80 among his allegedly rubbish cars, it did have shortcomings. Valves. Wolseley’s obsession with shaft-driven overhead camshafts stemmed from copying Hispano Suiza aero engines during the First World War. It continued as Nuffield Morris Engines in the 1930s, so when a post-Second World War Wolseley was contemplated ohc seemed just the thing. There were two. The 4/50 and the 6/80, essentially Minor monocoque masterworks, developed under Alec Issigonis into cars not so much badge engineered, as family resembled. Torsion bar sprung, with decent ride and handling the 6-cylinder was 7in longer, had bigger brakes and fatter tyres. The middle bit with the doors and boot was pure Morris Oxford with not much room in the back.
Alas, the valves. The 2214.8cc produced 72bhp @ 4,700rpm and you could do over 80mph, but to an 18 year old a 0-60 of about 21sec probably seemed lacklustre, and 6/80s didn’t have a rev counter. Taggart’s service manager grew weary of warranty claims and mentioned, unkindly I thought, to father that the trouble was over-revving. In fact the valves and guides were made from poor materials and overheating was endemic. 6/80s had no temperature gauge. By 1952 the cylinder head and cooling system were redesigned, starting with engine number 20,301. I have no idea if ours was before or after, but it certainly burned a lot of valves. Owners nowadays use Stellite. Father replaced it with an Armstrong Siddeley. So, blemished rather than rubbished for Classic & Sports Car readers. I liked the 6/80, steering column gearshift notwithstanding. Ours was metallic green (top at Dunure, Ayrshire). I was into photographing cars even then – I thought you had to if you wanted to be a motoring writer. Mother had the Wolseley tricked out with trendy tartan seat covers over the fine leather seats; they were as good as new when it was sold.
Pity it didn’t have rack and pinion, like the Minor. They didn’t think R&P would work in a big car and it had low-geared Bishop cam steering. Four and three quarter turns lock to lock meant a lot of wheel-twirling when you were in a hurry. Nice wood facia. Mother liked that. Two big SUs and although there was 57 per cent of the weight on the front I don't remember too much understeer. Didn't really know what understeer was. Got the 6/80 stuck in a sand dune at Troon late one night. Girl involved. I was 18.

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