Mid nineties. In theory there was no need for another car. I had sold my Morris Oxford VI. To own a larger, bigger engined sedan was very seductive, a substantial car from an older era. These cars were now at their lowest value. No one was interested in these old fashioned barges. There were still a few around, having had good service in the first years (expensive cars when new) and because they used simple mechanics it was easy to keep them on the road. But they deteriorated fast now, 25 years or older. If I ever wanted something like that, cheap and still in a reasonable condition, I had to take action.
In the mid sixties, the British car industry had three competitors in that class: three litre, six cilinder inline engines, big, bold and imposing. Not sporty. Made to impress Joe Average. Soft, quality, quietness were important words. Could well be driven by a chauffeur, or by the owner with a hat if needed.
The BMC conglomerate offered one body which could be had in three guises: Austin Westminster A110, Wolseley 6/110, VandenPlas 3 Litre.
The Rootes conglomerate had the Humber Super Snipe.
Rover had its Three Litre (P5).
There might have been competitors from Vauxhall and Ford (UK) as well but I was not interested in those.
Of the three, the Rover was the least attractive to me. Not sure why (too expensive?) but then, nearly 30 years ago, I ruled out the Rover. The search went on for a BMC or Rootes car.
I looked at advertisements in club magazines, also old club magazines, classic magazines, newspaper ads. In the end I made a list of 6 cars I would want to have a look at. It was difficult to arrange but in the end I got appointments made in two consequitive Saturdays.
The Humber Super Snipe had my preference. It was not well known (I saw that as a positive point), had a fantastic engine and interior. It was a Rootes car (same as the Sunbeam Imp I had), I liked the column shift and dashboard. It was a pretty car with 50s overtones. It definitively was upmarket, you saw them all around the British Parliament. Winston Churchill had one.
On the first day I had a look at, and test drove three Humbers. All were different. One automatic and manual steering, two column mounted manual gearbox, one with power assisted steering. What put me off was when I actually drove all three of them. The steering was very vague! And heavy for the non-assisted. The assisted steering was very light which made the car wander on the road without any steering feel. I was quite disappointed.
Day two were the BMC Farinas. First one was an Austin A110, black with red leather. The car looked really good but I could not get a test drive because the car had been standing for at least twelve years in a warm garage under cover. Disappointing but it did make an impression.
Next one was a Wolseley 6/110. This one was quite rusty and had a dirty interior. It did drive well, steering was good, a little heavy when going slow. But the condition of the car was not good enough, it had rust at the rear wheel arches, the chrome bumpers were badly pitted, there were dirty spots and tears in the seats. The carpet was a home made affair. The last car on the list was another Wolseley, now with power assisted steering. This one looked much better in very good two tone blue paint and blue interior. The interior was pretty worn though, the drivers seat had two big tears (but nothing that could not be repaired). Driving it was another matter, very light vague steering, almost like a Humber. That was a no no for me. It made me decide to go for a non-power assisted steered Farina 6.
I got back to the black Austin for a longer talk with the owner. The car was the “Super De Luxe” version, so it had a full width wooden dashboard, a horizontal speedo, leather seats with built in arm rests and reclining seat backs, on the back sides of the seats there were wooden tables like the Wolseley. In fact it had the same interior as a Wolseley, except for the dashboard layout. It had a four speed manual gearbox with the gear lever on the floor, and an overdrive.
The seller (J. Bakker) was an old man who once ran a small garage/smithy in a small town. He still had the bill buying the car from the supplying Austin dealer in 1967. The new car was sold to the director of a nearby diary factory, who traded in the car four years later for a new BMW. The Austin then was never sold again, stayed with the garage owner. He always had it parked in his little showroom when he did not use it. His mechanics serviced the car, many service cards came with the car showing the man hours spent and repairs done to the car since new.
The owner assured me the engine would run, there was nothing really wrong with the car. It would need new tires and probably some hydraulics would need overhaul. But the car looked good. It had no sliding sunroof, which I regard as a bonus because on older cars these only give trouble (rust, leakage, headliner problems). The red leather seats looked very very good, no markings at all. All original carpets still in good condition. The big wooden dashboard was pretty good as well, only at two of the wooden door cappings the lacquer had lifted a little.
We struck a deal at two thirds of his asking price. Getting the car to my place was not going to be easy. It was a heavy car, on a car trailer it would weigh around 2 tons. I did not know many owners with a car that could pull that.
