Thursday December 20, 2018
In December 1958 the new 15/60 represented a more radical step both for the Wolseley marque and for the British Motor Corporation than is often appreciated. It was not the first BMC car with Pininfarina styled coachwork – that distinction goes to the Austin A40 – and its engineering would have been very familiar to most drivers, down to the B-Series power plants.
The cabin was the epitome of restrained good taste, and the list of standard fittings included leather upholstery, a clock, reversing lamps and a folding rear armrest while naturally, the radiator grille sported the famous “ghost light” badge that illuminated with the sidelights.
But what really shocked owners of the outgoing 15/50 were those tail fins. The Wolseley may not have appeared as trans-Atlantic as the “Audax-series” Hillman Minx or the Ford Consul Mk. II, let alone the F-Type Vauxhall Victor, but the 15/60 did look almost defiantly contemporary. To quell any potential doubts, BMC’s promotion stated that the body was ‘as modern as the hour’ that the cabin was ‘fashioned for the fastidious’ and, most importantly, that here was a ‘scintillating car’.
However, the company had taken quite a risk in offering a car with such styling to a conservative sector of the car market. After all, they did not want potential owners having the concern that their neighbours would now consider them to be a 45-year-old Teddy Boy on taking delivery of their Wolseley.
Fortunately, the chaps (they did tend to be “chaps” in the late 1950s) of the motoring press believed the 15/60 was undoubtedly worth its £936 2s 6d asking price. ‘As a good all-rounder for those who need not buy the cheapest thing available, this new Wolseley deserves a bright future’ thought The Motor in 1959; i.e. despite its mildly radical looks, this is a car as a respectable as a well-cut tweed jacket.
The 15/60 was also the first BMC car to undergo extensive “badge engineering”. By spring 1959, the five-car line-up was complete, commencing with the Austin A55 Cambridge Mk. II and progressing to the slightly more expensive Morris Oxford Series V and the mid-range Wolseley.
The MG Magnette Mk. IV and the flagship Riley 4/68 both featured a twin-carburettor engine and somewhat more restrained rear wings. By 1960 the Austin and the Morris were available in Countryman/Traveller estate forms.
The “Farinas” were facelifted in late 1961, gaining a widened rear track, an enlarged 1,622cc engine, and a front anti-roll bar as the Austin A60 Cambridge, the Morris Oxford Series VI, the Wolseley 16/60, the MG Magnette MK. IV and the Wolseley 16/60.
By now the three less expensive models now sported rather more subtle fins as the range settled into comfortable middle-age. The Morris Marina replaced the final incarnations of the Oxford and the 16/60 in early 1971, by which time the Farina was a nearly ubiquitous sight, especially as a taxi cab.
And so, as a tribute to one of the mainstays of the BMC line-up, here is an excerpt from one of its many film appearances. The 15/60 in Village of the Damned is one obvious choice, as is the A55 Mk. II in The Running Man (as in Laurence Harvey as opposed to Arnold Schwarzenegger) but I have opted for the Magnette that starred in Shadow of Fear.
Even in 1963, I doubt whether many cinema patrons would have greeted this B-feature with great enthusiasm but that MG has an undeniable presence. It may bounce a good deal in its pursuit of a modified Austin-Healey Sprite Mk. I, it may have the dashboard of a Jaguar E-Type thanks to a brilliant lapse in continuity – but the Farina always has flair: