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Vauxhall PC Cresta

The Cresta Run Published: 20th Feb 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Vauxhall PC Cresta
Vauxhall PC Cresta
Vauxhall PC Cresta
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Big cars for small money were commonplace back in the 1970s and few were better buys than this big Vauxhall

Remember when size meant everything – cars and status that is. Somebody driving a big saloon back in the 1960s and 70s was doing okay for themselves – or so it seemed to the outside world at least. This illogical façade thankfully died off over the decades as motorists placed sense over substance; although there again what we considered big back then is almost compact these days. Take the Vauxhall PC Cresta as an example. At 15’ 7” inches it’s virtually the same size as the last generation Mondeo and as wide yet we don’t consider the Ford a big car…

The PC was the last strain of the Cresta dynasty, starting back in the mid-50s as a super luxury Velox, competing head on with the best-selling Ford Zodiac. Both were aimed at the well-heeled chap who couldn’t quite run to a Jag – not quite yet anyway. Launched in October 1965 for the London Motor Show, the Vauxhall’s swish ‘coke bottle’ American-dominated styling was bang up to date and made the fi nned rock and roll Ford rival look decidedly old hat, although under that attractive new body sat virtually the same chassis and running gear of the old PA. Cleverly, the PC body’s curved sides meant that while only an inch wider than the PB, a massive four inches of added room had been found inside, making the Vauxhall one of the roomiest in its class. With prices starting from £1956, it was also £200 cheaper than the entry Jaguar 2.4 and £45 less than the stately but quality made Humber Hawk.

There were reasons for this, mind. For starters the basic Cresta suffered a bench front seat and plastic trim; the £1058 Deluxe, identified by quad headlamps was more like it and understandably the most popular pick as the interior with proper front seats was much more sociable. Leather was optional as well… but if a buyer waited until the summer of ’66 he’d also have the choice of the Viscount spin off; one of the best equipped cars of its class. While this new vinyl-roofed flagship (a trendsetter back then) cost £400 more than a Cresta, it came with standard automatic transmission and power steering. An even plusher cabin, boasting leather, electric windows picnic tables, reading lights, heated rear window, reclining seats with inertia reel seat belts (one of the first cars to be so-equipped) and added soundproofing were amongst the features which set the Viscount apart from a standard Cresta inside. This impressive tally made the blue collar working Vauxhall much better equipped than the £250 dearer S-Type Jaguar – and boasted a touch of Jag-like wood into the bargain. If ever a car was a poor man’s MkX or even a Rolls it had to be this Vauxhall. This point wasn’t lost on the Sunday Times, no less, who awarded it best executive car of the year. Sadly, potential well-to-do buyers of the pre-BMW generation couldn’t bring themselves to be seen in something from Luton, as good a car as the Viscount was for its day, and the mid-management Cresta outsold it eight to one.


If Vauxhall wanted to entice Jaguar owners then the Cresta needed to be a decent performer and there were few complaints here. That meaty 128bhp 3.3-litre straight six that originated from a Chevrolet design gave this heavy saloon swifter performance to 50mph than a Lotus Cortina, Mini Cooper S (buying guide in this issue –Ed) and even a Porsche 356! What’s more this was achieved with an old fashioned threespeed wide-ratio column change gearbox, a throwback from the 1950s Vauxhall refused to let go of until the car’s demise in the 1970s. However thanks to that 175lbft of torque, it suited the engine’s low rev characteristics remarkably well making the car almost a semi auto with second gear good for walking pace right up to 60mph.

Another benefi t of not opting for the £14.50 four-on-fl oor was the welcome option of overdrive (£54); why it was never offered on the four-speed gearbox is a mystery because the Ventora (a Crestapowered Victor FD) could have it – and really needed it, as did the Cresta. The only noteworthy change during the PC’s run was in 1970 when the frankly awful two-speed ‘Powerglide’ automatic transmission was ditched in favour of a three-speed unit. While two gear (high and low ratio) autos were popular in the US where their colossal capacity engines could mask the defi ciencies of a lack of ratios, it severely restricted the Vauxhall’s big six’s performance. You can guess what it did to the puny 1500cc Victor at the time…

The spring 72 launch of the FE Victor and Ventora signalled the end of the Cresta come the summer, if for no other reason that it was as large and roomy plus Cresta sales had fallen off a cliff after Ford launched the excellent Granada. Despite the Vauxhall’s many qualities just 60,000 PCs were made in total – yet sales were no worse than the FE strain that ran for another six colourless years before Vauxhall brought in the rebaded Opel Carlton and Royale ranges to help save the Griffi n and fi ne cars they were too.


