The cars : Vauxhall Victor FE (94000) development story

The good-looking Vauxhall Victor FE Series went on sale in 1972 and was met by indifference from the motoring press. But a programme of constant improvements saw it become increasingly competitive towards the end of its life.

Keith Adams tells the story of the ambitiously-named Transcontinental models.

Vauxhall Victor FE: Always the bridesmaid

Vauxhall Victor FE 01

By the turn of the 1970s, Vauxhall’s position in the UK car market as the solid number three behind British Leyland and Ford had been cemented. The firm’s image had taken a battering thanks to the widely-publicised corrosion issues that especially affected the original F-Series Victor, and its recovery was taking time.

However, with the arrival of the Viva HA in 1963, and a model policy that centred on frequent model updates, the picture was beginning to look brighter for the Luton-based concern. By the end of 1967, and literally months into the FD’s production run, first thoughts were given to the next-generation FE. It was originally conceived to sit on the same platform as the FD. Management sign-off for the FE programme was given in January 1968, and design work on what was known as the 94000 began in earnest, with an projected launch date of late 1970.

Given that the FD was praised for its good looks, especially the successful adoption of the US-inspired ‘Coke Bottle’ look (years before Ford took the baton and ran with it for the Cortina Mk3), it came as no shock that when the first designs started to emerge from Vauxhall’s impressive Design Studio in Luton in January 1968 (below), they would have the same dipped shoulder line and even more flamboyant proportions.

Vauxhall Victor FE March 1968
Vauxhall Victor FE styling proposal dating from March 1968. The bold, vertical, grille is the most striking design feature – and it would eventually make its way – in watered-down form – into production
Vauxhall Victor FE April 1968
By April 1968, the essential character of the Vauxhall Victor FE was already beginning to emerge, even if many details would need to be settled, as well as a platform change

Design and engineering changes

Throughout 1968 the FE’s design began to really take shape under the leadership of Leo Pruneau. There were two main design directions – the first a more formal approach, with quite a sober-looking set of clothes that weren’t a million miles away from the later Opel Admiral and Kapitan. It was the second – a continuation of the FD that really gained momentum, though.

The Detroit styling influences would win through and, as 1968 progressed, the essential character of the FE really started to take shape, with the dipped waistline, bold grille and tapered boot cementing the personality of the FE. It was already emerging as a good-looking car, and one which promised to be a strong contender in the upper-middle ground of the UK market, epitomised by the Ford Corsair. Little did Vauxhall executives know at the time that this line would end in 1970…

While the overall shape of the FE was approved by Detroit in the summer of that year, there were seismic changes taking place in the future model plans. In that long summer, the replacement for the Cresta and Viscount PC-series was pulled for budgetary reasons after brief consideration had been given developing a UK version of the Opel Admiral and Kapitan. However, more relevantly for the Victor FE, the decision was taken to drop plans to use the FD’s platform and, instead, use the Opel-designed V72 platform, which was currently taking shape for the Rekord.

Vauxhall-Opel Commonisation Programme

The Opel-Vauxhall commonisation programme

The 1960s were a time of huge change for the US-owned manufacturers in the UK. Chrysler was forging new model plans for the Rootes Group (and we all know how that ended), while Ford of Great Britain was moving closer to Ford of Germany, with the pan-European Escort and Capri emerging in 1968 and 1969 respectively.

For Vauxhall, this process had been going on for just as long (if not longer), but with less overt results. As far as the customer was concerned, Vauxhall and Opel’s model ranges were independent of each other, with different model names, engines and designs. The Viva HA and Opel Kadett A were both designed to use the same platform, even if they did differ in many ways, and had very little in terms of parts commonality.

In the summer of 1968, the Vauxhall-Opel commonisation programme was introduced to the Victor FE’s development, which stipulated that it would use the forthcoming Rekord’s platform, front and rear bulkheads, front door assemblies and windscreen structure among other parts. Although the FD and V72 were similar in size, there were enough differences to push the development programme back by months, and the anticipated launch date into 1971.

Vauxhall Victor FE January 1969
The Vauxhall Victor FE body shape looked all-but completed by January 1969, with significant changes incorporated to include the Opel V72 platform

Maintaining the British style

This delay in the programme was considered essential for Vauxhall, which did not want all of its work on the FE to go waste in favour of a badge-engineered Opel. By January 1969, the bodyshape had been altered to accommodate the V72’s longer wheelbase, wider track and width, and was looking very good indeed. It was at this time that the style for the estate version was also set.

