Motoring Week: A week of motoring by Archie Vicar

In what seems to be a verbatim transcript of a period article, renowned motoring correspondent, Archie Vicar, provides a summary of his motoring week in late 1958.

Wolseley 15-60 (source)

Note: The article appeared in the Liverpool Evening Express, a newspaper based in Liverpool, England, November 2nd, 1958. Due to the lack of accompanying photographs, stock images have been used. Paper damage of the source means the transcript is incomplete.

The Fifteen-Sixty motor car is manufactured by the great English marque, Wolseley. In recent weeks it has been my task to assess this fine motor car’s merits in the course of extended driving duties. To that particular end I have driven the Fifteen-Sixty to my appointments around England, reported here. Regular readers may be cognizant of the fact that the Fifteen-Sixty is a recent addition to the Wolseley range and it stands at a shade over 59 inches high. To effect the forward propulsion of the car, Wolseley have deployed a 1.5 litre four cylinder petrol engine with a firing order of cylinder 1 then cylinder 3 and then cylinder 4 concluded by the remaining cylinder (number 2). It is fitted with leather-upholstered chairs for drivers and passengers (Vauxhall, take note!).

Monday: West Midlands 

Wolseley’s press wallah set me off in a car promising to be unique among BMC’s range. I could not find the wiper actuator control. Over to Girling in the West Midlands via Torton and Lower Clent, stopping for a brace of pheasants, mushy peas and Yorkshire pudding in Kingswinsford. Ten gallons into the tank and another pint of gearbox oil, in this case Shell X-100 10W. Fellow scribes are much of the opinion that Sternol W.W. 30 oil is superior but I have yet to see convincing evidence to support this contention. The car seemed to be running warm so I repeated the daily check of the radiator fluid (still plenty) and while I was there, the engine oil level.

Wolseley 15-60 (source)
Wolseley 15-16 (source)

Tuesday: Sheffield adventure

Another long journey, this time from Malvern to Sheffield, via Barnsley. Breakfast consisted of devilled snipe and poached eggs at the Moulder’s Arms. Then onto Laycock de Normanville’s new offices for a discussion with their head of sales concerning lively rumours their components might be used in a model to be added to the Jensen range (grapevine suggests a close-coupled black or blue saloon with four seats of the more sporting stripe). The Wolseley’s rear axle oil needed topping up — I could hear some noises from aft. The axle-oil filler is not so conveniently located on the rear side of the axle but also serves as the indicator. After topping up I remembered to allow time for excess oil to run out (it did). This is an important tip since if the axle is overfilled the lubricant can leak through to the break linings and lessen their efficacy. Lunch was more snipe and eggs at the Moulder’s Arms!

Wednesday – central Birmingham

Time to address the steering box, along with the oil level and radiator fluids and tyre pressures along with the steering idler. This needed topping up with Ambroleum E.P 90. As the driver’s manual wisely says “On no account should the steering idler be overlooked, as lack of lubricant in this component may cause serious breakdown, due to the additional load imposed on the steering box”. I also had a look at the steering box, checked the levels and topped it up.

Wolseley 15-60 8 (source)

I had to take especial care to keep grit from falling into the steering box.  One needs a cloth handy during this little task which I accomplished after lunch with a chap from BMC who suggested a similar car to the Fifteen Sixty could be manufactured under licence in either Chile or Brazil. The uneven running suggested the carburettor damper needed some attention and since the car had just run to 10,12 miles this seemed a good idea anyway so in went a few dollops of Castrolite thin oil. All that was required was to unscrew and remove the damper unit and then to tip some oil into the hollow piston rod until the level was half an inch from the top of the rod. I then rescrewed the damper back into position. Anyone who has tried similar manoeuvres on recent Fords or Vauxhalls will be glad Wolseley are paying attention to such important niceties.

Finally, before arriving back in Malvern I took a pause with a pint and pipe and set to work before checking the brake clutch and master cylinders, replenishing with some of the ample supply of Girling Fluid, which is the best one can purchase no matter what. Home by ten p.m, comfortable and refreshed as only one can be in a car of the calibre of a Wolseley. The handbrake is located between the driving seat and the door. I found the windshield wiper switch, sitting to the right of and below the steering column and (continued on p. 23)

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

48 thoughts on “Motoring Week: A week of motoring by Archie Vicar”

  1. Hard to imagine the amount of fiddling with vital fluids on a daily basis anymore as being accepted practice.

    1. Some of the tasks were truly vexing. One of the unsung improvements in car engineering has been the reduction of maintenance. A lot of it seems to be down to reducing leakiness. You always know where a classic British car has been as the oil splotches are a giveaway. I suppose this change is down to improved tolerances and advances in materials (for seals and joints). My current car, from 2002, is still liquid-tight and all I do is check the air pressure occasionally. Is there a reason UK cars were more prone to leaks than products from other nations?

