by Wolseley Register members Jeffrey Bridges & Bernie Peal.
The Wolseley Six-Ninety was introduced at the October 1954 Motor Show, designed by Gerald Palmer (of Jowett Javelin & MG Magnette fame) the new car owed little to the Six-Eighty which it replaced. Just as the Four-Forty-Four launched in 1952 to replace the 4/50 was related to the MG Magnette, so the Six-Ninety is related to the Riley Pathfinder. Whilst the two cars share a visual likeness and essentially the same chassis and body ‘tub’ they are mechanically quite different and share only their front doors and boot lid with all other panels and all trim being model specific. All four of Palmers new cars were designed under the auspices of the Nuffield Organization and with the Six-Ninety being the last to the market it may, with some justification be described as the final Nuffield Wolseley.
The new car was the first car to feature the all new ohv six cylinder BMC ‘C’-Series 2,639cc engine and a new four-speed gearbox with column change. This engine, with design outline coming from Longbridge was made by Morris Engines at Coventry. With twin SU carburetors, it develops 95bhp; 0 to 60mph taking 18 seconds, fuel consumption is in the low twenties.
Front suspension is by torsion bars, whilst the original Series I cars have Palmer’s advanced coil sprung rear suspension with telescopic shock absorbers all round. This is as used on the Riley Pathfinder and contrary to popular legend there was no fault in the design, rather the problems which gave the early Pathfinders a bad name for road holding lay with poor quality manufacture by BMC’s chassis supplier, John Thompson’s of Wolverhampton, which once identified and rectified caused no further problems.
Series I cars have a stylish contemporary fascia panel, with the rest of the interior being in more traditional Wolseley style, well equipped and finished to a high standard. Borg Warner Overdrive became an option towards the end of Series I production.
In October 1956 a new and revised Series II car was launched. There were minor exterior changes, including a new design of rear lights, more significantly the car now had modified rear suspension with conventional semi-elliptic springs. The Series II adopted the right-hand floor gear change from the Riley Pathfinder; so as to retain the ability for three abreast seating in the front. There was also an all new wooden fascia and redesigned front seat cushions with folding centre armrests. Automatic transmission now joined Overdrive as an option, but trafficators were retained for home market cars, with export models having flashers. After a short production run of just 1,024 (including 147 CKD cars) the Series II was replaced in May 1957, when the Series III arrived.
The Series III coincided with replacement of the Riley Pathfinder with the Two-Point-Six, which now shared the Wolseley’s body. Don Hayter’s new wrap round rear window for the Two-Point-Six was shared with the latest Wolseley, together with Lockheed’s new High Stability braking system, with larger 11 inch diameter front drums and Lockheed’s Brakemaster servo assistance. Various minor modifications were also made and the car was offered with the option of several attractive duo tone colour combinations and ACE Rimbellishers became standard. In this guise, the car continued in production until February 1959, being replaced in mid 1959 by the Austin engineered and Farina-styled 6/99. In all, 5,776 Series I cars were built; 1,024 Series II’s and 5,052 Series IIIs, with roughly a third of all production being exported. Assembly took place at Cowley, with components coming from across the West Midlands, a small number of cars were exported as CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits for local assembly, most likely in South Africa.
Some 500 cars were supplied to Police forces across the UK, with the Met. Police being the single largest user, 19 cars also went to New Zealand Police. Today, the few remaining specimens, spread across the world are prized indeed, representing wonderful examples of Wolseley motoring, from the era when Britain’s Motor Industry was in the ascendancy.
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