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Charlie, Wolseley Six, 1972

Meet Charlie, our 1972 Wolseley Six! Since our first car in England got christened “Bettan” after The Queen the logical name was of course “Charlie” after her heir...

Charlie

For quite some time we wanted to replace Bettan with something smaller and after passing the Jag on to an American serviceman who bravely drove her to Sicily(!) Classic Car Weekly and ebay were scanned for suitable objects. An Allegro VandenPlas was found too tiny and a Triumph 2500s Estate too rusty. A slightly shabby Wolseley Six on ebay caught my attention though and I bought a train ticket to Sheffield. £500 later I drove a Wolseley with no alternator (well, physically it was there) back to Cambridge.

Charlie has got the advantages of being structurally very sound, tax exempt, equipped with a reasonable interior and a very sweet engine. On the down side we find the paintwork and a notchy 3rd gear.

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Who is Charlie?

“Isn't that a pathetic Austin with a chrome grille?” asked friend(?) Ingvar when introduced to my interest in buying a Wolseley Six. Well, he's partly right – it is a plushed up Austin with a wooden dash and a pig snout grille; but is it pathetic?

40 years ago the Austin 1800 was presented at the 1964 London Motor Show. The Wolseley version arrived in 1967 and the six cylinder engine was introduced as an option with the arrival of the mkIII version in 1972. The full story of the car is very well told both at landcrab.net and The Unofficial Austin-Rover Web Resource so I see no reason to try to do it here...

So – is it pathetic? – well; it has hydrolastic suspension and a transversely mounted, super smooth six cylinder engine (V***O made a big fuss when they introduced the S80 in 1999 ;-). It is the roomiest car I've ever been in, it is undeniably odd and was misunderstood and failed to sell when new (big advantages according to me!). So pathetic? Oh no, it's the coolest car in the universe (If anyone's pathetic it's me...)

The Full Test

The Wolseley Man

The Wolseley Man, click to enlarge. Who was the man who bought Charlie back in 1972? I have not contacted Charlie's first owner but I can speculate... In 1972 the landcrab had been around for eight years and reached the mkIII. It was now available with a brand new six cylinder engine, had lost its wood looking door cappings and the leatherette seats had been binned in favour of some seventies nylon. It was still way ahead of its competitors like the rear wheel drive mkIII Cortina with its live-axle but of course less conventional and also more expensive. The Wolseley man was technically interested and also brave enough to spend the extra money to get an innovative and unconventional car.

So what did the Wolseley Man get? One sunny day I dressed up in tweed, put on my brownest shoes, and set off to find out. (Please click the images to enlarge)

Cabin and Controls

A Wolseley Six has a long wheel base and a wide track. As soon as you open one of the four generously sized doors you realize how spacious the car is. The floor is almost flat and there's plenty of it, there are two very generous armchairs in the front an enormous three seater sofa in the back. You could easily fit the king of Tonga times five in here! The Front Seats, click to enlarge. The Rear Seat, click to enlarge. Controls, click to enlarge.

The sitting experience is also much more living room than car, and in a vehicle of this type it makes sense since it is much more about transportation in style than driving anyway (It takes its toll on your back on longer journeys though). Personally I would much prefer the earlier leatherette interior but in the beginning of the seventies I guess the olive green brushed nylon felt nice and modern. The dashboard is very pleasant with its thick wood and chrome surrounded Smiths instruments. All switches are clearly marked if a bit scattered and the indicator stalk to the right which takes some getting used to.. The huge steering wheel sits at Ferrari angle (like a lorry) and the steering is not power assisted on this example. It might have been in the beginning since there is a pulley for the servo pump on the engine and the steering rack has some unused connections.

Luggage

Spacious boot with assistant, click to enlarge. As soon as you open the sloping boot lid you realize an advantage with the hydrolastic suspension. With the whole suspension in two cans under the back seat there are no struts taking up boot space. The width of the loading area is demonstrated by my testing assistant. The sloping boot lid intrudes a bit and also makes loading a bit awkward but you can easily fit a pram and a weekend's luggage for the whole family.

