23 March 2017

Hagerty’s Top Ten Vauxhalls

Following the announcement earlier this month that Vauxhall is to be sold to the French PSA Group, Hagerty celebrates the finest cars to have been produced by this grand old marque.

Vauxhall 25 GL/GY 1937 - 1940
In standard saloon form, the 25 resembled a scaled-down Buick and its lavish specification included adjustable steering, passenger footrests and – a first on a British car – a heater/demister as standard, the 3,125cc S6 engine gave a top speed of 80 mph. The starter switch operated from the clutch pedal and the 25 also featured ‘novel independent front suspension comprising torsion bars with Coil-spring bias’. There was a choice of several bodies – the four-door Wingham Cabriolet by Martin Walter was especially attractive – and the 25 was also built in Australia by General Motors-Holden.

Vauxhall Cavalier II 1981 – 1988
It is frequently overlooked just how much of a risk Vauxhall was taking when they replaced the original Cavalier with a front wheel drive model. Ford would not consider FWD in this sector of the market until the Mondeo in 1992 while neither the Austin Maxi nor the Chrysler Alpine had achieved their real sales potential. But in 1982 alone some 100,000 Cavaliers were bought by fleet and private owners alike and by the mid-1980s it was second only to the Ford Escort as the country’s best-selling car. And no Gareth Cheeseman-style sales rep could have failed to be impressed by the 122 mph SRi 130.

Vauxhall Wyvern/Velox/Cresta E 1951 – 1957
Vauxhall’s first all-new post-war offering a unitary body reminiscent of a ‘49 Chevrolet De Luxe and a choice of the 1.5-litre powered Wyvern or the six-cylinder Velox. Late 1954 saw the arrival of the flagship Cresta, the car for the ‘smartest of occasions’. The range was given several facelifts throughout its lifespan, the last of the line versions finally gaining electric wipers in place of the earlier engine driven system. The E-Type Vauxhall is now a rare sight but they were crucial vehicles in laying the foundations for the brand’s future.

Vauxhall Viva GT 1968 – 1970
If a car is going to be over the top, then let it be over the top with flair – such as the Vauxhall Viva GT. Take a two-door HB body shell, modify the suspension, power it with the 2-Litre OHC engine from the Victor FD and then add a matt black grille and bonnet, ‘sporting wheels’, extra air scoops, full instrumentation including an oil temperature gauge and, best of all, four exhaust outlets. Then just wait for all of the nation’s would-be Jackie Stewarts - and any other driver who regularly donned chequered gloves for the weekly trip to the Mac Fisheries supermarket - to beat a path to their friendly local Vauxhall dealer.

Vauxhall Firenza ‘Droop Snoot’ 1973 - 1975
Officially known as the High Performance Firenza, the Droop Snoot combined the 1971 coupe body with ZF five-speed transmission, a free-flow tubular exhaust manifold, modified suspension with a thinner front anti-roll bar, 175 Stromberg carburettors and a high-lift camshaft and new GRP frontal treatment that reduced the drag coefficient to just 0.4. The claimed top speed was 120 mph and the price of £2,625.48 was very reasonable but just 204 Firenzas were sold; the launch was in the aftermath of the 1973 Fuel Crisis. However, the benefit to Vauxhall’s image was incalculable - virtually every detail, from the Silver Starfire paint finish to the Avon Safety Wheels informed other motorists that here was a car that was as uber-1970s as an episode of Man About the House.

Vauxhall Astra Mk.1 1980 - 1984
In many respects, the original Astra represented a watershed for the marque. By the end of 1978, General Motors decreed that Vauxhall and Opel design would be integrated, which effectively resulted in a loss of autonomy for the British marque. It also meant that future sales would be restricted to the UK. And so, in February 1980, six months after the debut of its Opel Kadett D sister model, Vauxhall launched its first FWD car. ‘An impressive all-rounder’ concluded Motor magazine and the Astra brand continues to this day, 37 years after the first car ‘the roads having been waiting for’

Vauxhall Envoy 1960 - 1971
In the 1960s Canada was Vauxhall’s largest overseas sales territory, and the groundwork was established by the Envoy – aka a Victor with a modified grille and tail lights - introduced in January 1960 and sold via the Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealership chain. The success of the ‘new British car designed and built especially for Canadians’ was one of the reasons why the F-Type became the UK’s most exported model and the Envoy brand continued on subsequent Victors through to the FD, in addition to the HA and HB Vivas as the ‘Envoy Epic’.

Vauxhall Chevette 1975 – 1984
Not the first Opel-influenced Vauxhall – just take a look at the Viva HA and the 1962 Kadett A – but the Chevette’s timing was as impeccable as a Morecambe & Wise routine. This was Luton’s contribution to General Motors’ T-Car programme and while Rüsselsheim was responsible for the coupe, estate and two and four door saloons, Vauxhall devised a hatchback body that was so successful that it would be applied to the Opel Kadett C. To further differentiate the Chevette from its German counterpart, Wayne Cherry and Geoff Lawson’ devised a clever ‘shovel nose’. And to promote this very fondly remembered car, there were some excellent TV adverts - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Igw8RzXu2HE

Vauxhall Velox/Cresta PA 1957 – 1962
Think of coffee bars decorated with rubber plants and posters of Rome. Think of Lonnie Donegan’s version of Cumberland Gap being played on Radio Luxembourg. Think of Tommy Steele & The Steelmen singing the blues. Think of Larry Parnes and Tin Pan Alley. Think of The Six-Five Special and Oh Boy!. Think of Del Shannon, Helen Shapiro, and Craig Douglas. The lifespan of the Vauxhall Cresta and Velox began with skiffle and Buddy Holly and ended with the early strains of Merseybeat - if any Vauxhall truly captured the Macmillan era zeitgeist, it was the magnificently be-finned PA.

Vauxhall Viscount 1966 - 1972
‘Viscount is the car for top professional men’ advised Vauxhall’s 1966-vintage sales force guide, a car that stood apart from its PC-series Cresta and Cresta De Luxe stablemates. For a bargain price of £1,457 12s 1d, the owner of a Vauxhall Viscount would gain PAS, Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission, ‘Vaumol’ leather upholstery, a vinyl roof and – very unusually for a British car of that era – electric windows front and rear as standard fittings. The Viscount was the epitome of transport favoured by the UK equivalent of Mad Men and today it is a classic Vauxhall of awesome charm – as well as fulfilling the brochure’s promise of ‘luxury, distinction and prestige’.

With thanks to the incredible Vauxpedia website.

3 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Actuarius West Sussex March 24, 2017 at 10:32
    Don't forget the Chevette's glorious rally career sticking it to the Escorts!
  • 2
    Rod Peacock Wakefield March 29, 2017 at 14:45
    Sad to see, the Ventora and VX 490 aren't on the list.
  • 3
    Peter Stott Cheshire March 29, 2017 at 15:43
    I was a mechanic during the period of the Viva HB and HC models, which included the Chevette. The great thing I remember of these cars, was how quickly one could replace the clutch, with two of us working it would take about half an hour from start to finish on all of these models, including the Cavalier, which could be done with the gearbox in situ.. Shame it didn't carry on.

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