1935 Wolseley Hornet Special Drophead Coupe  Chassis no. 629/163 Engine no. 634/163

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Lot 745
1935 Wolseley Hornet Special Drophead Coupe
Chassis no. 629/163 Engine no. 634/163

Sold for US$ 32,760 inc. premium
1935 Wolseley Hornet Special Drophead Coupe
Coachwork by Eustace Watkins

Chassis no. 629/163
Engine no. 634/163
Although its image in later years became ever more difficult to distinguish from that of other makes within the British Motor Corporation, in the early 1930s Wolseley occupied the front rank of British sportscars alongside MG, Riley and Frazer Nash. The single model responsible was the Wolseley Hornet.

By the time of the Hornet’s introduction in 1930, Wolseley had been part of the group owned by William Morris (later Lord Nuffield) for three years. The heart of any great sportscar is its engine, and the Hispano Suiza aero engines that Wolseley Motors had manufactured under licence during WWI had inspired that of the Hornet. The Hornet engine’s immediate ancestor was a four-cylinder unit displacing 847cc. Nothing remarkable there you might think, but what set the Wolseley apart from the vast majority of similar-sized light-car power units was its overhead camshaft, which was driven from the nose of the crankshaft by a vertical shaft that passed through the dynamo axis. The 847cc ‘four’ never featured in a Wolseley however, being reserved by William Morris for the Morris Minor and used by Cecil Kimber in the first of his Minor-derived MG Midgets.

Small-capacity ‘sixes’ were much in vogue at this time, so Wolseley added two cylinders to the existing 847cc ‘four’ to create a 1,271cc overhead-cam ‘six’. Introduced in 1930, the Hornet saloon deployed Wolseley’s overhead-camshaft, six-cylinder engine in a lengthened Morris Minor chassis equipped with hydraulic brakes. Its power-to-weight ratio was exemplary among contemporary 1.3-liter cars, the smooth and flexible six pulling from walking pace to more than 60mph. The model was revised for 1932 with a shortened, chain-driven overhead-cam engine (re-positioned further forward to improve cabin space) and a four-speed ‘silent third’ gearbox. Engine capacity increased to 1,378cc in 1935.

Increased performance was offered by the Hornet Special chassis, which came with 12” hydraulic brakes and remote-control gearshift. The Special used the shortened engine equipped with twin-carburettors and an oil cooler, in which form it produced 45bhp, good enough for a top speed, depending on coachwork, of around 75mph. The Special chassis rapidly became that of choice for the multitude of independent coachbuilders already using the Hornet as the basis for a sporting two-seater.

The Hornet Special was soon making its mark in competitions, one noteworthy achievement being the victory achieved by a team of three Eustace Watkins-bodied Hornets (two E W Daytonas on the Special chassis, one E W International on the standard chassis) in the 1932 relay race at Brooklands at an average speed of 77.57 mph.

For 1934 the Hornet Special chassis was strengthened and changed to an underslung arrangement at the rear, while the engine was given a new block and cross-flow cylinder head. The gearbox was updated with synchromesh on 3rd/4th gears. In 1935 Wolseley installed the New Fourteen’s 1.6-liter engine in a bid to counter the effects of increasingly heavy coachwork. Sadly, this would mark the end of Hornet Special development, the model being dropped at the end of 1935 when Morris rationalised its car production.

This Hornet Special wears drophead coupe coachwork by Eustace Watkins, the London Wolseley agent, almost certainly manufactured for them by coachbuilder Whittingham & Mitchell, a company Eustace Watkins owned for a time in the mid-1930s. The present owner purchased the car, which had already been restored, from Malcolm Elder in England in the early 1990s. Finished in blue/grey with blue leather interior, this exciting, post-vintage thoroughbred sportscar is presented in correct, authentic and excellent condition throughout.

Saleroom notices

  • Lot 745, the 1935 Wolseley Hornet Special Drophead Coupe, will be sold on a Bill of Sale.
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