The Wolseley Eight was a badge engineered, upscale version of the Morris Eight Series E, one of Britain’s most popular and numerous cars of the immediate pre-war and post-war periods. So why is this car so well preserved and kept where it is, in the garage of a substantial, but not truly large, and uninhabited house, in a small village with a golf course and not much else, in southern England?
The Morris Eight (not 8) was Morris’s main mid market product from 1935 to 1948, working through three generations. Over 330,000 were built, predominantly between 1935 and 1940 and then from 1945 to 1948. Initially, a complete car was available for £118…. Power came from a 918cc, OHV 4-cylinder engine, driving a three speed gearbox.
So, with the caveat that it is considered by some to be a rather blatant copy, by Leonard Lord before he fell out with William Morris and went to Austin, of the 1932 Ford Model Y, the Morris Eight was a perfectly conventional and technically unremarkable car of its time. It was sold in volume, on the basis of value for money and with at least market competitive, maybe a bit more, ability.
The car went through three generations, with the third version, known as the Series E, coming in 1938, and gaining a significantly more modern style, with a swept back grille, integrated head lamps and the deletion of the running boards. A four speed gearbox was added, along with a true boot, with an external lid. All together, it was pretty much state of the art for such a car in Europe, in 1938. It’s interesting to note, however, that this is the same era as the VW Beetle’s design, and the state of the art was arguably about to move on considerably.
The Wolseley Eight was always part of the Morris Eight Series E plan. Production was originally planned for 1940, but was delayed to 1946. Being a Wolseley rather a Morris was like being an Oldsmobile or Buick instead of a Chevrolet; a different front grille, in a traditional Wolseley style with the famous illuminated badge, a revised boot lid and more luxurious interior marked it out. Mechanically, it was close to the Morris.
But this was still a fairly ordinary and conventional car, albeit sold in much lower volumes than the Morris. A Curbside Classic certainly, may be not a Classic.
But this one is a little different. The car was delivered to its lady owner, a former department store seamstress and the wife of a former cycle shop owner, in May 1946, at her home 20 miles from the factory in Oxford in which it was built, in the village of Nuffield. The clue is in its location, for its owner was Elizabeth, Lady Nuffield, wife of Viscount Nuffield, formerly William Morris (1877-1963), of course, and by then one of Britain’s richest people and (more importantly) Britain’s greatest twentieth century philanthropist. He took his title from the village in which he lived, and where his home, Nuffield Place, is now open to the public, and where I am fortunate enough to one of the volunteer guides.
I won’t go into the full details of Morris’s philanthropy here (he’s not the only motor industry philanthropist, of course), but suffice to say his donations and bequests have possibly left a longer and greater impact on Britain than his car factories did.
He funded hospital building and expansion, education and medical research; he supported nurses and serving forces personnel in simple but extensive and direct ways; he endowed a new college of Oxford University in his own name; he funded the four chairs of medical research in Oxford in the 1930s, including the then emerging science anaesthetics, that are credited by Oxford University as being at the root of its current world class status and expertise in medical research, and the Nuffield Foundation is today one of the largest bodies in the UK devoted to research and grant donation in the fields of education and the alleviation of social disadvantage, two issues close to Nuffield’s heart for many years. And every one who has been through the British education system will recall encountering at least one Nuffield textbook or syllabus at some point.
Nuffield said “What I have been able to do for medicine and teaching in all walks of life has given me more satisfaction than anything else.” There were many, many other, often low profile, donations made too, in all totalling perhaps £1500 million in today’s values, and that is why this statue is at Guy’s Hosiptal in London, and not outside the Mini factory in Cowley (or BMW Plant Oxford as we’re supposed to call it), and why he was ennobled to be a Viscount, the highest rank a commoner can reach. In 1968, the Nuffield Trust still controlled over a quarter of the share capital in BMC, even after the mergers of the early 1960s, and held in them one of the keys to the formation of British Leyland.
Morris spent the last 30 years of his life focussing on his philanthropy ahead of his business; indeed, his business may have suffered from this and the effect of his periodic interventions, such as his stubborn struggle against the 1948 Morris Minor, ultimately consenting to the car but insisting that it used the old Morris Eight engine and famously describing it as a looking like a poached egg, and avoiding any contact or personal recognition of Alec Issigonis.
The Wolseley, which has recently been sympathetically restored, is now kept at Nuffield Place, Lord and Lady Nuffield’s home from 1933, where it is stored in the garage (yes, the richest man in Britian who made his fortune from the motor industry had a one car garage) it was stored in whilst being used by Lady Nuffield in to the 1950s. Such use included, according to Tony, one of my fellow guides, “reshaping it on the gateposts”. He’d know – Tony delivered bread to Nuffield Place with his father in the 1950s.
The house is not an archetypical English stately home – it is a four bedroom country house with a billiard room extension.
But it does have perhaps the best gentleman’s wardrobe (closet) you’ll ever see, and genuinely used by Lord Nuffield for mending his own shoes, among many other things. For the richest man in the country, maybe in Europe, in 1933, it was a very modest purchase.
And Lord Nuffield’s car? A 1939 pre-production Wolsely Eight, is now restored and on public view at the British Motor Industry Heritage Centre. Again, the same very modesty of choice.
But Morris had other uses for his wealth – as he said, shortly before his death “I just want to pass out feeling I’ve done my best for mankind”
Beautiful looking car. I’ve never seen a Wolseley in person, not even a British version, and I got to visit England a few years back.
The Wolseley name died in 1975
To my American eyes and ears, my first thought upon reading the headline was “Wow, I had no idea that Wolsely had an eight cylinder engine right after the war – and how do they fit it under that short hood (bonnet).” Alas, the Wolsely Eight was a four. Bummer.
Over here, anything of that era that was called an Eight had eight cylinders. The Morris and Wolsely Eight obviously did not, but how did the company come to choose the name?
The chance to be a tour guide at such an estate must be very interesting. Mr. Morris/Lord Nuffield sounds like a fascinating figure.
8 (nominal) hp, according to the UK taxing scheme. which assigned a hp number based on the bore size. Which explains why Brit cars generally were very undersquare, with small bores and long strokes.
Brit cars generally had a two number designation, like 8/29, meaning 8 taxable hp, and 29 actual hp (in the case of this Wolseley. Or later, it was an 8/33, when its power was upped to 33 hp.
In France, the cars used the CV (horsepower) designation too, such as the Citroen 2 CV, and the Renault 4 (CV). Again, it was a “horsepower” rating based on displacement, not actual hp.
Makes sense, thanks. I knew that the tax system penalized large bores, but did not know the specifics. I think I like our 8s better. 🙂
I can see the appeal of an American 8!
Eight here refers to the RAC horsepower rating, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_horsepower#Britain
As cars were taxed according to it it encouraged the development of long stroke engines to get larger capacity.
The actual formula for RAC horsepower was the bore or diameter squared, multiplied by the number of cylinders and divided by 2.5.
The factor of 2.5 was supposed to be a measure of the efficiency of the engine, and all cars were taxed on this basis until 1948, when taxation went to a flat rate.
You can see easily why Britain tended to have long stroke, narrow bore engines as a consequence.
The 2 number designation Paul refers to was quite, as was the practice in 1950 and 1960s of a similar designation, such as the Wolseley 18/85 (1.8 litre, 85bhp) or the Vauxhall VX4/90 (4 cylinders, 90 bhp)
Thanks, very interesting. My knowledge of Nuffield comes from interest in mechanized warfare, as there was a Nuffield organization involved in producing a tank version of the Liberty engine, along with several not very successful cruiser tanks. Not until they adopted the Meteor, for the Cromwell, did they get a really successful cruiser, but by this time the Sherman (effectively a cruiser) dominated British armored divisions.
The Western Allies often used derated aero engines in tanks; besides the Liberty, I can think of the Meteor, Continental R-975 & W-670, and Ford GAA (a chopped V-12, the most advanced Ford V-8 until the Modular).
“The Nuffield Organization” was an umbrella name used for all of William Morris’ holdings.
Yes, it was quite diversified. Another less successful enterprise was Nuffield’s attempt to build Spitfires. Unlike Henry Ford & Willow Run, & GM’s Eastern Aircraft Division, Morris got in over his head trying to adapt his factory to the more exacting art of aircraft construction, & after cost & schedule overruns, finally lost control of it to Lord Beaverbrook’s Ministry of Aircraft Production.
It was no help that the Spitfire was difficult to build because of its pretty but mass-production-unfriendly curved edges & surfaces, hence its being outnumbered by Hurricanes. I assume they eventually sorted it out since it was built in huge numbers by the War’s end.
Roger, thanks for your insight into Lord Nuffileld’s good works and inherent modesty. I’ve had the good fortune to spend a lot of time in and around Oxford, and while I certainly knew of him and the college he endowed, the full scope of his activities was a revealation. And I’m definitely putting Nuffield Palace on the go-see list for my next trip.
Was there a more senior Wolsely on sale at the same time as Lady Nuffield’s car? and no Humber Pullman, aparently.
Yes there were larger more refined Wolseleys on sale a friend has a 12 from this era and a smaller Hornett from 1934 those cars had OHC engines and were much better finished than this with internal jacking systems and other niceties it must be noted the Morris eight was the bargain basement Morris of the times too there were much better more expensive cars on offer.
thanks for the feedback. The Humber was a Rootes product, so Morris would not have had one!
Yes, there were larger Wolseleys available, at this time the 12. But Wolseley was always, after Morris bought it in 1929, an upscale Morris rather than a Jaguar or Rover competitor
D’oh – that’s what happens when you post comments too late at night! And a Mopar guy like me should know better 😉
No worries – I’ll look out for you at Nuffield Place!
In Britain there was a formula for taxation of motor vehicles, based on bore and stroke and I’m not sure what all. But it resulted in horsepower classes. The Morris Eight and Wolsely Eight engine capacity resulted in it being taxed as 8 h.p. Other British cars had Eights, Tens, Twelves, Fourteen, Sixteen and Twenties. The Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost was also called the 40/50 for tax purposes, and there wre Rolls-Royce 20s, 20/25s and 25/30s.
Not just Britain; tax HP has been common practice elsewhere in Europe. I think this is why France has long been handicapped in engine development.
Vehicle weight, engine displacement, type of fuel, the age of the vehicle and the type of vehicle (car, commercial vehicle, RV etc.) can also be the tax base.
A heavy diesel car (no matter its displacement or power) has the highest road tax here. Think Audi A8 4.2 TDI for example, or Mercedes ML 350 CDI. A diesel van is a commercial vehicle, which means far less road tax.
Anything older than 40 year: drive anything you want, no road tax.
Always interesting to see someone of immense wealth who continues to live modestly, choosing instead to enrich others with the proceeds of their life’s work. I see something of a parallel with Warren Buffett, who has lived in the same home in Omaha, NE for over 40 years, and who drives himself rather than being chauffeured. (He had Town Cars and Devilles for quite some time, but I think I read recently he had switched to an S-class Mercedes. Still modest for one of the richest men in the world.) Plus he is part of a group that is determined to leave the bulk of their personal wealth to charitable causes rather than creating a hereditary quasi-aristocracy (aka the Walton family).
One of the ironies of foundations like Rockefeller, Carnegie, & Ford is that they support policies alien to the Laissez-Faire that made their founders’ wealth possible in the 1st place.
Exactly. If they knew what was going on now at their foundations then they’d be rolling over in their graves.
Nice little cars they are. The best part of the story though, is learning about Mr. Morris’ modesty and his many charitable acts. His stubbornness with the Morris Minor reminds me of Henry Ford’s stubborn personality also.
Having owned a Morris eight at one point I can see the luxury differences real wood for the dashboard instead of the ersatz bakelite fake wood finish my car had, I could have used the Wolseley front however as my car had a Vauxhall 12 motor and gearbox fitted and the radiator replaced the grille to give it enough room, those cars had a notorious fault of the wheel hubs wearing the axle splines and leaking oil most axles were arc welded to the hubs to remove driveline slack and keep the oil in, Morris may have had some good designs but really the eight was a cheaply constructed car not up to Wolseley’s usual standards.
Didn’t the Wolseley 8 have an ohv engine in contrast to the Morris flathead? I recall reading that there was a project underway to adapt the ohv Wolseley engine to the Morris Minor that was preempted by the BMC merger and use of the Austin-developed A series instead.
That’s right. The Morris ‘type USHM’ flathead four was only good for 30bhp. That’s what went into the first Minors, in slightly updated ‘USHM2’ form, but with only 27bhp for some reason. But In Wolseley ‘UPHW’ form, with OHV, it was good for 33bhp.
Only an extra 6bhp, true, but that’s quite a substantial percentage improvement, and much better than 803cc A-series the Minor eventually got.
Wall street could learn a few things from this man’s ethics.
Love me a house museum! Even better if there’s an automotive component. I, too, will put this on the mythical list of places to visit if the opportunity arises.
And the sundial helps to measure the Morris Eight’s acceleration…
Something I’ve not really thought about before: BMC was lambasted – rightly – for its badge-engineering, but historically that particular sin was pure Nuffield, with Morris acquiring/creating Wolseley, Riley and MG and ending up with four very overlapping brands.
Whereas Austin was Austin, from tiny 7s and A30s to Princess limos (the Beatles’ transport of choice in 63-64). (Yes, Metropolitan and Healey, but those were 50s side projects.)
Two solutions to covering a market; Nuffield and Rootes badge-engineered like fury; Austin, Ford and Vauxhall, not at all.
Thanks for another splendid read Roger.having been born in 1957 I remember many school books with the Nuffield emblem on them.It’s nice to see the hot rod crew haven’t got their mitts on another classic car and it’s been preserved.
2 of my favourite teachers drove Wolsleys Mr Bolton my chemistry teacher had a pale blue and white Farina and Mr Watkins my music teacher a maroon 1500.
Never having heard of a Wolseley Farina, I found this image online….
And of course us Aussies put a six in that one too! The Wolseley 24/80 had the BMC B-series 1622cc four with an extra two cylinders, an Australia-only engine. They seemed fairly popular, especially among newly-arrived Brits for some reason.
I prefer the bigger Farina Wolseleys. This is a 6/110 (image also found online):
Visited Nuffield Place (National Trust) two weekends ago and it is highly recommended for anyone interested in 20th century history. Lord and Lady Nuffield’s story is quite fascinating, and maybe their not having children made it easier to take the philanthropic route.
William Morris was certainly a brilliant businessman and engineer, and the Morris story is well related by Roger and his fellow guides. A heartwarming experience.
Thanks for the feedback,Ian, and I’m glad you enjoyed your visit
Great reading Roger, thanks!
My uncle had a Nuffield tractor, well it was probably his father’s because it was from the early 50s I think. I actually saw it used one day, it was an old tractor and they had a dozen or so newer ones. A truck that was collecting a load of hay sunk into soft ground, and the Nuffield was the only large-ish tractor nearby to pull it out. It is not often you see a lot of wheelspin on a tractor, but it was effectively trying to lift a 30-40 ton semi trailer up 6 inches!
How does acceleration function in woleseley car?
I understand that the ohv version of the side valve 8hp engine used in the first Morris
Minors was considered. It was rejected due to cost ,and as the competition such as, Ford , Hillman, Austin etc still used side valves , was considered good enough. This was a pity, as it was not until about 1956 with the `A` series 948cc engine that the car received a real thumbs up