Austin Freeway & Wolseley 24/80 Story
post-war car scene
To put these
cars into perspective we need to recall the early post-war era.
cars were of North American origin, Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge/Plymouth with
a few Oldsmobiles, Pontiocs, Buicks and Willys. The largest sellers were
sixes (except Ford V8) These cars were mostly identical to US models,
the bodies generally made in Australia.
well with minimum maintenance, poor fuel (even kerosene) and virtually
no spare parts availability.
prewar UK cars - Austin, Morris Standard, Ford or Hillman did not do as
well in our environment with their smaller ground clearance, small engines
and generally low power to weight ratio.
There is one
UK make of car which must be mentioned as an exception to the above comments.
Significantly, this was Vauxhall.
As well as producing a range of North American type vehicles in their VX, BX and
in 1934 they introduced their 12 HP Light 6 followed by their 14 HP which
was made pre and postwar. The larger 17.96 HP Velox was introduced post-war.
They had generally
good ground clearance, roomy bodies, adequate suspension travel with independent
front suspension (Dubonnet type).
were generally identical to those sold in UK. Obviously, the North American
influence at Vauxhall had the effect on producing a car which was well
accepted on the Australian market, both pre and post-war.
suffered a dollar crisis which made importation of North American vehicles
and components very difficult.
This gave importers
and assemblers of cars from non-dollar areas such as UK and France a huge
marketing opportunity. There was still a preference for North American
cars but waiting lists of five to seven Years for these were not uncommon.
you could buy an Austin 10, Hillman, Ford Prefect or Standard 12 virtually
off the floor.
Local assembly of UK cars was quickly established by Nuffield in Sydney and Austin, Rootes and Standard in Melbourne also subcontractors Charles Hope in
Pressed Metal Corporation in Sydney.
GMH and Ford
were building their models from existing well-established plants.
By 1950, UK
cars had 80 percent of the market with much more acceptable post-war designs
such as the Standard Vanguard, Morris Oxford, Austin A40 and A70, Hillman
Minx and Humber Hawk.
wisdom of the '40s and '50s was that, to be successful in Australia, a
car had to have six cylinders the same is true today. The experts were
vindicated when GMH announced its eagerly awaited, all Australian Holden
in 1948 with a 21.6 HP engine!
started off fairly slowly due to production constraints, they went from
strength to strength, wiping the opposition in every department. The Hoiden
had a roomy 6 seater body, good ground clearance, was easy to work on,
gave up to 30 mpg, had lively performance, weighed only a ton, and the
engine developed 60 HP. It had a simple but good steering column gear
shift, considered essential if a car were to be considered modern.
This led to the expansion of the Nuffield site to include Press Shop, Engine and Mechanical Production, Paint and Assembly shops and Product Engineering
It was not until 1957 that the f irst cars were produced from the new
It was apparent
that little thought had been given as to what would be built in the Plant
by UK Management, other than that it would be whatever UK were building
at the time.
Product Engineering Department was not established until mid 1957 with
R. L. (Bill) Abbott as Chief Product Engineer, R.W. (Bill) Serjeantson
as Experimental Engineer and R. N. Fulford as Test Engineer - all ex GMH.
J. M. Hamilton,
Mechanical Engineer, came from the NSW Department of Road Transport, but
had spent time at GMH.
1500 (D.O.1059), Morris Major I (D.O.1058), Austin Lancer I (H56) were
originally engineered at Cowley as a replacement for the Morris Minor,
but weight got out of hand, making it necessary to use the B series engine
to maintain performance.
was a pleasant, low stressed, reasonable performing car with the internal
size of a Minor.
Minor remained in production here and in the UK selling in ever increasing
numbers. Already engineered by UK was the first BMC car to be uniquely
Australian, the Morris Major series II (D.O.1115) and Austin Lancer II
released in 1959. This car had virtually the some f loorpan as the series
1 but a larger boot and small tailf ins.
dimensions were slightly improved, it was still crammed by Australian
standards. Performance was down with the inevitable increase in weight.
