FROM OX­FORD TO CAM­BRIDGE

Fa­rina fam­ily: all of the key mod­els from BMC’S Ital­ian ad­ven­ture, 60 years on

Classic Sports Car - - Contents - WORDS AN­DREW ROBERTS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY JONATHAN JACOB

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.

Wolse­ley 15/60

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?

Ri­ley 4/72

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

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