The cars : Sporting Vauxhalls – Part 1

Ken Strachan recounts the rarely told story of the sporting saloons which emerged from Luton. A fine line of VX4/90s and big-engined Victors entertained generations of drivers – now it’s your turn.

When Vauxhall’s FB Victor was launched in 1961, middle England breathed two sighs of relief. The first because it had never really taken to the ‘downsized ’57 Chevy’ looks of the F-type Victor; the second because, in a country which hated embarrassment (see Fawlty Towers), trying to part exchange a three-year old car whose boot floor had completely rusted away was seen as rather tiresome.

The FB Victor was slightly wider than the F and 2.5 inches lower – but, more crucially, it was 170lb lighter, with much improved torsional stiffness. This allowed Vauxhall to increase the appeal of the Victor by developing the first VX4/90; a faster saloon model offering increased performance, distinctive appearance and more luxurious trim.

The first VX4/90 is unveiled

The engine featured twin Zenith carbs, a big valve aluminium head, a compression ratio raised from 8.1 to 9.3 to one and a hotter camshaft – with 71bhp, this gave 44 per cent more power and 7 per cent more torque than the Victor. As a final flourish, the VX engine was painted red.

The clutch was 10 per cent bigger, and ‘four on the floor” with a floor-mounted handbrake replaced the ‘three on the tree” and umbrella handbrake on the Victor. Front and rear springs were stiffened by 33 per cent and 35 per cent respectively, while 10.5 inch front disc brakes (assisted by a remote servo) replaced 8in front drums. The Victor’s 13in, four-stud wheels and hubcaps were replaced by 14in, five-stud Cresta wheels and full wheel covers. All this meant a lot more go – top speed was up from 76 to 90mph, 0-60 fell from 22.6 to 16.4 seconds and fuel economy improved from 28 to 29 mpg in magazine road tests.

Faster, more luxurious

The interior was much improved, with individual front seats where the Victor had a bench; wooden door cappings and dashboard trim; and a six-dial instrument pack with a cable driven revcounter and a trip odometer.

External styling changes included a slimmer radiator grille with vertical bars; a spear of contrasting paint along each body side; vertical tail lights and full wheel covers. Most of these parts came from a Canadian market Victor, called the Envoy.

The VX4/90 (four cylinders, 90mph) was a sales success; about 31,000 (or 9.5 per cent of FB volume) being produced, including exports to 80 countries. The engine was enlarged from 1508 to 1594cc in 1963. The VX4/90 was well received by press and public, and was successfully raced by Bill Blydenstein, among other drivers.

On to the FC- and FD-generation VXs

The FC VX4/90 followed in 1964. Smaller disc brakes allowed 13 inch wheels to be standardised. The FC body had more room inside and in the boot, and a more powerful heater. The author recalls, ‘I remember riding in an FC VX4/90 about 1970, and being impressed by the room, comfort and trim – especially by the transmission tunnel, which seemed to be lower than that in our FWD MG 1300! I concluded that the VX was an underrated car.’

Victor FC sales were down by a third compared to the FB, while VX sales were down 57 per cent. US exports were well down by this time, while the Ford Cortina and Hillman Hunter offered strong competition at home.

The FD Victor was launched in 1967. Apart from the gearboxes, this was an all-new car, with a longer, Coke-bottle style body, rear suspension with coil springs and a Panhard rod, rack and pinion steering and a new overhead camshaft engine in 1600 and 2000cc versions – for the first time, you could get two engine sizes in a Victor.

Impressive figures

The 2000SL (Super Luxury) offered 94bhp and 94mph, 0-60 in 14 seconds and about 24mpg. The VX4/90, which was launched two years after the Victor, offered only 10 per cent more power; but with an overdrive gearbox, Rostyle wheels and low profile tyres; a more distinctive white cross grille and white/chrome tail strip; a painted coachline down each side; and bright metal stone chip protectors ahead of the rear wheel arches; it was well upmarket from any Victor.

It was the same story inside, with better seats and door trims, more instruments, and a two-spoke alloy steering wheel with a leather-wrapped rim. This model was seen as a credible competitor to the Rover and Triumph 2000s, as well as the Cortina GT and GXL.

A particularly distinctive customized VX was resident in Derby in the early 1980s; it had a 2300 engine, Extra Dark Wine (deep purple) paint and a white vinyl roof, alloy wheels, and a Vauxhall Royale grille and lights grafted onto the front end. This car was rescued from Albert Looms’ scrapyard, and enjoyed a ‘second life” before being scrapped for good.

It should have been a Ventora

Vauxhall did not originally intend to build an FD VX4/90 – it had styled an FD coupe, and intended this to be the sports model, carrying the name Ventora. But it wanted to use up radiator grilles and twin carb’ sets from the cancelled Envoy export programme, so the VX came back from the dead.

The Ventora was launched in March 1968, as a four-door saloon using the 3294cc six from the Cresta. There were many ironies here – the 3.3 was a pushrod engine, as opposed to the OHC 2.0-litre. It was a tight fit – the rocker cover extended back under the heater plenum chamber, which was impossible to remove (properly) with the engine in place.

The engine was 200lb heavier than the four; while it was more reliable, more powerful (123bhp, 172lb ft of torque) and smoother, the altered weight distribution led to epic understeer – especially on the early cars, which had crossply tyres as standard. Even on my radial-shod car, the steering wheel was only fitted to make suggestions. Another little surprise came with the thermal breaker, which would extinguish the headlights if they were taking too much current.

FD-series delights

Overdrive was optional on the Ventora, but standard on the VX, while the six used Victor wheels (4.5J), but the VX had 5Js. We must conclude that despite the slogan ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’, the Ventora was primarily a luxury car. The VX was more balanced and therefore more sporting.

