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Vauxhall Victor @ 60

Vauxhall Victor @ 60 Published: 21st Jul 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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If the original F Victor wasn’t quite so rotten, would it have given 20 years of sterling, if sober service to many owners, asks Alan Anderson

As our Griffin becomes eaten up by the French Lion, one of Vauxhall’s most significant models marks its 60th this year – but if the original F Type hadn’t been so awful would the Victor name have survived and become respected for so long?

Back in 1957, Vauxhall wanted to kill off the Cresta-sized Wyvern and replaced it with a smaller, cheaper alternative long before the Ford Cortina was even thought of. Based around a ’55 Chevrolet, but still employing many Wyvern oily bits, designs flaws, such as the exhaust running through the rear bumper, virtually sealed Vauxhall’s reputation as being major rot boxes for the next 30 years despite strenuous attempts to nail this unwarranted lie.

Like many other carmakers, Vauxhall had a policy of replacing models within a 3-4 year cycle so when the time came to make a much needed replacement, the FB, Luton’s bosses knew that they had to keep the car super-simple as the company simply couldn’t afford another debacle like the F Series Victor’s dissolving bodywork problems. As a result, Vauxhall refused to go down the suggested route by its American owners of making a British ‘Chevrolet Corvair’ which 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 ‘Griffin’?

Not that the original Victor was all bad. Its gaudy American styling was a breath of fresh air in this gloomy post-war period and performed well with its 1508cc engine – although cynics said it was probably due to the fast dissolving bodywork lightening the car as you drove. Yet almost 400,000 were made; it was a shame that the car was designed in such a rush purely because the Yanks wanted the model in the showrooms by 1957.

The FB remains the most popular and respected Victor. Launched in 1961, a year before its nemesis, the Ford Cortina, Victor was one of the first mid-range saloons to rid itself of the flashy transatlantic styling, which dominated the 1950s. Fuss-free and compact, as well as a whopping 170lb lighter than previously, “The Clean line of good design” is how Luton described the FB, although the marque’s rusty reputation remained. In truth, Vauxhalls eroded no worse than many other brands at that time, plus they didn’t punch their front strut suspension through their bonnets like Fords, or jettison their rear sub frames like certain BMC products either!

While Ford is credited for kick-starting the affordable family GT scene with its Cortina, Vauxhall did it first 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 breached 90mph. It was no match for the sporty Cortina but more an MG Magnette or Humber Sceptre substitute, with the accent on luxury and looks rather than purely pace. This was not lost on Car magazine, when testing the VX against the Cortina GT, as it hailed the Luton product a “Baby Merc”, which is the highest praise any post Prince Henry Vauxhall ever achieved!

Although not quite matching the sales success of the original, probably due to the Cortina’s introduction, 328,640 were made with Canadian ones badged as Chevrolets. The VX enjoyed some competition success before a works rally car’s fatal accident, caused Vauxhall to pull out of motorsport.

Room 101

From here on in, it was all downhill, first as a steep gradient before a big drop. In late ’64, the FC came along badged as ‘101’ but what that stood for nobody quite knows as the new wheelbase was 100in and not even the VX/490 could top the ton. It lost much of the FB’s character but, 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 Super versions. The FC never sold as well as the FB (219,000), but the roomy 101 was far more plush than any Cortina for its day, especially in Sunday best De Luxe trim, boasting walnut dash and (optional) leather seats. Vauxhall was still quite keen on flashy 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 pretty odd!

Vauxhall also reckoned that the sporty FC VX4/90, now boasting a hearty 85bhp was such a hot shot that it demanded a limited slip diff (optional initially then made standard for ’66) to handle all that urge but the handling was more Austin Cambridge than Lotus Cortina…

When the FC bowed out to make way for the super stylish and swish all new FD in October 1967, Victor moved upmarket, yet it became less sturdy and much less popular as a consequence with under 200,000 finding homes despite being hailed as the star car of that year’s Earls Court Motor show. With its advanced overhead camshaft power units (see our May issue on this enigma of an engine-ed) and Viva-inspired chassis (the Ford Focus of its day), the Victor 2000 was rightly regarded as a worthy, cheaper Rover and Triumph alternative let alone a Cortina-beater.

However, the paying public never saw it that way and despite a speedy refresh for 1969, the sales slump continued, something that even the fine, underrated twin carb, 112bhp VX4/90 couldn’t halt – there again, for similar money, you have a Cortina 1600E. Enough said.

Arguably one of the many reasons for the Vauxhall’s slide was due in part – ultra modern looks aside – to some aspects were still very much 1957, like three-speed column transmissions (although four-speed plus overdrive were optional, standard fare on the VX) as well as bench seating, not discarded until the FE range of 1972!

FE was the last real Vauxhall when it was launched that spring, although, even then, it shared the floorpan of Opel’s new Rekord.

It made immense sense, of course, but it also signified the end of independence for Luton. In fact, parent company GM even thought of dropping the British brand entirely some 45 years ago before rebadged Opels were parachuted in to the rescue.

Dealers struggled to shift 70,000 FEs in six years meaning ‘Transcontinental’ Victor was barely enough of a sales success to warrant a replacement. Perhaps Vauxhall’s real failing was difficulty in placing the FE in the market as it not only replaced the outgoing FD but also displaced the larger flagship PC Cresta and Viscount ranges.

