FROM OXFORD TO CAMBRIDGE
Farina family: all of the key models from BMC’S Italian adventure, 60 years on
Sixty years ago, the British Motor Corporation launched its second collaboration with Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina, an all-new range that appeared to symbolise post-war renewal as clearly as tower blocks emerging from bomb sites. The seven cars gathered in front of Coventry Cathedral describe the history of a badgeengineered classic that today is often taken for granted, but one that, in its own modest way, had originally caused quite a stir.
When BMC presented the 15/60 in December 1958, it ran the risk of causing apoplexy among many of its customers. The outgoing, Gerald Palmer-styled 15/50 was one of the most attractive saloons of its generation, and the famous marque was, to paraphrase Viv Stanshall’s Sir Henry at Rawlinson End: ‘English as tuppence, changing yet changeless as canal-water, nestling in green nowhere’ – indeed, it’s easy to imagine Stanshall as a Wolseley owner. Furthermore, those tail-fins might have deterred customers who had no desire to be regarded as a skiffleband leader by association.
Yet to experience this 1961 example owned by Tony Spearman is to appreciate how the timber- and hide-trimmed cabin was more than sufficient to quell any doubts over the 15/60’s identity; this was indeed a true Wolseley. Spearman regards his 15/60 as “comfortable and very stylish” – and this was the very formula that appealed to Wolseley drivers who wished to experience this brave new Italian-styled world without compromising their social status. The engineering was utterly straightforward, from the B-series motor to the cam-and-peg steering, but this made for easy maintenance and there was at least a floor-mounted gearlever. Only the Austin and the Morris were available with an optional steering-column change.
The Wolseley’s looks contrived to embody a spirit of urgency; 1958 also marked the opening of Britain’s first motorway, and the advent of the Subscriber Trunk Dialling. The 15/60 never claimed to be a ball of fire, but it successfully blended tradition with modernity.
Austin A60 Cambridge
In October 1961, the Farina range was updated. The wheelbase was elongated, the track slightly widened, the B-series engine enlarged (from 1489 to 1622cc) and, on the Austin, Morris and Wolseley variants, the styling refined to lose its youthful excesses. The A60 succeeded the A55, with cars such as Ivan Mole’s 1963 Cambridge widely regarded as the bedrock of the range.
By the mid-’60s, however, the A60 not only stood apart from BMC’S front-drive products, but also faced intense competition from Dagenham as Austin drivers transferred their allegiance to Ford within months of the Consul Cortina taking a bow in 1962. BMC’S plan to replace the Farina with a front-drive design eventually led to the 1964 Austin 1800 ‘Landcrab’, and the Cambridge soldiered on virtually unaltered until the radically different Maxi arrived in ’69.
The soundness of the concept is illustrated by the fact that A60s still operated as rural taxis in the early ’80s; this was a car of integrity, one that would get you to your Swanage holiday guesthouse in good time – and the minimum of fuss.
SPECIFICATIONS (ALL MODELS)
Construction steel unitary
Engine all-iron, ohv 1489cc/1622cc ‘four’ (2433cc ‘six’ for Wolseley 24/80), fed by single/twin SU carburettors
Max power 52bhp @ 4350rpm to 85bhp @ 4400rpm
Max torque 82lb ft @ 2100rpm to 123lb ft @ 1650rpm
Transmission four-speed manual (threespeed automatic for Wolseley 24/80), RWD
Suspension: front independent, by wishbones, coil springs rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs (anti-roll bars f/r from A60) Steering cam and lever Brakes drums
Length 14ft 61/2in-14ft 101/2in (44324534mm) Width 5ft 31/2in (1613mm)
Height 4ft 11in-4ft 113/4in (1499-1518mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 31/4in-8ft 41/4in (2521-2549mm)
Weight 2465-2935lb (1118-1330kg)
0-60mph 25-18.2 secs
Top speed 76-87mph Mpg 28-19
Price new £837 18s 9d (MO Traveller) to £1225 (Wolseley 24/60)
Price now £5-15,000
‘The range was updated in 1961, with the styling of the Austin, Morris and Wolseley refined to lose its youthful excesses’
Morris Oxford Series VI Traveller
Countryman (Austin) and Traveller (Morris) versions of the Farina were launched in 1960, and got the same facelift as the saloons a year later. Chris Poulter’s Oxford Series VI dates from 1966, and it’s easy to understand why they had a devoted following throughout the ’60s. In comparison, the Vauxhall Victor FC or Hillman Super Minx estates lacked the BBC Home Service ethos that the Farina station wagon embodied. The Traveller was capacious, well-planned – one nice touch was that the rear seat could be arranged in a sleeping position – and the integrated styling gave real showroom appeal.
Furthermore, Poulter’s Oxford demonstrates the Farina’s capacity for development: this practical Q-car has an MGB cylinder head, along with an MG overdrive and front disc brakes. The result is a car that was recently driven around mountain roads in Snowdonia – “Where other tourists feared to tread,” smiles Poulter.
The Morris looks smart, but few Traveller owners were interested in glamour. They would not have cared less about ‘London: The Swinging City’ as Time magazine famously called it. That land was the province of beatniks and demented followers of fashion, and thus distanced by any decent Traveller driver.
When the square-jawed Marina replaced the Oxford in 1971, it marked the end of an era. Just as decimal coinage overtook £sd, a ‘proper’ Morris with a starting handle and a fascia resembling a 1940s radiogram was succeeded by a car whose spiritual home was the concrete shopping precinct. What price progress?
The Riley was the Farina flagship and, although it cost more than a near-identical Magnette, the owner gained a tachometer and the prestige of driving a car that was ‘as old as the industry, as modern as the hour’. The 4/68 arrived in 1959, replaced by the larger-engined 4/72 in late ’61.
Early Farinas were seen as faintly raffish, but by the late ’60s they were comfortably conservative – more formal than the Riley’s key rival, the Humber Sceptre with its rockabilly looks. Inside, the 4/72 is redolent of a suburban villa, but owner Trevor Porter points out that it is a lively drive: “It keeps up with traffic, so you don’t have to worry about delaying other cars.” He also notes that the top shade of its duotone paint, Arianca Beige, was unique to the Riley – another touch of distinction in a car that offers circumstance without self-conscious pomp.
Wolseley was first Farina to take a bow. Below left: befinned shape hid B-series motor and traditional dash. Below: Spartan interior for the entry-level Austin
Yet another variation on the two-tone theme marks out the second-generation Austin variant. Below, l-r: slightly more upmarket feel inside; clipped wings
Rakish Oxford is roomy and practical. Below: mint Poulter car conceals some useful tweaks. Bottom right: sporty twin-carb MG has a Zb-style horn ring
Porter Riley dates from ’68, a year before build ended. Right: rev counter in walnut dash. Below right: 24/80 is unique in the UK; ‘Blue Streak’ straight-six