Historic Car Brands
Founded in Vauxhall, London, in 1857, Alex Wilson and Company became Vauxhall Iron Works from 1897, making pumps and marine engines. In 1903, the company built its first five-horsepower, single-cylinder car and around 70 were made before the car was improved with wheel steering and a reverse gear in 1904.
To expand, the company moved the majority of its production to Luton in 1905 and much of Vauxhall’s success during the early years was attributable to Laurence Pomeroy. He joined Vauxhall in 1906 at the age of 22, as an assistant draughtsman, but soon designed an engine for cars to be entered in the 1908 RAC and Scottish Reliability Trials.
Pomeroy had read about the importance of high piston speeds, as well as the necessity of good breathing through large valves and a free-flowing exhaust system. Pomeroy applied these recommendations to an existing engine by improving its L-head, side-valve layout.
Output went up from Vauxhall’s original 12-16 rating to 38bhp at 2500rpm, while the RAC formula estimate for that engine was only 23.5bhp at a more typical 1800rpm. When that engine later went into production, Vauxhall advertisements boasted: ‘Buy a 20hp Vauxhall; pay tax on 20hp but get near double the horsepower in your car’.
Pomeroy’s prototype Y-Type Y1 showed excellent hill-climbing ability, with an aggregate of 37 seconds less time in the hill climbs than any other car in its class. At the Brooklands circuit, the Vauxhall lazily accomplished the required 200 miles at an average speed of 46mph, when the car was capable of 55mph.
The Y-Type’s success meant that Pomeroy took over from his engineering boss and it was decided to put the car into production as the A09 model. This spawned the Vauxhall A-Type. Four distinct types of this were produced between 27 October 1908 and when mass production was halted in 1914 by the outbreak of World War I. One last A-Type was put together in 1920.
1912 Vauxhall.Type A Tourer – Clive Barker
Capable of up to 100mph (160 km/h), the A-Type Vauxhall was one of the most acclaimed three-litre cars of its day.
Two cars were entered in the 1910 Prince Henry Trials and performed well, so replicas were made for sale officially as C-types, but were soon known as Prince Henrys. These cars had tuned engines that produced 60hp and in 1913 the engine was bored and stroked to four litres, for even more power.
1912 Vauxhall ‘Prince Henry’ – Herr Anders Svensson
During the First World War, Vauxhall made large numbers of the D-type that was a Prince Henry chassis with derated engine, for use as staff cars for the British forces.
After the 1918 armistice, the D-type remained in production, along with the sporting E-type that was better known as the 30-98. The Prince Henry engine was bored out an additional 3mm, to 98mm and was stroked an additional 5mm, by cold-stretching the five-bearing crankshaft, using a steam hammer! Displacement was 4.5 litres and output, 90hp.
1926 Vauxhall 30-98 – Brendan Searle
Pomeroy had designed new overhead-camshaft six-cylinder and V12 engines, but the Vauxhall board wasn’t interested in pursuing them, so he left in 1919 and moved to the United States, before returning to Europe and a career at Daimler.
In the post-War slump, Vauxhall found that expensive pedigree cars of the kind that had served the company well in the prosperous pre-War years were no longer in demand and the company struggled to make a consistent profit. Its standby was the four-cylinder, 2.3-litre, side-valve Vauxhall 14-40.
1927 Vauxhall 14-40 Two Seater – Mick
Vauxhall looked for a major strategic partner and in November 1925, it was acquired by General Motors Corporation, which set about moving the Vauxhall brand down-market.
However, the Vauxhall 20-60 was already planned, as an up-market step from the 14-40. The 20-40 was the first six-cylinder Vauxhall sold under £1000.
Vauxhall 20-60 – Tom
The 20-60 four or five-seater saloon, limousine, tourer or coupé-cabriolet was released in 1927, with a six-cylinder engine and a four-speed gearbox. The initial 2.7-litre engine was enlarged to three litres after twelve months and to 3.3 litres in 1930 when it was renamed the Silent Eighty.
