A 1977 Wolseley 18-22. As named, this car had a mayfly-brief production run. Why is it labelled a 1977 though?
Something quite like it could be purchased until 1982 (sold as an Austin Princess and Austin Princess 2 until 1981). And something quite like that appeared in showrooms from 1982 to 1984, the Austin Ambassador. They re-tooled the body and engineered a hatchback for 24 months of sales. That’s another story, British Leyland has plenty of those.
Turning back to the green car we are looking at today. If the Wolseley version of the Princess family had sold in serious numbers it might not be so well remembered today. Luckily, nearly none found customers. According to the Wolseley Register, about 3800 managed to roll off the lines and (unsurprisingly) they are highly sought after. This one is in remarkable condition and might be one of a fewer than 2 left in Denmark. Isn’t this like the attraction for misprinted stamps or cancelled toys like the Frobulo Gannba character who was deleted from the “Empire Strikes Back” after Kenner Toys had distributed 10,000 examples*.
Back to the car. The 18-22 is pretty well documented at the Register. There’s a lovely example used in their photos. What I’ll add to the mix is that the 18-22 is an example of how badge engineering makes brands more and more like trim levels until they fade away completely. Conversely, a trim level never develops to become a brand. They can only become models. For example, the Cutlass trim level for certain Oldsmobiles became a model line and, tantalizingly, a sub-brand. Land Rover used to be Rovers made for the land. Mini was a model that is now a whole line of fashion statements.
Who were they, the Wolseley people? Wolseley’s existence consisted mostly of being badge-engineered vehicles. Independence lasted but briefly. It (the firm) flowered from 1901 to the late 20s before falling into the choking grasp of William Morris. An end to government contracts and raised taxes plus some bad property investments led to bankruptcy in 1926. A few years before that William Morris had bought the firm with his own money, supposedly to avoid it becoming part of GM. Interesting that: in another universe Wolseleys would be the British equivalent to Opels.
For a short time Morris reversed Wolseley’s plan to sell more and cheaper cars. However, by 1935 they became variants of other Morris designs. And lo! By 1975 Wolseley had been a zombie-brand for 40 years. That’s quite some time as the living dead. I´d really like to plot the history of the models between 1935 and 1975 so as to chart the decline. I’ll look at the end years. The Wolseley Hornet ceased production in 1969: a Mini variant. The 16/60 popped its clogs in 1971: an Austin Cambridge variant. The same year the Wolseley 18/85 went away (sadly, much the best of them, a Morris 1800 make-over and truly, utterly regal inside). The Wolseley 1100/1300 stopped in 1974: an ADO 16 variant. And the six cylinder version of the Austin 1800 ceased that year too. So, over five years the Wolseley range fell to almost no cars before the Princess-derived version briefly appeared. It had the appearance of a clerical error.
If anyone has a better view do say. Mine is that Wolseley was the British Buick. There were several contenders for this: Rover and Humber but Rover had a modernist streak and Humber reached a bit higher than Wolseley and had a much more staid, stiff and buttoned-down character.
We could chart the same sort of decline for Lancia though their time as a more clearly distinct marque, with their own models, is longer than Wolseley’s. For Lancia to follow the proper progression it must end up with no distinct body shells of its own, let’s say a trim variant of the new Fiat saloon (can anyone remember its name without looking up Wikipedia?). As it is one can say the Ypsilon is still unique to Lancia and the Chrysler is a badge-engineered derivation (can anyone say if Chrysler is still in business in the UK without looking up Wikipedia?)
And what of the reverse process? Well, Hyundai are trying to turn a model name, Genesis, into a brand which is a feat Oldsmobile did not manage. And Ford is turning a trim line into a separate model-hyphen-brand with their Vignale. As I see it, Hyundai are showing considerable commitment to their endeavour and it will take at most two model cycles for customers to forget that Genesis was a model. And they will. Ford haven’t grasped that for a trim line to be seen as a separate brand they’ll need to spend some money on tooling up a separate bodystyle and they’ll need an engine too. A 4-cylinder turbo just doesn´t cut it, not when the alternative is a six cylinder from a well-established brand. Heck, even Citroen have managed to turn a model name into a brand and they have invested in marque-unique sheet metal. Their mixed-success shows how hard such a project is and that means that just offering special paint and nicer upholstery is not sufficient. Ask Wolseley. They did this for four decades.
*I made that up. There is a better real example I was too tired to think of.