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Vauxhall Victor

The Vauxhall Victor is a large family car which was produced by Vauxhall Motors, the British subsidiary of General Motors, from 1957 to 1976. The Victor was introduced to replace the outgoing Wyvern model. It was later renamed the VX Series and continued until 1978, by which time it had grown significantly and was viewed, at least in its home market, as a larger-than-average family car.

The Victor was replaced by the Carlton, which was based on the German Opel Rekord D. The last model, the Victor FE, was manufactured under licence by Hindustan Motors in India as the Hindustan Contessa, during the 1980s and early 1990s, with an Isuzu engine.

The original Victor became Britain's most exported car, with sales in markets as far flung as the United States (sold by Pontiac dealers, as Vauxhall had been part of GM since 1925), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Asian right hand drive markets such as Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

In Canada, it was marketed as both the Vauxhall Victor (sold through Pontiac/Buick dealerships) and the Envoy (marketed through Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealers). The Victor was also instrumental in giving Vauxhall its first in-house-designed estate car, which complemented the four-door saloon.

F Series

The original Victor, launched on 28 February 1957, was dubbed the F series and saw a production run totalling over 390,000 units. The car was of unitary construction and featured a large glass area with heavily curved windscreen and rear window. Following then current American styling trends, the windscreen pillars sloped backwards. In fact, the body style was derived directly from the classic 57 Chevrolet Belair, though this was hard to appreciate unless you viewed the cars side by side. Bench seats were fitted front and rear trimmed in Rayon and "Elastofab" and two colour interior trim was standard. The Super model had extra chrome trim, notably around the windows, remnants of the signature Vauxhall bonnet flutes ran along the front flanks. The exhaust pipe coming through the rear bumper, arm rests on the doors, door operated courtesy lights, a two spoke steering wheel and twin sun visors. An estate variant was launched in 1958. When re-styled, as the series II, the car lost all of its 57 Chevy styling detail and the teardrop shaped 'Vauxhall' flutes were replaced by a single chrome side-stripe running nose to tail. The sculpted 'porthole' rear bumper tips, which rusted badly due to exhaust residue, were replaced by plain, straight ones. Interestingly, the old bumper ends continued to be used for many years on a variety of motor coaches and ice-cream vans.

Although the engine was of similar size to that of the outgoing Wyvern it was in critical respects new. Fitted with a single Zenith carburettor it had an output of 55 bhp (41 kW) at 4200 rpm and gained a reputation of giving a long trouble free life. This was also the year when Vauxhall standardized on "premium" grade petrol/gasoline, permitting an increase in the compression ratio from the Wyvern's 6.8:1 to 7.8:1. Premium grade petrol had become available in the UK at the end of 1953, following an end to post-war fuel rationing, and at that time offered average octane level of 93, but in the ensuing four years this had crept up to 95 (RON).

The Victor's three-speed gearbox had synchromesh on all forward ratios and was operated by a column-mounted lever. In early 1958 Newtondrive two pedal control was available as an option.

Suspension was independent at the front by coil springs and with an anti-roll bar was fitted on a rubber mounted cross member. The rear suspension used a live axle and semi elliptic leaf springs. Steering was of the recirculating ball type. Lockheed hydraulic 8 in (203 mm) drum brakes were used.

A "Super" version tested by The Motor magazine in 1957 had a top speed of 74.4 mph (119.7 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 28.1 seconds. A fuel consumption of 31.0 miles per imperial gallon (9.11 L/100 km; 25.8 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £758 including taxes. The estate car cost GBP931.

A Series II model was announced in 1959 with simplified styling. The new car was available in three versions with a De-Luxe as the top model featuring leather trim and separate front seats.