Vauxhall’s image and target market changed over the next few years, marked particularly by the introduction in late 1930 of the low-cost, two-litre Vauxhall Cadet that was the first British car to feature a synchromesh gearbox.
1932 Vauxhall Cadet Cabriolet – Steve Glover
In June 1933 came the AS-type Light Six. With an all-steel body and a 1.8-litre, overhead-valve, in-line, six-cylinder engine, the Light Six was produced in 12- and 14- ‘tax horsepower’ variants and both were priced the same.
Modernisation and expansion of the Luton factory meant that the Light Six four-door saloon was cheaper than many of its rivals that had four-cylinder engines and fewer interior appointments.
1935 Vauxhall 14 Light Six – Charles 01
The Light Six was an immediate sales success, surpassing all previous Vauxhall products by a large margin, when 26,000 examples were sold in just over 12 months. Vauxhall suddenly became a significant player in the British car market.
After 15 months on sale the AS-type Light Six was replaced by the D-type Light Six that had Dubonnet front suspension, making the new Light Six the first mass-production British saloon car with independent front suspension. The Light Six success story continued.
Vauxhall’s next step was a move to unibody construction, instead of the traditional body-on-frame design and the first of the new models was released in September 1937. The H-type 10-4 (10 tax-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine) that had a 1.2-litre, overhead-valve engine, putting out 34hp.
1937 Vauxhall Ten Saloon – Lars-Goran Lindgren
This was the first small Vauxhall in many years and featured hydraulic brakes, Dubonnet front suspension, a full-synchromesh gearbox and mechanical windscreen wipers.
The 10-4 was only slightly more expensive than old-fashioned equivalents from Austin and Morris, and was noted for its excellent fuel economy of over 40mpg when touring, due to its efficient engine and lightweight body.
The 10-4 was promoted as ‘The £1 Million Motor Car’, reflecting the investment in its design and production.
The I-type 12-4 was essentially the same as the 10-4, but with a longer wheelbase and a 1.4-litre engine and was introduced in September 1938.
1946 Vauxhall 14 Model J with Holden-Body split-windscreen – GTHO
In 1939 came the J-type 14-6, replacing the old Light Six, powered by a 1.8-litre, overhead-valve, in-line six.
However, the outbreak of World War II in 1939 greatly restricted the sales of all new cars just as Vauxhall production was reaching full flow.
During the War, car production at Luton was suspended, to allow Vauxhall to work on the new Churchill tank that was assembled there. More than 5600 Churchill tanks were built and Luton also produced around 250,000 lorries for the war effort.
1940 British Army Vauxhall in France
Vauxhall was one of the first English car makers to switch from wartime to civilian production, when the first post-war civilian trucks were made a few days before VJ Day, in August 1945.
Vauxhall car production resumed in September and the initial models were essentially unchanged from the three-model H-, I-, and J-type unibody designs that had been launched before the War. However, they were renamed Vauxhall Ten, Twelve and Fourteen respectively.
Rationalisation occurred in 1946, when the Twelve ceased to be a distinct model and shared the body of the Ten, but with the larger-capacity engine.
GM’s post-War management dictated that Vauxhall should use a single body design, to maximise productivity and reduce supply costs. The British government had also revoked the RAC taxable horsepower system and replaced it with a flat charge per vehicle, regardless of engine size.
L Series Vauxhall Wyvern – Griffin Man
Therefore, the new 1948 L-Type Vauxhalls were a pair of models, both using the body structure, floorpan and many running gear parts of the H-type/Ten model. The new models were the Wyvern, powered by the four-cylinder engine previously used in the Twelve and the Velox, powered by a bored-out, 2.3-litre, six-cylinder engine development from the Fourteen.
Vauxhall Velox Caleche – GTHO
The L-Types reused the hydraulic brakes and Dubonnet suspension of the pre-war models, as well as the three-speed transmission, but with a switch to column gear change. Those predecessors had been advanced for their time so the Wyvern and Velox were still competitive.
