Posts Tagged ‘Eustace Watkins Wolseley Hornet Daytona’

Ad published in The Referee, Sydney on March 22, 1933

I’ve always had a soft-spot for Wolseleys, Nana and Pa Bisset had three of them from the mid 1950s to the early 1970s. Some of my earliest motoring memories are of sitting in the back seat with the wonderful smell of leather in the last of these cars (no idea what model) with Nana at the wheel behind a lovely wood dash, she had the period granny blue-rinse of course, and all topped off by a hat.

Jim Gullan’s Wolseley Hornet Special was a car of much greater performance. Gullan had built up a good reputation racing a 1.1-litre Grand Prix Salmson and was offered the six-cylinder SOHC Hornet Special which is the subject of this piece at a good price to help promote the marque in Australia. “It had been specially built by the MG Racing Department and competed in a team event at Brooklands, lapping at over 100mph.” Gullan wrote in his autobiography.

The FS Hutchens and BH Wickens Hornet Spl Daytonas, and at right EJ Erith’s Hornet International

Stanley Hutchens entered the winning team of cars in the The Light Car Relay Race held at Brooklands on July 16, 1932. Hutchens was Sales Manager of London Wolseley dealer Eustace Watkins Ltd. The cars comprised two new ‘Eustace Watkins Daytonas’ built on Hornet Special chassis – one of which was the Gullan car – and one 1931 ‘EW International’ built on a standard Hornet chassis. Hutchens, Bertram Wickens and Edward Erith won the 90 lap handicap event from 29 other three-car teams on at an average of 77.57mph, the quickest team member averaged 82mph.

MotorSport noted that “No one could catch the EW Hornet Special and at 5pm Erith crossed the line after a trouble free run. These cars, intended as fast and comfortable road vehicles, showed a turn of speed and stamina which even their keenest supporters hardly expected, and entitles them to rank amongst our most successful small cars.”

Hutchens told MotorSport after the race that “the car felt good for an unlimited number of laps. The engine was held at a steady 5200rpm, doing several laps at 86mph.”

When the Hornet was launched by Wolseley in April 1930 Eustace Watkins turned to Kings Road, Chelsea coachbuilder Whittingham & Mitchel for the first of many Wolseley Hornet EW Daytona Specials. This first handsome cycle-wing car – the photo was published in The Autocar in April 1931 – “became a visual template adopted by many other coachbuilders when bodying both Hornets and chassis from other marques.” (

Although its image in later BMC (British Motor Corporation) years became difficult to differentiate from others within the empire, in the early 1930s Wolseley was up-there in the ranks of sportscars. The Nuffield group of companies – Wolseley, Riley, Morris and MG – produced a great array of sportscars and while there was some standardisation of engines and other components, each car was distinctive in appearance and character and was built in a different factory with all of the cultural differences that implies.

The Hornet, based on a lengthened Morris Minor chassis, was released in April 1930 and was built in two and four-seat open and closed body configurations. The Hornet Special – sold only in chassis form and priced at 175 pounds from April 1932 – was initially fitted with the ‘short’ 1271cc (57x83mm bore/stroke) version of the Wolseley SOHC, two-valve straight-six. Fitted with twin-SU carbs and an oil cooler it was good for about 45bhp and a top speed of 75mph, depending on coachwork. With 12-inch hydraulic drum brakes, a remote shift-four speed ‘box, semi-elliptic springs and Luvax hydraulic shocks (some were fitted with Andre Hartford friction dampers) all-round, and of light weight overall, the Hornet Special was spritely for its day.

Wolseley Hornet Special as built and sold in its original – pre-crossflow engine and underslung chassis – form. This is the chassis spec of the car Jim Gullan raced while noting the engine differences (Wolseley)

For 1934 the Hornet Special chassis was strengthened and changed to an underslung axle arrangement at the rear. A new block was fitted and a crossflow cylinder head adopted, the 1378cc engine developed 47bhp. In addition, synchromesh was fitted on 3rd/4th gears.

In 1935 the ‘New Fourteen’ 1604cc (61.6x90mm bore/stroke) 50bhp @ 4500rpm engine was fitted to maintain performance as coachwork became porkier. Sadly, the model was dropped when Wolseley passed from the personal control of Lord Nuffield to Morris Motors Ltd late in 1935, ending the era of sporting Wolseleys.

Referee Sydney, December 12, 1935. NSW rego #30-183
“Specially built Wolseley engine. Three carburettors, extra exhaust pipe from centre of cylinder head” (Gullan)
Gullan and Wolseley at Rob Roy in 1937. Under 1500cc record. Victorian rego #228-334 (Gullan)

Jim Gullan outlined the specifications of his machine, car and chassis number unknown, but engine number 108A/127. “It was fitted with a Laystall crankshaft, high-compression Bartlett pistons and engine modifications included optional two or three SU carburettor inlet manifolds. There were two cast iron exhaust manifolds leading into separate exhaust pipes on the left hand side of the engine. On the right hand side a single exhaust pipe came out of the centre of the cylinder head, this to obviate head gasket failure through overheating of the cylinder head in the centre.”

