‘Speeding Officer’ Not in my AC Petite!
Way back in 1961 an 18 year old lad and soon to be police officer had £50.00 burning a hole in his pocket and a burning desire to own a Bond Mini-car. After a fruitless search to find one in his budget along came an AC Petite and a lifelong relationship began and continues to this day. Always on the look-out for the unusual a local classic car gathering was my first glimpse of a Petite, let’s be honest not the most attractive car ever designed it certainly is ‘different’ and I like that a lot. Built in Thames Ditton Surrey, just outside London, the AC works known as the Ferry Factory was just a short distance from the banked circuit of Brooklands. AC Cars (Auto Carriers Ltd) have the honour of being Britain’s oldest car producers; starting in South London in 1901 they had great success and the move to larger premises at Thames Ditton in 1911 was needed to keep up with demand. Over the coming decades the company produced sports cars that took you to work during the week and were very competitive come the weekend in all forms of motorsport. Some would consider their greatest moment came in 1953 with the AC Ace, the platform for the mighty Cobra.
In the same year production began on a vehicle that was the complete opposite too the AC Ace; the Petite was unleashed on the UK public. AC had produced three wheeled vehicles from their very early days and the name Auto Carriers Ltd was taken from one of their first commercial production vehicles in 1903 called the ‘Autocarrier’. Retired Police Officer Alan Budd (Fishbourne) has owned three of these amazing machines over the years. Produced until 1958 an estimated 4000 of these light steel framed, alloy bodied three wheelers were to hit the UK streets powered by a 350cc Villiers two stroke engine. They were not a cheap option from new, priced at £400.00 they were the same price as a new Ford Popular. Alan’s desire for something different and within budget all started with RPX 992 his first Petite and the car he and his girlfriend now wife Pam enjoyed great times with.
Alan tells of a time when the Petite was pressed into Police duty tailing a shady character, trying not to be noticed in a three wheeler with a two stroke engine cannot be easy. After 4 years or so the Petite was replace with four wheeled transport but interest never left Alan and some 30 years later a chance conversation lead him to Scotland and PVA 556. How many times have you heard a fellow enthusiast say I wish I had not sold that car, or I should have spent more time with that one. This was true of Alan’s second Petite PVA 556 which due to other commitments he never really gave the attention it deserved and regrets selling the car after five years; its last known whereabouts is rumoured to be a museum in Thailand. Currently 604 JHK resides with Alan and Pam after an interesting life having been owned by a Colonel Bond the Governor of the British Army Prison in Colchester. When Colonel Bond died the Petite was left in a barn to rot for years, finally discovered by Dan Steanson a well-respected micro car restorer and with help from Alan the Petite was returned to its former glory. When Dan moved onto another project there was only one place 604JHK could go. The Petite story now covers more than 50 years and the chance to recreate a photo from August 1963 is a real bonus. Whilst on a drive with Alan (my first micro-car experience) the Petite speedo clicked over 12000 miles and indicated 36mph but it felt a lot more. The Villiers engine has been completely rebuilt and fires up instantly. Alan selected 1st gear and we had motion, 1st is quite short and we were quickly into 2nd then on to a comfortable 35mph in top. Registered in 1954, 604 JHK is one of the remaining estimated 17 Petites left, scattered world-wide and so Alan has made it his task to track down every remaining Mark 1 or Mark 2 whether running or not. If you have any information about any Petites it would be greatly appreciated, the retired traffic cop Alan will turn detective to track down the missing ‘tri wheeled’ Auto Carriers.
Wolseley 1100 – A Piece of Old England
The ADO16 project or the Mini’s big brother was first launched with a Morris badge; it would be manufactured world-wide, become Britain’s bestselling car year on year and after 12 years of production brand new examples of the VP Princess were still in local dealerships. A true motoring hero, an example of genius Issigonis design but unlike the Mini largely overlooked and underrated by those who have never driven one; let me throw my hat into the ring straight away, I rate them highly. Could it be that by offering the same car via so many marques the importance of the 1100/1300 models was ‘watered down’ or did BMC have a master stroke appealing to the loyal followers of different badges. This marque sharing had been a success for BMC previously and also honoured the company’s commitments to both Longbridge and Cowley production lines.