However, the model line was far from set. In March 1969, the proposed line-up would look like this – Victor 1800, Victor 2300, VX4/90, Ventora and Viscount V8. The VX4/90 and Ventora would feature a different body design, which featured a lower roofline (rather like a four-door Coupé version of the Rover P5) while the Viscount V8 would have more stately front- and rear-end styling and a Holden-sourced 4.2-litre V8 engine.

As appealing as these models were, neither of these bodyshapes were signed off for production by the Vauxhall Product Policy Committee, and failed to see the light of day. The VX 4/90 would make it into production, with the standard bodyshape, as would the Ventora, which would use the outgoing Cresta’s 3.3-litre straight-six engine. This decision might have proven to be the correct one given the strength of the opposition, but it would go on to limit the FE’s market appeal, while significantly weakening Vauxhall’s presence in the executive car market.

Vauxhall FE variations - 1969
Extending the platform. By 1969, the plan had been to offer bodily-distinct VX4/90, Ventora and Viscount models

And on to launch

Maintaining the FE’s UK character, the Victor would retain the FD’s excellent slant-four engine. It was designed to use upgraded versions of this engine – so the older car’s 1599cc entry-level model was increased to 1759cc, while the outgoing model’s 1975cc unit would also be upgunned to 2279cc. Although the FE wasn’t significantly larger than the FD, it was heavier, and Vauxhall also wanted to give its new model better performance.

However, big changes were happening to the Ford Cortina. The Mk3 made its debut at the 1970 Earls Court Motor Show and, although it wasn’t that much larger than the outgoing Mk2, it was shifting further upmarket, with a longer wheelbase, and the range had grown to 2.0-litres to incorporate the old Corsair range, which was the Victor’s most direct rival. This shift in Ford marketing would have a significant impact on the market, especially once the Granada Mk1 hit the market in 1972.

In theory, the Victor should have been a direct rival for the 1.6- and 2.0-litre Cortina Mk3 but, with the larger engines installed, it would end up straddling that model and the entry-level Consul Granadas. Moreover, with the loss of a separate executive model in the range, the Ventora would end up struggling against the sterner challenge posed by the Granada Mk1. Vauxhall wasn’t, of course, the only carmaker to be wrong-footed by Ford’s growing Cortina, but it would have a serious affect on the firm’s UK independence.

Vauxhall Victor FE 1972 range

Enter the Victor and Ventora

The Victor was announced to the public on 25 February 1972 to much ballyhoo, as the car that benefited from the most thorough testing and development programme at the firm’s recently-opened Millbrook facility in Bedfordshire. Its German counterpart, the Opel Rekord, beat it to the market by a month, and that would lead to inevitable comparisons.

Much work went into the ride and handling, especially, which adopted the FD’s layout but with many detailed changes. This meant wishbones at the front, a coil-sprung live axle at the rear, with rack and pinion steering keeping it all on the road. It was tuned for ride comfort over handling precision, which led to some unfavourable comparisons with its rivals.

The model range incorporated saloon and estate versions of the Victor in 1800 (DeLuxe and SL) and 2300 (SL) forms, the VX4/90 in 2.3-litre form only and the Ventora (below). The Victor’s 1.8-litre engine boasted 77bhp, while the 2.3-litre made 100bhp – these compared with the Cortina 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre’s 75 and 100bhp. For the VX4/90, the larger four-pot was treated to the twin-carburettor treatment for 110bhp, while the big-six in the Ventora produced 123bhp.

Vauxhall Ventora

However, it soon became clear that the press wasn’t enamoured. The media launch was a big-budget affair in Portugal, but this was not enough to help swing opinions. CAR magazine concluded its first drive in its April 1972 issue by saying, ‘…it’s tolerably good without setting any new standards. That, really, is the trouble. The new Vauxhalls are good when compared with the cars they supersede, but turn grey and uninteresting when seen in the light of their international competitors.’

It went on: ‘Perhaps it was a Belgian motoring journalist who had the final say. He drove one of the new cars for a few miles in Portugal, declared it a non-event and went home again, 48 hours ahead of schedule!’