Ventora FDs were built in two series; the Series II had reclining seats and instruments spread across the dash; but the Series I had a Cresta gearbox, which was much stronger than the Victor boxes, and had closer ratios. There was a six-cylinder estate, badged and trimmed as a Victor 3300SL, but fitted with the Ventora’s ‘harmonica’ grille; it was a rare model.

All FD Ventoras had brake discs twice as thick as on Victors, and bigger front calipers – the pads were double the Victor size. Cast wishbones were used instead of pressed parts, but ball joint life was still an issue on rough roads. The single Zenith carburettor on the long intake manifold was inferior to the Strombergs fitted to the VX – and, from 1970, on the Victor 2000.

Mixed success for the big Vauxhalls

The British police bought Ventoras, as the power-per-pound ratio was unbeatable; but the public were more wary, fearing disastrous fuel consumption, especially with the popular two-speed autobox used from 1968. Ventoras were well known as boy racer cars in their later years, when fuel consumption got even worse as automatic chokes stuck on and vacuum advance/retard stuck off.

Figures as low as 8mpg were bandied about, but a well-driven Series II with overdrive would return 26mpg. The OHC engines had other problems, many to do with oil. They often oiled up number four plug, which was awkward to reach up by the bulkhead.

As the distributor was above the oil pump on an auxiliary drive, oil would creep up the driveshaft and spray around the inside of the dizzy cap, causing misfiring – often during brave overtaking moves. Vauxhall described the timing belt as ‘indestructible’, but it wasn’t.

The brave Transcontinentals

Back to the model history: Vauxhall had a change of heart with the FE Series, launching the VX4/90 and Ventora along with the Victors as the Transcontinentals. The Victors had small, bland rectangular headlights and large indicators filling the recess in the body – a pressed steel grille and 13in, four-stud wheels.

The VX and Ventora had twin square lights, separate side/indicator units under the bumper, and 14in, five-stud wheels – Rostyles on the VXs, pie plate hubcaps with VAUXHALL MOTORS LIMITED lettering on the Ventoras.

Both upscale models had black plastic egg crate grilles, with a white cross on the VXs and a griffin holding a flag – the Vauxhall emblem – on the Ventoras, which often had vinyl roofs. The Victors were handsome cars, but the VX and Ventora were much classier.

The VX had 110bhp – 10 more than the Victor, but only 13 less than the Ventora, which now had PAS as standard. That and a 200lb weight increase (lots more glass and a taller roof) blunted Ventora performance and feel. 693 Victor FE 3300 estates were built before a Ventora estate replaced it in late 1973.

Slant-four issues continue

From its initial launch in 1967, the Vauxhall slant four engine suffered from shielding of the exhaust valves, due to the shape of the combustion chamber. This was finally remedied in 1975, when the Victors were replaced by the VX series.

Power outputs went up from 77 to 88bhp for the 1800, and from 100 to 108bhp for the 2300. The 1800 top speed went up from 89 to 100mph – contemporary road tests described the Victor 2300 as slow, and the 1800 as very slow – but the VX was a revelation, with the 1800 described as fast, and the 2300 as very fast!

The increased efficiency of combustion improved fuel economy by some 10 per cent, and electronic ignition became standard. Although this got over the problem of points closing up, it was not totally reliable; for some reason, VX1800/2300 front wings also rusted faster than those on Victors.

VX Series changes

Larger rectangular headlights and an egg crate grille freshened up the front end but, by now, the Cavalier was in Vauxhall showrooms, offering internal competition. The VX4/90 was also refreshed, but was export only from 1976 to 1978.

It had a 116bhp engine and fog lamps under the bumper, but was a rare car in the UK. It also featured a five-speed Getrag gearbox with direct top gear – this could also be fitted to lesser VXs if you asked the salesman nicely.

The decline of the Ventora into a pure luxury car was confirmed by its replacement by the VX2300GLS, which had the same 108bhp engine as the VX2300; and was only available as a saloon. With twin square lights, the Ventora grille, chrome rim embellishers and a vinyl roof, it was a very smart car – one of the major engineering companies in Derby ran one as a chauffeur-driven hospitality car for directors and business visitors.

And to the end

The VX Series was succeeded by the Carlton, which was an excellent car; but by no means sporting. It offered a 1979cc carb-fed four, 2.2-litre injection and a 2.5-litre six in the Viceroy version, both offering 115bhp; but neither really replaced the VX4/90 and Ventora.

The Cavalier SRi was FWD, smaller and flimsier; the Senators, especially the later 24-valves with 204bhp, were much loved by the police, but bigger and more luxurious than their British-designed predecessors. The 1999 Vectra SRi and (overpowered, but cheap) V6 came closest to the 4/90 and Ventora heritage; but the Senators and Omegas were more like latter-day Veloxes and Crestas.

Although the slant four engine was designed to sire a four-cylinder diesel and both petrol and diesel V8s, none of these developments took place, as design and development steadily moved to Germany. Plans for road-going Ventoras powered by 4.2- and 5.0-litre Holden V8s were dropped after the 1973 fuel crisis; but Gerry Marshall raced a 5.0-litre V8 Ventora called Big Bertha (below).

She didn’t handle well; when Gerry wrote it off, Dealer Team Vauxhall transferred its power train into the even more spectacular droop snoot Firenza-based Baby Bertha. Firenzas – now that’s a story for another day…



  • Thanks are due to Vauxpedia for much data. Other sources include Ken Strachan’s library of books and brochures, my memories and assorted anecdotes.
Ken Strachan
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    • Never seen this before quite a handsome design would have given a sporting appeal to the Vauxhall rangel, might have taken some sales from the Capri

  1. Would have been interesting for the petrol and diesel V8s to be used by both Vauxhall and Opel (instead of the Chevy or Holden V8s), if the Vauxhall Slant-4 is any indication then the V8s are likely to grow as large as 4.6-litres to even 5.0/5.2-litres (via 2.5/2.6-litre Slant-4s) as well as low as 3.2/3.5-litres, potentially equipped with Quad-Cams, 32-valves and Fuel-Injection (putting out 300+ hp 4.6-litre V8 form).

