The Wolseley 1500 was the upmarket small family saloon of the late 1950s and early 1960s. It’s affordable, stylish and fun...
Wolseley continue to appeal thanks to their simple engineering, high gearing and a healthy spares back-up. They also have period charm, with two-tone interiors on early cars, and the illuminated Wolseley badge on the grille.
The 1500 combined the Morris Minor’s floorpan and suspension with a more roomy body and the 1.5-litre B-series engine. There were MkI models from 1957 to 1960; MkIIs had concealed bonnet and boot hinges, and arrow-head side trim; while the 1961-1965 MkIII had larger side grilles and rear lamps, and single-tone upholstery on the interior.
Power (bhp@rpm) 50bhp@4200rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 71lb ft@2600rpm
Top speed 78mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Look carefully for rust on inner and outer front wings, and lift the bonnet to check where they join. The front panel rusts, particularly where it joins the front wings. The bottoms of the rear wings also go, and blocked drain holes will rot the door bottoms. The rear door also goes around the wheelarch, and the wheelarch can be affected.
Underneath, check the sills and floorpan. Move on to the front chassis legs and the crossmember that supports the floor, particularly the mounting-points for the front suspension’s torsion bars. At the back of the car, it’s the rear spring mountings that are vulnerable. There’s very little that can’t be fixed, but major structural repairs are expensive.
The engine is simple and robust, and there are spares galore. A single SU carburettor simplifies tuning, but you usually have to fiddle with the choke while the engine warms up. The B-series may run-on even when in good condition; prolonged and persistent running-on needs proper investigation, though. Expect it to use quite a bit of oil, but really high oil consumption suggests problems. Noise from the valve gear means the clearances must be re-set – in some cases, worn shafts and bushes will have to be replaced first.
Some owners have sought better performance by uprating the engine to Riley One-Point-Five or MGA 1500 specification, which is relatively easy to achieve. Other cars have been converted with modern units such as the Marina’s 1.8-litre. In such cases, the issue is how well the conversion has been achieved. With the Marina engine fitted, uprated brakes are advisable.
Expect some whine from the gearbox and rear axle, though not too much, and enjoy the high-geared third. The steering should be light, direct and precise, so be wary if it feels heavy. The steering swivels and joints need greasing every 1000 miles, and wear quickly if this is not done. Dry swivel pin joints eventually seize, the pin can shear and the front wheel collapses.
The dampers are Armstrong lever-arm types, and don’t last very long. Some owners have converted to telescopics (which is quite involved), but experts say you’ll get a better result by fitting an aftermarket anti-roll bar kit – though you’ll still have to keep an eye on those dampers.
Brakes are Lockheed drums all round, and not directly interchangeable with the equivalent Riley’s bigger Girling drums. Plenty of roll on corners and axle hop over bumps are only to be expected.
The interior combines cost-saving with luxury touches, so the seats have only fore-and-aft adjustment, but wear leather upholstery (the Fleet model from 1959 had Vynide trim). On the 1957-1961 MkI and II cars, the leather is two-tone – there were several combinations, so finding good seats in the right colour from a scrapyard isn’t likely. All cars come with walnut dashboards, complete with large radio speaker in the centre, and with matching door cappings.
If you’re looking for a loveable, affordable classic to enjoy rather than to impress the lads, a Wolseley 1500 would suit you very well. Maintenance isn’t expensive, and if you’ve bought a good one, you won’t have to spend your time scouring autojumbles and small ads for obscure parts. You’ll be able to keep a 1500 on the road easily, but if you’re missing interior trim or chromeware, you might spend a very long time hunting for replacements.