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Vauxhall Cresta

Vauxhall Cresta Published: 23rd Nov 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Vauxhall Cresta
Vauxhall Cresta
Vauxhall Cresta
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This Vauxhall offers 50’s Americana at affordable prices. But is the PA as good to drive as it still undoubtably looks?

The fabulous and flamboyant fifties had a style all of their own and no more than on the road where American influences came to the fore. Tail fins and a kaleidoscope of chrome and colours was the name of the game and few played it better than the Vauxhall PA Velox and Cresta. Launched in 1957, a year after Ford’s Mk2 Zephyr/Zodiac range hit the showrooms, these cars typified the rock and roll jukebox age and still do.

In terms of style the sleek new Vauxhall of 60 years ago was sensation and a departure from some pretty sober suited saloons that was associated with Luton. Here was Route 66 for our new motorway age and the PA was deemed so pretty on profile and upmarket that Daimler planned to use the Cresta as the basis of a new modern saloon. As The Queen often drove Vauxhalls (including a PA estate), was this intentional?

On the move

Watch yourself – but it’s not so much mind your step but your kneecaps due to the Vauuxhall’s weird wraparound windscreen where – as on the earlier F Series Victor – unless you become used to it, will always make painful contact with your leg when getting in and out. Happily, once inside it’s a surprisingly pleasant environment in a 50’s sort of way; spartan yet civilised.

Two large bench seats (there was no bucket seat option) provide just enough space to cater for six which at least provides some unofficial lateral support as there’s none when driving solo (handy if you wish to become friendly with a front seat passenger around twisty turns) but as bench seating goes it’s fairly comfortable, even if the PA’s new low roofline notably cuts the headroom compared to the previous upright E-Types. The PA Cresta was considered a big car in its day – now the current Corsa is as substantial, would you believe!

All the controls are reachable and the column gearchange feels pretty precise (if the linkages are ok). In common with its rivals, only three ratios are provided but the big six’s sizable torque spread (a war-time Chevrolet design that also powered some Bedford lorries) makes up for that, more so in the later, lustier 94bhp 2.6-litre that was initially 2262cc. This engine eventually evolved into a 123bhp 3.3-litre for later Crestas and Ventoras right up to 1976. Common to all are vigorous top gear pull encouraging the driver to lazily chug along although this muscular performance that Vauxhalls were then famed for is also, in part, due to low gearing that has the ‘six’ fairly bustling at 80mph, some way short of the claimed 95 top whack of the 2.6. Overdrive was available to counteract this and well worth having as it links to the middle ratio too and so effectively gives a five-speed ’box. That second gear comes into its own in other ways as it you can start off from rest and go all the way to almost 60 making it like a semi auto.

There was also an American automatic called Hydramatic. It’s a three speed design and preferable to the two-speed Powerglide system used on 1960s Vauxhalls that was more tailored to V8s.

Big 50’s saloons are all about cruising and the PA is no exception. Driven hard and the big six sounds strained but treated more gently it’s smooth, quiet and responsive although as juicy as a Jag.


Round the corners

Motor magazine noted on the 2.6 Cresta “… a certain degree of liveliness at the rear” existed and this Vauxhall was never intended to be cornered like with gusto. Yet driven within the limitations and, accepting the rolly-poly handling, it’s entirely satisfactory and, indeed, the steering (if in good order) feels quite direct and precise meaning it’s not hard to keep the Vauxhall stable at motorway speeds – unlike some rivals – while the ride, while soft, is not too floaty; again damper and spring condition are the dictating factors today.

One area where you do need to make allowances is in the braking department as the majority of models are drum braked and a servo was extra. Pedal pressures are high, unlike retardation forces, so bear this in mind, although road tests at the time reckoned Vauxhalls fared better than most. You can always fit the later disc set up or simply better linings (try Mintex’s Classic range) if you want more stopping power; again driven within the PA’s design they are more than adequate and overall, while no power-steered modern, this Vauxhall is surprisingly light and easy to drive and so not an chore on a long run.


Go or no go

True, the PA range is no Jag in style or substance, but they are just right for quiet quaint cruising. They will always turn heads – especially in their lurid duo and triplecoloured paint schemes – at shows and club support is very good, as are general servicing parts. Compared to the Fords of the same period they are more exclusive and yet cheaper with good ones available for around £7000. Music to one’s ears…


Quick spin

Performance: More lust than sheer speed but adequate

Cruising: Hums quite nicely at 70mph all day long

Handling: Typical 50’s mush and slop so always take into account

Brakes: Front discs didn’t arrive until 1960s so take some care here!

Ease of use: Room for six and not that tiring to pilot; many spare supplies are patchy

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