    Vauxhall also developed a Fuel-Injected 150 hp version of the 2.3 Slant-4 to be introduced in the mid-70s for use in the Firenza and VX4/90, though would have loved to have seen such an engine powering the Chevette to challenge the Lotus Sunbeam on an equal footing without giving away 15 hp to the latter.

    While the Vauxhall Slant-4 was used by Lotus as a template for their own Slant-4 engine, was the Vauxhall unit capable of being reliably turbocharged like the Lotus unit had the engine been allowed to be properly developed instead of discontinued?

    • The slant four 2300 was briefly turbocharged by Panther, for the rare ‘Turbo Lima’. Panther also fitted a couple of Chevettes with 2300 Turbo’s as part of their Chevette upgrade package. All the turbos used a standard low compression, single carb 2300 engine.

      • Apparently the Panther Lima Turbo put out 150 hp compared to the naturally-aspirated 108 hp unit in the regular Lima with figures of around 178-200+ hp being quoted for the DTV / Dealer Team Vauxhall turbo kit, though it mentioned that Lima Turbo was not the best turbo installation ever and tended to melt its pistons (especially if converted to high compression).

        Still it is nice to know that with a bit more factory development, the Vauxhall Slant-4 was capable of matching Lotus’s own Slant-4 before switching over to the Red Top engine.

  2. At last, this mostly forgotten range of cars have been recognised. I always considered a VX 4/90 a better car than a Cortina 2000 E, you had 300 cc more, a nicer interior and better performance. Also the FD based VX 4/90 still looks fantastic and classy after all these years and was an interesting alternative to a Rover 2000 as performance was similar and the overdrive allowed for relaxed long distance driving.
    Only drawback, although this was beaten with later FE models, was rust, but Vauxhall weren’t alone with this problem.

  3. I always felt Vauxhall were treated like the black sheep of the General’s family, forced to live in Opel’s shadow, poorly managed and restricted in what it could produce.

    Only briefly between 1967 and 1970 did it have anything close to a competent and competitive range – however even then the Germans got the Commodore Coupe whilst we were not allowed the Ventora Coupe, they had the Diplomat V8 and we had the truck engined Cresta.

    Whilst the Viva HC was a good enough car the range of models was poor and the larger engined models were largely ignored. It was also forced to do cover the ground of both the Kadett and Ascona and whilst Opel got the sporting Manta and Opel GT we had to make do with the Firenza- with its steel hub caps and strip speedo. It took until the end of 1973 and the launch of the Magnum for things to improve – yet Vauxhall still managed to miss the boat again – by developing the stunning Firenza HP with looks and performance that were years ahead of the competition then only produce 200.

    Things were similar with the Victor FE. Whilst Opel had its range of Records, Commodores and Diplomats we had to make do with the Victor with its poverty spec and 3 speed gearbox. Like the Viva the FE range only became the car it should of been at launch when the VX replaced the Victor. Again however- having developed the VX/E with its fuel injection, 5 speed gearbox and BMW 323i levels of performance the car failed to materialise. Supply of fuel injection equipment was blamed yet Opel appeared to have no problem getting injection units for the GS/E Commodores and even selling them here in the UK.

    Even after the Opel and Vauxhall ranges began to amalgamate the issues continued. Whilst the Germans produced a full range of Records both petrol and diesel whist we had the Carlton in take it or leave it spec. Things were were exactly the same with the Viceroy/Commadore and Royale/Senator.

    • Just detail points, the FE was launched with a 4 speed box as standard.
      That full range of Rekords may not be something to be jealous of – the 1.6 petrol engines, 2.0N (90bhp) and 2.3 diesel (65bhp) were very slow, and would we really want 2-door saloons and estates? Or a Carlton van and pickup?
      By the time the Viceroy came along, the Commodore had been downgraded to keep out of the Senator’s patch. The 115bhp six was pretty pointless – I test drove one, and decided that the 2.0 four was a better idea.s

  4. Looking at the fascinating Vauxpedia website, I still find it amazing how Vauxhall and Opel could maintain their independence for so long. And then went into that (in retrospect curious) period in which Vauxhall would take Opels, and add a new droop snoot nose (and maybe change the dashboard!).

    Imagine the current Astra K having separate Vauxhall and Opel versions, it just seems odd now.

    It’s a shame that the Vauxhall design office wasn’t merged with Opel’s in the way Ford’s was. 5000 still work in Dunton. Instead they concentrated on vans and trucks, and with the demise of Bedford trucks, I assume was then shut.

    • Vauxhall was downgraded from the mid seventies onwards. All designs from the Chevette onwards were merely Vauxhall badged Opels, Vauxhall’s 1256 and slant four engines were steadily replaced by Opel units, and production was moved to ocntinental Europe. By 1984, when the last purely British made car, the Chevette, was phased out, pnly the Astra and Cavalier were made in Britain, and other models came from Germany and Spain.
      As regards Bedford, their British designed CF van remained a big seller right until it was phased out in 1986, but from then on, commercial vehicles were renamed Vauxhall and were based on Opel and Isuzu designs. The lorry business, which ended in 1986, deserved to go, though, the elderly lorries might have been fine for moving furniture and soldiers around, but for long distance use were underpowered, lacking in refinement and very old fashioned.

