Two un­likely bed­fel­lows, thrown to­gether by a cor­po­rate carve up.

Two mar­ques, brought to­gether un­der the same cor­po­rate um­brella and de­vel­op­ing con­trast­ing six-cylin­der of­fer­ings. How have these un­likely bed­fel­lows stood the test of time?

Classics Monthly - - Contents - Words by Andrew Ro berts Pho­tog­ra­phy by Matt Richard­son

Four decades ago, Bri­tish Ley­land was a vast net­work of man­u­fac­tur­ing plants, of­ten pro­duc­ing cars that would bril­liantly ri­val each other, let alone the prod­ucts of Ford, Chrysler and Vaux­hall. We took two of BL’s most in­ter­est­ing big sa­loons of the era back home to the West Mid­lands, in or­der to de­cide whether the RWD Tri­umph from Can­ley or the FWD Wolse­ley from Long­bridge would win that place in Aca­cia Av­enue.

Suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment

The Tri­umph 2500S be­longs with the Ford Capri 2.8 In­jec­tion in a se­lect group of cars that ma­tured with dig­nity, as the long nose and boot of the post-1969 big Tri­umph sa­loons only ac­cen­tu­ate the good looks of the orig­i­nal 1963 hull. If the open­ing front quar­ter lights wouldn’t have seemed ter­ri­bly up to the minute for a 1975-vin­tage mo­torist, matt black three quar­ter pan­els and a gen­eral lack of chrome plat­ing de­note ex­ec­u­tive trans­port of quiet con­fi­dence. This is in con­trast with the Inca yel­low paint on our test car, which makes the Tri­umph seem ca­pa­ble of glow­ing in the dark.

The orig­i­nal 2000 sa­loon was aug­mented by the 2.5 Pi in 1968, but the Lu­cas fuel in­jec­tion proved trou­ble­some, so in 1974 the range was com­ple­mented by the twin­car­bu­ret­ter 2500TC. The fol­low­ing year the PI was fi­nally re­placed by a new flag­ship model, in the form of the 2500S, which was es­sen­tially

The Inca yel­low paint makes the Tri­umph seem ca­pa­ble of glow­ing in the dark

the TC with power steer­ing, a tachome­ter, Stag al­loy wheels and front head re­straints as stan­dard. The ‘S’ re­mained in pro­duc­tion un­til the big Tri­umphs were re­placed by the Rover SD 1 in 1977.

Pleas­ingly re­fined

The 2500S may seem rather nar­row by the stan­dards of a bloated 2014 rep mo­bile, but al­though rear head­room is not overly gen­er­ous, the Tri­umph is a very com­fort­able four/five seater. The slim pil­lars give the cabin a spa­cious air, en­hanced by the rather sub­tle blend of wood ve­neer and ny­lon trim, and the driv­ing po­si­tion is made more com­fort­able by the height ad­justable steer­ing col­umn. Add to this the leather trimmed wheel and a fully stocked dash­board – in­clud­ing Tri­umph’s ‘All Sys­tems Go’ warn­ing light clus­ter, which looks as though it was bor­rowed from the cock­pit of Thunderbird 2 – and it is clear that here’s a car worth don­ning driv­ing gloves for.

Over­drive was also part of the ‘S’ pack­age, but our test car is fit­ted with the op­tional Borg Warner 35 au­to­matic trans­mis­sion that works well with the 2.5-litre en­gine.

The ex­haust note is dis­tinc­tive, but never in­tru­sive. With the T-bar han­dle in drive, you’re in­su­lated from the com­mon mob in their Corti­nas and Mari­nas, watch­ing the world go by through the tinted green ‘Sundym’ win­dows. Thanks to the front anti-roll bar, an­other part of the ‘S’ spec­i­fi­ca­tion, the big Tri­umph is a more adept sports sa­loon than the ear­lier ver­sion, with far less un­der­steer and way­ward be­hav­iour in cor­ners. The PAS steer­ing is not over-light in the fash­ion of, say, a Jaguar XJ6 and, as a large sa­loon that of­fers a well-planned and el­e­gantly ex­e­cuted bal­ance be­tween sport­ing road man­ners with the abil­ity to be a re­fined cruiser, the Tri­umph re­ally is quite a gem.

Cor­po­rate class

As for the in-house ri­val of the 2500S, the mo­torist who wanted space with Wolse­ley lev­els of com­fort should have found the Six was a very ap­peal­ing propo­si­tion. The com­bi­na­tion of FWD per­for­mance with six-cylin­der re­fine­ment was a very un­usual one

While not ter­ri­bly hand­some, the Wolse­ley cer­tainly does have an idio­syn­cratic charm

in the early 1970s (the Citroën DS al­ways re­mained wed­ded to the four-cylin­der for­mula) and there was the in­nate dig­nity of the Wolse­ley im­age. On its launch, BL openly ap­pealed to 1972-vin­tage cor­po­rate snob­bery: ‘We can of­ten tell a lot about a com­pany from the cars they keep. The Wolse­ley Six says what you want to say about your com­pany,’ and what sel­f­re­spect­ing cost ac­coun­tant could have re­sisted trans­port that wore the fa­mous il­lu­mi­nated ra­di­a­tor badge?