FB Series and VX4/90

The cleaner styled FB ran from 1961 until 1964. It was widely exported, though sales in the US ended after 1961 when Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick came up with home-grown compact models of their own. Consequently, the FB only achieved sales of 328,000 vehicles by the time it was replaced in 1964. The body styling owed nothing to any US GM influence, the flat front and turtle-deck rear resembling some older US Fords. Mechanically, the main change was the option of a 4-speed all-synchromesh transmission with floor change but the previously used 3-speed column change unit was still fitted as standard. The engine was also revised with higher compression ratio and revised manifolding increasing the power output to 49.5 bhp (37 kW; 50 PS). In September 1963 the engine was enlarged from 1508 to 1594 cc. The increased capacity coincided with a further increase in the compression ration of the standard engine from 8.1:1 to 8.5:1, reflecting the continuing increase the average octane level of "premium grade" fuel (on which the Victor unit had by now standardised) offered in the UK, now to 97 (RON). 1963 was also the year when front disc brakes with larger 14 in (360 mm) wheels became an option. Models with the larger engine had a revised frontal treatment with a block style grille element and revised parking lights at either lower extreme of the grille.

A Vynide-covered bench front seat was standard on the base model and Super Victor but individual seats were standard on the De Luxe and optional on the lower priced cars. Other options included a heater, fog lamps, radio, screen washers, reversing light and seat belts.

A 1508 cc "Super" version was tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1961 and was found to have a top speed of 76.2 mph (122.6 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 22.6 seconds. A fuel consumption of 32.2 miles per imperial gallon (8.77 L/100 km; 26.8 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £798 including taxes of £251.

A sporty derivative, the VX4/90, was also available, with twin-carburettor, high-compression, engine giving 71 bhp (53 kW; 72 PS) and servo-assisted brakes. Externally the car was distinguished from the standard car by a coloured stripe down the side, revised grille and larger tail-light clusters. These cosmetic features were essentially similar to the Canadian-market-only Envoy models.

The VX4/90 was available only in saloon form.

FC Series

The FC (1964–1967) was the first Vauxhall to use curved side-window glass, allowing greater internal width: the Estate derivative was noted as being especially capacious for its class. The FC Victor was marketed as the Victor 101, the name arising from the claim that there were '101 improvements' over the FB. Bench or separate front seating was offered, with three-speed column-change gearbox or the optional four-speed floor change. A 'Powerglide' two-speed automatic transmission was also available. Another US feature was that the optional radio was incorporated into the bright-metal dashboard trim. An innovative styling cue, which was adopted four years later by the Audi 100, was the incorporation of the side and indicator lamps in the front bumper, as had been common practice in the US for many years. The sculpted bumpers were, for the first time in the UK, contiguous with the body styling. The overall look of the car was unique in GM, with its slab sides outlined with brightwork seam covers incorporating the door handles. This, with the full width grille incorporating the headlights, was more reminiscent of the Lincoln Continental.

The FC (101) was the last of the overhead valve Victor models and had racked up 238,000 sales by the end of its run in late 1967 when the 'Coke bottle'-shaped FD replaced it. As with the rest of the running gear, the sporting VX 4/90 was developed from the FB series and offered an alloy head, higher compression ratio, twin-Zenith 34IV carburettors, stiffer suspension and additional instruments. Vauxhall took the VX4/90 seriously enough to offer an optional limited-slip differential, but few cars were ordered with it: the VX4/90 was, by this time, largely overshadowed by the less expensive Ford Cortina GT, which also had a higher profile in race and rally competitions.

Overall, FC survival numbers appear to be less than the F, FB and even FD series, due to bad rust problems, so examples are rare, unfairly forgotten, and undervalued.

Towards the end of the model run, in May 1967, a Victor 101 de luxe was road tested by Britain's Autocar magazine. The vehicle tested came with a four-speed floor-change gearbox and the 1595 cc engine delivering a claimed 66 bhp. A maximum speed of 81 mph (130 km/h) was achieved, which matched that achieved by a recently tested Austin A60 Cambridge and a Ford Cortina 1600 de luxe. The Victor accelerated to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 20.4 seconds, which was slightly quicker than the Austin but slightly slower than the lighter Cortina. The Vauxhall's overall fuel consumption for the test, at 23.1 mpg (10.9 l/100 km) placed it at the bottom of this class by more than 10%, while its manufacturer's recommended retail price of £822 was higher than that asked for the Austin at £804 or for the Ford at £761. (A lower price of £806 would have been available on the Victor if the test car had come with the three-speed column-change gearbox and all-round drum brakes.) The overall tone of the test was cautiously positive, with plaudits for the comfort, the lightness of the controls, the (optional) servo-assisted disc/drum brakes and the road holding, but adverse comments concerning the extent of the Victor's propensity to roll and the rather low gearing which accentuated the variability of fuel consumption according to driving style.