ADO16 Global Design
Initially Issigonis penned a prototype (codenamed XC9001) for the BMC board to approve way back in 1956, a mid-sized family saloon. The idea however was put on the back burner when a small car design took precedence; this became the Mini. The following year XC9002 was put forward but the BMC bosses thought the appearance had too much in common with the Mini and they asked the Italian design house Pininfarina to adjust the styling. It was no secret that the BMC boss Leonard Lord was a fan of Pininfarina having proved their designs with the A40 which was just being launched to great acclaim. The styling house offered their first rather boxy prototype in early 1959 (now called the ADO16) which was also rejected as the board felt it would cost too much to produce. The third attempt in July 1959 proved to be a winner with only slight changes required before the production line beckoned. The first prototype was fitted with the 948cc A series from the Minor and along with the hydrolastic suspension approval was given to enlarge and increase the power plant to 1098cc. The ADO16 was proposed to debut the new suspension but the Mini won the race into production. The 1100 was supplied with front disc brakes minus servo assistance but according to Jonathan Wood’s book on Issigonis the great man was not won over by the idea, describing discs as ‘fashionable things to have’. Alternate engines were looked into including a V4 but an in line four would require a major re design so the transverse A series took the Morris 1100 into the dealerships. Autumn 1962 and the BMC dealerships began to air their disapproval as the former Nuffield group (Riley, Morris, MG and Wolseley) considered Austin to be a much better range. This forced BMC new boss George Harrison to delay the Austin versions launch, following Morris in August 1962 came MG’s in the October of the same year. It would be nearly a year later, September 1963, that Austin stepped into the mix and many believe this was too late.
Demand Exceeds Supply
Huge order books led to lengthy delays and after years of austerity following the war the car buying public hoped waiting lists had long gone, whilst this problem wasn’t facing BMC’s rival Ford. Several things contributed to delays with the supply of the 1100, the first being that 40% of the cars went for export, industrial strife and the need for a more modernised production line. Even so the 1100 was a great success and by the time the Austin version was on dealer’s forecourts BMC were producing and selling 5,500 per week. Only a month after Austin’s 1100, the Vanden Plas Princess was announced and would contain the finest Connelly hide combined with luxury fittings and wood trim. Riley and Wolseley finally had their models in September 1965 and the range was complete but BMC didn’t stand still with the UK’s first transverse engine FWD; a month later the 1100 estate arrived in March 1966. Waiting lists still existed but were much reduced and the ADO16 had 14.3% of the total market; things would change however with the arrival of the Cortina Mark 2 in October 1966. March 1967 and total sales exceeded 1 million cars, just prior to the release of the updated 1100 Mk 2 and 1300 models in October the ADO16 was back and resumed the top spot. Production abroad included Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and the Innocenti works in Italy and with exports to all corners the ADO16 was truly global. Into the 1970’s and the writing was on the wall when British Leyland looked to replacing the ADO16 range with the Marina and Allegro and also the marque of Wolseley; Riley had gone in 1969, maybe the less said about that the better. The final Vanden Plas Princess 1300 left the Kingsbury plant in North London on 19th June 1974 as BL began its downward spiral, the end of an era and the finale of the ADO16. A car that had been Britain’s top seller from 1963-1966, just losing out to the Mk2 Cortina for one year before retaking top spot from 1968-71; total sales of 2,250,757 automobiles, second only to the Mini, another of Alex Issigonis rather popular designs.