But al­though Wolse­ley was ‘the only car in the world with its name up in lights,’ BL’s Austin-Mor­ris di­vi­sion was still faced with the sales chal­lenge of the Six’s un­con­ven­tional ap­pear­ance. See­ing our test cars bask­ing in the grounds of Coven­try Univer­sity is a vivid re­minder that, while the Tri­umph is suave and con­ven­tion­ally good look­ing, the Wolse­ley is nearly 1ft shorter but 2in wider, re­sult­ing in a car that was not ter­ri­bly hand­some, but cer­tainly has an idio­syn­cratic charm – Roger Moore as com­pared with Don­ald Plea­sance per­haps.

The BMC ‘Land­crab’ was orig­i­nally launched in 1964 as the Austin 1800, be­fore be­ing sub­se­quently joined by Mor­ris and Wolse­ley-badged de­riv­a­tives,

while the 1968 facelift also brought the op­tion of the twin car­bu­ret­ter ‘S’ en­gine. When the third gen­er­a­tion mod­els were un­veiled four years later, the S was re­placed by the Austin/ Mor­ris 2200 and the Wolse­ley Six – pow­ered by the brand new E-Se­ries en­gine – and these were made un­til the Land­crab was re­placed by the 18/22 Wedge in 1975.

Com­fort and space

Given the Wolse­ley’s com­pact di­men­sions, its in­te­rior space is noth­ing short of as­tound­ing. There is enough room for three large adults to lounge on the rear bench and up front the oc­cu­pants can truly stretch out and take their ease. The wal­nut ve­neer fas­cia adds to the op­u­lent air, al­though the Six’s fam­ily ties with the Mini are made quite ob­vi­ous by the ‘bus driver’ steer­ing wheel an­gle. Hap­pily this is par­tially al­le­vi­ated by the re­clin­ing front seats, com­plete with arm­rests to hold you in place. As for the old ca­nard that BMC/ BLMC FWD cars have small boots, the Six can take more lug­gage than the likes of the far larger Vaux­hall Vic­tor FE.

On the road, the best com­pli­ment that can be paid to the Six is that it is the car that fi­nally re­alises the Land­crab’s true po­ten­tial. Some an­noy­ances re­main – the heater con­trols are still quite a stretch – but the early model’s dis­agree­able ca­ble gear change had at last been re­placed by a more ef­fec­tive rod sys­tem and the hand­brake is cen­trally mounted. Our test car was not fit­ted with the op­tional power as­sisted steer­ing, which can make it an in­ter­est­ing propo­si­tion as a town car, but on A-roads and mo­tor­ways the Land­crab is in its el­e­ment. The E-se­ries en­gine is both re­fined and flex­i­ble and, al­though the Wolse­ley never claimed to be sports sa­loon, but rather a long dis­tance cruiser, the Six is quite mag­nif­i­cent, the smooth ride and thickly up­hol­stered seats truly cos­set­ing.

And, as any Wolse­ley en­thu­si­ast will tell you, the Six’s 102mph top speed is not so far re­moved from the Tri­umph’s 105mph, but will the Land­crab’s air of sober dig­nity win out over the 2500’s gen­tle­manly flam­boy­ance? These are such en­joy­able ma­chines that the de­cid­ing fac­tor has to be, as is so of­ten the case, that of per­sonal taste. If the 2500S will oc­cupy my drive­way, that is largely is be­cause of my pen­chant for Mich­e­lotti’s coach­work and Sundym glass, for the spa­cious and dig­ni­fied Six is a sorely un­der­rated clas­sic. Both cars rep­re­sent a lost op­por­tu­nity for BL to fur­ther ex­ploit the po­ten­tial of their Tri­umph and Wolse­ley names alike, as the Six and the 2500S equally rep­re­sent an un­doubted high point for their re­spec­tive mar­ques. And a cher­ished ex­am­ple of ei­ther is un­likely to dis­ap­point you.

2500S fea­tured 14in wheels and anti-roll bar as stan­dard, in or­der to im­prove han­dling.

2500S fi­nally re­placed 2.5PI as the flag­ship model in June 1975. Borg Warner Type 35 au­to­matic gear­box was a pop­u­lar op­tion.

Later cars fea­tured cloth rather than vinyl seat cover­ings. At­trac­tive finned rocker cover

is a non-stan­dard ad­di­tion.

Six-cylin­der E-se­ries had to be long in stroke, to en­sure it was short enough to fit trans­versely in a FWD ap­pli­ca­tion. Wal­nut ve­neer dash is where the Six scores over the 2500S.

Ap­prox­i­mately 60,800 ver­sions of the Wolse­ley Six and

ear­lier 18/85 were pro­duced be­tween 1967-1975.

Bon­net scoop aids cool­ing.

Sport­ing verve mixed with cos­set­ing com­fort – you’ll en­joy a

mix of both in ei­ther Six.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.