Holden was still gaining ground, VW had come on to the market in 1954
and by 1959 dominated its class. Total UK origin cars had fallen to about
50%. Ford was still selling Zephyr, Consul and Prefect/Anglia, Standard
the Vanguard and 8, and Rootes the Hillman Minx and Humber Super Snipe.
At BMC in 1959
we introduced the AD09 range, Austin A60 (UK-A55 mark II), Morris Oxford
series V, and Wolseley 15160 - the Farina styled cars. Riley and MG versions
were not built in Australia
B series 4 cylinder engine
UK were adamant
that this engine could not be made larger. Undaunted, the Australian design
team, in a matter of weeks, had a 3" bore engine with "siamesed"
cylinder bore casting up and running. The increase from 1489 to 1622cc
was enough to make performance acceptable, and was used from first production.
The fact that
UK followed our lead some 3 years later is a matter of history, and showed
the "tail had indeed wagged the dog".
That the B
series engine was capable of even further development in the original
three main bearing form was demonstrated by UK in 1963 with the 1798cc
We had the
market covered, we thought, with the Morris Minor 1000, Austin A40 Farina,
Morris Major II, Austin Lancer II, Austin A60, Morris Oxford V, and Wolseley
15/60, all locally assembled with a very high Australian content.
But where were
the buyers? Off buying Holdens and VW!
share was slowly diminishing. A new threat was looming with Ford tooling
up to make the Falcon in Australia.
B series six cylinder engine
impact of Falcon was that they would account for 20% of total sales, much
of which would be at our expense.
agreed to the need for a light 6 but decreed that it had to be fitted
to the existing body as no money was available to undertake a restyling
exercise so soon in the life of the Farina era - which they expected to
have at least a ten-year life.
A crash program
was put in place to develop a 6 cyl. version of the B series engine.
had to be compatible with the existing cylinder block machining facility
at Zetland so that both 4 and 6 cyl blocks could be machined on the same
line. This was achieved at a cost of £288,000. Total tooling cost for
the ADO 40 (Freeway and Wolseley 24/80) introduction was £535,000
facilities existed in Australia to develop a project of this magnitude,
UK elected to do it there.
engineer John Hamilton was appointed Project Engineer, with Graham Hardy
as Body Engineer. They spent about six months in UK during 1960, ensuring
Australian requirements were met.
It was obvious
that UK had already done work on a 6 cyl. version.
had to talk very loudly to get the UK to change the bore size from 2 7/8"
to 3"!! Much initial work was done on 2 7/8" bore engines and
indeed the first 2 prototype cars to come from UK in 1960 had 2 7/8"
Repco pistons were sent to UK for incorporation in "proper"
The front suspension
cross member was reinforced internally and rubber mounted to reduce road
and engine noise and vibration being transmitted to the body. The rear
axle was rubber mounted to improve NVH. The car was built on the station
wagon floorpan and the track was increased by 2" for better stability.
The cars as
released in May 1962 had a stylish, purposeful look, and outperformed
both Hoiden and Falcon but not the recently released Chrysler Valiant
with its 145 HP six.
The cars were
well received by the motoring press, particularly the Wolseley 24/80 which
was recognized as particularly good value for money.
Indeed it was
the forerunner of upmarket versions of standard models such as Holden
Premier, Falcon Futura and Valiant Regal following soon af ter.
day prices were:
£1130, Wolseley 24/80 sedan £1225, Holden Special sedan £1111, Falcon
Deluxe sedan £1149, Valiant sedan £1239.
fact we offered a competitive range of vehicles, our market share in the
6 cyl. range was insignificant and, in general we lost ground to the superior
marketing powers of GMH, Ford and Chrysler.
sales of Freeway faded away, although 24/80 remained strong right to the
end. Production ceased in September 1965 af ter some 27,000 cars had been
entered the front wheel drive era in 1961 with the Mini, 1964 with 1100,
and 1965 with the 1800. The FWD car satisfied a different niche in the
market, and for a time, the Australian Company enjoyed a long-awaited
period of prosperity.
(Article written by Roger Foy who worked in the BMC Experimental Department from 1957 to 1974. Article reproduced from the BMC Leyland Australia Heritage Group March 2001 Newsletter.)
