The “Blue Lotus” is based in Japanese occupied China. So it is but obvious that military vehicles of the Japanese Imperial Army find mention in this book. One of the vehicles depicted is an armoured car sent in pursuit of Tintin. Initially I thought it was a Vickers vehicle which was commonly used by the Japanese Army, but the car in the book had a single gun turret while Vickers cars had twin gun turrets. Further search revealed that it was an IJA car built on a Wolseley chassis.
Coming to the company Wolseley. This was a company established Frederick York Wolseley, an Australian and Herbert Austin, an Englishman. Wolseley had established the Wolseley Sheep-Shearing Machine Company Ltd. On March 10th 1893, Austin assigned all his patents relating to sheep-shearing machinery to this company. He was offered the position of Inspector of Machines in the newly formed Wolseley Sheep-Shearing Machine Company in England. Austin was an enthusiastic cyclist and an engineer with experience in small internal combustion engines. He was drawn to the idea of manufacturing cars. However, Wolseley Sheep-Shearing Machine Company was not keen on investing in the same. As a result, the first Wolseley car, which was a three wheeler was built almost in secret. However, after much convincing by Austin, a second Wolseley car was built. This car was also a three-wheeler. It was designed and built by Austin and was called “Autocar Number One”.
The third Wolseley car was a four wheeled vehicle, the “Voiturette”. It was exhibited at the “Midland Cycle and Motor Car Exhibition” in 1900 and was quite a success. At the same time, Sir Hiram Maxim, of Vickers Sons & Maxim Ltd was toying with the possibilities of using the motor car for military purposes. He had convinced Daimler Works at Coventry for constructing a “Motor War Car”. As Wolseley Directors were not willing to invest in a larger establishment to manufacture cars, Vickers approached the Wolseley company to take over the motorcar part of their business. Thereafter, in 1901, Vickers established the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Co Ltd, which was further renamed as the Wolseley Motor Company before the outbreak of World War I. By 1913 Wolseley was the largest British automobile manufacturer and built around 3000 cars.
Now coming to how the Japanese got a Wolseley? In 1918, Wolseley entered into an agreement with the Ishikawajiama Ship Building and Engineering Co of Tokyo, giving the Japanese company production and marketing rights for Wolseley vehicles in the Far East. The first Japanese built Wolseley was produced in 1922. By 1929, the company was building cars to own design. It was renamed as Isuzu in 1949 after the second world war. Isuzu has been a part of the American General Motors since 1981. Remember the Isuzu Forrester launched in India as the Chevrolet Forrester in the late 90s – early twenty first century. Recently Isuzu has also launched the MU7 SUV in India.
Now let us return to the subject of this post. The Wolseley armoured car in “Blue Lotus”. This vehicle was designed in 1928 when the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) placed an order on Ishikawajiama Ship Building and Engineering Co of Tokyo to develop an armoured Car based on their licence-built Wolseley CP 1.5 ton truck chassis. The Vickers Crossley, which was already in the Japanese Army inventory was taken as the basis for designing this vehicle. The new vehicle had a smaller turret than the Vickers Crossley as it had only one gun. Armament consisted of a Type Taisho 36.5 mm machine gun. These vehicles were operated by two different drivers in the forward and reverse directions. The crew comprised two drivers, the gunner and the commander. These vehicles were first used in 1930.
The IJA referred to these cars as “Simple Armoured Car”, however, most western authors refer to them as “Wolseley Armoured Car” or even “Vickers Wolseley Armoured Car”. Though the car was built on a 1.5 ton truck chassis, it weighed 4.5 tons while it had an engine producing a puny 30 HP. It had a 6mm thick armour plating and the 30 HP engine could still propel it at a maximum speed of 40 km/h in forward direction and 8 km/h in reverse direction. The vehicle had a range of 200 km.