1911 WOLSELEY 12-16HP 'FLUSH-SIDED PHAETON'
Registration No. G 2760
Chassis No. 10756
Engine No. 183/648
Dark blue with pale coachlining, with black leather interior
Engine: four cylinder monobloc, 3 1/8 x 4¾ ins. bore and stroke, 2,372cc, L-head side-valve, water-cooled by thermo-syphon, magneto ignition; Gearbox: three speed and reverse, multi-disc clutch, shaft-drive to underslung worm-drive back axle; Suspension: front, semi-elliptic leaf springs, rear, three-quarter elliptic leaf springs; Brakes: rear wheel and transmission brakes. Rudge-Whitworth detachable wire wheels with beaded-edge tyres. Right hand drive.
In the latter part of 1905 when Herbert Austin left the Wolseley Tools and Motor Car Company that the parent company Vickers Sons & Maxim had established in 1901 to begin business in his own right the general management of Wolseley passed to John D. Siddeley. He introduced a range of vertical-engined cars to replace Herbert's horizontals and by 1906 the Wolseley-Siddeley name had been adopted for them. They were well-made conventional cars, although the larger models used chain final-drive, just under seven-hundred being sold in 1906. Turnover was satisfactory but profits were somewhat elusive, car production in two factories 150 miles apart being one of the problems. Siddeley was a forceful, if not arrogant, character and although the cars made under his direction were well-regarded, he was not, and the directors dispensed with his services in 1909. Former technical director Arthur McCormack, described by The Automotor Journal as one of the 'silent' men of the motor industry, in marked contrast to Siddeley, was appointed as Managing Director by the Vickers' board and a process of rationalisation begun. This was much needed as there was an excessive range of four and six-cylinder cars, eight in all, rising in size from the 2-litre 12-16hp to the 8.9-litre 50hp - and most also came with options on the wheelbase length!
The model range was reduced to six for 1910, with bulk of output being of smaller cars, principally the new 12-16hp and 16-20hp models. Innovation was limited and the firm concentrated on the virtues that had established Wolseley's reputation: refinement and reliability, whilst they were also fairly priced. In chassis form the 12-16 cost £310, whilst the 3-litre 16-20 was just over one hundred pounds more. Since Wolseley had its own coachbuilding facility a range of complete cars was available ex-works, with standard body styles adding from between £65 for a tourer (which Wolseley called a phaeton) to £175 for a limousine-landaulet. Concluding a comprehensive review of the 16-20hp The Automobile Engineer of June 1910 observed: 'there is a large class of car users who put comfort before anything else, and regard high speeds and violent acceleration as unnecessary. To these the makers of the Wolseley cars have always appealed, and it has undoubtedly proved a successful commercial policy.' Successful the policy because in the last full year of peace, 1913, Wolseley was Britain's largest indigenous motorcar manufacturer producing around 3000 vehicles and a profit of over £160,000.
The 12-16hp model was current from 1910 to the end of 1912 and for its final season the piston stroke was increased by a quarter of an inch, this being the only significant change that was made in the three years of production. The Automotor Journal referred to it as 'one of most attractive small cars on the market', although 'small' is clearly a relative term for a 2.3-litre car with a 9 foot 3 inch wheelbase.
The great attraction of this 12-16hp beyond its undoubted intrinsic merit is that it looks never to have been restored, but simply to have survived in original and well cared for form. Apart from the inevitable aging of the paintwork this appears to be as originally applied, and the upholstery would seem to be that fitted when new. There are no obvious variations from the standard and under the bonnet such details as the Wolseley carburettor and Bosch magneto are present, and correct. When viewed, the lamps and spare wheel were not in place. The dashboard is as the original owner would have recognised it with its small porthole-style lubrication sight feeds (that show when the oil is circulating), magneto switch, a period speedometer that he probably fitted, and the maker's and supplier's plates. The former not only gives Wolseley and Vickers' details, but confirms the cylinder bore at 3 1/8 ins. (pre-decimal days), an important figure to know since road tax was payable based on a calculation using the RAC formula in which the key factor was the cylinder bore. In this case the outcome was 3 guineas to pay - also pre-decimal! The car's weight is given as well: 2,454 lbs; useful to know in an age when toll-bridges and ferry river-crossings were still commonplace and charges often included a weight factor.
The car was supplied by the Glaswegian Wolseley agents H. Prosser, of 98 Hope Street, which not only helps to explain the car's Glasgow Town Council registration but probably why in later life it came to be in the famous Sword Collection of veteran and vintage vehicles at East Balgray in Ayrshire. In the second dispersal sale of the late John Sword's collection in March 1965 the Wolseley was Lot 13 and was sold to Robin Howard of London for the sum of £900. To put this in context, the highest price on the day was the £7,200 paid for a 1908 Rolls-Royce Roi des Belges by Barker.
For a car to have survived for over ninety years and still to be in the essentially original condition of this Wolseley places it in a rather special category - a rather exclusive category coming to be appreciated by an ever growing number of discerning motoring enthusiasts.