  5. I well recall showrooms full of mid-seventies Vauxhalls. All still far too American looking, for the then British tastes, to sell in numbers and if BMC hadn’t been around, I think theses would have been the butt of the jokers and negative press brigade. Rust? Oh, yes. Reliability..that I don’t have memory of good or bad. I was only a school kid.
    The design was poorly market-researched.

    • Vauxhall had sunk to fourth in the sales charts by 1974 and was even being challenged by Datsun for fourth place. The Viva was always a strong seller, and made more popular by the energy crisis, but the larger cars had a confused image and some buyers, as you say, found the designs too American. Problem was for all the Victor/ VX was as good as a Cortina and in 2.3 litre form was a good car to drive, it fell between the Cortina and Granada sectors. With the smallest engine being a 1.8, it was too big to take on the 1.6 litre Cortinas, and even with the 2.3 slant four, was too small engine and body wise to match a Granada. Also for all these were great cars to drive with Victor engines, buyers seemed to think the Viva based Magnum was just a Viva with slightly different styling.
      Reliability, generally seventies Vauxhalls tended to have durable engines and the transmissions seemed sturdy, but build quality was slack and trim tacky and cheap on many cars. I think the rust protection was improved in the seventies on the FE and HC models, but again most cars did develop rust quite quickly back then.

      • Curiously the Victor/VX, Landcrab/Pricess and Chrysler 180 all seemed to compete in the “seen by the public to be slightly too big to be a Cortina” market, it’s weird how little direct competition the Cortina had in the 1970s until the Cavalier came along.

        • Not quite, there was the Morris Marina and the Hillman Hunter in the early to mid seventies, which sold well, but couldn’t quite match the Mark 3 Cortina for its huge range and lacked a 2 litre option. Also for people who wanted a huge boot and a five speed gearbox, there was always the Austin Maxi, but this was heavy to drive and the styling put people off.
          I suppose the Cavalier started Vauxhall’s fightback against Ford in the family sector, as this had the same range of engines and was similar sized. Then there was the British assembled Chrysler Alpine which appeared around the same time, quite advanced with fwd, a hatchback rather than saloon, and high equipment levels, but its appeal was limited by having no engine bigger than 1442cc.

          • Surely by the time the Marina came along the Cortina had grown leaving the BL car behind in terms of desirability. The Marina’s true rival was the probably the Avenger – both outflanked by Ford’s incredibly good market research.

          • The Marina was just a bit small to compete well with the Cortina, while the Hunter was too old, it looked like a car from the previous generation.

            ADO73 was cancelled, while Chrysler UK never properly replaced the Hunter – the Alpine wasn’t what the fleet markets in the UK wanted at then time.

        • Re-enforce the feeling that Opel had a better nose than Vauxhall with the Ascona. HQ in Detroit looked at the books first… Vauxhalls were less successful than the Opel range in Europe hence the German took over development of any new euro-GM, leaving the UK very little to play with. The same happened to Ford at the same time, and to some extend Chrysler Europe too… Spiraling cost of new car’ development didn’t make sense in squandering £££££ whilst on the continent, cousins were already spending DM and FF to create new cars… UK was too small a market to get different cars than in Europe other than trim and engine variations… That’s if the factories were not on strike!

          • IIRC a lot of UK built Fords (& probably Vauxhalls too) were exported to Commonwealth countries, & by the 1970s would have been losing market share to Japanese imports.

      • My 1972 Viva needed both front wings replaced under my ownership in the mid 1970’s (due to rust/paint bubbling). I considered buying a Magnum 1800/2300 but my experience of rust on the Viva put me off. Shame, as the Magnum’s were well equipped cars.

        As you say, many cars built in that era went rusty quite quickly despite how well you looked after them.

  6. Outside of Saab, could the Vauxhall Slant-4 engine have been adapted for FWD applications such as the mk1 Vauxhall Astra and mk2 Vauxhall Cavalier (albeit with displacement reduced to 2-litres)?

    Otherwise the use of both the Slant-4 and the V8 engines from the late-70s to mid/late-80s would have been limited to the mk1 Carlton, mk1 Senator and mk1 Royale / Monza as well as possibly a Vauxhall version of the Manta B2 / Manta Omega and Vauxhall FE Prestige concept (had the latter reached production).

    Though then again unlike the Slant-4, the Vauxhall V8 might have lived further beyond late-80s / early-90s up to early/mid-00s powering the Omega, Senator and early equivalent to the Vauxhall Monaro, all of which used the RWD GM V platform.

    One can only imagine the reception the press would give to a Lotus Carlton or Lotus Monza / Monaro Coupe powered by a Twin-Turbocharged version of the Vauxhall V8 engine, assuming it takes inspiration from the distantly related Twin-Turbo V8 used in the Esprit when GM still owned Lotus.

    • IT’s a little known fact that the GM Family II engine used in the Opel Kadett / Astra & J car FWD Ascona / Cavalier was actually initially designed by Vauxhall engineering in Luton in the early 60s as a replacement for the pushrod 1057 / 1159 / 1256 Viva engine. Typically for the time, the design was taken from Vauxhall by GM management and given to Opel to develop into the Family II engine.

  7. The Victor was also offered in india as the Contessa by hindustan motors (the same folks who used to make the ambassador). Didnt live as long, and they offered isuzu 1.8L petrol & 2.0l Turbodiesel engines which offered much better performance than the standard 1.5L BMC B Series engine!

  8. Does the ‘too American’ argument really stand up against the Mk.III Cortina, a very American looking beast in it’s own right? I’d agree the FE’s deep radiator grille was perhaps too honest for 1972. Funny how the fastback estate and the deep, square radiator grille were both later adopted by Audi though.