    2. Now that you mention it, Richard, oil drips and spills by the roadside or in car parks are far less obvious than they used to be. I’d never thought of narrowing it down to being UK cars; American/American-based cars seemed to drip a fair bit too.

    3. Many manufacturers used crude types of crankshaft seals for an astonishingly long time.
      Strips of grease soaked felt, cork or labyrinth type seals were common because proper seals able to withstand the high surface speeds of a crankshaft were expensive and needed careful fitting procedures.
      With the old fashioned seals pressure build up in the crankcase pushed the oil past the seal and onto the road or into the clutch bellhousing.
      Another element is stiffness. A stiff crankcase will remain oil tight far longer than one that’s flexing under load, putting stress on gasket surfaces. A perfect example is the Peugeot 104’s ‘suitcase’ engine with an externally visible seam at half the height of its crankshaft, splitting the casing just where you want it least, at the point of the highest forces. No wonder this engine was called ‘oil well’ by their workshops.

      The old Rolls-Royce V8 had wet liners with two ring gaskets at its bottom. Between those two rings the block had an externally visible hole. When one (or both) ring was broken oil or water would leak out of the tell-tale hole as a warning.
      I’m sure there are more solutions like this.

  2. I’m impressed that having to spend so much time ensuring that he kept the essential fluids topped up, Archie also found time to check the levels in the Wolseley.

    I am scrabbling to be the first to point out that the external photo library that DTW uses has unfortunately furnished a picture of a Wolseley 6/99 in error. I now await a more knowledgeable member of this site to rejoinder that it’s a 6/110, as any fool could tell by looking at the self-tappers holding on the number plate lamp.

    I might as well mention at the same time that my family owned a 15/60 for three years when I was a child and it was a pretty dire car.

    1. “I’m impressed that having to spend so much time ensuring that he kept the essential fluids topped up, Archie also found time to check the levels in the Wolseley.”

      This was the comment I was about to write …

      But never forget motoring began with open crankshaft engines where the big end was practically naked underneath with no crankcase and no oil pan. And lubrication was met by a constant spray of oil from a non-circulating reservoir that had to be constantly refilled and with a constant drip of oil on the road.

  3. Topping up gearbox oil or the lubricant in the steering box surely was not a task performed on a daily basis.
    But as Richard said reduction of maintenance is a big advande in car engineering.
    Endless oil change intervals for th eprice of myriads of oil specifications with low ash content to prevent clogging of the particulate filter, low sulphur content to keep the catalytic converter happy and many more and the reduction of points in need of grease to just the door hinges.
    Even a car as modern as a Peugeot 204 had grease nipples in its steering rack and at the bottom of the front suspension struts and VW made a lot of noise when the Beetle lost its last grease nipple in 1968.
    In the Sixties every workshop and fuel stations had lubrication charts for cars on their walls listing the type of lubricant and where to put it (just look at the intervals…)

    British motorcycles were even better at marking their territory than cars. Vertical seams in crankcases, lack of proper engine ventilation creating over pressure, thin walled castings made to very approximate tolerances and flexing too much by being stressed far beyond their original design limits and pressed steel primary drive cases made sure that oil found its way out of the engine and gearbox.

    1. Seeing that chart has reminded me that you could send off for free Castrol lubrication charts for specific models. As a child it seemed wonderful that you could get such a complicated piece of printed graphics for nothing, so of course I sent off for some. Fortunately I stopped before it became an obsession. Or maybe they just noticed the address and stopped sending them.

    2. I travelled a lot in a 15/60 Wolseley. I was not yet 20 years old, the car was 10 years older than me.
      Most often it was stranded somehow. But as Daniel pointed out with his video share, it was only natural for not a new car.
      Never liked the style of 15/60, nor the handling, not the ride. And none of its brothers and sisters.
      I had a ’58 beetle. It was also not a reliable car. 6V dynamo, points, carb…all should be kept in continuous function by looking after them every other day . An old car is an old car.
      But I remember cruising and even racing when downhills with max speeds of 60-65 mph max. German vs English ancient technology. Uphills was a pain for both.
      So, I am surprised in a bad way to see that quite a service effort was deemed necessary when new.
      Well these cars suited people between their 30s and 60s and that even in 1960!

