Society of
Automotive Historians

Books by Norman Painting

Herbert Austin, His Wolseley Years

Brief Description:

This book, effectively, rewrites the early years of Wolseley history. Written from previously unresearched Company record it dispels some of the myths, misconceptions and hearsay which had formed the “established history” of the Company for over 100 years and places on record the overwhelming contribution Herbert Austin made while managing the Wolseley Company. Co-authored with John Brindley.


            Number of Pages:       100      Number of Images – Black and white:           127

            Price:                                       ISBN:  978-1-291-14556-4                            

            Publisher:                                Rosendale Books and Sold through Lulu

            Link to Website:           

Wolseley Special Products 1901 – 1926

Brief Description:

The Wolseley company is always remembered for its high quality motor cars with their illuminated radiator badges, but this book deals specifically with the company’s other wide range of products made under the ownership of Vickers between 1901 and 1926.

The products include submarine engines, marine engines, light industrial railway locomotives, huge engines for petrol-electric railcars, commercial vehicles, military vehicles, lighting sets, Timken bearings, aero engines and aircraft, the two wheeled Russian Gyrocar, and where applicable, the company’s patents are illustrated.

This is the first time all these special products have been covered in detail in any book and is a testimony to the highly skilled designers and workmen who produced them in the Wolseley Works at Adderley Park, Birmingham.


            Number of Pages:       132      Number of Images – Black and white:           330 approximately

            Price:                                       ISBN:                                     

            Publisher:                                Rosendale Books and Sold through Lulu

            Link to Website:           

Reviews of Both Books:

Wolseley transportation vehicles grew out of sheep shearing products sold from 1887 in Australia before relocating manufacture to the UK in 1889. Wolseley automobiles began in 1895 or 1896 with the business separated from the sheep shearing operations when taken over by Vickers in 1901. In due course Wolseley would become part of the Nuffield Group, BMC, BMH and British Leyland before expiring in 1975. During the Edwardian era the company dominated the market and attracted a bid from General Motors when facing financial difficulties in 1926. William Morris stepped in to prevent an American acquisition. Wolseley overhead camshaft engines were used by MG and secured the role of Scotland Yard patrol cars. The illuminated center badge was not always a happy sight in one’s rear-view mirror.

Herbert Austin moved to Australia in 1884 but returned to the UK in 1892 at the age of 25 to take on progressively more senior roles in the manufacture of Wolseley products until he resigned in 1905 to create his own company.

Norman Painting used primary research material provided by John Brindley in the form of Director Minutes and accounting ledgers to disclose incredible detail in the book on Austin. Some readers may feel that purchase and accounting reports are excessive but a serious researcher will welcome this level of coverage. This reviewer would have preferred if some of this detail were relegated to an appendix to allow greater clarity for recording relevant events.

A student of Austin will find much material to appreciate and gain insight into the design and manufacturing capabilities by this self-taught man who would later emerge as a captain of the British auto industry. The author is an engineer who will delight other engineering minds by providing copious patent drawings complete with comment and analysis. These drawings and engine photographs are also a welcome component of the second book on Wolseley Special Products.

The second book gives an indication that if it moved mechanically, Wolseley likely built it whether on land, sea or in the air. Aircraft and aero engines were complimented by airship engines. Marine applications, both above and beneath the surface, spanned from 2-cylinder engines to a 600 hp 16-cylinder 54-valve submarine engine in boxer formation. There were inline 12-cylinder racing boat engines as well as twin V8 applications. The novel two-wheel Gyrocar is covered in depth as an example of land based transport. Engines for every form of wheel are present, railcar wheels, tracks, plows, skis/sleigh adaptations and the usual hard or inflated rubber wheels. Commercial and military vehicles applications are too many to mention. Wolseley had electric vehicles, and electro-magnetic gearboxes. With such diversification it is little wonder that the company faced liquidation in 1926. In many ways Wolseley could be viewed as the skunk works of the large Vickers military organization.

The first book is indexed but not the second. Because of the vast variety of mechanical variations in the second book the author has chosen to devote most of the text to describing individual photographs or drawings, usually in patent form. The end result is a story that is not ‘stitched’ together within conventional chapters but this approach does serve to explain the many mechanical devices illustrated in an appropriate manner.

These books will appeal to an engineer who will be puzzled that any enterprise could become involved in such a vast array of mechanical applications. The first book looks at Herbert Austin while the second serves as a product catalog history from an organization that had many fertile minds likely groomed by Austin in the formative years of Wolseley.

Louis F. Fourie for SAH Journal