All Victors sported a different grille treatment for 1967, a final-year facelift that was standard Vauxhall practice at the time. This had a more finished and upmarket look with sturdier bars rather than the cheaper looking criss-cross element on earlier cars.

FD Series

The FD (1967–1972) was released at a time when the UK was undergoing a currency crisis as well as increasingly militant labour relations, resulting in rising prices and poorer quality. On paper, this new 1599 cc and 1975 cc overhead camshaft engine design (the Slant Four) was advanced but suffered an out of balance couple which earned it the US tag 'Hay Baler'. The suspension design of the car was far less compromised than most previous British mass-produced efforts, featuring a live axle with trailing arms, Panhard rod and coil springs instead of the traditional leaf springs, and a double wishbone front suspension assembly, but the FD's on-road performance and durability were less than its on paper promise in standard form. Independent tuner Blydenstein could effectively transform the overhead cam Victors to fulfill their advanced specifications.

The FD, however, departed from the traditional Victor family car bench front seat norm (there were still models with bench seats however) and could be ordered with comfortable contoured bucket seating front and rear. This was standard on the Victor 2000 (later 2000 SL with the facelift for 1970) and optional on the Victor 1600 (renamed Super with the 1970 facelift). Bucket seats were standard on the more sporty VX4/90 and six-cylinder Ventora versions, with the latter having reclining backrests as standard from 1969. All bucket seat models dispensed with the column shift and adopted a four-speed floor shift, with overdrive standard on manual VX4/90s and optional on the Ventora.

In February 1968 Vauxhall launched the Vauxhall Ventora, which was in effect a marriage of the Victor FD body with the 3.3-litre six-cylinder engine hitherto offered only in the larger Cresta and Viscount models. The Ventora offered a claimed 123 bhp (92 kW; 125 PS) of output compared with 88 bhp (66 kW; 89 PS) from the 2-litre 4-cylinder Victor, also featuring correspondingly larger front disc-brake calipers. The Ventora therefore differed most spectacularly from its siblings through its effortless performance: in that respect it had no obvious direct competitor at or near its price (£1,102 including taxes in February 1968) on the UK market. The interior was also enhanced, with extra instrumentation including a rev counter. From the outside Ventoras can be identified by their wider tyres, a front grille of toothy-harmonica like gaps in place of the Victor's closely packed horizontal bars, and a black vinyl roof. May 1968 saw the return to the Vauxhall range of a Victor estate, now based on the Victor FD. The estate, like the saloon, offered a choice of 1599 cc or 1975 cc four-cylinder engines and was also offered with the 3294 cc engine normally found in the Vauxhall Cresta. (The Victor estate 3294 was the only six-cylinder Victor offered on the domestic market, although the Ventora was effectively a six-cylinder Victor saloon by another name.) Rear suspension was beefed up on the estate models and all apart from the base 1599 cc version came with front wheel disc brakes. As on the FD saloon, however, the standard transmission was a three-speed manual gear box controlled from a column-mounted lever. A four-speed box with a floor-mounted gear lever was available at extra cost on the four-cylinder models, although it was included in the overall package for buyers of the Victor 3294 cc estate. The floor-mounted lever was set well forward to enable it to remain clear of the bench front seat which was standard in the 1599 cc versions. Sales of the FD came in below those of the FC, at 198,000 or so units produced over a slightly longer production run that ended in December 1971, though new cars were offered for sale until the arrival of the Victor FE in March 1972. The lower numbers reflected the effects of a long strike Vauxhall underwent in 1970, as well as the closing off of some export markets — the FD was the last Victor to be sold in Canada as either a Vauxhall or Envoy, and the last to be officially imported (and assembled) into New Zealand.

