Sunbeam Rapier IIIA

This pocket-sized Wolseley started out as cheap daily trans­port and over the years grad­u­ally mor­phed into the cher­ished clas­sic that it is to­day

Classics Monthly - - Contents - WORDS & PHO­TOG­RA­PHY CHRIS STACEY

This rare sur­vivor must be one of the best around on the show cir­cuit to­day.

Brian Moss­man’s Wolseley 1500 restora­tion is a story of long term own­er­ship and of a car that be­came a trusted com­pan­ion, not a typ­i­cal tale of a rusty wreck bought purely as a project. He’s owned this car since 1984 and for a few years it served as his ev­ery­day trans­port, rack­ing up plenty of miles, in­clud­ing trav­el­ling be­tween home in Le­ices­ter­shire and his du­ties as a Ter­ri­to­rial Army vol­un­teer at Bor­don Camp in Hamp­shire.

The Wolseley first came into his life by chance. Brian had been look­ing for an MG Mag­nette but then heard of a Wolseley in a nearby vil­lage that had been stored in a garage, af­ter the el­derly owner stopped driv­ing nearly ten years be­fore. In­trigued, he went to look and found the 1500 in rea­son­able con­di­tion though a bit tatty, still bear­ing its last tax disc from when it was taken off the road in 1975.

It clearly needed some work for a MoT test but ap­peared me­chan­i­cally sound, the en­gine hav­ing been run up reg­u­larly dur­ing its en­forced pe­riod in stor­age. Show­ing a mere 30,000 miles on the clock, the

car was his for the grand sum of £375, with the deal be­ing struck on his thir­ti­eth birth­day. Brian ex­plained what hap­pened next: “I got the car run­ning over a week­end then drove it to my work­shop, go­ing via the back lanes to avoid de­tec­tion. Af­ter weld­ing a cou­ple of patches on the sills and fit­ting a pair of new tyres, the Wolseley passed the MoT test and be­came my daily trans­port”. How­ever, by the late ‘Eight­ies, Brian reck­oned the lit­tle Wolseley’s body­work was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing again and he had to take the car off the road.

Given his ca­reer, first in the mo­tor trade then with an en­gi­neer­ing firm mak­ing spe­cial­ist fork­lift trucks, Brian cer­tainly had the skillset to make a top job of any clas­sic restora­tion. It was only time that was lack­ing. His Wolseley was to stand idle un­til 2004, while work and fam­ily com­mit­ments took pri­or­ity. Twenty years to the day from pur­chas­ing the car, the project was lit­er­ally sparked into life when Brian was given a MIG welder as a fifti­eth birth­day present. Once he had com­pletely stripped the lit­tle

Wolseley, the full ex­tent of the cor­ro­sion was as­sessed.

“The sills needed re­plac­ing, the floors had holes in each front cor­ner but the worst part was the front end”, re­called Brian. New sills were avail­able and soon fit­ted, the holes in the floor were also straight­for­ward to fix by let­ting in fresh steel with his new MIG but the front proved more dif­fi­cult, as new pan­els sim­ply weren’t avail­able.

As this en­ter­pris­ing owner ex­plained: “I found a pair of sec­ond- hand wings and a re­place­ment front panel on­line, although the seller didn’t know the year of the car the pan­els had come from”. Brian took a chance and bought them but on col­lec­tion, it turned out they came from a later MkIII car. The wings would fit but the front panel was un­suit­able be­cause of the wider ra­di­a­tor grille fit­ted to the later model. Un­de­terred, Brian took the lot home and kept look­ing, even­tu­ally find­ing a good MkI front panel in Chester­field.

The big­gest chal­lenge turned out to be re­pair­ing the rot in the near­side wheel arch. Brian takes up the story: ‘The body­work is dou­ble skinned around the whee­larch, and re­pair sec­tions aren’t avail­able. I had to make card­board tem­plates from the other side, re­verse them then copy onto sheet steel to re­pair both skins”. Asked how long this job took, Brian told us how he worked on that one wheel arch for two or three weeks be­fore it was right.

Next jobs to be tack­led were the oily bits. The cylin­der head was re­moved and the en­gine found to be in good shape in­ter­nally. “With the head off, I poured a lit­tle oil into the bores,” con­tin­ued Brian. “The en­gine turned over eas­ily, so I re­moved the sump and checked the bear­ings”. Crank, bear­ing shells and pis­ton rings were all good to re­use, prov­ing how durable the BMC B-Se­ries en­gine can be when prop­erly main­tained. Brian then told us how he had the cylin­der head con­verted to unleaded by lo­cal Le­ices­ter firm Wel­ham Diesel then re­assem­bled the en­gine with a new set of gas­kets.

Brian wasn’t quite so lucky

with the gear­box. The Wolseley’s gears live in a large cas­ing, cast in a sin­gle piece of al­loy that in­cludes the bell hous­ing. While in­spect­ing the cas­ing, Brian dis­cov­ered a mount­ing lug for the starter mo­tor had sheared off. This gear­box was fit­ted to sev­eral ‘ Fifties BMC mod­els, so spares are thank­fully plen­ti­ful. This meant that a whole ‘box was sourced without much trou­ble, and Brian end­ing up build­ing one good gear­box from the best parts of the two he had.