Driving

With a huge six cylinder lump over the front wheels steering is a bit heavy at parking speeds but the steering wheel is huge and once on the run the feel is excellent. The straight six pulls smoothly from low revs and you rarely have to change gear, which is fortunate since the gearbox isn't a very pleasant acquaintance anyway. The gear change can't be described as slick and the gearing is optimized for towing heavy caravans in the Alps. First gear is redundant, third can be skipped and fourth engaged as soon as the speedometer shows 15 mph. I dearly miss the gears 6 and 8. At 50 it starts to get rather buzzy but the top speed is supposed to be in the region of 100 mph! So, speed is available but takes plenty of revs which the engine is Sweet Six, click to enlarge.
not that keen on and it also feels a bit unworthy in a car like this. Then we have the hydrolastic suspension. Unlike Citroën this is a passive closed system that needs pumping only every five years or so. Since it is not used any more I did not think much of it. I was wrong. It's fantastic! It soaks up bumps impressively and the cornering abilities are astounding. It hardly leans at all no matter how hard you press on. What holds you back in the bends are the 165R 14 Nankang tires. With more suitable rubber on wider rims you would have a gocart, or an oversize mini which is what it is really... The brakes with disks and three pot (!) calipers up front and drums at the back are more than adequate to stop the 1245 kgs of British beast.

Details

Illuminated Badge, click to enlarge. Streamlined Indicator, click to enlarge. Sill Protector, click to enlarge. Interesting technology is all good but at the end of the day it's the details that make you like the car. Charlie has plenty of charming detailing. One of the most obvious is the illuminated grille badge, called “ghost light”. Have a look at the wing indicators - compare them with the latest fashion of white indicators fitted in the door mirrors...
Door mirrors by the way? Charlie's got wing mirrors - impossible to adjust but undeniable charming. Chromed sill protectors can sometimes be found on modern cars but how about chromed petrol filler flap lock protectors? And full size stainless steel wheel trims? Those days are over! There are enough details on Charlie to keep you going for a long time. Wheel Trim, click to enlarge. Filler Lock, click to enlarge.

Economy

Well - buying a landcrab is ridiculously cheap, being a 1972 model Charlie is tax exempt, spare and servicing parts are mostly available through the club and don't cost neither an arm nor a leg. That leaves the petrol. Ok, Charlie likes a drink. On a long trip, fully loaded, I recorded 11 liters per 100 km, which is not too bad for a big six cylinder car really.

Verdict

Ultra cool, cheap and practical. What are you waiting for? Go out and buy one!

15 April 2005, Anders Selmer

1972 Sales Brochure

A while ago i discovered ebay as a source of classic cars offered for sale. Soon I found out that you can find almost any obscure thing there as long as you look long enough. Now I keep looking for Wolseley Six related items and have so far bought a variety of NOS (New Old Stock) spares, some workshop manuals, an in car manual with a sexy grey vinyl cover and this: a 1972 Wolseley Six sales brochure!

It is full of wonderfully seventies pictures and selling phrases like: “Wolseley have been producing motor cars since 1895. Their looks and performance may have changed a lot over the years, but one thing hasn't. Their background of unstinting craftsmanship. Craftsmanship which we think has reached a new peak in the Wolseley Six” or “Because you'd trust a man who drives one as much as you'd trust the car itself.” on why it makes an excellent company car.

“Cruising along the motorway or winding through a country lane, the Wolseley Six treats you to an exhilarating display of controlled power.” and “The new Wolseley Six. One of the few cars that can mix business with pleasure. In style.” makes me wonder why they did not sell in bucket loads back in the beginning of the seventies :-)

Please click the thumbnails to the right to show enlarged scans of the brochure in a new window. (Please accept my apologies for the commercials)
cover page, please click to enlarge
page 1, please click to enlarge page 2, please click to enlarge
page 3, please click to enlarge page 4, please click to enlarge
page 5, please click to enlarge page 6, please click to enlarge
page 7, please click to enlarge page 8, please click to enlarge
page 9, please click to enlarge page 10, please click to enlarge
rear cover, please click to enlarge

www.landcrab.net. Home of the “Landcrab Owners' Club International”

The Unofficial Austin-Rover Web Resource. A lot to read and see about Britain's Best...

The Car of the Century. Australian page dedicated to the Austin 1800. Lots and lots of “slightly biased” information.

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