As well as the 1.6 and 2.0 I4s, the FD series was also available in New Zealand (sedans only; wagons were rare imports) with the larger Cresta PC's 3294 cc engine, badged as the Victor 3300, later 3300SL. These were manufactured with a choice of 4-speed manual gearbox or a 2-stage GM Powerglide automatic and most, apart from early cars, had the Ventora's grille. The Holden Trimatic gearbox was available for the last models. Bench (earlier models only) or bucket front seats were available.

A one-off Ventora was the 'Black Prince', a concept car built by Gordon-Keeble in 1971 using an FD chassis. The car featured a 5.4 litres V8 Chevrolet engine, ZF 5-speed gearbox and a limited slip differential. Special features included a Sony 4 band radio which could be removed from the dashboard and used as a portable radio, auxiliary dials, Lucas Square 8 fog lights, matt black bonnet, dash mounted ice detector and map lights. The car was offered for sale in 1972 for approximately 3,000 pounds, and was allegedly broken up in the late 1980s, with the owner using the running gear in a kit car.

FE Series

The last of the Victors, launched in March 1972, was the FE (1972–1976). Magazine and newspaper advertisements used the marketing slogan, "NEW VICTOR - The transcontinentals". The car appeared substantially larger than its predecessor, but was actually no wider and only 2 inches (5 cm) longer with much of the extra length accounted for by larger bumpers. Nevertheless, a higher cabin and improved packaging enabled the manufacturer to boast of 1.5 inches (38 mm) more leg room in the front and no less than 4 inches (100 mm) of extra leg room in the back, with virtually no loss of boot/trunk capacity. Useful increases in headroom and shoulder-level cabin width were also achieved through the use of differently shaped side panels and windows.

Most UK cars in this class featured manual transmission and with the FE Vauxhall belatedly fell into line with their principal UK competitor by including a four-speed gearbox - available only at extra cost on the old Victor FD - as standard equipment. The FE's extra weight presumably made this development irresistible. The four-speed transmission used the same box and ratios across the range, from the 1759 cc Victor to the torquey 3294 cc Ventora-badged version: contemporary road tests of the four-cylinder cars comment adversely on the wide gap - highlighted on the mountain roads included in the Portuguese route chosen for the car's press launch - between second and third gears. Although the architecture of the suspension remained as before, numerous detailed modifications were made to counter criticism of the old model. Changes included an anti-roll bar as standard equipment on all but the entry-level models, and stiffer springs at the back, intended to compensate for the Victor's tendency to understeer. At the front the springing remained soft by the standards of the time: the track was widened (by 1.7 inches / 4 cm) and wheel geometry modified to incorporate "anti-dive action", improvements intended to address the Victor's tendency to wallow, which by then was attracting criticism from performance-oriented commentators. The new Victor shared its floorpan with the Opel Rekord but retained a distinct bodyshell, its own suspension and rack-and-pinion steering as opposed to the Rekord's recirculating ball unit. The front end incorporated the then advanced detail of having the slim bumper bisect the grille, with a third of the grille and the side-lights (on quad headlamp models) below the bumper line. This potentially attractive feature was completely ruined in markets where the licence plate was mounted so as to conceal the lower part of the grille. Comparisons between the Victor and its broadly similar Rüsselsheim built cousin were inevitable. An important difference from the back seat involved the rear doors. The Opel's door incorporated rear quarter lights and windows that wound fully down into the door whereas Vauxhall's designers preferred the "cleaner uncluttered look" arising from their elimination of rear quarter lights. The fact that back seat passengers could only open their windows down to approximately a third of their depth before further opening was blocked by the presence of the wheel arches was held out as a safety feature to complement the fitting of child-proof locks, given that back-seat passengers would no doubt include small children. Despite the absence of shared body panels anywhere that they could be seen, detailed investigation disclosed that minor assemblies such as the door locks and the wiper mechanisms were shared with the Opel Rekord D.

The FE Victor was the last Vauxhall to be designed independently of Opel. The engines were carried over from the FD range although enlarged to 1759 cc and 2279 cc. For a short period, the straight-six engine was used in the Ventora and 3300SL models, the latter effectively a Victor Estate with lesser trim than the luxury Ventora. The estates had a more sloping rear, similar to a hatchback, than the Rekord equivalent. The FE estate in fact had perfect 50/50 weight distribution.

