Wolseley Motors

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Wolseley Motors
Industry Automotive
Fate Merged
Successors British Motor Corporation
Founded 1901
Defunct 1975
Headquarters Birmingham, England
Key people Thomas and Albert Vickers
Herbert Austin
J D Siddeley
A J McCormack
W R Morris
Wolseley Marque
Product type Automotive marque
Owner SAIC Motor
Discontinued 1987
Previous owners Vickers, Sons and Maxim (1901–1927)
W R Morris (1927–1935)
Morris Motors Limited (1935–1952)
BMC (1952–1967)
British Leyland (1967–1986)
Rover Group (1986–1988)
BAe (1988–1994)
BMW (1994–2000)
MG Rover (2000–2005)
NAC (2005–2007)

Wolseley Motors Limited was a British motor vehicle manufacturer founded in early 1901 by the Vickers armaments combine in conjunction with Herbert Austin. It initially made a full range topped by large luxury cars and dominated the market in the Edwardian era but the Vickers brothers died in 1915 and 1919, respectively. In 1921, expanding rapidly, it manufactured 12,000 cars and still continued to be the biggest motor manufacturer in Britain. Over-expansion led to receivership in 1927 when it was bought from Vickers by William Morris as a personal investment and years later moved into his Morris Motors empire. After the Second World War its products were "badge-engineered" and it went with its sister businesses into BMC, BMH and British Leyland where its name lapsed in 1975.

Founding 1901[edit]

Colonel Thomas Vickers 1833–1915

The Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company Limited[edit]

The Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company of Adderley Park Birmingham was incorporated in March 1901 with a capital of £40,000 by Vickers, Sons and Maxim to manufacture motor cars and machine tools. The Managing Director was Herbert Austin. The cars and the Wolseley name came from Austin's exploratory venture for The Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company Limited run since the early 1890s by the now 33-year-old Austin. Wolseley's board had decided not to enter the business and the Vickers brothers picked it up. After his five-year contract with The Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company ended Austin would found The Austin Motor Company Limited.

Austin's Wolseley cars[edit]

Wolseley 1903

Austin had been searching for other products for WSSMC because sale of sheep shearing machinery was a highly seasonal trade. About 1895–96 he became interested in engines and automobiles. During the winter of 1895–96 working in his own time at nights and weekends he made his own version of a design by Léon Bollée that he had seen in Paris.[1] Later he found that another British group had bought the rights and he had to come up with a design of his own having persuaded the directors of WSSMC to invest in the necessary machinery..

The former Wolseley works, Ward End

In 1897 Austin's 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. The 1901 Wolseley Gasoline Carriage featured a steering wheel instead of a tiller.[2] 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 board of WSSMC had lost interest in the nascent motor industry.

Name plate: Vickers, Sons & Maxim
Wolseley Siddeley

Thomas and Albert Vickers, directors of Vickers and Maxim Britain's largest armaments manufacturer had much earlier decided to enter the industry at the right moment and impressed by Austin's achievements at WSSMC they took on his enterprise. When Austin's five-year contract ended in 1906 they had made more than 1,500 cars, Wolseley was the largest British motor manufacturer and Austin's reputation was made.

The Wolseley range from 1901 to 1905.
Engines were horizontal which kept the centre of gravity low. Cylinders were cast individually and arranged either singly, in a pair or in two pairs which were horizontally opposed. The crankshaft lay across the car allowing a simple belt or chain-drive to the rear axle:
  • 5 hp,[3] 6 hp[3] from 1904
  • 7½ hp, 8 hp from 1904
  • 10 hp, 12 hp from 1904
  • from 1904 16 hp
  • 20 hp, 24 hp from 1904

in 1904 Queen Alexandra bought a 5.2-litre 24 hp landaulette with coil ignition, a four speed gearbox and chain drive.[4]


