Sheep Shearing Company Limited was founded in Sydney,
Australia on 25th October 1887 by Irish born Frederick
York Wolseley. After moving the company to Birmingham,
England in 1893 his Works Manager Herbert Austin started
experimenting with motor cars, producing the first one in
1895. A year earlier F.Y. Wolseley had resigned.
At the same the time the factory moved to larger premises at Sydney Works, Alma Street, Aston, Birmingham. In around 1896 Austin travelled to France to look at their motor industry. He liked the Léon-Bollée three-wheel voiturette and was soon building his own version, called the Autocar Number One. His second car was completed in 1897.
A new company was formed in 1901; The Wolseley Tool & Motor Car Company Ltd. under the auspices of Vickers Sons & Maxim Ltd. and a new factory at Adderley Park, Birmingham was acquired to build Wolseley cars. In their first year Wolseley built 323 cars at the Birmingham factory while further cars were produced at the Crayford site. The Birmingham factory had been constructed in 1897 for Starley Brothers & Westwood Ltd. who were in the cycle trade. Austin applied for his first patents from these works in May 1901 for a handbrake mechanism and a pre-selector gearbox. Austin also patented a central steering motor body in January 1902.
Herbert Austin resigned in 1905 to start the Austin Motor Company Ltd. in Longbridge. Design now came under Siddeley influence and cars were marketed as Wolseley-Siddeleys.
The next true Wolseley range appeared in 1910 when left to join Deasy. This series of four and six-cylinder cars were manufactured up to the outbreak of The Great
Early truck production comprised models up to 4 ton, the latter being produced for the British Army. The production of trucks was abandoned in 1908, only to be resumed in 1912.
In 1913 Wolseley built and demonstrated the Gyrocar which ran on only two wheels and was balanced by a gyroscope. A Russian count, Dr. Peter Schilovski, had designed the car and persuaded Wolseley to built it. Although it worked well, it's 12-16 hp engine was underpowered for a vehicle which weighed nearly three tons. The outbreak of war prevented any further trials and after the war it was buried. In 1938 it was recovered and, after restoration, displayed in the company's museum. It was finally cut up and destroyed after the Second World war.
In 1913 Wolseley was the largest British manufacturer with 4000 employees building 3000 cars at Adderley Park.
During World War I, Wolseley lorries were supplied in large numbers to the British Army in France and Wolseley aero engines contributed to the success of the Royal Flying Corps. Truck production was terminated in 1919.
After the war a second plant was taken over at Drews Lane, Ward End, Birmingham, this factory had originally been built by a Vickers subsidiary in 1913. The post war period was a good time for Wolseley with 12,000 cars built in 1921. Sales brochures of that time boasted that the depression had not affected demand.
Development continued until February 1927 when, due to bankruptcy Sir William Morris, Lord Nuffield, acquired Wolseley from Vickers for £730,000 of his own money. Some existing Wolseley models were kept but, over the following ten years, Morris and MG components were increasingly used and by 1938 all models were using Morris engines.
Morris Motors gained a lot of expertise as a result of the take-over and by 1933 Morris Commercial Cars were established at Adderley Park while Wolseley production continued at the Ward Lane premises and were known as Wolseley Motors (1927) Ltd. Leonard Lord was moved from Morris's Coventry based Engine Branch to work under the Managing Director William Cannell.
During the war Wolseley had built Hispano-Suiza overhead camshaft V-8 aero engines under the Wolseley Viper name and post war, this expensive configuration was used in the cars.
Lord had taken charge at Wolseley and by July 1933 had moved to run Morris Motors. Oliver Boden took over at Wolseley having previously run Morris Commercial. He was to later run Morris when Lord left Morris after a row with Lord Nuffield. In 1935 Lord convinced William Morris (Lord Nuffield from 1934) to sell Wolseley and MG to Morris Motors. (William Morris privately owned these companies). Miles Thomas took over as deputy chairman in August 1936.
Car production ceased in 1940 and the Ward End factories made shells, Bren carriers, mines and Horsa gliders despite serious bomb damage sustained in 1941. After the death of Oliver Boden in March 1940, Miles Thomas took over at Morris and formed the Nuffield Organisation. Charles Mullens now took over at Wolseley.
Car production resumed on the 6th September 1945 when an 8 hp model was introduced and in 1947 a short lived limousine based on the pre-war 25 hp car. The range was simplified in 1948 to just two models (4/50 and 6/80) and remained that way until 1954. It was during this period that Wolseley Police cars became so well established.
Thomas's replacement as vice-chairman at the Nuffield Organisation in 1947 was Reginald Hanks who instigated the transfer of car production to Cowley from the 1st January 1949. The Birmingham factory was renamed the Tractors and Transmission branch and is now the premises for the van manufacturer Leyland DAF Vans (LDV).
The creation of the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1952 meant that the name Wolseley was now used for luxury versions of standard BMC models. 1961 saw the Wolseley Hornet, which was a Mini with an extended boot and Wolseley grill and fittings. The last use of the Wolseley name was in 1975 on the Leyland 18/22 that was renamed the Princess for 1976.
The distinctive illuminated radiator badge was first introduced in 1932 and continued right up to the end of Wolseley production, when the last car to bear the famous Wolseley badge - a 2200 'Wedge' - left the factory in 1975.
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