I borrowed a Renault 21 Nevada from a colleague at work which ensured me it was a formidable towing car (he said it pulled his heavy caravan to the mountains without effort), and hired a car transporter. This Renault was a big wagon with a 2.1 litre diesel engine. My brother came along, we had a long trip to make because the Austin was at the other side of the country, 190 miles away.
Delfzijl is in the north of the Netherlands, my home is in the south of the Netherlands. We are lucky that the Netherlands is not a big country! The trip to the Austin was uneventful and quite fast. The return trip however….
Only 2 miles after loading the Westminster onto the trailer, we were stopped by a police officer on a motor bike. He looked at the combination and steered us towards a weigh bridge. It turned out the load was far too heavy for the Renault, and I was given a fine. He warned us to arrange another form of transport, and then surprisingly left! We figured he might look for us at the main road so we took off and used only small roads to get away. That was a problem because we still had a very long way to go. So, after an hour on small tiny roads through small villages we decided to try the motorway. That went well for another half hour. Then a police car spotted us and directed us to the nearest exit. He said our load was too heavy for the car. What was our destination? We named a place nearby. He warned us we would get a ticket if we would proceed. Then he took off!
So…. we did the same again. Small roads, many villages, many traffic lights, many roundabouts. All very slow. We discussed what to do, if we would proceed the same way we would have to drive the whole night. Getting another towing car was not something that could be arranged quickly. So we decided to try once more the motorway.
This time all went well, no police to be found. But it was not a relaxing ride. Always looking in the mirror, at the road sides for a police car or bike. We were very glad to unload the Westminster late in the evening.
Many hoses were renewed, the SU carbs overhauled, new brake cilinders at the rear and new brake piston seals fitted at the front. New fluids. I traveled to the UK to get new tires (a difficult to get size, 175 x 13”) and two second hand front wings. The front wings (fenders) of the Westminster had rusted through when the car was around 6 years old, which at that time was nothing strange. By 6 years old, usually a car should be already on its way to the scrap yard – cars never got much older here than 8 or 10 years maximum. New wings were unavailable then so the garage owner had his mechanics made cover plates welded straight over the old wings. Not what you want to hear! It was done quite neatly but the wings began to rot again. Being double skinned now they were useless to repair so I needed other complete wings. Twenty years later, these were still unavailable. A specialist offered repair pieces for the front wing: from 4 pieces it would be possible to construct one complete new wing. Even so it would be pretty difficult, time absorbing, to weld these together – the same time keeping a big eye on aligning things etc. The newly constructed wing might be good (depending on the quality of the individual repair panels) but would be very expensive. So I was on a mission to find good used wings. As these rotted as fast in the UK as they did in the Netherlands I only managed to find a second hand pair for quite some money.
The wings were not the only parts of the body that was rusted. I started with replacing parts of the flooredges where they meet the sills. Made repair panels and welded these to the car. While I was welding underneath I heard screaming of my friend in the garage – the interior had catched fire! Just a little bit of the under carpet horse hair, but there were flames. I threw a blanket to it and it got out. Thankfully no further damage was done. Well… not really. At the next drive oil came squirting from below the dash. Inspection at home I saw that the plastic oil line, from the engine oil sensor to the dashboard oil pressure gauge, partly had melted and a weak spot started leaking. Thankfully, again, no real damage was done.
Driving the Westminster is interesting. It is bigger, quieter and much faster than the (4 cilinder) Morris Oxford I had owned before. The Westminster’s steering wheel is huge, a shorter person than me (187 cm, 6’2”) will have trouble looking over it. The seats are large and comfortable and close to each other, with built-in arm rests. With the arm rests flipped up there would be room for a (theoretical) 3rd person in front.
It is interesting to see that at the time, luxury in the UK for these cars mainly was translated to having lots of wood and leather to create a homely atmosphere. Fold out (fairly useless) polished wooden tables in the back, an end to end polished wooden dashboard and wooden tops on the doors. Big leather seats, leather arm rests and leather pockets on the doors. Deep carpets.
In the USA, luxury at the time was more practical, it would probably mean electric windows, power steering and maybe air conditioning. My Westminster has none of that but does have power assisted brakes with front disks (not common in the USA then).