    3. Gearbox oil was topped up every 1000 miles according the owner´s manual. Archie Vicar had the car at it 1000 miles service point, it seems.

    4. That’s mad because under normal circumstances gearbox oil doesn’t get consumed unlike engine oil of which small parts are part of the combustion process.
      The only way to lose gearbox oil is through leakages.

  4. How things have changed: I cannot recall the last time I opened the bonnet of our Mini, and would have done do only to top up the washer fluid. I have never (and will never) see the engine of my Boxster, since accessing it involves some arcane procedure involving the convertible top.

  5. On the subject of BMC’s Farina saloons, the image of the rear end of the Wolseley above reminded me of an apparent peculiarity: I’ve noticed that the original Morris Oxford was the only version that seemed to have reversing lights incorporated into the rear light clusters:

    Even more strangely, it lost them when the car was facelifted:

    Answers on a postcard, please, as they used to say in pre-Internet times.

    1. I was wondering about that the other day. You’d think the Wolseley and Riley would have had them if the Morris did.

    2. I thought that the lights may just be dummy lenses, but apparently not – they are the real thing. Since none of the other brands had them, perhaps they were deleted as a cost saving measure with the series VI?

    3. Breaking (reversing) news: both the Wolseley 15/60 and 16/60 had reversing lights. If you’re going to take the trouble to light up the front badge, you might as well do the rear, as well.

    4. Doh! You think I might have noticed that, given the piece I wrote about the Wolseley recently! 😨

    5. Well, they are quite subtle – I mistook them for being just chrome over-riders, at first. The reversing light in the Wolseley 6/110, pictured in the main article, is even more so – it’s part of the boot handle/number plate light arrangement .

  6. That last picture is the Big Farina, misidentified at the source.
    I’m surprised the rest of Archie’s week didn’t consist of the Morris, Austin, Wolseley and MG launches – or did they space them out a bit so it was less obvious they were copying? 😉

  7. It is quite interesting that the Wolseley needed almost as much lubrication as the scribe… On the one hand it seems ridiculous now – and also impossible, given that car ownership is near-universal now instead of limited to those of the means and inclination to take care of their vehicle in this way – on the other hand, it does keep you in close contact with the technology, which should reduce the risk of catastrophic (or at least unexpected) failure.

    Imagine EVs being this cumbersome.

    “Monday: had to add electrons to keep the battery happy. Like every time I start the thing, had to massage the electronic nannies to do my bidding instead of the other way around.

    Tuesday: spent most of the morning adjusting pixels to keep everything in mildly sane working order – had to skip lunch.

    Wednesday: more electrons, and more pixel adjusting, this time to convince the car that it really, really wasn’t raining. The chap from the service station had to employ an electron microscope to locate the splodge that had been fooling the sensor. Treated him to dinner.

    Thursday: spent the better part of an hour convincing the car that the white line it was convinced it shouldn’t cross was in fact delineating the place to stop for the traffic light and thus perfectly safe to cross when the light was green. Felt obliged to treat all those waiting behind me to lunch.

    Friday: more electrons, pixel adjusting and a particularly nasty bout of electronic nannies needing extensive massage to do my bidding. Made the fatal error of trying to do this by voice command. Didn’t feel like lunch.”

    Hang on…

    1. It would be even better if you happened to own an iCar and had to charge it with iElectricity from iSockets and put iAir in the iTyres…

    2. Tom, I’m glad I finished my coffee before reading that! Or I might’ve needed a new iThing.

  8. Pure hokum – you don’t go round topping up fluids on a new car from the company press fleet – a new car at that. If the diff is noisy, you throw old blankets in the boot to soak up the sound. The dashpot on an SU carb of that vintage rarely needed attention – as for his comment about Fords and Vauxhalls, they didn’t have SUs.

  9. On the subject of lubricant, and at the risk of poking a stick at a wasps’ nest, my Boxster is due an oil change at a set distance interval (no idea what) or every two years, whichever comes first. As it is used purely for fun and is consequently a very low-mileage car, the oil changes are time-determined. Now, some people sware that motor oil degrades over time and two years is far too long between changes. They say it should be changed annually, irrespective of distance covered. What does our readership think?