Transcontinental: badly aimed, badly timed

Vauxhall Victor FE Transcontintal advert

The biggest issue was with the marketing hype, which set unreasonably high expectations and played on the international nature of the FE range by referring to them as the ‘Transcontinentals’. As Chrysler found with the even less popular rival, the 180 and 2 Litre, sold as the ‘American in Paris’, this message didn’t really land because it failed to nail it as a ‘home’ product. This was also the case in Luton, where its latest product had a distinctly American look about it.

However, this was far from a new design direction. Pretty much every Victor, with the notable exception of the with David Jones-styled FB, was designed with a short shelf life in mind and largely influenced by GM’s US output to some degree or another. Maybe it was more about how the FE lacked the FD’s effortless good looks, while the Ford Cortina Mk3 more successfully evolved the Coke Bottle style for UK consumption.

Either way, the rather grandiose Trancontinentals failed to inspire. At its launch, CAR magazine was scathing about its styling: ‘Of course, it has been improved over the FD, but it lacks the flair that has gone into its cross-channel stablemate, the Opel Rekord, despite commonality of some body parts. The so-called Victor shape covers not only Victor, but also VX4/90 and Ventora, all with various options and alternatives to swell the customer choice.

‘The Ventora and VX4/90 get four-lamp configurations, whereas the Victor has a pair of rectangular lamps mounted inboard to give it a curiously surprised look, almost as if it has been rushed from behind by a randy polecat.’

Not exactly quick off the mark

Using the Opel Rekord platform meant that the FE Victor had better interior space than the FD, while slant-four engines were smooth and refined. They weren’t over-endowed with top-end power, but they were easy to drive on their torque curve, while being well suited to the long gearing of the four-speed manual and three-speed auto. And while the Victor and Ventora hardly set the press alight, the sportier VX4/90 picked up decent reviews.

However, the 1800 DeLuxe failed to impress – especially against the stronger offering from Ford. In its first drive, CAR concluded: ‘On the motorway we were able to coax a steady 100mph out of the Victor but it took its time getting there and was saved from a bad attack of breathlessness by the optional overdrive.’

What Car? said of the 1800’s performance in its November 1973 issue, when it lined up against the Ford Cortina, Hillman Hunter, Austin Maxi and Morris Marina: ‘The slowest car in the group is the Vauxhall Victor 1800. Its 77bhp engine has a good deal of sheet metal to push through the air. It takes no less than 16 seconds to reach 60mph and 22 seconds to reach 70mph.’

‘However, the Victor engine is designed to be a low-revving unit which relies on torque to move it through the traffic and, although it is the slowest in acceleration from a standstill, it almost matches the Marina 1800 in its ability in overtaking from medium speeds. If taken to high revs, the Victor engine objects most strongly by becoming very harsh and causing severe booming throughout the body/chassis unit.’

Vauxhall Victor interior

Comfortable, but not comforting

Although the suspension was soft, its dynamics weren’t terribly impressive. At its launch, CAR said: ‘The ride over the often uneven surface of the motorway was just okay as was the noise level and the directional stability. The suspension kept the wheels pointing in pretty much the right direction most of the time and the braking was tolerably effective without setting any new standards.’

A year later and What Car? magazine had found little material improvement, despite the running changes Vauxhall had introduced. ‘The suspension is soft and this gives a good ride on most surfaces, but bad bumps cause it to bottom quite sharply. There is also a good deal of body boom and vibration through the gear lever which spoils the car.’

Outclassed by the opposition

In the end, the motoring press’s verdict on the Victor was pretty damning, with the Cortina easily outclassing it. Compared with its rivals, What Car? placed it near the bottom of the class. ‘The Victor is a big, roomy car with lots of glass, which gives the passengers a fine view. Equipment in the 1800 DeLuxe is somewhat spartan, and colour combinations are sometimes incongruous.’

The problem wasn’t limited to the Victor either. The Ventora struggled, too, as it found itself competing with the bigger Ford Granada. The toughest verdict came from CAR, which compared the six-cylinder Vauxhall with a top-end Cortina, a Granada and the Opel Commodore (a six-cylinder version of the Rekord).

CAR’s test concluded: ‘The choice here must lie between the Commodore and the Granada, for the standard of ride and handling of the Ventora is not really good enough for this class of car. It does not need a lot of development to get it right, but it doesn’t match the other two. It’s not really worth over £250 more than the VX4/90 with the four-cylinder 2.3-litre engine which feels a better balanced car overall.

