A Short History

Austin Freeway & Wolseley 24/80
The Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80 were announced to the Motoring Press on 18th - 20th March 1962, and to the Dealers on 28th March 1962 at a spectacular event held at the Sydney Trocadero. Public release was on 21st May 1962.

These models were released with a great deal of fanfare, and expectations were high for good market acceptance. Initial sales were good, but Freeway, being pitched against new models from Holden and Ford was at an immediate disadvantage, and sales gradually fell away.

Wolseley 24/80 was virtually in a class of it's own, and set a trend for up-market versions of the standard models which both Holden and Ford quickly followed. Wolseley maintained a high level of sales to the end by reason of its good value-for-money, and also appeal to the more traditional segment of the market.

Survival rate has been better for Wolseley 24/80 than for Freeway, as it was probably seen as a car worth looking after, whereas the Austin was seen to be expendable.
Production ceased with the last Wolseley 24/80 in September 1965.

Production Numbers

To this number must be added Austin and Morris Freeways and Wolseley 24/80's exported to New Zealand, most likely in CKD (Completely Knocked Down) form. These are likely to bring the total to 27,000.

Incidentally, Freeway body numbers are carried over from Mk I to Mk II using car number prefix YABS1 for cars and YABW1 for station wagons. The change point for Mk II was approximatelt car no. 8175 for cars and 6361 for wagons. Wolseley 24/80 Mk I had car number prefix YWBS1 and for Mk II YWBS2. The first car built in all cases was numbered 501.

Total tooling cost for ADO40 introduction was £535,000.

Release date prices:
Austin Freeway Sedan - £1130 inc tax
Austin Freeway Wagon - £1225 inc tax
Wolseley 24/80 Sedan - £1225 inc tax
Holden Special Sedan - £1111 inc tax
Falcon Deluxe Sedan - £1149 inc tax

Article written by Allan Foy & David Walker, May 2002.


Photo submitted by Keith McLean

This photo was taken through the cyclone fence looking into the yard of the Service Department at the BMC Zetland Factory. This photo was taken just prior to the release of the Freeway. A point to note is that the cars don't have hubcaps or windscreen wipers, nor would they they have had their toolkits, car jacks, and owner handbooks at this stage as these items had a habit of dissapearing so were only issued to each car as it was leaving the factory site. 

The Austin Freeway & Wolseley 24/80 Story

The post-war car scene
To put these cars into perspective we need to recall the early post-war era.

Pre-war, most 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.

They survived well with minimum maintenance, poor fuel (even kerosene) and virtually no spare parts availability.

The typical 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 GY models, 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). These cars 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.

Post-war, Australia 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.

In comparison, 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 Brisbane and 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.

The conventional 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!

Although they 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.

BMC Merger
This led to the expansion of the Nuffield site to include Press Shop, Engine and Mechanical Production, Paint and Assembly shops and Product Engineering facilities. It was not until 1957 that the first cars were produced from the new facility.

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.

The Australian 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.

The Wolseley 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. The result was a pleasant, low stressed, reasonable performing car with the internal size of a Minor.

Meanwhile the 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 floorpan as the series 1 but a larger boot and small tailfins. Although internal dimensions were slightly improved, it was still crammed by Australian standards. Performance was down with the inevitable increase in weight.

Meanwhile the 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.

Australian B series 4 cylinder engine
Our original assessment was that the above cars would be greatly under-powered with the 1489 cc B series 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 MGB engine.

The 1959 model range
We now had a range of cars with contemporary styling, reasonable performance, reasonable to high standards of ride and comfort, good economy, and reasonable price.

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!

Our market share was slowly diminishing. A new threat was looming with Ford tooling up to make the Falcon in Australia.

The Australian B series six cylinder engine
Australian BMC Management took the view that, if we were to protect the Corporation's investment in Australia, we would have to enter the light 6 market, which was expected to account for about 50% of total sales and rising.

The expected impact of Falcon was that they would account for 20% of total sales, much of which would be at our expense.

UK Management 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. The design 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. Because insufficient facilities existed in Australia to develop a project of this magnitude, UK elected to do it there.
Mechanical 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.

The Australians 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" bore engines.

Australian Repco pistons were sent to UK for incorporation in "proper" prototype engines.

Australian 1960s models
Other significant body and chassis changes were made including lengthening the wheelbase by 1" achieved by moving the rear axle back on the springs. This allowed the rear wheel arch to be reshaped to improve rear seat comfort.

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 Holden 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 after.

Release day prices were:
Freeway sedan £1130, Wolseley 24/80 sedan £1225, Holden Special sedan £1111, Falcon Deluxe sedan £1149, Valiant sedan £1239.

