Although the car-making arm had started life as an offshoot of the Wolseley Sheep-Shearing Company in the 1890s, the Wolseley Tool and Autocar Company Ltd dated from 1901, in which year it was set up by engineering, shipbuilding and armaments giant Vickers Son & Maxim following their acquisition of the Sheep-Shearing Companys interests. The Wolseley car took its name from Frederick York Wolseley, the founder of the sheep-shearing company, but in fact was little influenced by him. He had resigned from the company in 1894 and died in 1899, and it seems likely that the company would have died with him had it not been for the energetic young works manager, Herbert Austin.
It seems likely that Austin was also instrumental in interesting Vickers in the car-making activities of the company, because for several years he had been friendly with the American born Sir Hiram Maxim, inventor of the Maxim machine gun and a partner in the Vickers Company. He had also supplied some components for Maxims (unsuccessful) steam-powered aeroplane. The sheep-shearing company continued an independent existence thereafter, for many years. In 1924 Herbert Austin was chairman, despite his involvement in the Austin Motor Company by that time.
Austin had visited France several times in the autumn of 1895 and had been much influenced by the Léon Bollée voiturette with its horizontal engine, and up until his departure to form his own company in 1905, all Wolseleys featured horizontal engines, from a 6hp single to a massive 96hp four. In the description of the day, 'the breeches' (cylinder heads) faced forwards beneath a bonnet, the sides of which were also through an inverted tooth Renold silent chain. Final drive was by twin side chains to the rear wheels. The chassis frame was of highest quality Vickers pressed steel, as used in the ships of the Edwardian British Navy, and the cars throughout benefited from the finest quality materials which Vickers wealth and purchasing power could provide.
A new factory covering 3 acres (1.4 hectares) in Adderley Park (formerly occupied by the now-defunct Starley Brothers and Westwood Company) was acquired, and in 1901 the company built 323 cars, a commendable number for the period. By 1906 the company employed 3000 men, with every part of the cars (other than the tyres and coils) made in-house, and by 1914 the company was among the largest automobile makers in Britain, if not the largest. A B Filson Young, writing in The Complete Motorist in 1904, was able to say: 'The cars made by the Wolseley Tool and Autocar Company Ltd are typical throughout of English rather than Continental engineering practice. They have earned golden opinions for their power, simplicity and freedom from breakdown; the 8hp, 12hp and 24hp cars are the most popular among private users'.
Some of the records of the Wolseley company are preserved by the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust at Gaydon but, like many records compiled years ago at a time when motoring history was scarcely considered worthy of scholarship, they were not put together with the idea of making the historians task, nearly 100 years later, any easier! The original order date appears to be 21st January 1902 against the name of Rennie & Prosser, the Glasgow agents. That order has a cancellation date against it of 21st January 1904. There is then a further order date of 23rd November 1904 against the name of C V A Peel of 105 Banbury Road, Oxford, with all dealings to be through John D Peel of 1 ST Giles, Oxford, who had power of attorney. Other items listed include body (four seater tonneau with side doors to the front seat, as still fitted to the car) and the colour scheme, crest to be applied, upholstery colour and type of wheels, all noted on 8/12/04.
The original engine number of 204 is crossed through, and the original horsepower changed from 10hp to 8hp, which specification is still correct. For the body to have been ready for painting (and the application of the owners crest) in December 1904, it is reasonable to assume that the chassis was completed at that time. We do not know that Car No. 910 (just 20 chassis numbers earlier) certainly existed at that time, because it was described in The Autocar on pages 774/5 in the issue dated 17th December 1904. It too was an 8hp model.
Car no.930 appears to have finally been despatched from the factory on 6th April 1905 and registered to Mr Peel of Oxford. Car No.910, however, was actually exhibited at the Paris Show on 8th December 1904, and must therefore have been completed some time in November at least, and given the rate of production of the Wolseley works at this time. There is every indication that Car No.930 was indeed completed before the end of 1904. The Veteran Car Club Dating Certificate (No. 50) confirms the 1904 date.
There is some evidence that the car passed into the ownership of the MG Car Company in Abingdon in the 1930s quite possible in view of the Oxford domicile of the first owner and was damaged in an enemy air-raid in 1940 whilst stored in the Morris Garages original Oxford premises. It then passed to E Pilmore-Bedford, an early VCC member who restored it in time for the Motor Industry Parade celebrating 50 years of the British motor industry in 1946, and took part in over 30 Brighton Runs whilst in his ownership. It has taken part in many more over the past fifty years or so, including more recent events in the hands of the present owner.
The engine was totally rebuilt in 1998 by Brentclass at a cost of £4, 671, following repainting and re-upholstering (£2, 499) in 1997. Since then the gearbox was recently rebuilt. This actual car features in the Profile Publications booklet on the horizontal-engined Wolseleys, and is described as being in excellent condition throughout. Converted to coil and distributor ignition, it is offered with Swansea V5C, and current MoT, and entry into this year's London to Brighton Run.