As with all big cars, values of the Cresta fell dramatically in the fi rst three years which made them super used buys. In 1970 for example you could pick up an early PC for around £400 and what’s more, the Cresta didn’t cost that much more to run over a Victor either. Even fuel economy differences weren’t that great because while you’d struggle to get better than 22mpg out of that big beefy six, hardly anybody saw 30mpg from its smaller four pot relation; you’d still miss all that comfort and pace, as well as the welcome extra space the PC provided in spades. As one road test remarked, “There’s plenty of room for the kitchen sink in the boot. You could put it alongside the bath”. As for the estates (a

Talking of baths… While the Cresta was as simple to maintain at home as a Victor, Vauxhall’s insistence that the engine’s tappets were set with the engine running meant that the 12 exposed rockers splashed away merrily dousing you and the car with oil – but at least the typical Vauxhall rust-prone body benefited from it more than yours!

Martin Walter conversion approved by the factory), well there’s further room for an en-suite if you needed it. Talking of baths… While the Cresta was as simple to maintain at home as a Victor, Vauxhall’s insistence that the engine’s tappets were set with the engine running meant that the 12 exposed rockers splashed away merrily dousing you and the car with oil – but at least the typical Vauxhall rust-prone body benefi ted from it more than yours!


Vauxhalls and the silver screen never went well until the mid 60s when ITC seemed to latch on to Luton’s products and then the Cresta PC seemed to star. The most absurd crime-shooting series The Champions loved Vauxhalls; an FC VX4/90 and then usually a Grecian White PC Deluxe. The same car regularly appeared in The Saint, but this time driven by the baddies, the most memorable episode seeing it going “fl at out” as one of the hoods said to his boss when asked to go quicker. A Viscount was seen in one episode as well; the kidnapped girl cuffed to the steering wheel. But as the ignition keys were still in the lock she still got away… Martin Walter conversion approved by the factory), well there’s further room for an en-suite if you needed it.


Comparisons with the arch rival Zephyr and Zodiac were inevitable yet Luton usually always beat Dagenham in this contest. Practical Motorist reckoned the Vauxhall was the more stable (usually), better driving and not to say classier buy while Popular Motoring praised the exceptional fl exibility of the three-speed Cresta; “You are aware of the lusty surge… On the open road the Cresta is mainly a top gear car”. But the monthly also said that from 80mph the low gearing employed meant that the engine “is bustling a bit”. Autocar’s testers wanted the Vauxhall. “It just had to be the Cresta” said one while our own Stuart Bladon of this parish conducted the very same 1969 test and echoed the verdict… but said he would have wanted three-speed with overdrive. Rival weekly Motor summed up its road test in three apt words ‘Big and fast’.

Classic Motoring had a Viscount as a project car some years back and liked it, not least for the sheer metal for your money factor. However the perennial problem of restoring Vauxhalls soon reared its ugly head: You just can’t get all the detail parts that turn a good restoration into a great one like you can with a Ford. But if you fi nd a good PC, don’t let that stop you trying as these big Vauxhalls deserve to be saved.


The Cresta was killed off once the new Victor FE was launched. 1972 was a time of industrial strife, strikes – and glam rock! Here’s some of that year’s highs and lows

Good old days? Well a typical house cost £7300, a London tube ride just 5p, a coffee in the capital 10p and petrol barely cost 35p a gallon! Against this you have to remember that the average way was £25 a week.

Terrorism was gripping the globe and that summer it filtered into sport when Arab terrorists known as the Black September movement broke into the Olympic Village in Munich, kidnapping the Israeli team. Eleven members were killed along with most of the captors at the airport when trying to flee the country.

Strikes were never far away in the UK – the most serious being the down tools of power workers which plunged the country into darkness during the early winter months. Remember that?

It was the age of the glam rock pop groups such as The Sweet and T. Rex. And teeny heart throbs such as The Osmonds, David Cassidy (and The Partridge Family), but nothing was as dire as the bag-piped Number One Amazing Grace, by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Thank goodness for The Strawbs!

The last moon landing took place that December with Apollo 17. Ironically it was almost four years to the day Apollo 8 made the fi rst historic flight to that planet.

On the TV (just three channels!) there was the prim and proper forerunner to Top Gear – Wheelbase – and the deadpan Drive In on ITV. Comedies included the far from politically correct Love Thy Neighbour and The Comedians. For drama do you remember Adam Faith in Budgie?


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