The L-Types were replaced by truly-new E-Types, in 1951, but still with the one-body policy. However, the four-cylinder EIX Wyvern and the six-cylinder EIP Velox models’ full-width, ‘pontoon’ styling meant they offered significantly more cabin and luggage space than their predecessors.
1956 Vauxhall Cresta E – Raptonix
The complicated Dubonnet suspension system was replaced by more conventional coil springs and twin wishbones with telescopic dampers, while the rear axle retained leaf springs, but with telescopic dampers. The transmission and steering remained little-changed.
Vauxhall developed a new range of short-stroke, overhead-valve engines for the E-Types but financial and production constraints meant that the first new Wyverns and Veloxes were launched with the same engines as the outgoing L-Type. In the bigger, heavier E-Type models they gave very poor performance, especially in the case of the Wyvern, with its engine all but unchanged since 1937.
The new engines, both slightly larger than the existing design, were fitted to both models during 1952, bringing performance up to a competitive level.
For 1955, the E-Type Vauxhalls received a facelift with new frontal and interior styling and minor mechanical refinements. Also, Vauxhall added the Cresta, which was a more luxuriously-styled and appointed version of the Velox. From this point, Vauxhall began offering annual minor updates, improvements and styling changes to its cars.
In 1954 GM management had sanctioned a switch to a two-body line-up at Vauxhall and the new model replaced the four-cylinder Wyvern in the form of a smaller car using the same engine.
1958 Vauxhall Victor FA – Charles 01
The F-Type Victor was released in 1957, with unitary structure, independent front suspension with coil springs, a leaf-sprung live rear axle and a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, overhead-valve engine with a three-speed manual transmission with column-mounted change.
The body was brand new, but the powertrain was largely the outgoing E-Type Wyvern’s, but with a higher compression ratio and updated carburation.
A year after launch the Victor provided the base for Vauxhall’s first factory-built estate car.
The new P-Type Velox/Cresta models were announced in October 1957. Like the Victor these essentially featured updated versions of the drivetrain and running gear from the E-Type models, in a new, larger and much more flamboyantly-styled body.
1961 Vauxhall Cresta PA – Mick
The Victor achieved new sales records for Vauxhall and in the late 1950s was Britain’s most exported car, being sold in most right-hand drive car markets in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Thailand and Singapore. The model was also sold in left-hand drive form by General Motors in Canada and in the USA.
However, Vauxhalls of this period were notorious for corrosion issues.
1966 Vauxhall Viva HA – Charles 01
In 1963, production of the Vauxhall Viva small family car began and the locally assembled Vauxhall Viva was launched in Australia in May 1964.
In 1966, Vauxhall’s Slant Four went into production, as the first production overhead-camshaft, in-line-four engine to use a rubber timing belt. Also, the FD Victor was launched at the Earls Court Motor Show.
In 1970, the HC Viva was launched, which went on to become Vauxhall’s best-selling car of the decade, featuring among the 10 best-selling cars in Britain each year until after 1976, with production not finishing until 1979, when the Viva nameplate was finally discontinued after 16 years and three generations.
1972 Vauxhall Viva HC – SG2012
By 1973, the Victor was losing sales in a market that was becoming increasingly dominated by the Ford Cortina.
Since the early 1960s, Vauxhalls increasingly shared their general specification, engineering features and styling with Opel counterparts. From the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, Vauxhall was troubled by increasing economic turmoil in the UK, declining build quality and increasing strike action.
In stark contrast, the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) of West Germany, plus the entry of the UK into the European Economic Community in 1973, made maintaining Vauxhall’s and Opel’s parallel model lines, serving similar markets increasingly unjustifiable.
The FE Series Victor, launched in 1972, was the last all-British Vauxhall.
1972 Vauxhall Victor FE-VX – Charles 01