Concepts : The Wolseley 3 Litre prototype

One of the most eagerly anticipated set of pictures to arrive at Towers in a long time – a full set of pictures of the Wolseley 3-litre protoype, as photogrpahed at the Longbridge Elephant House in 1967.

Alexander Boucke, a leading authority on these cars tells us about this important car…

Another missed opportunity?

THIS is probably the only Wolseley version of the Austin 3-litre produced, and it is interesting because it appears to be based on a prototype ADO61, indicating BMC was looking at badge engineering the car before it was launched. The prototype details are there to see – if you compare the press photographs of ADO61, you’ll find the very early ones show a car without sideskirts and chrome finisher along the sills. Also, the doors will not have the 1800 MkII/Maxi style ‘safety latches’ but traditional door handles and locking pins. The front quarter lights are also missing. All of these details are to be found in the Wolseley pictured here.

The exterior picture (above) shows a running car, without the sideskirts and featuring early 3-litre wheels (later ones lacked vents). The front panel looks to be handmade – so, a prototype build, rather than using any production tooling. The petrol stain around the fuel filler and the oil cooler in the place of the right overrider indicate a car which was driven.

It is unclear as to whether the interior are of the same car. Being black and white pictures, it is not possible to verify the body colour each picture. However, if you look closely, you can see there is (just) the chrome strip visible that runs along the sill on the production cars. But then, the door trims are built around the early doors that never made it into the production 3-Litre as far as I know.

Assuming that this interior predates the introduction of the 3-Litre ‘de Luxe’, not all of this effort was lost: the seats seem to be the same as on the ‘de Luxe’ cars, although one cannot say if the upholstery is in Ambla (as in the later Austin and Wolseley 18/85 MkII) or in real leather. Also the larger door cappings found their way into the ‘de Luxe’ and Wolseley 18/85 MkII. The door trims lost the nice armrests (to be replaced with items from the VP Princess 1300) and door bins on the way to the production.

Interior pictures

Rear is as welcoming as a large Wolseley should be expected to be...
Rear is as welcoming as a large Wolseley should be expected to be…
The dashboard is a thing of real beauty, and is far more in keeping with its luxury car status than the production Austin version.
The dashboard is a thing of real beauty, and is far more in keeping with its luxury car status than the production Austin version.

Thanks to Alexander Boucke, and Neil Kidby.

Keith Adams


  1. I would like to have had one of these if they had been in production. I think it looks wonderful. The VdP version would have been even better. BMC/BL certainly made some strange marketing decisions.

  2. Almost certainly the 2.9 C Series, as used in the MGC, and the Austin derivative of this car.

    It really strains my credulity that BMC launched the Austin version of this rather than the more desirable Wolseley.

    Whilst Austin did have some track record of producing large cars, I’d imagine that most of these were most likely used by funeral directors, and for transporting senior policemen and other minor dignitaries rather than as aspirational purchases by private individuals. Perhaps the Wolseley, had it been launched as a ‘stand alone’ model instead of the Austin may have gone some way to redressing that. It still looked like (and was) a bloated RWD Landcrab, so probably wouldn’t have worried Jaguar overmuch…

  3. Love Wolseleys (bit biased as I own a Hornet, mind!).

    The grille badge was always a source of fascination for me as a nipper in the 60’s, set them aside from other cars. I was too young to appreciate the otehr niceties of them at such a tender age, though!

  4. Wolseley would certainly have been a more appropriate branding for the 3 litre. Doubt in reality it would have sold any better with it though. The car was still too visually linked to the Landcrab

  5. I think the problem of there not being a Wolseley or VdP version of this car is that the car was very far into the development phase when the merger with Jaguar occurred. Perhaps Jaguar put a spanner in the works as the cars could have clashed with their own.

  6. @13, Alisdair,

    I don’t think this would have impacted Jaguar greatly- it would have been more a thorn in the side of the P5. Both were ‘dignified’ albeit somewhat frumpy large saloons aimed at the bottom end of the carriage trade, eg senior policemen, lord mayors, MDs and CEOs who didn’t want to look too flash by being seen in a big Jag or Daimler.

    It probably wouldn’t have made enough money even to have put this plusher version into production though.

  7. Hi, message for Alexander Boucke,from the editor of the Landcrab [LOCI] magazine.
    We’ve a few Landlobster owners in our club and would like to reproduce this article for our mag. Can you drop me a line and see if this is OK pls?
    Thanks Michael

  8. I always thought the 3 ltr was a beautiful looking car, even allowing for the sad interior that went into production, I still don’t understand why it failed so spectacularly. Had they built the version above, it might not have turned out to be their version of the Ford Edsel!! What a pity!

  9. As an early ’70s kid and unaware of the design lineage I always thought the Austin 3 Litre was the only well-proportioned use of the shared (1800 & Maxi) doors.

    • Agree, 1800 was a bit short in the arse department! The more I look at the 3 Litre the more I like it, feel the same way about the Jaguar MK X/420G..

      Must be an age thing πŸ™‚

  10. This should really have been the flagship of the BMC range, not the Austin 3 Litre, and the Wolseley has a far more upmarket dashboard and front end. Yet would this have sold well as it would have been dogged by the sluggish engine that the 3 Litre had and its massive thirst for petrol. By the late sixties, big BMC cars were mostly the preserve of funeral companies and senior police officers whose transport budget didn’t stretch to a Rover.

  11. I remember seeing a Riley version of the body being finished off in 1968 in the body dept next to the experimental dept that i worked in, spotted it as i am a Riley nut and recognized the aperture for the grille!.

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