‘In other words if roadability is your requirement, then it has to be the Commodore. Should your need be maximum comfort, then the Granada is the obvious choice, specially since it has so much equipment thrown in as standard. It is very good value for money on that score, but we prefer the Opel by a narrow margin.’

Imagine how well that verdict would have gone down at the top floor in Luton – and perhaps it accelerated the move towards a more wholesale adoption of Opel’s models for Vauxhall’s future range.

So, it would appear that FE had missed the mark on both counts.

Vauxhall VX2300

On to a facelift… and oblivion

Although the arrival of the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 in 1975 should have made life easier for the FE range, it really didn’t, and sales fell sharply. The new car not only strengthened the firm’s representation in the middle market, but also offered a convincing alternative to the Cortina – which, by the mid-1970s, was running away with the UK car market – in a way the Victor had plainly failed to do.

However, that didn’t stop Vauxhall working on, and improving, the FE range.  Even by the autumn of 1973 and the announcement of the 1974 model year updates, it was becoming more competitive thanks to a raft of small changes and equipment changes to bring it in line with the opposition. But the ‘FE75’ programme, as it was known internally, would end up putting right a lot of the original car’s wrongs, even if the market had stopped caring.

Launched in February 1976, and from then on known as the VX-Series, the FE received a whole raft of changes to improve the way it drove and looked. Power for the 1800 was uprated to 88bhp, and 108bhp for the 2300. It received big equipment upgrades, too, a vastly improved interior and a blink-and-you’ll-miss it facelift that successfully tidied up the front-end styling, especially at the lower end of the range.

Vauxhall VX 490

VX 490 interior
VX 490 interior was a tartan-fest, but also a big upgrade from the original 1973 version

Saving the best ’til last – the VX 490

Although the arrival of the VX-Series looked like a non-event, a great deal of behind the scenes work had been done on extending the range upwards. These included developing a more convincing sporting model to replace the VX4/90, the first of which was the fuel-injected VX/E.

This looked very promising indeed, but ultimately, it didn’t make it into production as the FE programme began to be scaled back as budgets were squeezed. However, some of the changes developed for this car were incorporated in a new twin-carburettor VX 490 (note the altered name), such as its close-ratio five-speed Getrag gearbox. Although its power output was quoted as the same 116bhp as its predecessor, it actually had around 10bhp more thanks to its redesigned cylinder head. It would make its public debut in March 1977, going on sale a few months later in June. A total of 943 were made.

What is even more fascinating is that the incoming President of Vauxhall, Bob Price, green-lighted the development of a top-line version of the FE series to take over from where the Cresta PC dropped out in 1973. Various longer wheelbase, V8-powered Ventora proposals were cooked up, reigniting memories of the earlier ill-fated Viscount V8 – but the Panther Westwinds-built FE Prestige (below) looks the most interesting. Two examples were built before the plug was pulled in 1976 on the basis that it couldn’t be put into production and sold at a competitive cost.

As for the VX range, it went off sale in 1978, largely unmourned, and was replaced by the Carlton. This was much more closely based on the Opel Rekord and, was more than a match for its rivals from Ford. The Carlton Mk1 would be built in Luton, but the facelifted Mk2 moved to Germany in 1982 – a strategy that had done Ford no harm at all when it replaced the Zephyr/Zodiac Mk4 with the Granada Mk1.

Vauxhall FEX Prestige

Conclusions – the end of the line

The Victor FE Series was a car that, like so many from the UK motor industry at the time, was rather under-developed at launch. As a consequence it suffered at the hands of Ford (which also had problems with the Cortina Mk3, but seemed to put them right much more quickly) and never met its undoubted potential.

It was uncompetitive, poorly targeted at its rivals, and most damningly of all, not as good as its Opel sister car. Its failure to impress probably accelerated the complete merging of Opel and Vauxhall’s model ranges in the 1980s as much as the success of the Chevette and Cavalier Mk1, and the end of Luton’s design autonomy as a carmaker – and yet, it should not be viewed as a complete failure.

Of the FE models, the facelifted VX range from 1976 was a substantial improvement over the original Victor and Ventora of 1972, and today it’s these cars that make for an interesting classic car that’s better to drive than its reputation would have you believe. It looks great in retrospect and, in later models at least, its upgraded and more powerful slant-four engine ended up being a bit of a peach.