  9. Since writing the above, two memories have come back to me regarding the unfortunate ways in which perfectly innocent sporting saloons can finish their lives.
    In 1982, I was on a business visit to Port Talbot steelworks in South Wales. It was well known in the steelworks that you could get anything in, but security was much tighter going out. So when I looked into a shed and saw a conical pile of scrap metal with a purple FD VX4/90 sitting on top of it, upside down, I knew there was no point in cooking up a plan to “liberate” its Rostyle wheels; even though it would clearly never need them again.
    Two years later, I was driving through Stagsden in Bedfordshire, and saw a chocolate brown FD VX upside down in a ditch. It had been in good condition before leaving the road; but now had its luggage compartment re-aligned to be parallel with the rear window. Bit of a recovery challenge there.

  10. The Marina was designed as a competitor to the Ford Cortina Mark 2,but by the time it made it into the showrooms, Ford had moved the goalposts with the larger Mark 3.

    Vauxhall in that era were producing interesting cars, but not vehicles that sold in vast quantities compared with the blue oval.

    The first car that my dad owned in the early 70s was an FB VX4/90, red with a cream stripe,but the engine always proved a bit highly strung and unreliable as a result.

  11. The Marina was designed as a competitor to the Ford Cortina Mark 2,but by the time it made it into the showrooms, Ford had moved the goalposts with the larger Mark 3.

    Vauxhall in that era were producing interesting cars, but not vehicles that sold in vast quantities compared with the blue oval.

    The first car that my dad owned in the early 70s was an FB VX4/90, red with a cream stripe,but the engine always proved a bit highly strung and unreliable as a result.

    He followed that with an FD 2000SL, but it always seemed on the sluggish side,even after an engine rebuild, almost as if badly geared.

  12. Great article, that confirms most of the things I know about Vauxhalls of the 1960’s & 70s. My Dad’s first new car was an FC VX4/90 in Grecian White with Meteor blue flash.

    It was an opulent car in its day with Ambla upholstery, Rev Counter, Ammeter & Oil pressure gauges.

    When he sold it at 6 years old it had only done 24,000 miles and rust was not a problem ironically… Although he was a seafarer and it stood in the garage for a few months each year (I used to run the engine for a few minutes each week for him.)

    I vividly remember the launch of the FD Ventora too, (lazy Fireball!) & re launch of the FD VX 4/90. I did see a couple of the FE rebadged VX490 in 1977, though admittedly they were rare.

  13. A good range of performance saloons from 1961 to 1978 and the FD and FE models always provided an interesting alternative to a 2 litre Cortina and offering this range of cars the sort of performance they deserved( the 1600 Victor Super was underpowered and had an ancient three speed transmission well into its life).

    • Yes Glenn, the Victor FD 2000, VX 4/90 & Ventora were a better bet, though more costly. I remember how excited I was when I saw my first Ventora in a local showroom. I imagined how fast it might be having the 3.3 litre Cresta engine in the Victor body… but I was only 13 then!

      These cars had good publicity, being used in episodes of Randall & Hopkirk + Dept S. The Victor was RXD 996F and Ventora RXD 997F

      • Another Vauxhall Victor that was a regular on British television was an estate car that ran into the back of an ADO 16 in the Keep Your Distance PIF from 1971, the advert running well into the eighties when most FDs had died from rust.
        One very late outing for an FD was a gold one used in a 1992 drama starring Robbie Coltrane as a social worker and Lenny Henry as a recovering addict. Can’t remember its name, though.

        • A few Victors were crashed during chases in 1970s shows like the Professionals, at a time I guess they were cheap to buy 2nd hand & considered disposable.

          • By 1979 the value of these cars was on the floor. Most had rust problems, parts were becoming harder to obtain as the next generation used different engines, and banger buyers preferred cars like Mark 3 Cortinas as there were more of them. No doubt a car that was going to get blown up and probably cost the show £ 100 was quite a bargain.
            I do recall seeing an interesting Victor estate in a rough part of North Shields in 1982 that was three different colours( the roof and the tailgate were green, two front doors were blue and the bonnet and front wings were white). As this part of town was pretty poor and prone to vandalism, the owner must have thought hanging on to a car like this was better than chancing his money on something newer.

          • Yep… I recently saw a re run of “Professionals” where a gold Ventora minus hubcaps but with silver steel wheels got blown up and caught fire. it looked quite tidy until the explosion!

  14. In theory had Vauxhall been inclined, it could have also developed a 90-degree V6 of around 2400-3600cc from the Vauxhall V8 engine as a British alternative to Opel’s CiH Inline-6.

  15. 90 degree V6 engines are really quite complicated and expensive because they really need a balancer shaft if they are not to be very rough , and thus one cannot merely cut 2 cylinders off a V8 and hope for the best. 60 degree engines tend to be more successful for a volume producer for this reason

    • Understand, was thinking in terms of how Vauxhall could have maximized its related Slant-4 and V8 petrol/diesel engine family by following the examples of the 90-degree Buick, Maserati and PRV V6 engines.

      Yet it is more likely that Opel’s CiH Inline-6 would have sat in between the Vauxhall Slant-4 and V8 engines in UK built Vauxhalls, while Vauxhall and Opel were in the process of being integrated.

  16. I recall a neighbour having an FB VX4/90 in the early/mid 60s bought new, very appealing to me as a young schoolboy! Later my father looked at the FC Victor 101 but given the reputation for rot with 1950’s Vauxhall’s ending up as a scrap within 3 years he stuck with his BMC brands and bought a new Oxford instead. I also seem to recall reading the last Victors (FE) were closely related to Opel Reckords – weren’t the doors the same?

  17. IIRC the FE Victors & Opel Reckords shared a floorpan & possibly some other panels, I’m not sure if any mechanical parts were common.

    • Interesting, it never occurred to me that the FE Victor used the long-running 1966-2007 GM V platform and is thus a distant relation to the Vauxhall Omega and Holden-developed Vauxhall Monaro.

      It makes one wonder whether the platform used in the mk1 Vauxhall Cavalier and Opel Ascona (A/B plus Manta), was in turn derived from a shortened / lightened version of the GM V platform.

  18. Lovely article.
    My only comment would be that there were V8 Ventoras built, either by the factory or by DTV, as my late father sold several through his dealership in 1974 and I have all the registration and chassis numbers, plus the owners name and addresses – would be great to track them down.

  19. The era before the Chevette and Cavalier arrived and started Vauxhall’s march to become Britain’s second biggest most popular brand is quite interesting. I know sales of the bigger cars weren’t brilliant in the early seventies, but the VX 4/90 provided an interesting alternative to a Cortina 2000 GT and the 1800 and 2300 Magnums were decent sporting versions of the Viva that were less in your face and less frantic than sporting Escorts.

  20. The FD was a more coherent car than the FE, like the early Mark 3 Cortinas, it had 1.6 and 2 litre engine and two performance models and having similar, coke bottle styling. The FE, while a nicer drive and more powerful than the FD, was too large to compete with the Cortina and too small to take on six cylinder Granada. Also the last generation Ventora was a flop, for some reason performance was down on the FD version( it struggled to reach 100 mph), was too thirsty and people weren’t interested in a car that was really a Victor with a big engine and more equipment.
    I think a lot of Vauxhall’s problems in the 1972-75 period stemmed from their confused range of cars, most buyers thought the Magnum was just a fancy Viva, while in reality it was a separate range with Victor engines, and the FE straddled market sectors. Sad in a way as had more people tried the Magnum and FE Victor, they’d find them a nicer drive than a Ford and probably the same for reliability.

    • I chose a Viva HC as my second car rather than a MK1 Escort and glad that I did (despite replacing both front wings over 3 years). Obviously in those days, the might of the Ford Marketing dept helped sales of their cars over others… and the huge Fleet market.

      Like BL, it was an uphill struggle for Vauxhall till the MK1 & 2 Cavaliers arrived.

  21. The problem with the Victor FD was it had little in the way of luxury fittings, which Ford were fitting to the E and GXL versions of the Cortina. The SL( slightly luxurious) came with a four speed gearshift on the floor, some fake wood and better quality vinyl on the seats, but you’d have to fork out considerably more to have leather seats, a radio, fogllights and a demister, or upgrade to a VX 4/90, but even this wasn’t as well equipped as a top of the range Ford.

  22. The 2.3 litre slant 4 was the best engine of the V era Vauxhalls. Many people assumed the Magnum was merely a Viva with four headlights, but with the 2.3 litre engine fitted, it was the ultimate Q car and capable of challenging and beating a 2 litre Capri or a V6 Cortina. Also the 2.3 litre engine in the Victor and VX 4/90 made the car a relaxed long distance cruiser and endowed the car with 105 mph performance, very good for the mid seventies. It’s a shame the slant 4 was discontinued, but rationalisation at Vauxhall meant it was cheaper to use 2 litre Opel engines in their larger cars.

    • Glenn, before the launch of the Magnum 1800/2300, I saw a Vauxhall advert for a VIVA HC 2300 which claimed to deliver 122bhp. Its appearance was like a Viva SL but with Rostyle wheels. I never saw one for real.

      As mentioned here, the 2300 engine saw service in lots of 1970s Vauxhall products and in varying power output.

      • I’ve not heard of this, although it could have been a very limited run car in 1972-73 when the 2.3 litre slant 4 was introduced on the FE models and could have been a test bed for the Magnum 2300.

        • That sounds possible Glenn, I only tended to associate the 2.3 engine with FE models and Magnum’s. As I owned my Viva 1300 when I was 21, I aspired to follow it with a Magnum 1800 or 2300… never did

          • The Magnum 2300 was the ultimate Q car of its time, but seems to be mostly forgotten now as most people if they saw a Magnum would think it was a Viva, same as in the seventies.

  23. Is it known whether the Vauxhall Slant-4 was capable of being used in FWD applications?

    Saab managed to fit its own Saab H Slant-4 engine into the GM-based 1994 Saab 900 NG, whose platform originally appeared in the 1988 Mk3 Vauxhall Cavalier. Which makes one wonder if the Vauxhall Slant-4 could have been similarly installed into the Mk1 Vauxhall Astra and Mk2 Vauxhall Cavalier, prior to being replaced by the GM Family II instead of the Opel CiH engine?

    • Not sure, Nate, as the slant 4 died with the Chevette HS and stopped being fitted in mass produced Vauxhalls in 1978. I think the plan at the time for Vauxhall was to share engines with Opel to reduce development costs and to make production of General Motors cars across Europe easier by sharing common parts( the slant 4 was confined to British buiilt cars and was also considered old fashioned and not very efficient by the late seventies).
      My personal view on the 2.3 litre slant four was it was a good engine for its time, particularly when used in top of the range Magnums and FE models, as it was very tuneable, gave good performance compared with Ford’s 2.3 V6 and 2 litre four, had similar economy to Ford’s engines and was reliable enough for the time. The only drawback was being a four, it couldn’t match the refinement of Ford and British Leyland’s six cylinder engines of similar size, and the Cortina V6, unlike the 2 litre four which was the engine’s main rival until 1976, offered similar performance to a VX 2300.

      • Vauxhall’s problems during the 1970s certainly did not help matters and basically accelerated its and Opel’s inevitable integration to come GM Europe earlier then scheduled.

        Yet had Vauxhall not experienced its troubles and managed to delay the integration with Opel a bit longer, could the Slant-4 have held out a bit longer especially if Vauxhall were able to bring the fuel-injected 150 hp 2.3 Twin-Cam 16v along with other fuel-injected Slant-4s (as well as some version of the 62 hp 1875cc diesel) to production?