    While I’m posing questions, what is the equivalent of “mileage” in English speaking countries that use the metric system? In Ireland, it’s still “mileage”, and “kilometerage” sounds very clumsy.

    1. Modern “synthetic” oils don’t degrade as much as old oils, but two years is really pushing it a bit.
      Mileage is mileage – add 50 – 60 % if you want clicks…

    2. With our Alfasud Sprint, which is also a low-milage car (less than 2000 km per year), we change the oil once a year at the spring check.
      This annual oil change was recommended to us when we still had our Alfa Spider.
      We never questioned this “necessity”.
      But now that I think about it, because you encouraged me to do it, this recommendation came from the same people who did the oil changes…

    3. Yes – definitely change it. Lower mileages are harder on the oil and it’s one of the reasons I use a fuel which has a lot of additives in it, too.

      Here’s a short video which shows lab test analysis of 2-year old, low mileage oil. The viscosity and flashpoint of the oil were degraded.

    4. Ah, I omitted one key piece of information. Even though the Boxster is a very low-mileage car (circa 20,000km after eight years) it is never used for short trips. Whenever I take it out, I will always drive some distance so that both water and oil have reached their full operating temperature for the majority of the trip. Even though I’m averaging only 50km per week, that would usually be no more than one or two trips. I think that makes a big difference to the longevity of both oil and engine, compared to, say ten trips of 5km to and from the railway station, a typical commuter’s weekly usage.

    5. I still would get it changed – the cost of the change versus the damage not having it changed could do makes it an easy decision and then there’s the value of a well-maintained car versus a neglected one.

      There will be other things which will need maintenance or checking in any case (including the oil filter, and its NCT doing at some point, too), so it’s going to have to go in sooner or later.

    6. We still speak of mileage in Australia, and we’ve been metric simce 1974. Whole generations have grown up since then – a scary thought.

    7. Oil change frequency has improved drastically over the years. My 1937 Packard’s manual indicates an oil change is to be done every 1,000 miles. 11 years later my 1948 Packard manual said 3,000 miles. What was the difference [after all it was basically the same engine]?

      The difference can be summed up by a couple of changes:
      1. The improvement in oils due to increased study & research, mostly from WW2 needs for superior oils.
      2. Oil filter on the 1948 engine.
      3. Introduction of “Detergent oil”.

      At least in America, basic oil change frequency remained unchanged [no pun intended] well into the 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, many cars now suggested oil changes at between 5,000 and 6,000 miles. The expanded range between changes were credited to improvements in oil viscosity [multi-weight oils], additional chemical additives, and the removal of Tetra-Ethyl lead from petrol. Much of the grey sludge found in pre-1976 oil pans contains lead deposits that occur from material that makes it past piston rings. Just the removal of lead was a significant improvement in engine oil life.

      Then there is the improvements in engine oil filtration. Until the 1960s many engine oil filters were “Partial bypass” types, and of course all vehicles have had “full flow” oil filters for decades. The partial bypass filters would take filtered oil and dump it back into the sump. This was done because a full flow system meant the filter received full oil pressure, and made them more expensive to manufacture.

      Today my Toyota Camry [I bought it new] is nearing 300,000 miles, and just last month I opened the engine for the first time to replace the timing chain and related pieces, as it’s the VVT 2.4 engine with valves that dip into the cylinder area. On opening the engine up, the insides were incredibly clean. The oil pan had no measurable level of sludge. The only reason I went forward with replacing the timing chain was because if it [or the gears] fail, the entire engine is destroyed.

      The reason I mention this engine repair is because I’ve changed the oil 8 times. ONLY 8 OIL CHANGES. That’s around 30,000 miles and/or 18 months between changes, yet the engine rarely needed an additional quart of oil, and it has no leaks. When I bought the Camry, I did some research [I used to own a car repair shop] and the consensus was if one uses high quality [not synthetic] oil, changing the filter each time, 30,000 miles between changes is OK. [Because I spent every day working with cars, the last thing I want to do is change my own car’s oil every couple of months!]

      I also believe that Toyota does deserve some credit too. The build quality of that engine is also testament to it’s longevity. When I compare the repair frequency of the Camry to my Ram [Dodge] truck with only 70,000 miles, the truck cost me far more per mile in repair costs, well over 6 to 1.

    8. Thanks, all, for your comments. The Boxster was serviced last October before we left the UK, so I’ll have the oil changed again later this year. There’s an excellent independent Porsche specialist in Cork, Des Golden, who sorted out an issue with the folding roof (failed microswitch) a couple of months ago.