1974 finally saw the introduction of a proper Ventora Estate, along with running changes for the rest of the range.

World energy crises, falling exports and an increasingly muddled image led to Vauxhall's decline during the early 1970s, such that sales of the FE slumped to 55,000 units before it was transformed to the VX series in early 1976.

VX Series

At the start of 1976 the relatively large 1800 cc Vauxhall Victor came with a recommended sticker price lower than that of the more modern but smaller and relatively well equipped Vauxhall Cavalier GL which will have encouraged fleet managers to negotiate for higher discounts on the Cavalier and left the basic Victor looking embarrassingly underpriced. To try to move the Victor upmarket, Vauxhall upgraded the trim level of the basic Victor 1800 cc to match that of the 2300 cc version, with improvements that included fabric seat trim, a new clarified instrument display embellished with mock timber surround as well as a new central console. Seat belts and hazard warning flashers were now included in the recommended price across the range. Under the bonnet / hood various upgrades were made to the 1800 cc engine which now offered 88 bhp (66 kW; 89 PS) of output in place of the 77 bhp (57 kW; 78 PS) previously claimed. The changes carried a weight penalty, but performance was nevertheless usefully improved with top speed up from 89 mph (143 km/h) to 100 mph (161 km/h). To draw attention to the changes Vauxhall also dropped the Victor name, and the car, which also replaced the Victor based VX4/90, became the Vauxhall VX. The VX Series is distinguished from the outside by a simplified grille and revised headlights.

Since the demise of the Vauxhall Cresta more than three years earlier, only the Ventora had used the old Vauxhall six-cylinder engine: but now the four-cylinder VX 2300 GLS replaced the six-cylinder FE Ventora as Vauxhall's flagship.

The more sporting VX 4/90 was re-introduced, now based on the VX (formerly Victor FE), in 1978 with a 5-speed close-ratio Getrag gearbox, initially for mainland European export markets only. The car featured a modified, twin-carburettor version of the existing 2279 cc four-cylinder engine for which an output of 116 bhp (87 kW; 118 PS) was claimed, and a prototype fuel-injected variant was tested but not put into production. The car was fitted with halogen headlights and supplementary fog-lights fitted beneath the front bumper, and also benefitted from extra sound-deadening materials to reduce road noise. The side window frames were fashionably blackened, and only four exterior colours could be specified, of which three were metallic. The manufacturer stated that the UK market would receive right-hand-drive versions of this latest incarnation of the VX 4/90 only in 1978. By 1978 the Vauxhall Carlton was moving quietly into the showrooms, and it is not clear exactly when Luton production of the FE-based VX 4/90s was ended, but the model continued to be listed until early 1979.

Product variants

The VX four-ninety was first added, in approximately 1962, to the FB series as a performance oriented version. During the FB series, the name changed slightly to VX 4/90 which continued, until the FE range. The final VX 1978 incarnation was badged VX490. The VX Four Ninety designation originally came from its engineering designation - Vauxhall eXperimental four-cylinder engine of 90 in³ capacity. As well as performance increasing modifications, VX 4/90s also had a number of exterior and interior modifications to distinguish them from Victors.

The Ventora, was introduced to the FD series sold between 1968 until it was dropped from the FE series in 1976. This used the Victor bodyshell, but had the Bedford derived 3294 cc straight six engine from the larger Cresta models. Again, the Ventora was distinguished from the Victor by improved trim levels

Victor specials

Big Bertha

A special version of the FE was the one-off 1974 Holden-Repco Ventora, nicknamed "Big Bertha", built to compete in the "Super Saloon" category of British motor sport. Driven by Gerry Marshall, this car was fitted with a race-tuned 5.0 L V8 Holden engine and bore little resemblance to the production car, except in its overall appearance. However the design was ill-fated, and suffered an accident in its sixth race. It was considered too big and too heavy, and had serious handling problems, even in Marshall's capable hands. Eventually it was decided to build a new, much smaller car around the same engine and chassis (much shortened) and this car was given the silhouette of the "droopsnoot" Firenza. Nicknamed "Baby Bertha", this car was very successful and went on to dominate the sport until Vauxhall moved from racing into rallying in 1977.

Gallery

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