The Wolseley Hornet is a six-cylinder twelve fiscal horsepower lightweight automobile which was offered as a saloon car, coupé and open two-seater as well as the usual rolling chassis for bespoke coachwork.

Produced by Wolseley Motors Limited from 1930 to 1936, the Hornet was unveiled to the public at the end of April 1930. Wolseley had been bought from the receivers by William Morris in 1927.

This car's tiny six-cylinder engine, Motor Sport magazine described it as a miniature six, reflected the brief vogue for less vibratory 6, 8, 12 and 16 cylinder engines soon superseded by greatly improved flexible engine mountings. Their overhead camshaft engines were so good that cars built on their Hornet Special chassis developed an outstanding reputation on the road and in club competition.

The initial offering was something of a quart in a pint pot, tiny but powerful for its size. Furthermore, four passengers might be fitted into the very lightly constructed car. However the market soon required more room and more comfort and the car's nature changed. This was countered by making and selling the Special with a more highly tuned engine. The last Hornet was replaced, following acquisition of Wolseley by Morris Motors, with Morris's badge-engineered Wolseley 12/48, announced 24 April 1936.


Initial offering
Announced at the end of April 1930 — though ownership was quite separate from Morris Motors — the first Wolseley Hornet was in effect a 2-door 4-seater Morris Minor saloon fitted with an extended engine bay to make room for a small six-cylinder engine in place of the four-cylinder unit that was normal for this size of car.

The new Hornet was supplied as an enclosed four-seater two-door saloon with coachbuilt body or, for £10 less, fabric body; as an open two-seater or as a bare "rolling" chassis for the owner's choice of coachwork.

Open 4-seater fabric body by Jarvis 1930, saloon's 5-stud wire wheels


In the autumn of 1930 the lack of body room and difficult access to the interior was recognised by Wolseley and new four-seater two-door coachwork was provided which was considerably longer and wider with wider doors.

Sunshine roofs were now made available. Separate front bucket-type seats were adjustable and Wolseley claimed the back seat gave plenty of leg and headroom for two adults. The four windows slid open and had locking devices. Safety glass was fitted throughout.

Responding to demand Wolseley presented a much roomier four-door saloon with wind-up windows.
One month before the Motor Show agents from all over the country were called to Birmingham to see the new Hornet four door saloon. A changed design for the engine's drive to the camshaft allowed a shorter engine which could now be placed further forward in the chassis and the bodywork could be more capacious. A silent third four-speed gearbox was added to the car's equipment.

The Autocar published its road test on announcement day, 25 September 1931. Autocar's testers were pleased with the result of the engine being moved 8 inches (20 cm) forward, weight distribution was better and the ride more comfortable for all passengers, no tossing them about over appalling surfaces and no pitching at all. Weight and wind resistance were increased but at 64 miles per hour this car was faster than the last Hornet tested. The performance of the new third gear in the new four-speed gearbox was much admired. "Altogether the new Wolseley Hornet is a fascinating small car. It offers a very high degree of comfort and convenience, possesses an excellent performance, yet runs with complete refinement. It gives an extraordinary combination of economy and an ability to do all that the majority of owners can possibly require.

A 21st century reader might better understand the gear-changing difficulties of early motoring compounded by the lack of syncromesh gearboxes by reading this excerpt from that 1931 Autocar roadtest: "To obtain the best out of the car it is desirable to use the gearbox sensibly, and to change down early. . . . This is a matter of small consequence, for the reason that the gear change is extraordinarily easy to accomplish between top and third without paying much attention to the use of the accelerator pedal. All the same the gear change responds just as readily to the more orthodox style of handling, and a little practice with double-clutching and finding the right pauses soon gives a quiet mastery."

1932 Occasional Four coupé

During 1932 Wolseley added two and four-seat coupés to the range.[11]

The display at Olympia was two four-door six-light saloons with soft leather upholstery and sliding roofs.[17]

Special chassis
On 18 April 1932 a Special chassis with engine and other modifications was also made available but only as a chassis, at a cost of £175[18] and it made for itself an enduring reputation. More information is provided below.

New Hornets were shown at Olympia in the autumn beside the continuing 7 ft 6½ins wheelbase four-door saloon and occasional four coupé which were not fitted with freewheel but did have the quiet-third four-speed gearboxes with new syncromesh on all but first gear.