    • I imagine that what is meant is that the combustion chamber shape is such that there is a divide or promontory between the valves which constitutes an obstruction to the gas flow on the exhaust stroke. This type of chamber , often referred to as cardioid or heart shaped has some combustion advantages in that it promotes swirl of the incoming mixture, but has the corresponding disadvantage of impeding the exhaust flow. The early BMC A series heads were notable for this and most of the modifying engineers such as Vizard ground off the promontory thus smoothing out the chamber shape

  24. @ Glenn… yes, many would regard the Magnum as a 4 headlamp Viva, though it offered better trim & instruments, as you know, as well as more powerful engines. Similarly the run out Viva 1300 GLS could be described as a smaller engine Magnum!

    That photo of the VX2300 GLS still looks nice – even all these years down the line.

    • Vauxhall certainly knew how to make Q cars in the seventies, but the ultimate has to be the FD Ventora, which most people thought was a standard Victor, but had the 3.3 litre six from the Cresta, which endowed the car with effortless acceleration to over 100 mph and was quite popular with traffic police. Also it looked more stylish than the Cresta and was cheaper, as well as handling better. I often wonder why the FE version was a lot slower, though.

      • Yes Glenn, I never realised to Ventora FD existed till I saw my first one at our local Vauxhall dealer in 1968 as a 13 year old lad. Up to then the Victor’s biggest engine was the 2000 so the Ventora offered Cresta power in a smaller body.

        I guess the FE was larger & heavier so the Ventora would be down on power by then..

        • The FD Ventora was quite a stylish car and better looking than the big Fords of the time and better to drive than the Cresta. I’d suppose someone who wanted a less obvious executive car than a Ford or Triumph would opt for a Ventora, as it was well equipped for the time and the 3.3. straight six gave it plenty of silent power. Ony drawback would be the heavy fuel consumption compared to a Triumph 2000, but 18 mpg wasn’t such a problem before the energy crisis.

  25. Does anyone know what the exact displacement of the 2.5-2.6 Vauxhall Slant-4 engines developed by Bill Blydenstein Racing?

      • Thanks

        Even though the 2602cc was obviously not intended for production, it does provide a rough idea for what the Slant-Four based Vauxhall V8 prototype petrol/diesel units might have been capable of at most had it reached production.

        The largest Slant-Four prototype derivative Vauxhall evaluated for possible production use was said to be 2390cc.

      • Thanks

        On the Vauxpedia page for the Slant-Four it was mentioned the largest derivative evaluated by Vauxhall for possible production use displaced 2390cc, both it as well as the non-production 2602cc engines by Bill Blydenstein do give a rough insight as to what the Slant Four-based Vauxhall V8 petrol/diesel could have been capable of at most had it reached production.

  26. Had Vauxhall remained independent a bit longer and merged with Opel on its own terms, it would have been interesting seeing it use an earlier mid-1970s version of the 1980 GM 60-degree V6.

    It was somehow similar to the emissions strangled US version of the Ford Cologne V6 in terms of output, though would be interesting comparing a unstrangled version version of the GM 60-degree V6 with the European market Cologne V6.

    • The 60-degree V6 also could have been used in the FWD Vauxhall Cavalier (albeit in more Euro-focused displacements of 2.5-3.0-litre), since other J platform cars in the US from Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and infamously even Cadillac made use of the V6.

      Though it is probably likely Vauxhall / Opel would have looked at 4WD for the mk2 Cavalier V6 especially in 3-door hatchback form like the Brazilian market Chevrolet Monza (as an indirect successor to the RWD Opel Manta), allowing it to better compete with the RWD Ford Sierra XR4i and XR4x4.

  27. The FD VX 4/90 had a following among young men locally in the mid seventies who wanted something other than a Capri or two litre Cortina, and as the car had been phased out in 1972 and Vauxhall’s history of rusting cars was still a recent memory, used prices were low. Certainly, a top speed of just over 100 mph, overdrive to cut the engine noise and fuel consumption, and the very attractive coke bottle styling, made an FD VX 4/90 a decent choice at the time. Only problem was the tinworm started to infest these cars as they got past 5 years old and they died out rapidly in the late seventies, when the non Ford loving fraternity discovered Magnums, which offered even more performance and better economy and were better rustproofed. Also having a Vauxhall main dealer in town was helpful.

  28. As I recall, the FD cars were launched with a Victor 1600/2000, then the Ventora and finally the return of the VX4/90 in 1970. Probably Vauxhall thought the Vic 2000 & Ventora would render the 4/90 unnecessary – but not so…

    • The VX 4/90 was intended to compete with the forthcoming Cortina 2000 GT and was better equipped than the Victor 2000, boasting overdrive, sports wheels, more instruments and a clock, with the option of leather seats. Also being able to crack 100 mph was impressive for a family car in 1970. It was no surprises that the VX 4/90 model was introduced right at the start of the FE range in 1972 and provided an interesting alternative to a 2 lite Cortina, offering 300 cc more from its unstressed slant 4.

      • Accurate as ever Glenn! The wheels on the VX4/90 were Rostyles, same as on my 1972 Viva. Extra instruments and overdrive were standard too as you mention. I still have a brochure on the blue FD VX4/90 car… same pic as shown here.

        The run out VX2300GLS was a nice looker despite having less power

        • Thankyou, the standard Victor 2000 was quite a basic car for the money, with few of the luxuries you’d find in a 2 litre Ford of the time, unless you ticked the options sheet for leather seats, a radio and demister, which could a fair amount to the purchase price. The VX 4/90 remedied this by having a much longer list of standard equipment, a hike in power and a better driving experience than the Victor. Also the Cortina 2000 GT was on the horizon when the VX 4/90 was reintroduced and Vauxhall needed a well equipped rival.

  29. I think the FD Victor 1600 even had a front bench seat rather than bucket seats in those days… and column gear change? The Victor 2000 was a better option, I still like seeing RXD996F in episodes of Randall & Hopkirk as well as Ventora RXD 997F in that prog, plus Dept S

    • Yes, My dad had a “poverty spec” FD Victor and it did indeed have a front bench seat and “three on the tree”.He never liked it much I don’t recall that he kept it for long before trading it in for a Renault 16 TL.

      • The 1600 Victor was a very meanly specced car and used an awful three speed column change until 1970, when nearly all its rivals had four on the floor. Yet the Victor, for all it didn’t sell in the same numbers as the Cortina, persuaded Ford to make the Mark 3 Cortina a bigger car and introduce a 2 litre model. Also the VX 4/90 was a worthy contender to the Cortina 2000 GT, and in FE form with the 2300 slant four and even more Americanised styling, was a seriously underrated car. Rust protection tended to be better on FEs, which explained why they were still seen past their 10th birthdays, something that was unusual on an FD.

  30. Even the Ford Anglia had a 4 speed gearbox in 1959 IIRC, so it was real penny pinching from Vauxhall, though the late 1960s smaller Fords were a little under engined, with the Mk1 Escort having up to just 1.3 litres in cooking form.

    I did wonder why Vauxhall sized up their engines for the FE, especially as oil prices shot up just a year or so later.

    There was a whole cottage industry for rust-proofing cars in the 1970s, which must have extended the lifetime of many a Vauxhall.

    • The FE Victor came on the market nearly 2 years before the energy crisis hit and was part of a general upsizing of British cars at the time. Even the Viva had the Magnum derivative with the option of a 2300 engine( a real Q car). However, the energy crisis did see the relatively large and thirsty FEs suffer in the sales charts, as the Cortina had a more than capable 1.6 engine and the Marina in 1.8 form was more economical, so the arrival of the 1.6 litre Cavalier was a blessing for Vauxhall at the time.
      As regards rust, Vauxhalls from the mid and late seventies, particularly the Cavalier and Chevette, were far better rustproofed than early seventies cars and seemed to last longer. I do recall still seeing 1975 Cavaliers and Chevettes in the late eighties in reasonable condition, and recall how almost all of the FD cars had vanished due to rust and terrible resale by their tenth birthday.

      • Yes I was thinking that the Cavalier was on the market at just the right time for Vauxhall.

        It’s often joked that FD Victors were used as villan’s cars in shows like The Professionals as they were cheap to buy & it didn’t matter if they were smashed up in chases.

        • By 1980, most FDs were on their last legs and since they used different engines to the FEs, were becoming hard to find parts for. No wonder they were used in The Professionals, as they were bangers by 1980, but the 2 litre engine found in most FDs was still a powerful engine that made the car convincing in a chase scene. I doubt LWT lost any sleep over the £ 100 they spent on blowing up a Victor 2000.

  31. I owned two FC VX4/90, one in blue, one in white.
    Wing toppings were body colour with a thin chrome strip at bottom. Broke both horn rings on steering wheel due to being cut-up. Remember ride did wallow a bit and back end a bit light, even the blue one with LSD. Used to get ~22 mpg from twin carbs before and then after rebuild – hoped I would get better after rebuild but no chance !
    Loved them but both ended up scrap, One as a write-off, one due to rust and suspension.

    • Being a 1966 model, my Dad’s VX4/90 was Grecian white with Meteor blue sideflash and had the full chrome strips on wing tops. It was his first new car and I really liked it too – even though its performance was tame by todays standards.

      From memory I think he used to get 24-25 mpg

  32. Not mentioned here, as it was a German Opel with a Vauxhall badge, but the Royale Coupe was probably the ultimate sporting Vauxhall of the seventies and intended to take on the V6 Capri and the BMW 6 series. Although the Royale was more of a luxury grand tourer than a bruiser, it was still capable of over 120 mph and the Opel six delivered masses of refined power.

  33. Sadly the Vaux Royale coupe didn’t sell for long before the Royale saloon was renamed Senator (as per Opel naming) but the Opel Monza coupe remained on sale in UK.

    • The Royale was phased out in 1982 when a new version of the Monza was introduced. You could, of course, opt for a 2 litre Cavalier Sportshatch( again a Vauxhall badged Opel) that was cheaper to buy and run and could be pushed to 110 mph.

  34. Spotted today at Gretna Gateway, an absolutely beautiful S reg VX 2300 GLS in metallic copper with a white vinyl roof. I haven’t seen one of these in the flesh since the last century, so had to have a closer look. Pleased to say the car was totally original inside with a seventies push button radio and the original ribbed velour seats. I’d love to know who owns this old Vauxhall as it’s immaculate and made rarer by its relatively low sales compared with the Cortina.

  35. @ Glenn… Sounds good from your description, I remember them well and it was the pinnacle of the VX range in 1976/77. Pity you hadn’t taken a photo?

    • @ Hilton D, there is an S reg VX 2300 GLS on Google images that could be the same car. ( Can’t get the link to paste over).

      • Thanks Glenn, I will have a hunt. I have a 1976 catalogue which has the same photo (as top of page) of a VX2300 GLS in wine red plus cream roof. Great seeing those cars of that era that survive.

  36. I have a 1977 Vauxhall brochure with a VX490, which looks very nice variation on the FE theme.

    It dogleg 1st gearbox so the odd gears are at the bottom of the gate. Some other cars around this time were like this, when 5 gears were still a novelty for most cars.

  37. @Richardpd – I had a 1981 Datsun Cherry coupe with a similar arrangement on its 5 speed gear positions. The last run out versions of the VX490 were the only FE Vauxhalls to have that Getrag gearbox as far as I know..

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