The large and heavy engine is very smooth. It is tuned for torque, not maximum power. The overdrive is not the easy Laycock-de-Normanville type as found on Triumphs, MG and such. The Westminster overdrive works different. Before you start driving you have to make a decision to select overdrive (or not) by pulling a mechanically overdrive switch. It also includes a freewheel, under 50 kmh you can change gear without using the clutch. The steering is quite heavy at parking speeds, this was the same for a friend who owns a Wolseley 6/110 (as you should know by now this is a similar car :-)). We investigated for a solution and installed/added a modern electric power assisted gear. This is a common fitment to modern cars, an alternative to the usual hydraulic power assisted steering box. We found a way to make it work for his Wolseley (or any other car). An excellent solution, the amount of power assistance can be regulated as well.
I made a few trips with the car. A weekend meeting with the local club, we towed our old 1971 Contructam caravan with the Austin. Some nice pictures were taken on an airfield. Another visit to the UK to a big Farina meeting, it was nice to receive a prize for the furthest travelled car.
A colleague asked me if the Westminster could be their wedding car, with me as the driver. Of course! It meant it had to be as good as possible. Hours were spent cleaning the car inside and outside. I put on a suit and decorated the car with flowers and ribbons. The day was a success, the weather was nice with plenty of sun and there was more than enough room for the bride and her long wedding dress. And the groom of course.
After these adventures I got the car temporarily stored at the shed. Then unexpectedly, time flies.
The old wings have never been replaced, the “new” wings still needs fitting. I was never not looking forward to this job because it would also mean re-constructing much of the inner wings. Also the sills need some patches welded in. As far as I can see, the rest of the car still has its original paintwork. On my TR4 I had to respray the whole car just because the front end needed new paint, now I had to make the same consideration. But this time I think the wings and sills only get new paint, black is black and easier to blend in (compared with the white of the TR4).
Over the years other “more important” jobs to other cars were an excuse to postpone the work on the Westminster which subsequently got buried in the shed. Not sure really why the Westminster got out of my sight. I keep promising myself that “next year” I should start the welding jobs. Really!
Further reading. A Westminster found at the curbside:
I always liked how the little Wolseley badge on the grille of the 6/110 lit up at night.
Pure class !!
Yes they are rather heavy 31cwt I owned two, the first a 55 A90six with overdrive it came home on a trailer pulled by Mazda B1800 ute I rebuilt it to road going condition fitted twin side drafts from the Morris Isis I had and just drove it the engine and box weigh 7cwt.
The second Westy was the early version of yours a 61 6/110 with a Borgwarner DG automatic it drove home from where I bought it from memory i paid $125.00 it was rusty but I got it to launch and retrieve a boat I had so it would get rusty from salt water anyway, I still have the hand book for that car it ended its life at a local demolition derby I sold it to my brother who had visions of using on the beach it was simply too heavy and kept getting bogged but the engine was good and 100mph could be seen on the speedo quite easily he sold it to a local stock car racer and it literally disintegrated at the derby, I had put around 2kg of bog in it to tidy it up some and of course that fell out when it got hit,
The early automatic had that same overdrive pull handle but instead of overdrive it locked 3rd gear out and moved the upshift points so the car would do some 48 mph in 1st and 80mph in 2nd with improved acceleration and massive fuel consumption, driven gently I got around 20mpg driven hard nearly 10mpg.
1CWT=112 pounds for those who dont know they weight 3500 pounds in the old measures
Many rusty Westminsters and Wolseleys ended up in banger racing. They were (and still are!) much appreciated by the banger boys. I bought some spares of a local banger ten years ago, he said that whenever these cars are available they go a premium price – higher than the usual 10-20 year old bangers.
Local derby a couple of weeks ago featured a 50s Humber Supersnipe they are weapon of choice here but are now very rare, a wrecking yard now closed in that suburb has a few big old Humbers and Vanguards that have seen demo derby use and will again you cant hurt those old tanks by banging into them with modern cars,
Big Farinas here are either collectors cars or scrap now thanks to their ability to rust the mechanicals will go forever.
Another post that falls close to home. Once bought 78 Lincoln Town Coupe in great shape, except mechanicals. Had it towed to my long time repair shop where enough was done to get it running. Carburetor was touchy ,sometimes hard to start. Stored it in a neighbors garage, hoping to have full repairs. Then health issues and related expenses took a toll Reluctantly sold it . Still have framed photo of me standing next to that gorgeous LAND YACHT. Things have improved greatly, and wish I had kept it. Strange how we get so attached to certain vehicles.
Lovely car, and great story, especially about towing the Farina back home. That sounded like something I would have done. That really was a pretty heavy load for the R21. Folks in the US would be shocked to see a Honda Accord four cylinder towing a heavy load like that.