Wolseley Siddeley 1908 example

Vickers replaced Austin by promoting Wolseley's London sales manager, John Davenport Siddeley to general manager. Vickers had earlier built for him some of his Siddeley cars at their Crayford Kent factory. During 1905 they purchased the goodwill and patent rights of his Siddeley car.[5] Siddeley promptly replaced Austin's horizontal engines with the now conventional upright engines. Under Siddeley Wolseley maintained the sales lead left to him by Austin but, now run from London not (Austin's base) Birmingham the whole business failed to cover overheads. The board closed the Crayford Kent works, dropping production of taxicabs and commercial vehicles and moved the whole operation back to Birmingham. After some heated discussions Siddeley resigned in the spring of 1909 and was to go on to manage the Deasy Motor Company.[4] Ernest Hopwood was appointed managing director in August 1909.[6]

The Wolseley range in 1909:
  • 12/16 hp[3]
  • 16/20 hp
  • 20/24 hp
  • 24/30 hp
  • 30/34 hp
  • 40 hp
  • 40/50 hp
  • 60 hp

After 1911 the name on the cars was again just Wolseley.[4]

Wolsit racer 1907

Wolseley Italy or Wolsit[edit]

Wolsit Officine Legnanesi Autmobili was incorporated in 1907 by Macchi Brothers and the Bank of Legnano to build Wolseley cars under licence in Legnano, about 18 kilometres north-west of central Milan. A similar enterprise, Fial, had started there a year earlier but failed in 1908. Wolsit automobile production ended in 1909, the business continued but made luxury bicycles. Emilio Bozzi made the Ciclomotore Wolsit from 1910 to 1914. A team of Wolsit cars competed in motoring events in 1907.[7]

Wolseley 16-20 hp 1912 example
Wolseley 24-30 Colonial model 1912
Stellite, a separate low-priced range made by Wolseley (1914 example)

Wolseley Motors Limited 1914[edit]

By 1913 Wolseley was Britain's largest car manufacturer selling 3,000 cars.[8] The company was renamed Wolseley Motors Limited in 1914.
It also began operations in Montreal and Toronto as Wolseley Motors Limited. This became British and American Motors after the First World War.

World War I[edit]

Wolseley ambulance of
"The Madonnas of Pervyse"

Entering wartime as Britain's largest car manufacturer Wolseley initially contracted to provide cars for staff officers and ambulances. Government soon indicated their plant might be better used for supplies more urgently needed. Postwar the chairman, Sir Vincent Caillard, was able to report Wolseley had provided, quantities are approximate:

  • 3,600 motorcars and lorries including the equivalent in spare parts
  • 4,900 aeronautical engines including the equivalent in spare parts
  • 760 aeroplanes
  • 600 sets aeroplane spare wings and tailplanes
  • 6,000 airscrews of various types
  • Director firing gear for 27 battleships, 56 cruisers and 160 flotilla leaders and destroyers
  • 1,200 naval gun mountings and sights
  • 10 transmission mechanisms for rigid airships
  • 2,650,000 18-pounder shells
  • 300,000 Stokes's bombs[9]

The Scottish Horse Mounted Brigade's Field Ambulance developed an operating car, designed by Colonel H. Wade in 1914, which enclosed an operating table, sterilisers, full kit of instruments and surgical equipment, wire netting, rope, axes and electric lighting in a Wolseley car chassis. This operating car was employed during the Gallipoli Campaign at Suvla, in the Libyan Desert (during the Senussi Campaign) and at Kantara in Egypt, before being attached to the Desert Mounted Corps Operating Unit in 1917. Subsequently taking part in the Southern Palestine Offensive, which culminated in the Capture of Jerusalem.[10]

In 1918, Wolseley began a joint venture in Tokyo, 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 is reorganized, renaming itself Isuzu Motors in 1949.