Driven by Sydney racer, Noel Spark – who had competed in a standard Hornet in preceding years – in 1934-35. “It set class records of 18.5 seconds and 102mph for the standing and flying quarter mile and the combination won the Light Car Club’s coveted Castrol Trophy for success in a series of different competitive events in 1935.”

The car was then despatched to the Victorian Wolseley agents, Kellow Falkiner’s showrooms in St Kilda Road, Melbourne for display. “Looking out of place amongst the Rolls Royce and Wolseley sedans, it was disposed of to my advantage,” Gullan quipped. See this post for some background on this under-rated Australian racer;

Equipped with “an incredibly smooth” four-main-bearing six-cylinder engine, P80 Lucas headlights, Lockheed hydraulic brakes, an oil radiator and selective Free-Wheel, it was very much an upmarket car which cost nearly half as much again as an equivalent MG.”

“With the car came a type-written folder which gave the top speed of the car as 102mph at 6200rpm, with an allowable limit of 6500rpm through the gears. Different individual valve clearances were given for each valve and included were optional carburettor needles. There was a warning not to exceed 2000rpm until the oil pressure had dropped from 150 to 100psi, when starting from cold. This abnormally high oil pressure foretelling future lubrication troubles.”

After early plug and carburettor maladies were solved Gullan contested an event on Mitcham hill, placing second behind Lyster Jackson’s MG K3. This performance led to an invitation to contest the Boxing Day 1936 South Australian Centenary Grand Prix on a new rectangular course of roads between Victor Harbor and Port Elliott on Adelaide’s Fleurieu Peninsula. Aged 21, he was one of the youngest to contest an event appropriated as an Australian Grand Prix.

Awaiting the off, Gullan and Mick O’Neill, Wolseley Hornet Spl, Australian GP, Victor Harbor, December 1936. Tim Joshua’s MG alongside (Gullan)

The car was prepared by split-pinning “various nuts and bolts that had been disregarded in England”, removing the ‘Brooklands’ aluminium undertray, fitting an auxiliary fuel tank, “wheels were balanced with lead wire around the spokes. My motorcycle crash helmet was exchanged for two white polo-type helmets with peaks, their adequacy in an accident may have been doubtful, but at least they looked the part.”

Gullan provides valuable period context, “In 1936 the average person didn’t own a car, let alone have a garage to put it in. Most who owned cars were wealthy or used them for business purposes. The only member of the team who had a car was Tom Broadhurst who used it in his family business. He offered his new Ford V8 as transport to Victor Harbor and I could then drive the Wolseley back to Melbourne. There was no continuous road between Melbourne and Adelaide then. The route through Mount Gambier was three days, the alternative through Bordertown impractical.”

“With equipment and enthusiasm the team set off for Victor, the road to the South Australian border was good, but it deteriorated and finally disappeared after leaving Millicent and became a series of tracks across the salt lakes, all heading in the same direction. By the time we reached Meningie we had not seen another car, finally we reached Lake Alexandria and crossed by ferry to continue on to Victor Harbor.”

The Wolseley was entered for both the 250 mile GP and 50 mile Olympic Handicap in the three day carnival. Gullan deemed “the track a safe one, most of the accidents which occurred were due to misjudging stopping distances and ending up among the sandbags, most being able to stop and continue on.”

On the way to fourth place in the 50 Mile Olympic Handicap at Nangawooka Hairpin, Victor 1936 (Gullan)

Accompanied by Mick O’Neill as mechanic, car #30 started 38 minutes from scratch and held station behind the winning Les Murphy MG P-Type until being consistently out cornered by it, and he drove away. After 147 miles the boy’s race was over after leaving the road on sand deposited by a spinner on the track, then hitting a small, hidden tree-stump while returning onto the track. The front axle and track rod were bent, with their race over, the offending parts were sent to Adelaide for repair, then re-installed before the Olympic Handicap. There the car was fourth behind the Barney Dentry Riley Brooklands, Lord Waleran in John Snow’s MG K3 and Les Burrows’ Terraplane Spl.

Over the following two years Gullan had good results in the car at Phillip Island, Rob Roy hillclimb and elsewhere, even using it in a Treasure Hunt. This became a full-blown rally starting from Brighton Beach and then went around the suburbs. After a Morris landed in a golf course, a Salmson became airborne and an MG ran into a lightpole it was the end of Treasure Hunts!

Phillip Island Trophy race in 1937, Wolseley here ahead of Alf Barrett’s Morris Bullnose Spl (Gullan)

“If I’d been asked if the Wolseley was reliable by the standards of the day I’d have said yes. But looking back (in 1993) cars were anything but reliable with blown head-gaskets and failed crankshaft bearings the main problems.”

“On two occasions the Wolseley lost power when the head gasket failed between the two centre cylinders caused by exhaust gases passing from one side of the overheated cylinder head to the other, and the reason for the extra exhaust pipe.”

