With the New Wolseley 15/60
to Monte Carlo...
An original road test report from Autocar...
"It's about time," the authorities said, "that the Sports Editor covered a Monte Carlo Rally, instead of swanning off competing in it, and leaving all the chores to his mates. Tell him to get hold of one of those new Wolseley 15/60s, and see how it goes." In fact, the full stop in that sentence represents a chronological gap of about three weeks, after which a letter to Geoffrey Ashton of BMC set the wheels in motion, and a car was sent to the BMC Competition Department for preparation.
So short was the time available literally hours only that the "preparation" consisted of fitting a demister bar, and chains to the two spare tyres. The standard tyre sizes are 5.90 x 14; no all-weather types are available at present in this size, so the Wolseley had standard road tyres all-round in preparation for what then promised to be a 2,000 mile journey across an ice-bound Europe. In view of the weather conditions it was felt that we would be lucky if we climbed the ramp into the Silver City Freighter, let alone the Alps; so the 13-in spare wheels of a couple of BMC cars on the strength of The Autocar were fitted with 6.40 x 13in Goodyear Ultra-Grips, and used to replace the existing rear wheels. No trouble was experienced, subsequently, in climbing either the ramp, or numerous snow-covered Alpine passes.
The standard road tyres originally fitted give a figure of 844 revolutions per mile, whereas the Goodyears give only 810. This means that, with Goodyears, the speedometer was roughly 4 per cent pessimistic; for a 50mph speedometer reading (assuming that the instrument itself was correct) the true speed would therefore be 52mph, and this correction applies also to the distances recorded by the odometer.
The only other modification to the car was the substitution of the 52 deg thermostat with which it had been equipped, with one that opened at 85 deg, and passage was taken by air from Lydd to Le Touquet on the Saturday before the Rally started. The poor Wolseley looked terribly over-loaded; as well as the three occupants, it carried enough photographic equipment to set up a small shop, two spare wheels, suitcases galore, and all the clobber that people think they are going to need and never use. Just to get ourselves acclimatised, we stopped for lunch at the quite splendid Les Grenouilliers restaurant, which is close to Montreuil, and which is not credited with nearly enough "crossed knives-and-forks" in the Guide Michelinand set off for Rheims.
First impression of the Wolseley was that it was still extremely "tight"; only about 250 miles were showing on the odometer when we had started, and even when the 500 came up it seemed to have a maximum speedometer reading of about 60mph. The reasons for this reduced performance were subsequently discovered and corrected as will be seen later. When we were about 50 miles from Rheims the car began to suffer from fuel starvation, eventually coming to a halt with no fuel at all in the carburettor. We changed the fuel pump one of the new hydraulic type and pressed on to Rheims for the night. Next day the trouble recurred, close to Ligny-en-Barrois, so we struggled on to Nancy all garages on our route being closed for the Sabbath uncoupled the pump and carburettor, and blew through the pipe-line with compressed air. A strange collection of foreign bodies emerged at the carburettor end, so we coupled up the pipe again and had no further trouble.
By now the roads were becoming increasingly snow-covered, as we went south-east toward the Vosges. The surface was hard-packed and frozen into ruts and bumps. The practice of slinging shovelfuls of a grit-salt mixture across the road from a moving lorry had resulted in deep corrugations, which made the soft suspension bottom repeatedly. We lurched and bumped on to Belfort, where we had intended to spend the night, picking up the Paris starters the following morning. However, so deep was the snow that the Ballon d'Alsace had been closed, and the Rally re-routed to avoid Belfort and run straight up from Remiremont to Gérardmer. We called at the local police station to verify this; with charming ingenuity they said they didn't know anything about it, but that if we had confirmation they'd be grateful if we'd let them know!
Leaving the gendarmes to their problem, we spent the night at Belfort in a sort of glorified lodging-house, all hotels being full, presumably with people who were looking forward to seeing the Rally pass through the following morning.
Next day, in bright early-morning sunshine, we joined the competitors at the Gérardmer control, and set off with them towards Cambrai, on their route north-westwards towards Boulogne. The thaw, which was rapidly washing the organizers' hopes of a tough Rally away down the mountain streams, had further reduced the snow though not the corrugations, which were now deep in slush. At increased speed, now that we were keeping up with the Rally, we leaped and crashed along. The steering wheel, incidentally, proved a little too high, shorter drivers having to peer over the top. Subsequently, too, on the quickly drying roads, there appeared to be excessive road noise transmitted to the interior of the car from the front wheels.