Postwar expansion and collapse[edit]

Wolseley Ten 1923 example
postwar Stellite

Thomas Vickers died in 1915 and Albert Vickers in 1919 both then in their eighties. During the war Wolseley's manufacturing capacity rapidly developed. Postwar the Vickers Directors decided to borrow and further expand Wolseley's works and to consolidate their motor-car interests in one company. Wolseley accordingly purchased from within the Vickers group: Electric and Ordnance Accessories Company Limited, the Motor-Car (Stellite Car) Ordnance Department and the Timken Bearing Department and announced Wolseley's future car programme would be:

1. 10 hp four-cylinder two or three-seater touring car based on the Wolseley designed Stellite car
2. 15 hp four-cylinder four-seater touring car
3. 20 hp six-cylinder chassis to be fitted with a variety of the best types of carriage-work

Examples of all these models were exhibited at the Olympia Show in November 1919.[9]

In 1919 Wolseley also took over the Ward End, Birmingham munitions factory from Vickers and purchased a site for a new showroom and offices in London's Piccadilly by the Ritz Hotel. More than £252,000 was spent on the magnificent new building, Wolseley House, more than double their profits for 1919 when rewarding government contracts were still running. Those contracts ended. In 1920 they reported a loss of £83,000. The following years showed even greater losses and in 1924 the annual loss reached £364,000.[11]

Ernest Hopwood had been appointed Managing Director in August 1909 following Siddeley's departure. He resigned due to ill-health late in 1919. A J McCormack who had been joint MD with Hopwood since 1911 resigned in November 1923 and was replaced by a committee of management. Then at the end of October 1926 it was disclosed Sir Gilbert Garnsey and T W Horton had been appointed joint receivers and managers and the company was bankrupt "to the tune of £2 million". It was described as "one of the most spectacular failures in the early history of the motor industry".[6][12][13]


Main article: Morris Motors
14-56 police car
registered March 1937
a Morris Fourteen Six in police uniform

Wolseley's business was purchased personally by William Morris, later Viscount Nuffield for £730,000 in February 1927 using his own money.[14] Other bidders included General Motors and the Austin Motor Company. Herbert Austin, the founder, was said to have been very distressed he was unable to buy it.

Morris incorporated a new company, Wolseley Motors (1927) Limited, he was later permitted to remove the (1927), and consolidated its production at the sprawling Ward End Works in Birmingham.

Morris transferred Wolseley to his Morris Motors Limited as of 1 July 1935[15] and soon all Wolseley models were badge-engineered Morris designs.

Wolseley joined Morris, MG and later Riley/Autovia in what was later promoted as the Nuffield Organisation

Post WWII[edit]

After the war Wolseley left Adderley Park, Morris and Wolseley production was consolidated at Cowley. The first post-war Wolseleys, the similar 4/50 and 6/80 models used overhead camshaft Wolseley engines, were otherwise based on the Morris Oxford MO and Morris Six MS but given the traditional Wolseley radiator grille. The Wolseley 6/80 was the flagship of the company and incorporated the best styling and features. The Wolseley engine of the 6/80 was also superior to the Morris delivering a higher BHP. The car was well balanced and demonstrated excellent road holding for its time. The British police used these as their squad cars well into the late sixties.


Following the merger of Austin and Morris 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.

In 1957 the Wolseley 1500 was based on the planned successor to the Morris Minor, sharing a bodyshell with the Riley One-Point-Five. 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.

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[edit]

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 74 years.

As of 2012 the Wolseley marque is owned by SAIC Motor, having been acquired by its subsidiary Nanjing Automobile following the break-up of the MG Rover Group. The Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machinery Company continued trading and is now Wolseley plc.