The above photo is of the original Freeway prototype. It was built at Longbridge UK in 1960 and was identified as Experimental Dept. Car 54. This car is still in regular use.
Wide Body Freeway (that never was)
BMC Australian Engineering Department always recognized that the Farina-styled body of the ADO9 range of cars (Austin A60, Wolseley 15/60, Morris Oxford V, etc.) from which ADO40 (Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80) was developed, suffered from a lack of width when compared to their Australian competitors, as the following table shows:
The reason for the narrow width of ADO9/40 probably lies as much in the car's A50/A55 ancestry as to narrow domestic garages and driveways found in much of urban
In a round table discussion one day, probably in about January 1961, Chief Engineer Bill Serjeantson was lamenting the lack of width in these cars and remarked that it was a pity that we could not split the car down the middle and add about 5 inches into it. Experimental Manufacturing Engineer Reg Redfern, who was in on the discussion said "OK, we can do that". Bill gave the go ahead thinking that perhaps a body shell centre section might be cut down the middle to illustrate the point never dreaming that Reg would take him literally. Little did he know that within no more than ten days, Reg and his band of skilled tradesmen as well as with unofficial co-operation and advice from Mechanical Engineer John Hamilton and Body Engineer Graham Hardy, produced a Complete Driveable Motor Car, substantially to ADO40 specification! (I think Bill Serjeantson must have been on holiday for part or all of the time that this was under way, otherwise he must surely have noticed that nothing else was being done!)
On the mechanical
side, it appears that the front cross-member was extended on both sides,
outboard of the engine mountings, as these appear to be in their original
locations. The engine used was an early
Finally, Bill Serjeantson (RWS) decided that it was time to invite Bill Abbott, at that time Director of Engineering and Manufacturing, who had probably been away on holiday, down to have a look, thinking that Abbott (RLA) would be very interested in what had been done in such a short time, and might at least treat the whole thing as a serious possibility for future development. Alas, it was not to be. RLA, normally a placid bloke who always showed an interest in all things engineering, took one look at it, and ordered that it be cut up forthwith! He took RWS to task for wasting Company resources, and generally gave all concerned a huge tongue-lashing. Even people who had known RLA for many years had never seen him so angry, in fact, had never seen him angry. What caused RLA's uncharacteristic outburst? Did he know something we didn't? Was he having a bad day? Was it because a seemingly major project was being done without his approval? Possibly it was a combination of all these things. (In 1992, in response to a question from author Gavin Farmer, relating to this project, RLA had this to say: 'A styling exercise only to show sort of body space we needed in a big car. It was not a runner.' Even after 30 years RLA never found out what had been done, but obviously still remembered the incident.)
John Hamilton decided that, as he had not been advised officially that
the project had been cancelled, he and Dolphie Leu would proceed with
their plan to road-test the car that night, which they did, probably accompanied
by Ken Bates, Experimental Workshop Foreman. John was anxious to try out
the effect of I.R.W.S. on a larger car. (It is interesting that 40 years
on I.R.W.S. is only now being offered by our competitors.) Next day,
would we have encountered? First of all, we probably would have had a
weight penalty of about 8%, which would have given a kerb weight of approx.
2780 lbs., an increase of about 210 lbs. Already ADO40 was heavier than
both Holden and Falcon by about 100 lbs., our performance advantage only
being gained by superior engine power. A proportional increase in engine
power with the as yet to be introduced B6 engine would have been seen
to be difficult. A weight reduction program on the body could have been
undertaken, but would have required a lot of development work to ensure
that body durability was not compromised. (Cracking in the dash area had
already been noted on ADO9 and ADO40.) In the market-place, it would have
given us a sales advantage over all of our competitors, but with our limited
resources, could we have done it in the 12 months available? RLA's decision
was probably right, but it would have been nice to have been able to show
The Morris Freeway
As the Freeway was a popular model in New Zealand, to take advantage of this popularity, when the Austin 1800 was introduced the ones destined for N.Z. were badged as Freeways.
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