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Vauxhall Victor

Published: 4th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Vauxhall Victor
Vauxhall Victor
Vauxhall Victor
Vauxhall Victor
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Rusty but trusty, Vauxhall’s Victor was just the job for those who didn’t want a Ford

VX on lsd… not even the lotus cortina boasted that

Here’s something to ponder: if the original F Series Victor wasn’t so rusty, would Vauxhall had survived to this day? Why do we say that? Well, when the time came to make its much needed replacement, the FB, the Luton bosses knew they had to keep the mechanicals super-simple. The company simply couldn’t afford another debacle like the original F Series Victor’s dissolving bodywork problems. Hence, Vauxhall refused to go down the suggested route of making a British ‘Chevrolet Corvair’ which its parent company General Motors had pushed for. With the Corvair’s rear-located engine, dodgy suspension design and subsequent evil handling – which caused Ralph Nader to start his famous safety crusade with his Unsafe at any Speed book – what would have become of the already wounded ‘Griffi n’? Instead, the FB’s clean styling and simplicity led to one of Vauxhall’s best selling models ever, and the closest ’conventional’ rival to the more working class Ford Cortina. Launched in 1961, a year before the Ford, the Victor was one of the fi rst mid-range saloons to rid itself of the fl ashy fi nned transatlantic styling, which dominated the 1950s. Fuss-free and compact, as well as a whopping 170lb lighter than previously, it was a world away from the F-Series – a car designed around a 1955 Chevrolet saloon in a hurried rush because the Yanks wanted it out by 1957. Having said that, mechanically the new FB was virtually the same as the old car. “The Clean line of good design” is how Luton described the FB Victor, although the marque’s rusty reputation remained for decades. In truth, Vauxhalls eroded no worse than many other brands at that time, plus they didn’t punch their front strut suspension through the bonnet like Fords, or jettison their rear sub frames like some BMC products either!

But Vauxhall remained at odds with a changing market in several areas, though. For a start, it badged its trim levels in reverse, with De Luxe the top trim and Super a step down. Also, Luton stuck stubbornly with bench seating and column (‘three on a tree’) gear change, right up to 1972 with the FE. However, so cheap was the stick on the fl oor option, at £14.50, that most buyers went for that. But, disc brakes were always optional, except on the VX 4/90. Cynics suggested it was the corroding body that gave FBs such a fair turn of speed from an old post war low revving engine, fi rst seen in the Wyvern. However, a good FB did go quite well up to its noisy 76mph maximum. While Ford gained all the plaudits for kickstarting the affordable family GT scene with the Cortina, Vauxhall did it fi rst with the VX 4/90. What the badge stood for, nobody really knows, since the 1508cc engine (despite producing almost 50 per cent extra power over the Victor by way of twin carbs and an alloy cylinder head) produced only 71bhp and never touched 90mph. It was no match for the sporty Cortina but there again, the VX was more an MG Magnette or Humber Scpetre rival, with the accent on luxury and looks than pace, something Car magazine liked in 1963 when testing the VX against the Cortina GT, hailing the Luton product a “Baby Merc”. Praise indeed!

After a hugely successful run (328,640 built, with US and Canadian ones badged Chevrolets, including the extremely popular estates), the FB was replaced by the FC, or as it was badged ’101’, late in 1964. Again the name was a Luton lottery, as the 101 never made sense either. It didn’t stand for the new Victor’s wheelbase (100inch), although the stretch did make it a spacious car with a massive boot. Thanks to the car’s new curved side panels, the FC was a true six-seater in bench seat/column change guise as found on Standard and Supers. The FC never sold as well as the FB, which at least had a bit of character about it and handled with less stodge and roll. But ‘room 101’ was plush for its day, especially in Sunday best De Luxe trim, boasting walnut dash and (optional) leather. Individual bucket seats, too! Power-wise, the engine had grown to 70bhp, or 85bhp in VX4/90 tune, thanks the 1595cc unit fi rst fi tted to the revised ’63 FB. Vauxhall’s sports saloon, with its Lotus Cortina-like side stripe (launched two years before the Ford incidentally), could now justify its ‘90’ tag. In fact, Vauxhall reckoned the sporty FC was such a hot shot that the VX even sported a limited slip diff (optional initially, then standard for ‘66) to handle all that urge! Handling was more Austin Cambridge than sprightly Cortina, on all models. With a front bench seat on the Victor, you chose your sideways sliding friends pretty carefully! A new ‘Magic Mirror’ acrylic paint job meant only washing with water was necessary, according to the handbook, but people still liked a bucket of suds. Although given Vauxhall’s reputation, keeping the Victor away from water altogether was probably the wisest option! Vauxhall was still quite keen on fl ashy two-tone paint jobs, but on the Victor 101 went one stage further and insisted that the boot lid was similarly painted. And boy did it look odd!

Victor values

Victors spelt solid dependable family transport, perhaps not so tinny as a Cortina. They weren’t particularly fast (0-60mph, 20.4 seconds according to one road test on the 101) but always got there, albeit thirstily, especially the three-speeders. This was especially true of the FC, where the same Autocar test just about bettered 23mpg. Anything much over 25mpg was party time for the driver! Motor, in its, 24,000 miles long term report, added that some owners saw less than 20mpg, especially in town. What do you call a 101 owner boasting more than 30mpg? A liar, apparently! Inherently low geared, Victors were noisy things, but it was mainly wind and transmission din, where the gearbox would characteristically wail like a siren; you could always hear a Vauxhall coming a mile off! The rear axles, especially the Super Traction LSD, which was optional on the 101, was a weak point and a dealer-only fi x. When the FC bowed out to make way for the stylish and swish FD in October 1967, Victor moved upmarket, yet it became less sturdy and much less popular as a consequence. In its twilight years, Autocar summed up the FC saying that, “judging by the number to be seen on our roads, this is a popular answer to the family driver’s needs”. Rust In Peace Victor!

When The Car Was The Star

For those of us who remember ‘The Edgar Wallace’ B-fi lm series of the early 1960s, there will be inevitable recollections of the Vauxhall PR fleet’s fi nest FBs; the ‘Five to One’ edition of 1963 starred a 21-year old John Thaw at the wheel of an FB Deluxe Estate. The same fi ne vehicle starred in the delightful 1964 British comedy-thriller ‘Smokescreen’ whilst FC VX 4/90s made guest appearances in the 1967 ITC series ‘The Champions’. However, our favourite FB/FC screen moments have to be the 101 Estate in the black comedy ‘The Anniversary’ and the FC saloon in the long forgotten BBC children’s series from 1978 ‘Touch & Go’.

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