      Having always been garaged in the UK when not being driven, the Boxster is now having to endure all that the Irish climate can throw at her. Plans are afoot to build a new garage here, subject to planning permission being granted.

    9. Hi Charles. No, I didn’t need to because there is a terrific old fashioned (in a good way) family-run hardware shop and builders merchants in town called Hardware House. They’re just five minutes away in the car and will deliver anything I can’t carry. They even opened a trade account for me as I’m such a regular customer. Lovely people too, always cheerful and very helpful. I would always prefer to support local businesses, so a great result.

    10. That’s good. There’s a traditional ironmonger’s not too far from me. It’s fascinating and the range of goods is incredible. They even sell tin baths; I wonder who buys them.

  10. I have heard rumours that, even 60 years later, on a rainy-day the route taken by Archie can be re-traced simply by following the oil spots on the tarmac.

    1. An Archie Vicar memorial drive would be a great event. I suggest a route starting at Malvern and featuring Melton Mowbray pork pies and ale at each stop. Someone will have to volunteer to be the dry driver though as since 1981 we´ve understandably changed attitudes to DUI.

    2. A Wolsey filled with middle-aged men, themselves filled with pork pie, snipe and eggs from the Moulder’s Arms. It sounds like a most pleasurable distraction.

    3. One avenue to explore is to see if British England Heritage can grant-fund a memorial event with funding money. Or else if the Motor Heritage Centre could be interested in financial sponsorship as a way to commemorate British engineering and, generally, Midlands motor journalism. And yes, such a bash would be good fun for all concerned.

  11. Although it looks very different from the Austin A40 of 10 years previously (probably its most direct ancestor), it’s worth reminding ourselves that this car wasn’t that different mechanically and, despite advances such as integral construction, coil ignition, independent front suspension and hydraulic brakes, it was closer to the birth of mass motoring than to our times. The nice looking tool kits that Jaguar included in their luxury cars in the 50s, included a grease gun, which was bound to leave some sort of stain on your, or your chauffeur’s, suit. Still, a trip to the dry cleaners was preferable to a suspension rebuild.

    As was his habit, Archie Vicar was probably milking this for journalistic reasons, but if you consider Dave’s lubrication diagram (albeit from 20 years previously), a 2,000 mile touring holiday around Europe would have you underneath the car at least three times, and you’d be under the bonnet considerably more times. Hardly leaves much time for sightseeing.

  12. Regarding the non-linear evolution of the motor car, it’s hard to believe that only 8 years separate this from the Wolseley. Or that 3 years in the other direction separate the Wolseley from the Citroen DS.

    1. True. Farina has moved on to the Aerodynamica range by 1967, too, so it was a fast-moving time in terms people trying different designs (and engineering). It’s fair to say that NSU was closer to Citroën in its general ethos.

      I get the impression that BMC ordered a design from Farina and then said ‘right, we’ll sell that until its sales start to decline’.

  13. All that dripping oil performed a vital function – chassis rustproofing.

    I’ve read accounts of those days, and journalists were expected to traipse up to ‘The Kremlin’, as Longbridge was known, for each separate launch of the Farina series. I also know of a journalist whose press car arrived with a dent. They thought that they must have done it themselves and had it repaired on the quiet, only for the press office to ring them later and say that they were sorry for having delivered a damaged car. The journalist said that it wasn’t any trouble and that they had had the car repaired so that it would photograph well.

    Re the reversing lights – I’ll try to check, but they may be dummies, I suspect.

    Finally, if you needed to do some quick lubrication on your car, you could always try one of these places. Bob Danvers-Walker narrates.

  14. I agree with Bristow. Our dear Archie probably made this all up, in order to fill the newspaper columns. When i was running a Rover 2000 and an Austin 1100 daily, even with intensive use, the maintenance was nowhere near the demands described in the article. Oil top up was normal for a tired engine, but not for a well sorted one, never mind for a nearly new one. I have never had to top up the gearbox or the differential in the Rover, and a need to top up brake or clutch fluids meant that i had to change a set of seals too (rarely…).

    1. I like to think Vicar actually did experience all this rather than just guess on the maintenance based on the owner´s handbook. But it does say that at 1000 miles one needs to check the gearbox oil and the axle lubrication is listed (as you all know) as a periodic checking item for this particular car.

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