The Farina-bodied BMC saloons would become ubiquitous Sixties fare. We examine an early verdict, courtesy of The Autocar.
The very first of a new generation of Pininfarina-bodied medium saloons from BMC, Wolseley’s 15/60 model was introduced in December 1958 before going on sale in 1959. This new series would take BMC’s multi-marque strategy to previously unheard of heights (some might choose to invert that statement), with a succession of models quickly following, all sharing identical bodies and technical specifications, apart from minor changes to engine tune and detail styling. Widely derided as ‘badge-engineering’, it proved a commercial success for BMC, but one which ultimately came with a reputational cost.
The Autocar published its first road test of the 15/60 on 13 March 1959. The test car retailed at £991.7s, including purchase tax. Not (then) noted for sensationalism, The Autocar writer’s style was drier than a chilled glass of Tio Pepe, but with a little gentle sifting one can glean the degree to which their enthusiasm for the car lay.
The 15/60 was powered by a 1489 cc version of BMC’s widely adopted B-series power unit, developing a lusty 55 bhp at 4,400 rpm and a more useful 82 lb ft at 2,100 rpm. Autocar, who described the engine’s performance as being “up to the well-known standards of this unit”, achieved a heady 79.0 mph maximum velocity, with 60 mph arriving at a relaxed 24.3 seconds from rest; the test team observing that “speed and acceleration, although not outstanding by present day standards, are likely to satisfy…”
Autocar praised the engine’s flexibility, noting it would pull strongly from as low as 12 mph in top gear. Testers observed the ‘reasonably’ low noise level from the pushrod powerplant, but pointed out that “it begins to make its presence felt at the top end of the speed range.” Over a period of just over 1,000 miles in dry, overcast Spring conditions, the Wolseley recorded an overall consumption of 27.9 mpg, although it was noted that “with an eye on economy, this could be increased to 35 mpg.”
A good example of Autocar pulling its punches was its observation regarding perhaps the most significant mechanical change to that of its Nuffield predecessor. “In the steering layout the 15/60 differs widely from the earlier 15/50 model, which had a very accurate rack and pinion layout; a cam and lever design is now used.” This alteration was a likely consequence of the ascendancy of the Longbridge engineering department over that of Cowley, where the previous car was developed.
It can only have been viewed as a retrograde move, as Autocar tactfully observed. “The new model has some lost motion at the wheel, and on a straight road there is need constantly to be correcting – if only slightly – the direction of the car. This was especially noticeable in places where the car was exposed to strong side winds.” Road behaviour received scant mention, which might suggest there wasn’t all that much of it. “There appeared to be no tendency for the back to slide when cornering vigorously; a degree of understeer is apparent and there is no tyre squeal in normal driving.”
However it was suggested that the car’s suspension settings were overly soft and that the car felt underdamped at speed and prone to body roll when laden with a complement of passengers. The ride quality however was praised, testers observing that “on a good surfaced main road at up to 60 mph the ride is comfortable.” One thing they neglected to impart however was exactly to what degree ride and handling departed from acceptability on rougher roads or at higher velocities. Additionally, the Wolseley’s overall refinement was marred, by a “pronounced body drumming” between 60 and 70 mph.
As befitting an upmarket nameplate, the Wolseley’s interior came with the trappings of one-upmanship; real leather for the seat facings, polished veneer for the facia and door cappings and deep pile carpeting throughout the cabin. The driving position was praised by the test team, as was the comfort and support from the driver’s perch. The modern design of the main instrumentation, positioned in front of the driver beneath a hooded binnacle failed to prevent screen reflections for taller drivers.
DTW regulars will be relieved to learn that the 15/60 came with a standard rear centre arm rest which Autocar cited as being the primary provision of lateral support for rear occupants during spirited cornering. However, marks were lost in the vexed arena of smoking provision, the two door-mounted ashtrays being inconveniently sited. Autocar‘s test team suggested a larger centrally mounted receptacle might have been preferable. A further demerit was levelled at the finish of the stainless steel window frames, the sharp edge of which caused one of the test team to tear the sleeve of his standard auto journalist-issue raincoat.
Little mention was made of the Wolseley’s body styling, apart from noting that it was designed by ‘Pinin Farina’; the feeling being that such matters were subjective, and not the purview of a magazine such as Autocar. Testers confined themselves to practicalities such as observing the “tops of both wings can be seen without the driver having to lean forward and the large rear window gives a view of the upper corners of the tail fins, which is of great value when reversing.” However, it was found that the “new body lines” entailed screen pillars which impeded the driver’s view “at some angles”.
Autocar summarised the car’s appeal as follows. “This latest Wolseley retains the air of well-being associated with its predecessors and none of the criticisms made is of a serious nature. Owners will approve of the bright functional interior and the commanding view afforded by the new style, big windowed body.”
Archie Vicar’s view of the ’59 Farina saloons is unknown.