Jim Jarron

An Australian Story

A few years ago I found myself in the situation where my daughter was using the family car more than I was and I couldn't always rely on having access to the car when I needed it.  A second car seemed like a good idea.  The thought of a second hand Japanese car or something similar did not, however, appeal to me.  An older car (but not too old, as I would be using it as a second car) seemed like a good idea - something a bit more unusual and with a bit more “class” than an old Holden, Ford or Volkswagen.
 
I wasn’t looking for a restoration project, but rather an old car in good usable condition, so it took some time to find, but eventually (in September of 2004) I found and bought a well maintained, but unregistered, 1962 Wolseley 15/60.  Before anyone jumps in to say that 15/60’s were not made after 1961, I’d better mention that this is an Australian built car, and the BMC plant in Sydney kept making 15/60’s until March of 1962.  The highest Australian body number for a 15/60 is believed to be 3551 and mine is number 3503.  Australian built B Series Farinas differ in some respects from those built in the UK.  For a start, they all had the 1622cc engine (UK customers had to wait about 2 years more before they had that!) and the carburettor used was a Zenith rather than an SU.  There were also changes made to the suspension to cope with the local roads (city roads here are good, but country roads can be a different story altogether).
 
I’ve always been interested in cars.  Before I had started school, I was able to identify the makes of most of the cars on the road.  Of course I had my favourites (the three main ones being Armstrong-Siddeley, Riley and Rover, as I recall) but Wolseley didn’t figure amongst them at the time.  My father never owned a Wolseley.  So, why a Wolseley?
 
After we came to Australia in 1958, from a motoring point of view, two things happened.  The first thing I remember after we arrived was catching a taxi.  I stopped and stared but couldn’t tell what it was.  It didn’t even look like anything else I had seen before.  It was, as I was to find out later, an FJ Holden.  Secondly, and more relevant to what concerns us here, was that I also had my first encounter with a Wolseley.
 
On board the boat, we had made a number of acquaintances, amongst them a couple called Adam and Flora Hunter, who had two children a few years older than me.  Adam Hunter had been a policeman in Glasgow before coming to Australia.  The Hunters had a Wolseley 4/50.  I can recall being shown the car and having all its luxurious features being pointed out to me.  Our Hillman Minx seemed almost spartan by comparison.  I don’t think my father shared my enthusiasm for the Wolseley.  His response, when we were talking about the cars later, was “What else would you expect an ex-policeman to drive”.
 
The Wolseley must have left an impression on me for, a few years later, when my father brought home a brand new Austin Freeway station wagon, the first thing I said was “why didn’t you get a Wolseley?”.  Rather tactless, in retrospect, I admit, but in my defence I would say that I was only nine at the time.  I was told that we now had a station wagon so that we could go camping and see the country, although this enthusiasm for camping did not last for more than about three or four trips.  For the benefit of those who aren't familiar with it, the Austin Freeway was only made by BMC Australia.  It was basically similar to the A60 but had a full width front grille, Magnette style tailfins, a Morris Oxford style of interior and, last but not least, a six cylinder version of the B Series engine (2.4 litres) mated to a three speed box with a column shift (based on the box used in the Metropolitan).
 
My 15/60 was purchased from a deceased estate.  It belonged to a retired engineer from Czechoslovakia (not a place you normally associate with Wolseley enthusiasts but as he had other Wolseleys before this I think you could say that he must have been one).  Due to his failing health, he had stopped driving in 2002 or 2003, and the car was put away in a shed.  It was not registered when I bought it.  I was told that most of the use it got was going down to the local shops and that it was always kept under cover.  He was the second owner and had bought the car 22 years before as a one owner vehicle with a low mileage.  I know you can't always trust odometer readings but, at 78,879 miles this one looked genuine - it even still has the original carpets, although the driver's side is a bit worn.  The colour scheme is Orchid and Waragul Grey, with a light blue-grey interior - very early 60's.  BMC Australia renamed some of their colours to give the cars a local flavour - Waragul Grey appears to be identical to Cumulus Grey as used on UK built cars.
 
There were a few things to fix - not all the lights worked (blown bulbs and broken connections), the boot lid didn't close properly and it generally needed cleaned up inside.  The woodwork needs revarnishing but it's intact.  One thing that spoils the interior is that the seat cushions (the bit you sit on - not the seat backs) have been recovered in vinyl and, although it has been well matched, you can still see the difference.  The leather is in very good condition for its age, but some of the stitching has given way.  And another thing - the rear overriders are missing.  Mind you, it looks good without them, but they really should be there….
 
The performance and handling are adequate for today’s traffic conditions – just don’t expect to be first away at the traffic lights.  Also visibility is very good – you get a better view of what’s going on around you than in a lot of modern cars.  I suppose whether or not a B-Series Farina is suitable for everyday use depends on when and where you are going to drive it.  I usually take it out only on weekends, but I have driven it in Sydney’s peak hour traffic a few times and, although it keeps up with the traffic, I’ve had a few anxious moments at lights when there’s been an aggressively driven V8 behind me.  Mind you I don’t really like driving in that sort of traffic in a modern car either – I generally use public transport during the week.
 
It’s true that there are other comparable cars of the 60’s that handle better but, as far as roadholding goes, I’ve found that if the suspension is well maintained and modern tyres fitted, the car will do all you ask of it, considering the sort of driving you would do in a car of this age.  One thing though – it doesn’t like going over speed humps!
 
JIM JARRON
 
Jim has his own website that covers the Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80 in more detail.