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
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.