The Way We Were
BLENHEIM PALACE, OXFORDSHIRE It was the year in which Jack Brabham became a Formula One World Champion (again), JFK won the presidential election and The Shadows recorded Apache
Summer 1960, Blenheim Palace
‘The Sprite MkI was perfect for any young blade with a Graham Hill moustache’
Much of the British Motor Corporation’s line-up for late 1960 is in place, here, but strangely no Austins other than the A30 saloon in the background, behind which is the faintly incongruous sight of a Volkswagen Type 2.
At the rear is a car that is forever associated with the Royal family and provincial mayors – the Vanden Plas 4-Litre Princess Limousine. This debuted in 1952 as the Austin A135 Princess Limousine, but BMC used the coachbuilder’s name as a marque in its own right from July 1960.
The beautiful MGA 1600 Roadster in front of the Princess was a bargain at just £940 (including Purchase Tax) with disc front brakes as standard, but the Austin-Healey 3000 – complete with a demure young lady perched on the nearside front wing – would have cost £1175 10s 10d (overdrive and wire wheels optional). But then it was capable of 115mph – ideal for the new motorway age.
At £632, the Sprite MkI was rather more accessible to those of a restricted overdraft and the perfect transport for any young blade with a Graham Hill moustache, especially with a Donald Healey Motors supercharger for an additional £81.
On the far right is a fascinatingly Anglo-American Metropolitan 1500. It was made at Longbridge for Nash – and subsequently AMC – and was the second car of choice in the US for motorists looking for more comfort than a Volkswagen Beetle could ever hope to offer. It was available in the UK from April 1957, but never as an Austin. This one is a Series IV, identifiable by its opening boot.
Moving anti-clockwise, we have a Morris Oxford Series V, then a newlylaunched Riley One-Point-Five Series II – note the concealed bonnet hinges.
Next, there is a car so magnificent that it deserves a separate mention, so let us pass on to the Morris Oxford Traveller Series V, a new model for 1960. One nice touch was that the squab formed a headrest when the rear seat was folded, converting the load bay into a double bed.
The Vanden Plas Princess 3-Litre further back was the flagship of the ‘Big Farina’ range and probably one of the most elegant cars of its era.
In the opposing line-up, we find two 1.5-litre Farinas – a Riley 4/68 and a slightly cheaper MG Magnette MkIII. The latter wasn’t overly popular with owners of the outgoing ZB Magnette.
The fact that BMC made the Farina under five different badges says almost as much about the classstructure of Macmillan-era England as it does about its dealer network, but the 1000 Traveller appealed to all sectors of the community. The Minor became the first car in the UK to sell a million examples on 22 December 1960. Fittingly, it is parked alongside its Wolseley 1500 stablemate, which was aimed at drivers wanting the virtues of a Riley One-Point-Five, but in a less raffish package.
As for the Morris Mini Minor, the embodiment of ‘Wizardry on Wheels’ had suffered a few teething problems, including leaking floors and internal oil leaks, but motorists seemed to appreciate the merits of a front-wheel drive car with a sideways engine. 16 September saw the debut of the Mini Traveller (and its Austin Seven counterpart), in de luxe specification with a heater as standard.
And finally, we have the mighty Wolseley 6/99. The 1960s may bring forth many challenges, but with this great car patrolling the mean streets of virtually every low budget black and white crime film, all is well. ‘Use the gong, Sergeant; he’s getting away!’
Film historian and enthusiast of motoring culture, Andrew blames his entire career in this field on having seen Carry On Cabby in 1975.