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Vauxhall Victor FE

Vauxhall Victor FE Published: 6th Sep 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Vauxhall’s Victor always struggled against the more popular Ford Cortina and yet in many areas it was clearly the better family car, especially in FE form

If the original Vauxhall Victor hadn’t been such a rot box might this family saloon have sold better? The first F Series saddled the Luton carmaker with such a rotten reputation that it took the advent of rebadged Opels in the mid 70s to finally kill off the long held stigma but by then, the Victor was living on borrowed time. Launched in ’57, six generations were made over a 21 year production run. Its main rival should rightly have been Ford’s Cortina but as Vauxhall frequently, curiously, overbodied the range it fell between two stools, none more than the last of the line FE Series which slotted in between the Cortina Mk3 and the big Granada. It’s this range, made from 1972, which we are focusing on.

On the move

Owned by General Motors, the American heavily influenced Vauxhall’s styling and the FE definitely had the touch of the bulky Buicks and Pontiacs about it, losing its previous sleek stance plus was now a foot longer than the Cortina but with little added interior to offer as compensation. The FE did herald the return of the traditional Vauxhall bonnet flutes though, albeit this time unembellished. Hot Car magazine pondered how long it would take accessory firms to market chrome inserts – the answer is we’re still waiting

Short drivers regularly complained of the car’s too low seating which made visibility difficult all round. The cabin is typical 70’s kitsch but comfortable if lacking in stamina; the door cards, as a case example, were made of gloried stiffened cardboard and split when used to shut the doors as they were designed to do! Quality only improved when the Victor evolved into the VX range in 1976 boasting a vastly improved interior and a general air of upper class about them.

Utterly orthodox in design, powering the FE were the carry over engines taken from the FD but enlarged from 1599cc and 1975cc, to 1759cc and 2279cc respectively. Sloggers now best describes them due to their longer stroke feeling asthmatic with an increased reluctance to rev than before. Autocar called this ohc design ‘an enigma’ because the Vauxhall engine promised so much on paper yet didn’t deliver it on the road. That’s true to a degree; they are not ideal for traffic light GPs, but, rather, provide a lorry load of torque instead for a gutsy in gear pull that has arguably a greater worth in real world driving. The Victor was one of the last ‘top gear’ old school cars where the driver could amble around all day rarely needing to change gears, a characteristic which was a throwback from the pre-motorway 1950s and dying breed.

Unfortunately, the supposedly sporting 122bhp twin carb VX/490 was scarcely any speedier than a plain 2.3 Victor despite being 12bhp to the good and always appeared to be a case of ‘pot luck’ if you get a good one because performance could greatly vary between individual models as contemporary road tests revealed; VX 4/90 and Victor 0-60mph times ranged from 12-14 seconds and most tests accused all engine sizes of being languid with a general roughness at 30mph in top gear, causing a mechanically sympathetic owner to select third gear as a result for a quieter life. Small wonder that economy was universally poorly.

Things improved with the replacement VX range and the new ‘VX490’ (as it was now badged) became quite an impressive sporting saloon once the engine was rid of its bad breath and a five-speed gearbox installed. The smaller 1800 was never liked because performance was sluggish and economy fared little better than the lustier 2.3-litre unit.

The gearchange isn’t Ford precise, feeling sloppy and long in travel but overdrive was optional on Victors and standard on the VX4/90 which did cut the revs down to make motorways less frantic work although Vauxhall was also blessed with one of the best automatics of its kind.

The FE range was the final curtain call for the 3.3-litre six-cylinder Cresta-engined Ventora. A good hot rod which was in the Triumph 2.5 PI/ Rover 3500 V8 league when launched, in 1968, but four years on the old WW2 Chevrolet/Bedford lorry engine was now barely any faster than a good 2300 SL. What it still possesses however, if you find a nice one, is lovely lazy character which is far more refined than the Victor and beautifully smooth as an auto.

Round the corners

The HB Viva proved that Vauxhall now knew how to make good handling cars by the 1960s and it’s this area where the Victors always had the edge on rival Fords. Once you get accustomed to the low geared steering (the later VX 2300S enjoyed the very good Ventora power steering set up however) you’ll find that the grip and handling levels are considerably better than 19’70’s standards dictated, displaying containable understeer before the tail slides tidily.

None are exactly drivers’ delights mind, and the so-called sporting VX4/90 only benefits with fatter, low profile 14inch radials. The Ventora, inevitably, suffers from too much front end weight due to that heavy old lorry lump, but a good FE on quality radials can easily keep station with many modern motors on B roads – unless you have an early 1800 Deluxe that is because Vauxhall still equipped this poverty model with a standard front bench seat covered in slippery pvc … thanks goodness for seat belts! The brakes should be adequate for today’s roads although the strange height difference between the throttle and brake pedal remains a source of annoyance.

Go or no go

The monthly CAR magazine summed up the Victor as being an ‘honest’ sort of family car and the verdict holds true to this day, we reckon. Without having any sporting pretension, or ideas above its station, this Vauxhall simply did – and does – the job asked, without complaint and in considerable comfort, a fact that many older family drivers will vouch for and remember with more than a little affection. With prices considerably cheaper than a comparable Cortina (£4000 should do it max) you can do a lot worse as your next classic.

Quick spin

PERFORMANCE Not fast or refined but their strong in-gear pull ably compensates

CRUISING About average. Overdrive or fifth gear (VX490) helps considerably

HANDLING Better than the norm for its time. Always on your side

BRAKES Up to the job for normal road use

EASE OF USE An honest family ferrier rather than sports saloon



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