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Vauxhall Victor

Published: 27th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Vauxhall Victor
Vauxhall Victor
Vauxhall Victor
Vauxhall Victor
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In the second of our new series, we look at classics that you or your dad perhaps owned (or wanted to own) together with a drive down memory lane to a year that was prominent in the life of that car. This month it’s the Vauxhall Victor FE and 1972

A V8 flagship was on the cards before the energy crisis of ‘73

The word victor might mean winner but for Vauxhall it spelled defeat when Luton pulled the plug on its Cortinarival of over two decades to make way for the new wave of rebadged German Opels in the late 1970s. The FE Victor was the last real Vauxhall when it was launched in the spring of 1972, although even then it also shared the fl oorpan of the new Opel Rekord. It made immense sense, of course, for parent General Motors, as Ford started the same automotive timeshare in the 1960s with the Transit van, but it also signifi ed the end of independence for Luton. There again, the FE was hardly enough of a sales success to bother with a replacement. The most popular of the Victors was the original F-series of 1957-61 and the FB of 1961-63, which sold some 390,000 and 328,000 cars respectively. In contrast, Vauxhall strugged to shift 70,000 FEs in six years of trying. The Victor barely lived up to its name because of the slipping image of the British griffin and the rusty nature of the stylish FD range (1967-72). In reality, this was sad, as these family barges were vastly underrated and generally liked by all who owned one. Perhaps the Vauxhall’s real failing was the difficulty in placing it in the market as it not only replaced the outgoing FD but also displaced the flagship PC Cresta and Viscount. The FE was sized somewhere between the Cortina MK3 and the Granada with engines to suit. So where the Ford could offer a 1300 as an opening gambit, for the larger, heavier Luton product relied upon 1.8 and 2.3-litre engines for similar performance – and thirsty ones at that. If you managed 30mpg from one you’d throw a party. Indeed many contemporary magazine road tests at the time only eked out 20mpg… Or less!

The Enigma Files

Where this big overhead camshaft unit (which was actually half of a proposed V8 design) scored was in its low speed muscle and strong top gear performance – real world stuff rather than stopwatch antics. This was proved by Autocar but which rightly called the whole range an enigma because it promised so much on paper but rarely delivered it on the road. Work this one out – the hum drum Victor 2300SL was as fast as the supposedly sportier VX4/90 (twin carb but heavier, higher geared) and on par with the ancient (it was designed during the war!) Chevrolet-sourced 3.3-litre straight-six that powered the flagship Ventora. When launched, the basic 1800 Victor had a price tag of £1186, putting it on a par with the Cortina 1600XL which was £20 less to buy. But while the Ford was plush in a 70s sort of way, the Victor still had throwbacks from the 1950s – namely a bench seat and rubber matting. Small wonder that most opted for the far more welcoming SL interior but had to shell out extra just to get modern comfort rivals offered. This was all fleet buyer’s niggles as most private motorists didn’t get hold of one until the mid 1970s when they found the Vauxhall a large, comfortable, easy going family ferrier and a lazy driver’s tool. The more enthusiastic would discover that, like all Vauxhalls made since the HB Viva, the larger Victor handled exceedingly well for its class – but they were always the slower selling underdog. Slow sales and the spectre of an Opel takeover saw little development of the tepid Transcontinental until 1976 when the launch of the excellent Cavalier saw Vauxhall move the Victor upmarket with a new name – VX – boasting more kitsch and glitz plus power steering on the top 2300 GLS. The real VX – the 4/90 – gained a racing ZF five-speed gearbox no less!There were strange anomalies in the range. For starters, you could have a Victor 1800 with 2300SL appointments (such as the mechanical and trip upgrades) and yet save two weeks wages by not bothering with the ‘real’ 2300SL! Another oddity as was the fact that the Crestaengined estate was badged a Victor ‘3300SL’ until 1974 when the rightful Ventora name took over. Come 1976, the old six-pot range was culled anyway, displaced by the 2300 GLS. The Ventora could and should have been much better developed as a poor man’s BMW. That old lorry engine was only a short-term thing as Vauxhall was working on a new V8. Sadly, troubles with the self-destructing rear axles and the advent of the fuel crisis in 1973 saw the promising idea dropped. Similarly a works-approved V8 racing saloon called Big Bertha (due to its size and weight) developed by Bill Blydenstein to complement the new road going version was shelved after it crashed at Silverstone in 1974. But not before proving the class of the Super Saloon field that season. You don’t see that many Victors, let alone FEs, around, even at classic car shows today – rust, lack of parts and indifference taking its toll. But there are still enthusiasts clubs for them. As an honest-to-goodness family car this last real Vauxhall (complete with the trademark bonnet flutes) has its merits as many 40 somethings will willingly tell you. But the car did survive in India as the Hyndustan for many years and became popular as a spacious taxi. After the Victor left the scene in 1978, the old Viva followed in its tyre tracks in 1980, replaced by the Astra which has survived for 30 years. The tie up with its German cousin has worked more in Vauxhall’s favour than Opel, lifting the image of the former, but to the long term detriment of the German brand we reckon. And what will happen to Vauxhall now?

When The Car Was The Star

Unlike earlier Victors, which starred in the likes of The Champions, Department S and of course Randal and Hopkirk, you rarely saw an FE in the frame – the most memorable clip being a car chase scene in The Professionals. It must have been a 2300SL surely as the 1800 wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding! Still, car expert Jason Dawe did single out an FE VX4/90 as one of his favourite cars in an episode of The Used Car Road Show – and that’s good enough for us! And if you see any clips of touring caravan racing in the mid 1970s then a VX4/90 was nearly always in shot as it was the champion towcar to use.

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