I can totally see the appeal of these Farinas. Lovely interiors and smooth big sixes. But the rust, after just a few years. Yikes.
As to the steering on them and the Super Snipes, now you know the constant steering issue brought up in vintage reviews of American cars back then: either you put up with heavy steering at slow speed but had some reasonable road feel at higher speeds, or you had power steering with easy low speed steering but no feel at higher speeds. It was a real dilemma back then, until things started to improve in the seventies, first with GM.
Yes, power steering engineering got much better over the years. Old Jaguars
(420, XJ series 1) also have very light power steering but my experience with these is that they were not vague at high speeds compared to the Humber or Farina6.
Switching to radial tyres and a correct alignment to suit fixes a lot of that steering wander on Super snipes and other large British cars, it doesnt improve low speed steering though its still heavy
The development of modern electronics has made it easier to modernize certain old car systems if one is not overly concerned about maintaining originality.
I can see where electronic steering systems make it much easier to improve the driving experience of an older cars where as the only previous choices were were a heavy and slow manual systems or overly numb and vague hydraulic systems.
Electronic transmission controls are another area of improvement. I recently encountered an older Packard that had been updated by replacing the Ultramatic with a more modern GM unit. I hadn’t really thought about it until I saw the conversion, but the electronics made it possible to update the transmission while retaining the original Packard pushbutton selector.
This is a notation for an ad from the kit the Packard owner referenced:
“NOTE: If the application is on a 1956 Packard with the electric shift column, there is a solution for using the original, stock push button shift assembly.”
Hope you get your “project” back on the road some day. It is really a nice looking time capsule back to an earlier era.
These shared some parts with the Healey 3000’s.
But not very much. Maybe the engine block. The cilinder head is completely different, as is the gearbox.
Austin Westmonsters originally ran a single Zenith downdraft on the 2.6 engines its childs play to fit a Morris side draft system my A90 Westy got twins from the Morris Isis which were not stock on that car either, likely from an early Healey that A90 was imported from Fiji for embassy use originally it still had a brass plate from the Suva Austin dealer under the bonnet, I suspect the twin carb Isis conversion was done by the previous owner, and the gearbox in my A90 had been modified to give 8 forward speeds overdrive on demand in every gear, via a push button that overrode the automatic system, you can mix n match Healy parts and the triple carb head fits a Westy and perks them up really well.
Good to see one under good care, even if you are too busy to make quick progress!
And your shed looks interesting, with a Triumph 2000/2500 and 2 Rover P4s…..I’m enjoying this series immensely.
Do you know how many times you’re been tot he UK in a British built car? P+O must offer you a special deal by now
Special deal – haha I wish! Not sure about the number of times but we had a habit of going at least once every year so it must be 25+ times.
And always welcome!
For the record, the Vauxhall competitor was the Cresta PA and later PB, and the Ford UK competitors were the Zodiac and Zephyr 6, though both of these were competing with the Austin, not the Wolseley or the Humber. The Rover was really one notch higher still, when new.
I have learnt to appreciate the Rover more since my brother bought a P4 100. Beautiful details in the engineering – the indicator stalk for example. Not the average Lucas part but by Rover, it has a lovely mechanical feel to it. This makes it easier to understand why the P5 was more expensive.
Ooooh, that red leather is gorgeous! And it looks great with the black car. I can see why someone would have wanted it for a wedding.
I have had lots of “next year” jobs in my life – and I may still have most of them in just the way you still have this one.
I have a long list of things to do, always had. It does not seem to get shorter!
OK, I’m an Anglophile (with exceptions that have been increasing regularly), but I love the look of the Westminster. It’s a beautiful blend of Farina design genius with an obstinate English-Gothic-HomeCounties traditionalism, a beautiful car that was exactly right in its time and place even if likely destined for obscurity.
Could not have said it better!
Definitely more handsome than the smaller 1.5/1.6 BMC Farinas. I’ve got a long term model project for a Wolseley 6/110 version in 1:76 scale I really ought to get round to finishing.
Looks pretty good already. Hope you have more parts for it..
This is a lovely car (or should I say “motor”?). This is another fine chapter in your COAL series. Although, like you, I like older British cars I have only owned 2 of them. I find it very interesting that you got pulled over so quickly for overweight towing. I can’t imagine that here in Canada anyone would have bothered you, but I don’t have much experience towing. I have never seen a car with a trailer at a weigh station, only trucks. I have seen people pulled over for unsafe loading of trailers, where things just seem to be piled into an open trailer and not tied down.