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Wolseley Motor Company
Fate Merged
Successor British Motor Corporation
Founded 1901
Defunct 1975
Headquarters Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
Key people William Morris
Industry Automotive
Products Cars
Employees ?

Wolseley illuminating radiator badge

A 1951 Wolseley 6-80 at Kettering Vintage Rally 2008

The Wolseley Motor Company was a British automobile manufacturer founded in 1901. After 1935 it was incorporated into larger companies but the Wolseley name remained as an upmarket marque until 1975.


The origins of the company as an automobile brand was in about 1895-96 when 30 year old Herbert Austin, then employed as a works manager at the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Company, became interested in engines and automobiles. During the winter of 1895-96 he made his own version of a design by Léon Bollée that he had seen in Paris. Later he found that another British group had bought the rights so Austin had to come up with a design of his own. In 1897, the second Wolseley car, the Wolseley Autocar No. 1 was revealed. It was a three wheeled design (one front, two rear) featuring independent rear suspension, mid engine and back to back seating for two adults. It was not successful and although advertised for sale, none were sold. The third Wolseley car, the four wheeled Wolseley "Voiturette" followed in 1899. A further four wheeled car was made in 1900, this time with a steering wheel instead of a tiller. The first Wolseley cars sold to the public were based on the "Voiturette", but production did not get under way until 1901, by which time the company had changed hands. In that year the automobile division was spun off (with financing from Vickers) as an independent concern in Adderley Park, Birmingham. Austin managed the new Wolseley company for a short time before resigning to form his own concern, the Austin Motor Company, in 1905.

Wolseley purchased the Siddeley Autocar Company, with founder John Davenport Siddeley in charge. Siddeley (later Baron Kenilworth) took control of the merged concern, renaming the marque Wolseley-Siddeley until his resignation in 1910. He went on to manage the Deasy Motor Company, which became Siddeley-Deasy. This later merged with Armstrong-Whitworth to become Armstrong Siddeley. In 1912 they were commissioned by the Russian Count Peter P Schilovski, a lawyer and member of the Russian royal family, to build the Schilovski Gyrocar.

Wolseley Motor Company

The company officially became the Wolseley Motor Company in 1914. It also began operations in Montreal and Toronto, Canada as Wolseley Motors Limited. This became British and American Motors after World War I.

In 1918, Wolseley began a joint venture in Tokyo, Japan with Ishikawajiama Ship Building and Engineering. The first Japanese-built Wolseley car rolled off the line in 1922. After World War II, the Japan venture reorganized, renaming itself Isuzu Motors in 1949. Isuzu was part of General Motors for a time, but has recently returned to independence and a focus on the commercial truck market.

In 1919 Wolseley also took over the Ward End, Birmingham munitions factory from Vickers.

Wolseley grew quickly selling upmarket cars, and even opened a lavish showroom, Wolseley House, in Piccadilly (next door to the the Ritz Hotel, now housing a restaurant called The Wolseley). Finances were strained, however, and the company faced receivership in October, 1926 with debts of £2 million.

The former Wolseley works, Ward End


Main article: Nuffield Organisation

Wolseley was purchased personally by William Morris, 1st Viscount Nuffield for £730,000 in February 1927 using his own money.[1] Other bidders included General Motors and the Austin Motor Company. Morris renamed the company Wolseley Motors (1927) Ltd and consolidated its production at the sprawling Ward End Works in Birmingham. In 1935, Wolseley became a subsidiary of Morris' own Morris Motor Company and the Wolseley models soon became based on Morris designs. It became part of the Nuffield Organisation along with Morris and Riley/Autovia in 1938.

After the war, Morris and Wolseley production was consolidated at Cowley, and badge engineering took hold. The first post-war Wolseleys, the similar 4/50 and 6/80 models, were based on the Morris Oxford MO.


Main article: British Motor Corporation

Following the merger between Austin and Nuffield that created the British Motor Corporation (BMC), Wolseleys shared with MG and Riley common bodies and chassis, namely the 4/44 (later 15/50) and 6/90, which were closely related to the MG Magnette ZA/ZB and the Riley Pathfinder/Two-point-Six respectively.

Other badge engineering exploits followed at BMC. In 1957 the Wolseley 1500 was based on the planned successor to the Morris Minor. The next year, the Wolseley 15/60 debuted the new mid-sized BMC saloon design penned by Pinin Farina. It was followed by similar vehicles from five marques within the year.

A 1965 Wolseley Hornet in a vintage race at Watkins Glen International.

The Wolseley Hornet was based on the Austin and Morris Mini with a booted body style which was shared with Riley as the Elf. The 1500 was replaced with the Wolseley 1100 (BMC ADO16) in 1965, which became the Wolseley 1300 two years later. Finally, a version of the Austin 1800 was launched in 1967 as the Wolseley 18/85.

