Thursday November 29, 2018
‘When you see a Wolseley 6/80 outside a house, you can place its owner as a man whose standing with his neighbours is high’. It is an image that really belongs in a Rank comedy film of the early 1950s - pipes falling from mouths as various chaps utter the word ‘gosh!’ while various “chirpy cockneys” remark ‘lor lummee guv'nor – that is a fine motor car and no mistake’. But this is genuine sales copy for the Wolseley – and after 70 years the 6/80 remains a most prestigious motor-car.
The 1948 London Motor Show was a crucial event for so many British car manufacturers, not least for the Nuffield Group. Their Riley and MG saloons occupied a separate niche in the new car market, but Earls Court was the venue for the introduction of an all-new five-car Morris and Wolseley line-up.
The entry-level model was, of course, the Minor MM and the 6/80 was the flagship of the range. Compared with the outgoing 18/85, its elegant lines were reminiscent of a 1941 Packard, but the traditional grille with its “ghost light” illuminated radiator badge quelled any doubts that the 6/80 was too radical to be a true Wolseley.
In short, this was a car worth the three-year domestic waiting list. The 2.2-litre OHC engine produced a top speed of a respectable 82 mph, and the 6/80 was undoubtedly equipped to the expected Wolseley standards. A telescopic steering column, fog, spot and reversing lamps and a heater were all part of the specification, while the cabin resembled a gentleman’s club.
As for its rivals, the Humber Hawk was a “Big Four” rather than a “Small Six”, and if you wanted V8 power Ford offered the Pilot, but that was a slightly more flamboyant form of transport.
Wolseley claimed that the 6/80 represented ‘the happy mean between a car that is too small and one that is beyond the average price range’ – i.e. it was cheaper than a Rover but more imposing than a Singer SM1500. They further noted that ‘Wit and distinction open more doors than wealth’ – i.e. spivs and counter-jumpers need not pay a visit to their local dealership. Where would British car advertising of the 1950s be without an appeal to snobbery?
The 6/80 was replaced by the 6/90 in the autumn of 1954, but to this day it abides in the public memory thanks to its extensive use as a police car -
They could still be seen patrolling the streets of London in the early 1960s, several years after production had ceased, and this high-profile public service role was reflected cinema and, later, television. These productions varied from the excellent John Mills film noir Town on Trial to the sort of B-film crime epic where and a ladder propped up against a wall represented a daring bank heist.
Indeed, the Wolseley was a major star of the Scotland Yard series of supporting features made at the tiny Merton Park Studios between 1953 and 1961. In an average edition, the scenery would wobble, and some actors had a very shaky grasp of their lines, but the 6/80 would save the day. After all, was it not a car of ‘ a distinction and character which is, somehow, eloquent of its owner's standing in life’?