A family outing gone awry on a wet autumn afternoon being recorded by a heartless roving photographer? Not quite. This tableau was posed by Picture Post in October, 1954, to illustrate an article titled “Which Came First – The Woman Or The Car?” Exactly what the gist (or conclusion) of this feature was we don’t know – if you have Picture Post #7351 in the attic, let us know! Other photos in the Getty archive from the same feature include a newly-married East End couple getting into a Rolls-Royce Phantom, a young man-about-town (nattily dressed in an Argyll sweater) leaning on a 1953 Buick Super and getting frosty looks from a pencil-skirted young woman on the pavement, a pretty model draped over a Porsche 356 and – final proof that our distress scene is not the real deal – another shot of the same situation but from the front of the car and with the people and objects subtly rearranged. Words: Jack Grover. Image: www.gettyimages.co.uk.
You’d also have to ask what mechanical malady requires removing a front wheel and diving into the engine bay. In any case, the ‘old banger’ in question is a Series II Wolseley 14/56, which would have been around 17 years old at the time the photo was taken, being built between 1936 and 1938. This was one of Wolseley’s best-sellers at the time but this one is looking rather down at heel, with signs of rust around the rear wings and having lost its ‘Winged-W’ hubcaps. In 1954, the economic boom was only just gathering momentum and rationing had only just ended. A new (or relatively new) car was still out of reach for many families so a large, well-built but shabby pre-war car was a good choice. Many of these cars were not in the best condition and most were swept away with the introduction of the first MoT tests for 10-year old cars in 1960. As staged as this scene may be, ones like it were commonplace; he rooting under the bonnet in a suit and cufflinked shirt, she sat on the pavement in a Packamac raincoat (10/6 from Woolworths) and a look of bored resignation. The frustrated owner/mechanic, with the drizzle wicking up his tweed trousers, is tinkering (or pretending to tinker) with a 1.8-litre overhead valve straight-six which was unique to Wolseley products at a time when the equivalent Morris still had side-valves. It gave the 14/56 a top speed somewhere in excess of 75mph.
The fully-functional traffic swishing past is harder to pin down in the motion blur. The lead car is a Vauxhall Series E, identifiable by its high-set door handles and the chrome trim plate on the leading edge of the rear wing, here just visible by the Wolseley owner’s legs. The Vauxhall is probably a Wyvern, given that it lacks the chrome side-strip of a Velox – the even more upmarket Cresta was launched at the London Motor Show within days of this picture appearing in print. The blurry nose of the other car has thwarted our attempts at an identity, despite some distinctive bright-work above the bumper.
The same goes for the location, which is unknown. Given that it’s from Picture Post and the other images in the set are from the London area, this one is probably from some other suburb of the Metropolis. The road is a classic 1930s dual-carriageway bypass affair, with young trees growing on the verge and central reservation. There are Victorian terraces visible in the background, as well as what looks like some post-war council housing under construction.