British Leyland

Main article: British Leyland

After the merger of BMC and Leyland to form British Leyland in 1969 the Riley marque, long overlapping with Wolseley, was retired. Wolseley continued in diminished form with the Wolseley Six of 1972, a variant of the Austin 2200, a six-cylinder version of the Austin 1800. It was finally killed off just three years later in favour of the Wolseley variant of the wedge-shaped 18-22 series saloon, which was never even given an individual model name, being badged just "Wolseley", and sold only for seven months until that range was renamed as the Princess. This change thus spelled the end of the Wolseley marque after 80 years.

Today, the Wolseley marque is owned by Nanjing Automobile Group bought as part of the assets of the MG Rover Group. Note that the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Company continued trading, and continues today as Wolseley plc.

List of Wolseley vehicles

List of 1920s and 1930s Wolseley vehicles

  • Four-cylinder
    • 1920-1924 Wolseley 10
    • 1920-1927 Wolseley 15
    • 1934-1935 Wolseley Nine
    • 1935-1936 Wolseley Wasp
    • 1936-1937 Wolseley 10/40
    • 1936-1939 Wolseley 12/48
    • 1939-1939 Wolseley Ten
  • Six-cylinder
    • 1920-1924 Wolseley 20
    • 1930-1936 Wolseley Hornet OHC
    • 1927-1932 Wolseley Viper (car)
    • 1928-1930 Wolseley 12/32
    • 1930-1935 Wolseley 21/60
    • 1933-1935 Wolseley Sixteen
    • 1935-1936 Wolseley Fourteen
    • 1935-1935 Wolseley Eighteen
    • 1936-1938 Wolseley 14/56
    • 1937-1938 Wolseley 18/80
    • 1935-1937 Wolseley Super Six 16HP, 21HP, 25HP
    • 1938-1941 Wolseley 14/60
    • 1938-1941 Wolseley 16/65
    • 1938-1941 Wolseley 18/85 (also produced in 1944, for the military)
    • 1937-1940 Wolseley 16HP, 21HP, 25HP
  • Eight-cylinder
    • 1928-1931 Wolseley 21/60 Straight Eight Overhead Cam 2700cc (536 produced)

List of post World War II Wolseley vehicles

Wolseley long used a two-number system of model names. Until 1948, the numbers reflected the vehicle's engine size in units of taxable horsepower as defined by the Royal Automobile Club. Thus, the 14/60 was rated at 14 hp (RAC) for tax purposes but actually produced 60 hp (45 kW). Later, the first number equaled the number of cylinders. After 1956, this number was changed to reflect the engine's displacement for four-cylinder cars. Therefore, the seminal 15/60 was a 1.5 l engine capable of producing 60 hp (45 kW). Eventually, the entire naming system was abandoned.

  • Six-cylinder
    • 1938-1948 Wolseley 14/60 (Post war version was the Series III)
    • 1938-1948 Wolseley 18/85 (Post war version was the Series III)
    • 1938-1948 Wolseley 25 (Post war version was the Series III)
    • 1948-1954 Wolseley 6/80 (Morris Six)
    • 1954-1959 Wolseley 6/90 (Riley Pathfinder/Riley Two-Point-Six)
    • 1959-1961 Wolseley 6/99 (Austin A99 Westminster)
    • 1961-1968 Wolseley 6/110 (Austin A110 Westminster)
    • 1962-1967 Wolseley 24/80 (Australian version of 15/60 and 16/60, but six-cylinder; similar to Austin Freeway)
    • 1972-1975 Wolseley Six (BMC ADO17)
    • March-October 1975 Wolseley saloon (18–22 series)
  • Also produced (dates to be confirmed):
    • Wolseley 4/60 (Dutch version of 16/60)
    • Wolseley 300 (Danish version of 6/99 and 6/110)

Aero engines

Wolseley also produced a number of aircraft engine designs, although there were no major design wins.

  • Wolseley Aries
  • Wolseley Aquarius
  • Wolseley Scorpio
  • Wolseley Python
  • Wolseley Viper

Nuffield was developing an advanced Wolseley radial aero engine of about 250 horsepower, but the project was abandoned in September 1936 when Lord Nuffield got the fixed price I.T.P. (Intention to Proceed) contract papers (which would have required an army of chartered accountants) and decided to deal only with the War Office and Admiralty, not the Air Ministry (see Airspeed).[citation (source) needed]

References / sources

  1. Georgano, N. (2000). Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile. London: HMSO. ISBN 1-57958-293-1. 
  • Lambert, Z.E. and Wyatt, R.J, (1968). Lord Austin - The Man. Altrincham: Sidgwick and Jackson.
  • Nixon, St John C, (1949). Wolseley - A Saga of the Motor Industry. London: G T Foulis & Co Ltd.
  • Bird, Anthony, (undated but probably 1966) The Horizontal Engined Wolseleys, 1900-1905. London: Profile Publications Ltd.

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