Despite the 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.

Eventually sales of Freeway faded away, although 24/80 remained strong right to the end. Production ceased in September 1965 after some 27,000 cars had been built.

The Corporation 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.)

Austin Freeway Prototype

Photo 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.

The Wide Body Freeway (that never was)

Wide body Austin Freeway

This is not a trick photo!! Eight people in the YDR9 car.
Front Seat, L to R: Fred (Draughtsman); Beulah Ryan; Ron Meares; unknown young lady. Rear Seat: Alex Churches; Mazel Brennan; Ken Bates; Sally Maroney.

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:

Dimension Comparison Chart

Note: YDR9 was Experimentalese for Wider AD09

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 UK . In many cases, they were put in at the side of the house to accommodate a motor-cycle and side-car.

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!)

Wide body Freeway next to regular body car

ADO9 and YDR9 side by side. Visibly the extra 5 inches makes an extraordinary difference. Photograph is taken in Experimental yard in front of the Truck Shop. Perhaps this is the way Farina intended it to be!

YDR9 side view
Wide body Freeway interior view

And what a remarkable job it was. They took a complete ADO9 body, (don't ask where they got it from) and cut it down the centre from one end to the other, including the bonnet and boot lid, and added approximately 5" into the width. Certain areas such as the dash were redesigned to improve the strength and the Heater was moved to a position inside the car. The windscreen and backlight were genuine toughened glass. How Reg got such things done in such a short space of time by an outside supplier remains a mystery.

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 UK origin 2 7/8" bore prototype, which had come in one of the prototype cars, and was no longer needed. The gearbox was a manual 3-speed. Because of the difficulty in extending the rear-axle housing and axles, they used an Independent Rear Wheel Suspension (I.R.W.S.) assembly that had been salvaged from a prototype car designated as ADO25. (This was in fact a D.O.1115 (Morris Major II) which had been built with I. R. W.S in UK for assessment, by UK and us. But that is another story, and another Car That Never Was.) This arrangement used fabricated trailing arms with the final-drive mounted in a sub-frame to the underfloor. Springing was by laminated torsion bars. (To illustrate the involvement of other senior people in the YDR9 project, Reg Fulford and I still remember John Hamilton berating his assistant Dolphie Leu because he had made an error in calculating the rate of the new torsion bar springs!) Final drive assembly was of A-series origin and was 3.9 to 1 ratio as was ADO25. Fortuitously, this was also the final drive ratio adopted for ADO40. Wheel size was 14 inch, as ADO40.

Engine view

The engine compartment. Note that the original heater platform has been boxed in with the heater now inside the body, thus giving a much tidier appearance to the engine bay. 

When the car was completed, a number of company people, particularly from Body Tooling and Press-shop areas were invited to view it and asked to express their opinion on the feasibility of such a project. It was generally agreed that it could be done, and that such a thing had been done before with the Morris Minor. (Apparently, only weeks before the Morris Minor MM was due for production, Alec Issigonis decided that it was too narrow, and added 4 inches to the width. It was said that this was the reason that an MM had a two-piece bumper bar with a filler piece in the centre. Production quantities of one-piece narrow bars had already been received into store, and rather than chuck them away, they were reworked by cutting them in half and adding the filler.)

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.)

Nevertheless, 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, cutting-up commenced.

Rear end view. Again not a trick photo, although it's not known what lens was used by Jimmy Zammitt. Note that Morris Oxford V tail lamps were used which incorporated reversing lights.

Boot area of wide body Freeway

Fortunately, the day before this drama, I had Jimmy Zammitt, the Company Photographer come down and take pictures of the car, little thinking that these would be the only tangible evidence that the car ever existed. If nothing else, the car did show how important it is for a manufacturer to get the dimensions right, and what a big difference can be made by just a few inches.

Six people in car

Six people in YDR9 car. Front seat, L to R: Beulah Ryan; Fred (Draughtsman); unknown girl. Rear Seat: Alex Churches; Mazel Brennan; Ken Bates. Note the abundance of shoulder room.

What problems 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 UK what could have been done.

(Article written as well as photos supplied by Roger Foy who worked in the BMC Experimental Department from 1957 to 1974.)

The Morris Freeway

In Australia Austin & Morris dealerships had become BMC Agents selling both Austin & Morris products side by side from the same showroom. However, in New Zealand car dealerships remained as either Austin Dealers or Morris Dealers. So in order for N.Z. Morris Dealers to have a new model to sell some N.Z. destined cars were badged as Morris Freeways. This meant that both Austin and Morris Freeways were available in New Zealand.

However the story continues...


When the Freeway was discontinued BMC still had a reasonable stockpile of Freeway badges left over.

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.