“Gaskets then were made of two sheets of copper with a layer of asbestos in between. In time the thickness of the asbestos was reduced with beneficial results. Soaking the gasket in water showed little confidence in the product, and it was necessary to examine the gasket before fitment to ensure any overlapping edges were correctly aligned. Supercharged cars were fitted with solid copper or steel gaskets, the supercharger pressure would just blow the asbestos out off a normal gasket,” vastly experienced racer/engineer Gullan wrote. “It was one reason why early Bugatti, Bentley, Maserati and Salmson engines were fitted with non-detachable heads.”

“The other major problem pre-war involved crankshaft bearings. Before steel-backed shells, white metal was cast into the connecting rods and crankshaft bearing caps then machined to size. Although white metal bearings had excellent wear properties, the load carrying capacity of the soft metal was poor. To compensate, a number of shims were placed between the the parting faces of the bearings. As the running clearance increased, shims were removed to bring back the clearance to minimum size, one reason engines were required to be run-in.”

“It was not unusual, with a run-bearing, when stranded out on the road, to remove the connecting rod and piston, together with the spark plug lead, as there were stories of sumps being blown off by a firing spark plug.”

“For any high-speed work everyone used castor oil or Castrol R, it may have been a way to stop run-bearings, but the gummy sludge it created caused a lot of other problems. When high viscosity mineral oils came into vogue, they were really welcomed.”

The Ballot 5/8 LC #1004 in suburban Melbourne (Gullan)

The Wolseley’s fate was determined when Jim Gullan walked into Alan Male’s Latrobe Street, Melbourne car showroom and fell-in-lust with the 1919 ex-Louis Wagner/Alan and Hal Cooper/Fred Bray Indy Ballot 5/8 LC, a fast, complex 4.8-litre twin-cam, four-valve straight-eight racer. “An enormous trade-in price on the Wolseley sealed the deal.”

Melbourne solicitor Adrian Akhurst was the next owner, he fitted a circa 2.5-litre Durant engine and ran it in the Victorian Light Car Club Reliability Trial. It then faded from view in the war years to reappear at a 1947 Rob Roy meeting driven by Bill Whitchurch. Fitted with a Willys-Jeep 2195cc engine, he competed body-less while building up a new body. Peter Thomas, of later Aviation Welding fame, was involved in the engine installation, the car was then registered GV410.

Sold to Eltham’s Richard Ham in 1948, then to Walter Nowell who offered it for sale from Hawthorn and Windsor addresses in 1953-54. In the final advertisement the car was dismantled, what was unsold was scrapped. And that rather special engine? One Gordon Opie advertised it for sale, “perfect, complete to flywheel” from a Gardenvale address in April 1948, its whereabouts unknown.

A sad end for this Wolseley Hornet Special. About 31686 Hornets were built, 2300 of which were Hornet Special chassis, of those about 100 came to Australia.



1932 Wolseley Hornet Spl clad in Eustace Watkins Daytona coachwork. EW were the London Wolseley dealers in the 1930s and contributed hugely to the growth of the brand with their special bodies, the majority of which were sportscars.

The bodies weren’t made by Eustace Watkins but rather contracted from coach builders Whittingham & Mitchel and Abbey Coachworks in Merton, later Acton. Other Hornet body builders included Swallow, Jensen, Maltby, Holbrook & Trinity and Hardy.

The chassis number of the Gullan car is a mystery to me, doubtless one of you Hornet perves will know it. On identification numbers, Graham Whitaker wrote, “For cars before 1934 models – those with inlet and exhaust on the nearside, Wolseley did not stamp the number on the chassis. It was on the axles but usually cannot be read. The numbers were on brass plates fastened to the bulkhead, thus easy to fake. From 1934 onward the same brass plates were used, plus the chassis number was on the nearside of the chassis, as well as the axles.”

Check out this wonderful article about the history of Wolseley, the origins of which are the Wolseley Sheep-Shearing Company established by Frederick Wolseley in Sydney in 1887;


(P Partridge Collection)

Some photographs of the Wolseley Hornet Special owned by the Cato family in Perth, the local Wolseley dealers.

The car was owned by Frank Cato and driven by his son Fred and was raced on the Round the Houses tracks laid out on the public roads of country towns, and at Lake Perkolilli. Note the enthusiasm of the co-pilot below!

(P Partridge Collection)

(P Partridge Collection)

Frank Cato prepared this ageing Wolseley for the 1931 Lake Perkolilli event but had a troublesome weekend with front axle failure.


‘As Long as It Has Wheels’ Jim Gullan, Graham Whitaker on the, MotorSport August 1932, MotorSport Images, LAT, ‘Wolseley Hornet Specials in Australia and New Zealand’ by Russell, Santin and Clucas via Cummins Family Collection – many thanks Paul Cummins, Peter Partridge Collection

(MotorSport Images)


Bubbles or beer? Beer I think, ah, they are proper chaps! Hutchens, Erith and Wickens celebrate their Brooklands first placing. Car is a 1931 Wolseley Hornet fitted with Watkins Eustace International body.