Two new Hornets shown were: a four-door saloon and an occasional four on a new 7 ft 11ins wheelbase. The engines of the new cars had a single camshaft drive in place of the earlier two-stage chain drive. Propeller shaft universal joints were now metal in place of their fabric predecessors. On the freewheel cars the frame was now underslung at the rear. Automatic restarting of the engine was provided. Electric direction indicators were now built into the body pillars.

A new form of gearbox was announced in the autumn of 1934, preselective with a finger-operated lever below the steering wheel. By the driver's left hand was a small additional lever which selected forward neutral or reverse. A standard type of clutch was operated by the first part of the pedal's travel. The rest of the travel changed the gears as preselected. A freewheel was provided on the indirect ratios though it could be locked out on second gear to provide engine-braking.

New Hornet registered July 1935

New more powerful, roomy and pleasing in design Hornet (and Wasp) models with special easy clean wheels were shown to the motor trade at a Birmingham gathering on 29 April 1935. The range was rationalised to a standard saloon and coupé. But six weeks later, in the middle of June, it was announced that W R Morris had sold Wolseley to Morris Motors and the transfer of ownership would take effect on 1 July 1935.[20] So the 1935 Hornet saloon and coupé were replaced just twelve months later by a badge-engineered Morris Twelve labelled Wolseley 12/48.

Post mortem
When launched in 1930 the Hornet came with a UK retail price of £175 and could be seen as a competitively priced small saloon with unusually brisk performance but the saloon gained in overall weight and lost the well judged weight distribution that gave the early Hornets much of their market-place appeal.

At the beginning of the 1920s Wolseley had been UK's largest motor manufacturer, over-expansion had been the downfall of the owners of the business but Wolseley retained considerable technical expertise. One result was the very successful overhead camshaft six-cylinder engine sold in this car. Wolseley Aero Engines Limited was formed around 1931 specifically to separate out and capitalise on this expertise.

When Wolseley Motors Limited was transferred to Morris Motors Limited on 1 July 1935 this part of its business was set aside by W. R. Morris (Lord Nuffield) and put in the ownership of a newly incorporated company, Wolseley Aero Engines Ltd, and remained his personal property. It later became Nuffield Mechanizations Limited.

William Morris began to capitalise on Wolseley's products with the 847 cc Wolseley designed engine he put in his 1928 Morris Minor. The Hornet engine can be viewed as a 1928-design Morris Minor engine with two more cylinders. A re-design of both engines by Morris engines branch led to a less costly product for the Morris range, a side-valve replacement for the two-seater Morris Minor at first called the Morris Minor S.V. and announced at Christmas-time 1930. The Minor's OHC engine continued in production for the rest of the Minor range, lastly in the Morris Family Eight. The full Minor range was replaced by the side-valve 918cc Morris Eight range announced in late August 1934.

A 1378cc side-valve version of the 6-cylinder was used in the Morris Ten Six announced in August 1933.

Hornet engines


The new car was given a small (1271cc) six-cylinder engine with a single overhead camshaft. The overhead camshaft followed the Wolseley custom begun by their 2-litre 16/45 6-cylinder engine announced in September 1926 — just before the change of ownership.

Initial offering's thermostatically controlled radiator shutters

For the new four-door saloon announced in September 1931 the engine was modified to make it shorter and it was moved forwards on its chassis. The dynamo had been moved from in front to the side of the engine and the drive to the camshaft was now by two-stage chain instead of by the dynamo and spiral bevel gears. Meanwhile the same basic design, but with the original vertical dynamo, was supplied by Wolseley to MG (which was also at this time owned by William Morris but not as part of the Morris Motors empire). The nearest match to the 1932 Hornet Special was the MG F-type, although the chassis details were less similar, as the Hornet had hydraulic brakes while the MG had cable operation.

To match the new body the engine grew to 1378 cc by lengthening its stroke from 83mm to 90mm yet it remained a 12 hp engine for tax purposes.

Hornet Special chassis were made available with the same long stroke and with a larger bore — increased from 57mm to 61.5mm — and a swept area of 1604 cc. This enlarged engine was from Wolseley's New Fourteen.

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