Practical Classics (UK)
Simple mechanicals, a torquey B-series engine, space for four adults and a big boot. What’s not to love? And yet the Wolseley 1500 remains remarkably undervalued. Perhaps that's because, when new, it was less common and more expensive than its smaller family people’s car comrades (step forward Morris Minor and Mini, both of which enjoy premiums well above their BMC stablemate), so that nostalgia kick doesn’t exist for as wide an audience. But then there’s a younger generation in the classic fold now, enjoying the likes of Minors, A35s and so on, who never remember them on the road in period, but far fewer seem as interested in the larger Wolseley. Maybe there’s something else going on…
Maybe it’s because they’re not served with the specialist support of their more populous counterparts? But not so. Sharing many of its underpinnings with the ubiquitous Morris Minor, and with an active and helpful owners club, there’s little to fear when it comes to restoration or repair.
Then perhaps some of the Wolseley’s problem is that it’s never been one of the cool kids? But get under the skin and understand the family tree and there are upgrades aplenty to suit tastes and driving styles far beyond the fusty, archetypal Sunday driver. For example, the car photographed in this feature tows a caravan regularly and so is fitted with a 1622cc engine, a set of vented disc brakes up front, sold for the car’s Morris Minor cousin, plus telescopic dampers all round. It it is also possible to fit the 1800cc B-series from the MGB to these cars amid numerous other upgrades to offer a little extra poke – you only have to see them flying around Goodwood in the St Mary’s Trophy to see what a tweaked and tuned Wolseley or Riley is capable of. But if that’s not your thing, upgrades are far from necessary even if daily use is the order of the day. The 1489cc B-series engine is plenty pokey enough for motorway use and nine inch drum brakes up front (sevens on the rear) are plenty good enough to arrest the car’s momentum in modern traffic conditions.
Peugeot has built some brilliant cars over the past 100 years but let’s be honest, the company is absolutely unrivalled when it comes to making the smaller ones. The 205’s status as a design icon is well-documented and it does still look and drive like a class-leader today. There's a separate category of adulation reserved for the GTI version, but, brilliant it might be, the hottest of Peugeot’s hot hatches has become unattainable for many of us. All is not lost, however. Handily, Peugeot itself offers a cheaper alternative – a car that doesn’t seem to have been spotted by car collectors and dealers. Yet…
The dinky 106 showed up in late 1991, slotting underneath the ageing 205 (that was eventually replaced by the 206 in 1998). Peugeot’s baby is available everywhere right now for a bargain price although early cars, with their crisper, boxier shape, are becoming rare. The facelift models of 1996-on are more common, with prices that are sub-£1000 for tidy 1-litre cars. The 106 lasted until 2003 during which time there were various attempts at hot versions. Some would cite the 1.6-litre GTI as the ultimate, while purists may point to the neat looking launch-spec XSI. For me, however, it’s all about the high revving, stripped out and stripey Rallye. A genuine homologation special, the original 1994 S1 Rallye – created to compete in the 1300cc motorsport class – has a unique 1294cc unit that absolutely sings above 5400rpm. Coupled with a short ratio five-speed gearbox and weighing in at just 810kg, it’s hilarious fun. Handling is pure Peugeot, with sharp and communicative manual steering that makes my modern Golf feel woolly. Even the worse surfaces are dealt with, thanks to the usual dose of French ride quality (although the Rallye is admittedly firmer than most).
Inside, you’ll find red carpets and seat belts, while exterior paint comes in just three shades (Bianca White, Cherry Red and black). The Rallye got 14in white painted steel wheels and very little in the way of luxury, but that’s the point. Choose a later ‘S2’ facelift car, and you’ll find a few extra refinements and a 1.6-litre engine. Slightly less exhilarating and without the homologation pub talk, but still enormous fun. Looking at what they've gone for recently, we suspect the 106 Rallye has been discovered, so it’s time to buy.