The somewhat unconventional running-in that the car was receiving seemed to be loosening-up the engine, and we put 84km into the hour gradually overtaking competitors who were limited to a top average of 80kph by French law. Deciding to leave out the somewhat dull run up into northern France, we struck off for Bourges, where the first cars were due in at about 10.30 in the evening. Here we arrived with time in hand and, after the first meal of the day, pulled in at the control beneath the impressively flood-lit cathedral. Immediately the Wolseley attracted attention; even more so when we opened the bonnet to connect up the map-reading light. People flocked round; instead of the compact four-cylinder BMC Series B unit, we might have been revealing the latest in gas-turbines.
Leaving the Bourges control at midnight, we accompanied the Rally southwards through the darkness, the "Racer" as it had come to be termed now rid of its teething troubles, run-in and going like a charm. It had been treated with little mercy even during the so-called running-in period, but now it was a full rally car, with all that this entailed. After heading south to Mauriac, we turned eastwards to the mountains as dawn began to break. The night's run had been over dry roads, but as we took to the foothills of the Alps we ran again into snow on the high ground, and treacherous patches elsewhere.
Never intended or modified for this sort of fast Alpine motoring, the suspension proved far too soft, though the car handled reasonably well when wound round the mountain roads. The movement proved too much for the occupant of the rear seat, so that a game of musical chairs had to be performed every so often. The writer experienced his first-ever symptoms of car sickness, when taking his turn in the rear compartment and hurriedly found an excuse to take over the wheel for the rest of the journey.
The brakes, which had proved extremely good, were not up to the Le Puy-Valence stretch, which was taken at full speed in an effort to intercept competitors at a point farther along the route. After repeated hard applications they began to fade, and speed had to be reduced. The car had developed the habit of jumping out of third gear on the over-run, which imposed further strains on the brakes during downhill stretches and on the driver, when cornering, unless the front passenger held it in gear.
During the Wednesday morning it was decided that the "Racer" must not be allowed to get in competitors' ways on the total regularity section from St.Auban to Pont Charles Albert. A detour was attempted over a col marked "Route Barrée." The snow lay deep on the mountain road as it wound its way upwards through the silent woods; there were no wheel tracks, but the Goodyear Ultra-Grips kept the car moving well, the engine also pulling heartily on a light throttle opening. Only cold feet prevented easy progress and the fact that there appeared unlikely to be sufficient width in which to turn round. When, at last, a wider-than-usual lacet did appear, we stopped and decided to give up the attempt, and return to the main road. It was a long detour before we rejoined the route again and we immediately broke the bottom loop of the hydraulic pipe running from the reservoir to the clutch master cylinder. After a longish run through the mountains without the clutch, during which it proved impossible to change down or up into third gear, we stopped at a garage and had the break repaired. A necessary modification on the car is that the clutch pipe should be rerouted, farther from the road surface.
Without incident, the "Racer" rolled along, reaching Monte Carlo intact during the Wednesday afternoon. Here it was set about by the BMC mechanics, who found that it had been running too weak, and too far retarded. They corrected these faults, washed and polished the car and returned it to us with considerably improved performance.
Late on the Sunday evening, after the long-drawn-out functions of the Rally were over, we set out for Paris. A strong wind, combined with the effects of snow tyres on the dry roads, influenced the handling of the car, even so, with three up and masses of luggage, we reached the French capital in a little over 12 hours an average, despite a desperately slow run from Monte Carlo to Cannes, of over 40mph.
We had grown quite fond of the "Racer" by the time we got it and it us back to England, very nearly 2,800 miles completed. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a rally car, with its existing suspension unmodified; there is too much roll, which an anti-roll bar would reduce. It is very well finished and comfortable, with its leather upholstery and walnut facia and trim panels. The few faults that the car developed jumping out of third, the fuel stoppage and the fractured clutch pipe were indigenous to the particular Wolseley we were using, and should not be found in subsequent production cars.
It is surprising, when it is considered that it was not yet run in, and was an early pre-production example of a new model, that more snags did not develop.
At the end of 2,800 miles, 2,000-odd of which were particularly hard ones, the car showed no signs whatever of tiredness; oil consumption worked out at about a pint per thousand miles, and fuel consumption at 22mpg for the hard going in the Alps, and 24mpg driven flat-out on the run back from Paris. Applying the 4 per cent correction to these figures they seem very reasonable.