Tech

1970 Wolseley 18/85S automatic, the sole survivor on British roads

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Meanwhile, the Landcrab’s distinctive appearance proved another sales challenge. The Corporation’s technical director Alec Issigonis told the press: “Styling? I don’t approve of the word. It tends to date a car.” As a result, the 18/85’s “traditional” grille and walnut-veneered interior accentuate rather than distract from the lines best described as minimalist.

Many virtues

Yet the Wolseley was a car of many virtues and the S option, introduced in August 1969, further enhanced its appeal. For £1,323, or £61 more than the standard 18/85, the discerning motorist gained twin SU carburettors, larger disc brakes, a revised inlet manifold and a high compression cylinder head resulting in a top speed of nearly 100mph. In addition, the S could be distinguished from the standard model via discreet badging and a side stripe.

Somewhat bizarrely, the recently formed British Leyland suggested the 18/85S was the perfect Landcrab for the King’s Road set. One advertisement featured a hip young couple revelling in Wolseley ownership and enjoying “the kind of car that manages to stay young without losing any of the good old-fashioned creature comforts”. In reality, the typical S owner was closer to Jerry Ledbetter of The Good Life than The Persuaders!.

The 2.2-litre Wolseley Six replaced the 18/85 in 1972 after 35,597 units had been produced. The production of all Landcrab models ended in 1975.

Underrated

Armitage has only recently acquired his Wolseley. He says: “It really is comfortable, and I find the dashboard-mounted gear selector is in just the right place. As for the public reaction, most people who have seen the S love it.” It is also notable that while Leyland promoted the Wolseley as a large saloon, it appears Lilliputian in modern traffic.

Armitage regards the Landcrab as an underrated machine, and his Wolseley is a reminder of the sheer potential of the 1800 family. Perhaps if the 18/85S had been available from the outset, sales might have been greater, but this still overlooks the fact that the average middle manager did not crave an ADO17. The Wolseley debuted in the same year as the Ford Corsair 2000E; while the Ford looked decidedly “Flash Harry”, it was reassuringly conventional in every respect.

However, 54 years after the launch of the 18/85, it is easy to appreciate why the Landcrab was reputedly the favourite design of Issigonis, who had been responsible for the groundbreaking Mini. Armitage’s conveyance effortlessly combines a sense of individuality with a certain jauntiness. Plus, the aftermarket Webasto sunroof allowed the Wolseley S owner to imagine himself behind the wheel of a five-seater, four-door MGB. 

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