Past Imperfect


From the archives of Bob Montgomery, motoring historian

THE IRISH CONNECTION: For almost 80 years the Wolseley marque had an enviable reputation on the roads of Ireland. The company's founder, Frederick York Wolseley, was born at Golden Bridge House, Dublin, in 1837. The Wolseley family ancestral home was Mount Wolseley, near Tullow, Co Carlow until 1925, when it was sold to the Patrician Order.

Frederick York Wolseley left Ireland in 1874 for Australia where, together with a young British engineer called Herbert Austin, he devised the world's first mechanical sheep shearer. The machine was a worldwide success and Wolseley built a factory in Birmingham in 1889, with the intention of mass producing his invention. Some four years later, Austin joined Wolseley in Birmingham and the pair turned their attention to designing and building a motor car.

In 1895, the first Wolseley motor car was produced. This was a three-wheeler, and it took another four years of steady development before the company was ready to start commercial production of Wolseley cars.

Sadly, Frederick York Wolseley did not live long enough to see their success, having resigned from the company because of ill health and dying in 1899.

The cars the Wolseley company made quickly gained a fine reputation for reliability and good design, and are today highly prized by collectors. (There is a particularly fine collection of Wolseley cars at the Museum of Irish Transport in Killarney).

In more modern times the Wolseley marque survived for a while as part of the British Motor Corporation but then disappeared in 1975 as part of the endless machinations of first British Leyland, and later the Rover Group.

STILL BLACK: Given the virtually endless colours that are available on today's new cars, it's easy to forget that it wasn't always so. We're all familiar with the Ford "Any colour as long as its black" line, but by the late 1930s the Ford Company had moved a long way from that position. Here in Ireland, Ford of Cork published the results of a "thorough study of the habits and tastes of Irish car buyers" in which their colour preferences featured strongly.

The results showed buyers stating their preference for the following percentages in the four leading colours: black 64 per cent; blue 17 per cent; brown 11 per cent and green 8 per cent. It was noted that these preferences changed a small amount depending upon the season when surveyed. The main reasons given for choosing black were that it "gives an impression of greater size and dignity", and was believed to be more durable than other colours. It was also noted that it was easier to find a buyer for a second-hand black car than for one of any other colour. There was an interesting switch in preferences when it came to open cars, with owners preferring blue rather than black bodies.