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Vauxhall Ventora

Published: 10th Jul 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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The legendary Murray Walker owned Vauxhall’s first hot rod, and even helped give this underrated Cresta-engined Victor its name. So, why wasn’t it a big hit for the company?

Mr Motorsport, Murray Walker, is now a big BMW enthusiast, but 45 years ago he ran a Ventora. What’s the connection you ask? Well, only that former bubble car maker BMW now excels in big-engined high performance cars,  but Vauxhall arguably thought of this concept first, with its beefy Cresta-engined Victor?

The Ventora was launched in spring ‘68, within weeks of the Viva GT (this time utilising the new Victor 2000 ohc engine). Both these new models were intended to give the rather staid Griffin-badge brand a brighter image, by simply slotting in larger power units from more upmarket models – a common American practice and, of course, General Motors owned Vauxhall.

As a car, Ventora was a sportier, more compact alternative to the stuffier Cresta and Viscount ranges but, as a name, it meant little (in more ways than one). The plan was to use Ventura but, as GM used this on a car already in the US, it was vetoed. So, Murray, and the advertising team he worked for at the time, which ran the Vauxhall account, came up with the name Ventora.

A clever amalgamation of Victor and Cresta at just over £1000 meant there was virtually nothing in its class for the money. A Triumph 2000 was less powerful and £100 more in ‘68, while Rover’s PB5 and the 3500 P6 was a whopping £600 dearer – about the price of a new Mini!

Of course, for that money the dashing new boardroom executive owner had to expect some shortfalls, and there were several, including owning a less prestigious brand, which still carried the reputation of producing ‘rot boxes’.

The original Ventora was as quick as a Lotus Cortina, but was absurdly low geared, unless the optional overdrive at £45 was specified. Also, the front seats were fixed bolt-upright, with no reclining option. Finally, while that big old war-time power unit – actually an old Chevrolet lump used by Bedford trucks – was unruffled unless thrashed (Murray came up with the catchphrase ‘The Lazy Fireball’), wind nose spoiled this capable cruiser.

Nevertheless, test reports were fairly gushing with praise – rare for a Vauxhall back then. “With its quality finish, refined behaviour, startling acceleration and a price tag of £1102, it is going to take a lot of beating,” acclaimed the weekly Motor.

You could easily distinguish this super Victor form a humble rep-mobile 1600 by its then fashionable vinyl-covered roof; virtually all Ventoras wore one yet, in fact, it was a pretty pricey £9.50 option!


Whether or not it was because owners drove their Ventoras harder than they would a Victor, the Cresta’s transmission quickly became a weak point and rapid clutch wear, along with assorted gearbox woes, became real issues that put off buyers. This was a shame, as a manual shifter was far preferable to the lamentable two-speed ‘Powerglide’ auto alternative. Great on V8s but the Vauxhall’s 123bhp ‘six’ was less able to counteract the sap in performance. No, the auto to have was the GM three-speed unit, which was part of the car’s major revise, less than two years after it’s launch.

In October 1969, Ventora II surfaced, complete with a revamped transmission boasting better gearing. Add a swanky new dashboard and at last reclining seats and the Ventora finally came good.

But, at the same time, Vauxhall decided to re-introduce the VX/490 ‘Victor GT’  featuring the Viva GT’s engine, costing £132 less, yet coming with standard overdrive, whereas this remained a £75 option on the dearer car. Apart from the mechanical differences, and that vinyl roof, you couldn’t tell these super Victors apart inside or out, although the VX also sported Ro-style road wheels instead of tin lids.

The VX4/90 left buyers wondering where the merits of the, admittedly much improved, Ventora now lied, although you could have a very nice estate version strangely badged ‘Victor 3300’.

In a 1971 road test, Motor said of the Ventora: “A car of 3.3-litres should be even quicker than this is” and criticised the lack of horsepower, when engines almost a litre smaller, such as the Triumph 2.5 unit in the 2500PI, saloon yielded 9bhp more.

Another reason why buyers might go for the VX 4/90 was the better handling, due to the lighter engine up front. That big old six was 135lb heftier than the ohc ‘four’ and this manifested itself in massive understeer of MGC proportions and a heavier, less responsive tiller. Indeed, the only area the Ventora could assert itself was in mechanical refinement, thanks to that smooth six, although the car (now £1487) was “still a unique combination at the price” concluded a 1970 Autocar test.

When the FD Victor gave away to the FE, the Ventora looked more out on a limb than ever. That slant four engine had been stretched to up to 2.3-litres by now, and in the real world resulted in similar performance. Vauxhall refused to give the single carb six more oomph, to compensate.

This point wasn’t lost on Autocar in its ‘72 report. Earlier that year it had been disappointed to find that the VX was no faster than the humble Victor 2300SL and now the same could be said of the Ventora. “The enigma of the Vauxhall range deepens – for the extra cost of a VX/490 over a 2300SL, you get no more performance… Just better trim and fittings. For the even greater cost of a Ventora you get the same usable performance, and most of the extras as on the VX4/90 which is not much of a deal for [an additional] £230 and 18mpg instead of 21.5mpg,” it complained, even though power steering was now standard and the interior was nicely uplifted care of a touch of wood to woo Viscount owners.

Because Ventora now replaced the slow selling PC Cresta/Viscount, a special limited run VIP Ventora was launched (and we know of an enthusiast who has the six remaining, leaving them to his offspring!). However, it never led to owners ditching their XJ6s and the six-pot Victor was dropped in favour of a new high spec Victor in early 1976, badged the VX 2300GLS. The VX4/90 was also dropped at the same time but resurfaced as the VX490 in ‘78 boasting more power and a five-speed gearbox – but that’s another story


Ventora didn’t quite live up to Murray’s promise, but it was no lazybones either. A touch more power would have made the Vauxhall a BMW/Mercedes rival for a third of the cost, reckoned Motor in ‘69, and a few tuners played around with the car, culminating in a couple of V8 conversions. Vauxhall even tried this, too, and was contemplating such a road car in 1973, using a brawny Australian Holden V8,  before axle hassles and the Fuel Crisis put paid to the idea. However a ‘works’ [Dealer Team Vauxhall] saloon racer known as Big Bertha did make it to the tracks in 1974.

Despite over 25,000 made, the Ventora didn’t do much for Vauxhall, but perhaps it did open the door for big-engined performance family saloons to enter the scene, something that the Germans do so well with these days. Remember this when a BMW 330 rockets past you. “Faaantaastic” as Murray might say!

When The Car Was The Star

The FD Victor, of which the Ventora was effectively the flagship model, is best known for its role in the 1960s crime series Randall & Hopkirk. But it must be a class thing because while private detective Jeff Randall had to use a Victor 2000 to chase the bad guys, the more upmaket Interpol-based series Department S made around the same time, saw a Ventora used by team member Stuart Sullivan. Played by actor Joel Fabiani, he regularly ditched the car in favour of a Fiat 2300S. And can you blame him?

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