List of Wolseley vehicles[edit]

16-45 2-litre six-light saloon 1929

List of 1920s and 1930s Wolseley vehicles[edit]

Hornet 1¼-litre open 2-seater 1931
  • Four-cylinder
    • 1919-1923 Wolseley Seven
    • 1919–1924 Wolseley Ten
    • 1919–1924 Wolseley Fifteen
    • 1922-1924 Wolseley Fourteen
    • 1924-1928 Wolseley 11/22
    • 1924-1927 Wolseley 16/35
    • 1929-1930 Wolseley 12/32
    • 1934–1935 Wolseley Nine
    • 1935–1936 Wolseley Wasp
    • 1936–1937 Wolseley 10/40
    • 1936–1939 Wolseley 12/48
    • 1939-1939 Wolseley Ten
18 2¼-litre 4-door Saloon 1937
25 3½-litre shooting brake1937
Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California
  • Six-cylinder
    • 1919–1924 Wolseley Twenty
    • 1922-1924 Wolseley 24/30
    • 1924-1927 Wolseley 24/55
    • 1930–1936 Wolseley Hornet OHC
    • 1927-1931 Wolseley 16/45
    • 1931–1932 Wolseley Viper (car)
    • 1928–1930 Wolseley 12/32
    • 1933–1935 Wolseley County
    • 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)
    • 1929-1930 Wolseley 32/80 Straight Eight Overhead Cam 4020cc (chassis only)

List of post-Second World War Wolseley vehicles[edit]

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 equalled 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-litre engine capable of producing 60 hp (45 kW). Eventually, the entire naming system was abandoned.

  • Four-cylinder
The 1961-1969 Wolseley Hornet was based on the Mini
Wolseley Six (BMC ADO17)
Wolseley (18–22 series)
  • Six-cylinder

Aero engines[edit]

360 hp vertical 12-cylinder Wolseley marine engine image published 1905

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

Wolseley Aero Engines Ltd. was a subsidiary formed around 1931[citation needed] to design aero engines. When Wolseley Motors Limited was transferred to Morris Motors Limited on 1 July 1935 this part of its business was set aside by W. R. Morris (Lord Nuffield) and put in the ownership of a newly incorporated company, Wolseley Aero Engines Ltd, and remained his personal property. By 1942 the name of that company had become Nuffield Mechanizations Limited.

They were developing an advanced Wolseley radial aero engine of about 250 horsepower, but the project was abandoned in September 1936 when W. R. Morris 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[citation needed] (see Airspeed).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Baker, John. "Herbert Austin". http://www.austinmemories.com. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  2. ^ "The Wolseley Gasoline Carriage". The Horseless Age 8 (27): 562. 2 October 1901. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c RAC Rating
  4. ^ a b c Bill Smith, Armstrong Siddeley Motors Dorchester, Veloce, 2006; p.55; ISBN 9781904788362
  5. ^ from City Notes. The Times, Saturday, Apr 30, 1927; pg. 18; Issue 44569
  6. ^ a b Baldwin, Nick "The Wolseley", Shire , Princes Risborough UK, 1995. ISBN 0-7478-0297-1
  7. ^ Paolo Ferrari (ed.), L'aeronautica italiana: una storia del Novecento, FrancoAngeli Storia, Milan, 2004
  8. ^ The Rise and Decline of the British Motor Industry By Roy A. Church, Economic History Society, 1994
  9. ^ a b Wolseley Motors (Limited). Meeting of Debenture Holders.The Times, Tuesday, Oct 21, 1919; pg. 23; Issue 42236
  10. ^ R. M. Downes, The Campaign in Sinai and Palestine 1938, in A. G. Butler's Gallipoli, Palestine and New Guinea of Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914-1918 Part II in Volume 1 (Australian War Memorial: Canberra [1] pp. 636–7
  11. ^ James Leasor Wheels to Fortune, Stratus, Cornwall UK 2001. ISBN 0-7551-0047-6
  12. ^ Wolseley House Sold. Purchase by Barclays Bank The Times, Thursday, Jun 10, 1926; pg. 16; Issue 44294
  13. ^ City Notes. The Times Saturday, Oct 30, 1926; pg. 18; Issue 44416
  14. ^ Georgano, N. (2000). Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile. London: HMSO. ISBN 1-57958-293-1. 
  15. ^ Wolseley And M.G. Companies. The Times, Friday, Jun 14, 1935; pg. 20; Issue 47090.
  16. ^ Timeline 1968, www.ado16.info Retrieved on 26 September 2013


  • 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.

External links[edit]