Thus, the FE was sized mid-way between the Cortina Mk3 and the Granada which didn’t help the majority of potential buyers either way. When launched, a basic 1800 Victor De Luxe carried a price tag of £1186, putting it on a par with the £20 cheaper Cortina 1600XL. But while the Ford was plush, albeit in a 70’s plastic sort of way, the larger more upmarket Victor still suffered throwbacks from the ’50s – namely that bench seat and rubber matting – but at least front disc brakes were now standard!

Small wonder that most buyers opted for the far more welcoming optional SL pack even though they had to shell out extra just to get the modern comfort its rivals offered as standard. This was all fleet buyer’s niggles as most private motorists didn’t get hold of FE Victors until the mid ’70s when they found it still the same large, comfortable, easy-going family ferrier they always were. Plus the oily bits were virtually unbreakable.

Slow sales and the spectre of an Opel takeover saw little development of the tepid Transcontinental until 1976 when the launch of the (Opel) Cavalier saw Vauxhall move the Victor upmarket with a new name – VX – boasting more kitsch, glitz and glam plus power steering on the top 2300 GLS. The real VX – the 4/90 – gained a racing ZF five-speed gearbox, no less, and fuel injections almost mooted but its all was too little and too late and this defeated dolled up Victor was put out of its misery in 1978 after just 25,185 sales, replaced by another Opel, the Carlton.

However, Victor did survive in India as the Hindustan for many years becoming popular as a spacious taxi –ironically this brand has also recently been gulped up by Peugeot’s lion too! Rust in peace, Victor.

Ventora should have been a hit for six

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

Mr Motorsport, Murray Walker, is now a big BMW fan, but 45 years ago he ran this 140bhp Victor. What’s the connection you ask? Well, BMW now excels in big-engined high performance cars, but Vauxhall arguably thought of the concept first.

Ventora was launched in spring ’68, intended to give the rather staid Griffinbadge brand a better, sportier image. A clever amalgamation of Victor and PC Cresta, at just over £1000, meant there was virtually nothing in its class for the money; the Rover 3500 P6 was a whopping £600 dearer – that was about the price of a new Mini!

This Vauxhall was as quick as a Lotus Cortina we feature elsewhere this month, and it was ad agency man Murray who came up with the catchphrase ‘The Lazy Fireball’ although in a 1971 road test, Motor said: “A car of 3.3-litres should be even quicker than this is”. That big old Chevrolet six was 135lb heftier than the ohc ‘four’ and this manifested itself in massive understeer of MGC proportions.

Because the Ventoras now replaced the slow selling PC Cresta/Viscount range, a special limited run VIP Ventora was launched (and we know of an enthusiast who has the six remaining, leaving them all to his offspring!) but in ’76 was dropped in favour of a high spec Victor, badged the VX 2300 GLS, which thanks to engine revisions was now as quick as that war-time power unit.

Despite being a better developed car than the V6 Savage Cortina, Ventora didn’t exactly live up to Murray’s promise – but it was no lazybones either. Given a touch more power, it would have made this Vauxhall a genuine BMW/Mercedes rival for a third of the cost, reckoned Motor, and a few tuners played around with the idea, even culminating in a couple of V8 conversions. Vauxhall tried it, too, and contemplated such a road car using a brawny Australian Holden V8, before rear axle hassles and the 1973 Fuel Crisis put paid to the idea.

Despite over 25,000 made, the Ventora didn’t do much for Vauxhall, but it perhaps did open the door for big-engined fast family ferriers to enter the scene, something that the Germans has honed to perfection. Remember this when a BMW rockets past you. “Faaantaastic” as Murray might say!

Remember when… 1957

With the decade finally lifting the post-war gloom, 1957 marked several historic firsts. Here’s a brief snapshot of what occurred that year plus other cars that tempted us to flock to the showrooms…

A typical house cost in the region of £700 but with the average wage of £10 – if you were lucky – they were not exactly affordable to the masses either. A pint of beer was around 1 pence and it was about the same for a loaf of bread. Petrol cost a whopping five shillings as a result of the Suez crisis a year earlier, but rationing was finally lifted during 1957.

On 4th October the space race started by the USSR with its launch of Sputnik I. It was the world’s first artificial satellite and roughly beach ball-sized, weighing only 83.6kg. A month later, Sputnik II carrried a dog and the first living being into space. Lakia survived for a couple of days.

With no Sky or videos, you had to go to the flicks for kicks and releases included Elvis in Jailhouse Rock, Gunfight at the OK Coral, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Peyton Place (the first TV soap during the 1960s?) The Bridge on the River Kwai; an Xmas treat (year after year…) and the fab 12 Angry Men.

Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigns, due to poor health, succeeded by Harold Macmillan who soon after crowed ‘We never had it so good’. American screen icon Humphrey Bogart dies at 57 after a long battle with cancer. Farage – Brexit? The Treaty of Rome cements the European Economic Community…

If the £758 Victor didn’t do it for you, consider Ford’s Consul at under £550, Fiat’s 500 at a pricey £556 or the just launched Wolseley 1500 (a fancier, roomier Minor) for £780? A DS Citroën was almost double the price so how about a stolid Standard Ensign as £900? On the used front, a good ’55 Austin A50 at £525 was tempting…

 



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