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Lot 203: 1904 Wolseley 12-hp Rear-Entrance Tonneau

Veteran Motor Cars, Bonhams (4 November 2005)

No British motor manufacturer at the turn of the century had more power, wealth or technological expertise behind it than Wolseley, and the reputation enjoyed by their products was backed by the use of the very finest materials in their construction. Indeed, in his celebrated 1904 book ‘The Complete Motorist’, A.B.Filson Young remarked that Wolseley cars were ‘typical throughout of English rather than of Continental engineering practice. They have earned golden opinions for their power, simplicity, and freedom from breakdown, while almost alone among motor-cars constructed by makers of repute, they represent the really practical touring-car which is sold at something like a moderate price... the 8, 12 and 24-hp cars are the most popular among private users’.

Originally an off-shoot of the Wolseley Sheep-Shearing Company, early in 1901 the Wolseley Tool & Motor-Car Company was absorbed into the immensely rich and powerful arms and engineering empire of Vickers, Sons & Maxim. Their gifted engineer, Herbert Austin, who built his first experimental ‘autocar’ in 1896 and had assisted machine-gun king Sir Hiram Maxim in his experiments with a gigantic steam-powered aeroplane in the 1890s, was an advocate of the transverse horizontal engine: the 1497cc 12-hp typifies his clever and careful approach to car design. As Filson Young so rightly said: ‘The 12-hp car, which is sold complete at £400, is among the best value in English-built motor-cars that can be obtained.’

Its twin-cylinder engine is set, as they said at the time ‘breeches (ie cylinder heads) forwards’ beneath a bonnet whose sides are the cooling elements of the radiator. Its construction was unusual for the period, for it had detachable cylinder heads containing the vertical valves (inlet valves were automatic) and cast-iron cylinder liners fitting into the aluminium crank chamber and water jacket. The drive was through a cone clutch ‘on the outer end of the crank-shaft’ and inverted tooth Renold silent chain to a three-speed and reverse gearbox; final drive was by side chains, so that all the driving elements were parallel, giving what was described as ‘practically a direct drive on all speeds’. This, it was claimed, ‘involved less loss in transmission than is the case with motors which transmit their power through a right angle’.

The chassis frame was pressed from the highest quality Vickers steel (as used in the ironclad Dreadnoughts of the Edwardian Navy!) and the car was famed for its ‘excellence both in design and workmanship’.

In veteran days, Wolseley was extremely proud of its impressive client list, and for a considerable period published an advertisement each week in The Autocar illustrating the latest cars to be delivered. Such an advertisement in the issue of 28 May 1904 records that this car had been finished for delivery to its first owner, J.R.Findlay of Edinburgh, on 21 May, one of seven cars completed that week. Its five-seat tonneau body is the work of Wolseley’s own body shop, for Herbert Austin was as good a bodybuilder as he was an engineer, and indeed was to become Master of the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers – which he joined in 1912 - in 1934. He was also one of the first to apply what is now known as ergonomics to the design of motor car bodywork.

Its next recorded owner is Mr H. Hamilton of Kirdford, West Sussex, who recovered it from the basement of an Edinburgh garage in 1946 and first drove it in the Brighton Run in 1950. In 1956 it passed to Charles Bloomfield of Lingfield, Surrey, who owned it until 1959, when it was acquired by Mr P Newington. It has been in its present ownership since 1961. It is described as being in good condition overall, though its green paintwork and upholstery would probably benefit from some attention.

Wolseleys are rightly among the most highly prized of veteran cars, for their quality of construction was outstanding, and this handsome car is one of only two examples of the 12-hp twin-cylinder model known to the Veteran Car Club.

Estimate: £60,000 to 80,000

Lot Details
Auction Veteran Motor Cars
Bonhams, London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, 101 New Bond Street
Lot Number203
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£90000
Hammer Price (inc premium)£100500
Condition rating0
Registration number
Chassis number704
Engine number55
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors