As has been told in the Princess development story, it was decided early in the development of ADO71 that it should be offered in Austin, Morris and Wolseley versions and it was a decision that remained throughout the gestation of the car. Austin-Morris still operated independent dealerships in 1975 and this was the rule rather than the exception, despite efforts to bring the separate BL brands into line after the merger of BMC and British Leyland some seven years earlier. But there were a few newer corporate dealerships which were happy to sell all BL cars whatever badge they had on them.
Early in 1975 the Austin range consisted of the Mini, Allegro, Maxi and the ‘Land Crab’ 18-22 Series, whilst the only genuine Morris on offer was the Marina, along with the Morris incarnation of the Land Crab 18-22. Not having a new Morris for the dealers would have left them out on a limb. Even at this mid-stage of BL’s life it seemed that the dealers were still calling the shots and wanted separate Austin and Morris brands. That said, Austin and Morris dealers would happily sell the Wolseley version as it was the top-of-the-line model and would not be the volume seller.
On March 26th 1975 the 18-22 Series was launched and available as three different marques Austin, Morris and Wolseley. Austin versions were identifiable by their trapezoidal headlamps and low bonnet line while Morris and Wolseley versions sported twin headlamps with a humped bonnet and raised grille section. Engines were either the 1800 B-Series four-cylinder or the 2200 E-Series six-cylinder, all with a four-speed gearbox or three-speed automatic. Trim levels were basic or HL for both Austin and Morris versions.
Although badge engineering may have kept the dealers happy to the car buying public it all seemed a bit farcical. Sure, there were the dyed-in-the-wool Morris and Austin owners who wouldn’t look at another brand but to the general car buying public it was confusing; why choose an Austin over a Morris and vice versa?
The Wolseley version didn’t really have this identity crisis, as the brand itself gave the impression of quality and luxury and on those counts it didn’t disappoint; it was a very impressive package bar a few shortcomings, and it had the aspirational appeal that was lacking in this class of car. This is why BL felt there was no need to give the Wolseley a designation such as 18/85 or Six as in previous versions as the Wolseley brand name said all that needed to be said.
Shortly after the launch of the 18-22 Series the Ryder report was made public in April 1975 and one of the recommendations was for BL to rationalise its range of cars and end the competition within itself; individual branding of the same model wasn’t in the best interests of the Company or the customers. As a result of these recommendations BLMC, the independent Company, would now be called British Leyland and would be run by the Government.
After only six months on sale the 18-22 Series was to receive a new brand name and the range would be rationalised. Sadly, these changes meant that one of the best-known names in British motoring history would be applied to a car for the last time and the last Wolseley rolled down the production line at Cowley on the 11th September 1975.
It should be noted that in the six months the Wolseley 18-22 was on sale it was far more popular than its replacement, the Princess 2200HLS.
Prices for all models as from 26th March 1975: -
Austin & Morris 1800 £2116.53
Austin & Morris 1800HL £2214.81
Austin & Morris 2200HL £2424.24
Automatic transmission £219.96
Power assisted steering £123.24
Denovo wheels & tyres £61.78
Head restraints £18.72
Laminated screen £33.46
Metallic paint £16.47
Prices include special car tax and VAT.
Austin and Morris versions were both available in basic and HL trim with the 1800 B series and 2200 E series engines. All the cars in the pictures here are shown in HL trim. All the chrome trim embellishments are present on these versions as are vinyl C-posts and twin coachlines.
Note that vinyl seat coverings were the order of the day, even in this HL (High Line) model, and the ‘basic’ 1800 made do with even more lacklustre seats. Note also the ‘futuristic’ looking silver finish dashboard and the blanking plate for a radio, which was an extra cost option. The interior was available in three colours, mink (right), blue or brown.
The Wolseley Saloon was the top of the 18-22 range and as such, it was only available with the 2200 E-series six cylinder engine. There was only one trim level for this version, luxury! Full-length vinyl roof, chrome front and rear screen surrounds, tinted glass, rubber bumper extensions and those lovely plastic wheel covers with chrome wheel nuts and bright rim embellishers. About the only thing lacking in these cars was performance, with 60 coming up in a leisurely 14.2 seconds for the automatic, but the manual managed a more respectable 11.8 seconds, though the performance was about average for the class.
The interior of the Wolseley was suitably plush, velour seats with front centre armrests, wooden dashboard, push button MW/LW radio (note the large speaker in the centre console) rear courtesy lights, velour roof lining. Note also the larger ‘hockey stick’ door grabs. The Wolseley was a very nice package in its day; even the Government at the time ran a fleet of black ministerial Wolseleys.