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?
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.
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.
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.
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.