It’s ob­vi­ous that Brian has a pas­sion for ‘Fifties sa­loon cars and this caused the Wolseley’s restora­tion to be paused for a cou­ple of years when he bought a Mor­ris Cow­ley. Fast for­ward to 2007, the Cow­ley was sold and Brian got back to the Wolseley. The en­gine bay was brush-painted then the me­chan­i­cal and elec­tri­cal re­fit­ting got un­der­way, leav­ing ex­ter­nal paint­work for later. Suit­ably over­hauled and spruced up, the car’s sus­pen­sion, brakes, en­gine and gear­box all went back into place. Brian’s kept the car very orig­i­nal but did up­grade to cop­per brake pipes and polyurethane sus­pen­sion bushes as the re­build pro­gressed.

The elec­tri­cal sys­tem was treated to a brand new loom from Ve­hi­cle Wiring Prod­ucts, of which he said: “Try­ing to thread the new loom through the car was a tough job, but con­nect­ing ev­ery­thing up af­ter that was easy”. The Wolseley’s dy­namo and starter were re­fur­bished and Brian kept to the orig­i­nal pos­i­tive earth po­lar­ity.

The next cou­ple of years were spent pre­par­ing the body ready to be painted pro­fes­sion­ally. Brian bolted the new front panel and wings into place then spent ages smooth­ing and flat­ting the body­work in readi­ness for the bodyshop. Ap­ply­ing the ex­te­rior paint was the only part of the job Brian farmed out, tak­ing the Wolseley to lo­cal ex­pert Ben Jacques of Com­plete Car Care. Be­fore send­ing the car for paint, Brian had planned ahead and fit­ted a spare set of Mor­ris Mi­nor wheels.

The orig­i­nal wheels were shot blasted then as Brian ex­plains ‘I found a Rover cream paint that

matched the Wolseley wheel colour and I sprayed the them with aerosol cans, build­ing up lots of lay­ers’. In his pur­suit of orig­i­nal­ity, Brian had the wheels shod with new crossply tyres and the re­sult­ing fin­ish still looks ex­cel­lent to this day.

A cou­ple of months later the Wolseley re­turned from Ben’s spray booth, gleam­ing in its fac­tory- cor­rect Yukon Grey paint, and the fi­nal fit­ting out then moved on rapidly. The in­te­rior scrubbed up very well, the red seats and door cards still ap­pear­ing al­most fac­tory fresh. Af­ter a thor­ough clean, the car­pets showed the slight­est signs of wear but were nowhere near in need of be­ing re­placed, while the wooden dash and trim pan­els are still in their orig­i­nal lac­quer. This Wolseley’s in­te­rior really is in time warp con­di­tion.

How­ever, Brian ad­mit­ted the ex­te­rior chrome trim pre­sented a bit of a chal­lenge. A few years ear­lier he had wisely snapped up a new ra­di­a­tor grille com­plete with its il­lu­mi­nated badge, and had also found a pair of new Wolseley wing badges. The front bumper was fit to re­use but the rear was peel­ing badly and be­fore be­ing re­fit­ted, Brian had the bumper and the over-riders rechromed.

By late 2010, the Wolseley was back in one piece and look­ing brand new. Need­less to say it flew through its first MoT test in more than two decades. His car was back on the road and the long project was over. Ask­ing Brian to re­flect on the best mo­ment, he says: “Start­ing the en­gine for the first time. I felt ner­vous and said to my­self to just go

for it”. Af­ter the elec­tric fuel pump had primed the carb, I pressed the starter and the en­gine fired straight away, with clouds of smoke from the oil in the bores. Once the smoke cleared, it just set­tled into a smooth, sweet tick­over”.

Cer­tainly a mo­ment to savour af­ter so many years hard labour! On the road, Brian’s car drives per­fectly, feel­ing to­tally fresh and new. Though less pow­er­ful than the twin carb Ri­ley One Point Five, the sin­gle carb Wolseley en­gine has the most per­fect man­ners. Its power de­liv­ery is de­li­ciously soft and smooth, it pulls from al­most any speed in top gear without a trace of fuss and it starts eas­ily, even af­ter a win­ter lay- up. This really is one of the eas­i­est en­gines to live with. It’s com­pletely free of any vices and per­fectly suited to the gen­tler mo­tor­ing style of the late ‘ Fifties.

Brian uses his car mainly for lo­cal shows, where it al­ways gets plenty of at­ten­tion, though he ad­mits he should drive it more. Asked whether he would do any­thing dif­fer­ently if he had his time again he says sim­ply: “No, I wanted a smart, orig­i­nal car but not a con­cours ex­am­ple and I’m really pleased with it’. So he should be! Brian’s Wolseley 1500 is beau­ti­fully re­stored and not over­done. My fi­nal ques­tion is whether he would con­sider an­other restora­tion. On hear­ing this, Brian pulls a face that seems to im­ply that any such de­ci­sion would def­i­nitely be out of his hands.


Ex­te­rior chrome plated boot and bon­net hinges iden­tify this as a MkI Wol­s­ley 1500. Later mod­els had hid­den hinges.

Ev­ery­thing in­side this Wolseley 1500's cabin is orig­i­nal. Ac­cord­ing to the owner, the seat fac­ings cleaned up like new and the lac­quer on the wood­work is the same as ap­plied by the fac­tory. A set of pe­riod leather suit­cases in the boot along with the re­stored orig­i­nal tool­kit are a cou­ple of nice fin­ish­ing touches.

Although the B-Se­ries en­gine was stripped down, it was found to be in very good con­di­tion and didn't need any work.

Brian's baby Wolseley gets plenty of at­ten­tion when its out and a bout.

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