Doted-on For Half a Century
The Earls Court Motorshow in 1965 saw the Wolseley take to stand 123 with no fewer than 74 manufacturers all pushing the latest vehicles and the competition included the new Vauxhall Viva, Triumph 1300, Corsair V4 and the Humber Sceptre, all home grown. Foreign marques included France’s Renault 16 and the Peugeot 204 and the first showing of Toyota’s Corona to name but a few. The Wolseley was three years later than the Morris version as was its ‘launch mate’ the Riley Kestrel, arriving on the scene together in September just a few weeks prior to the show. Even so they were both replacing more powerful and larger cars from their respective marques that had been around since 1957. The Wolseley 1500 (rebadge Riley 1.5) may well have enjoyed more cubic capacity but it was slower than the new 1100 and had less interior space. Just one month later one example finished in Glen Green left the British Motor Corporation to start its rather fortunate journey from one caring owner to another. Of 17,397 examples produced the DVLA show just 20 left in the UK and this car is believed to be the final remaining version sporting this colour scheme. Transported to London BMC dealer Eustace Watkins Ltd on the 8th November 1965 it actually wasn’t registered until 6th January 1967. First owner Minnie Saunders was 69 years old when she purchased the Wolseley and it was still in her name 16 years and 25,000 miles later. March 1983 and it passed into the hands of another BMC dealer Jack Hazzard & Son of Hemel Hampstead, who in the following 21 years managed to cover just 2000 miles. A classic car enthusiast from Sussex obtained the car in 2004 and it was put to work displaying its originality at shows across the south for a further nine years and 5000 miles. Passing via another enthusiast Judy Sanson to its current custodian Chrissie Brown this time warp 1100 has totalled 33,000 miles from new and almost factory fresh. The main threat to all ADO16 cars was obviously rust and it took its toll on their numbers but this car is a solid unmolested example, the original paint finish still resides in the wheel arches.
On the Road
Sliding into the unmarked Connelly leather seats with the original veneer facia stretching across the car ahead you begin to see where the extra £110 was spent over Austin’s de-lux. The Wolseley twin carb A series fire up instantly, the clutch is light and with the minimum of fuss it’s mobile. Synchromesh in 2nd 3rd and 4th only but the 1100 is happy pulling away in second if required. Sharing a lot of the Mini’s design the Wolseley is just as easy to drive albeit heavier, the suspension ignores modern potholed roads and the 50 year old performs comfortably in modern traffic. Higher revs produce plenty of noise but not much in increased speed, best using the lower range with the torque available. The disc/drum brakes (minus servo) on this car are very good and are sufficient to inspire reasonable confidence although I did remember to wear the original BMC supplied Kangol seatbelts at £4 14s 6d. The advertised 80mph+ when new maybe a little ambitious now but the Wolseley is happy at 60mph all day long. Having owned an Austin 1100 back in the 80’s driving this one took me back to enjoyable journeys past; not surprising as this 1100 is in better condition now than mine was 30 years ago.
View from the Pilot; Chrissie shares her thoughts..
We purchased the car (Winnie) in September last year having known about its existence with a fellow SADCASE club member since early 2013. We believe that this is the only Mark 1 Wolseley 1100 in Glen Green. The car is pretty much original with matching numbers which in some ways is nicer than a totally restored car; certainly of show condition with most of the paint and all the chrome and interior being original. What we like about the car is how honest and loyal it is, although not offering E-Type levels of performance it always seems to bring a smile to your face. It is a pleasure to drive and is very much like a grown up Mini, one thing that is nice is the superb visibility the car offers compared to a modern car. Also the hydrolastic suspension offers a real fluid ride with the lovely leather seats adding to the comfort. The car obtains many admiring glances whether it is on the road or at shows.
1965 Wolseley 1100 Specification 9/65-3/68
Four door saloon, front engine transverse, FWD
Engine: A Series 1098cc OHV 4 cylinder
Transmission: 4 speed manual no synchro in 1st
Performance: 0-60 18.4 sec top speed 85mph 55bhp 61 lb torque
Suspension: Fr Independent wishbones & Hydrolastic units
Rr Independent trailing arms & Hydrolastc units
Length: 12ft 2in Width: 5ft Weight: 1820lb 826kg
Fuel tank: 8 gallons 29mpg