As a post-script, it’s worth saying that the FE Series lived on in India as the Hindustan Contessa – a more upmarket sister car to the much-loved Ambassador – and would remain in production all the way through until 2002.

Vauxhall VX1800

Written with reference to the brilliant Vauxpedia website. A detailed account of the FE’s design evolution can be found here, with many more sketches, concepts and clay models.

Keith Adams


  1. The VX versions were the best, as the engines received a hike in power and better fuel economy, and equipment levels were improved in lesser versions. For me, the best version was the VX 2300 GLS, a more than capable car aimed at the sort of buyer who bought top of the range Cortinas or Princesses and which looked good both inside and out. A very nice version is often seen outside the garage in Gretna in copper metallic with a cream vinyl roof.

  2. The penultimate paragraph is completely at odds with the rest of the article . It really would pay to re-read missives like these before finally going into print with them

    • For clarity

      ‘Of the FE models, the facelifted VX range from 1976 was a substantial improvement over the original Victor and Ventora of 1972, and today it’s these cars that make for an interesting classic car that’s better to drive than its reputation would have you believe. It looks great in retrospect, and in later models at least, its upgraded and more powerful slant-four engine ended up being a bit of a peach.’


      In TL;DR terms, the Victor was a bit of a lemon, but Vauxhall developed it into a half-decent car, but a bit on the late side. From a classic perspective, these later VX models are the pick of the bunch, but they’re all interesting in their own way.

      As I’ve found out in my career, sometimes a car can be pretty crap when new, but actually make a half-decent classic 50 years on. You only need to look at the Allegro to see what I mean.

  3. My old man looked at a VX 2300 back in the day, but the reputation for the engines being oil burners and being a bigger rust bucket than there competitors he ruled it out.

    I always thought thd front end was to American, though as the car started off being planned to be sold in Canada, there id no surprise, but I think that really put customers off. Shame the prestige face-lift was implemented as it really improved the car.

    • When I lived in Forest Gate I was awoken each morning to the dulcet tones of a vx1800 being cranked within in inch of its life. It must have had a good battery at least

  4. These always looked rather plain to me, with an unfortunate front end style. Pontiacs of that era were not the best cars to emulate. Still, from reading the linked Vauxpedia article, it could have looked a lot worse.

  5. Would the FE’s prospects have been helped somewhat had it rather been of similar size as the third generation Holden Torana? Which appears to be based on a shortened Victor FE platform similar to what Vauxhall planned for their Cerian proposal during the mk1 Cavalier project.

    Know Vauxhall planned to use a Slant-Four derived V8, yet did wonder why Vauxhall persisted with the Bedford-based Straight-6 instead of adopting or developing another more modern Six.

    • I have not read that the Torana was linked to the FE. The previous LC was an Australian development of the HB Viva platform, but I have only read that the LH was a distinctive Aussie designed platform not related to any other GM product.

      • It is a query that have previously brought up with Vauxpedia, who noted that while Holden claimed the Torana from the LH onwards was a distinctive Aussie platform, in reality they were too similar to the European GM V Platform underneath for there not to be a connection.

        Additionally both the FE and Torana LH/UC were designed by Leo Pruneau, with Leo being in charge of the FE’s exterior design.

        • I did wonder about the Torana and HQ Kingswood when I saw Leo Pruneau was involved. The styling sketches have a strong HQ flavour, was it just coincidence because GM rotated styling people through the various subsidiaries?

  6. A teacher at primary school was very proud of his Victor 2300SL estate. He used it to tour Germany every summer revisiting towns he had visited by air in the early 1940’s. Fuel economy was marginally better than 4 RR Merlins.

  7. My dad had two FEs. A 1800 Victor estate and a VX 2300. I was too young to drive the Victor but the VX was still in use when I passed my test. Even as a new driver the shortcomings were evident,but the big banger slant four was torquey and felt muscular. Loved the looks, just wish it was better to drive. Feel a bit nostalgic about it now though and wouldn’t mind a go in one for old times sake.

  8. Don’t know what the guys at GM were thinking, putting the ancient Chevrolet truck based six into the FE. No match for the Essex V6, itself not exactly a paragon of efficiency.

  9. Always thought the styling of these missed the mark. Overall shape seemed a bit awkward, with the too-American front end, the upright windscreen with its base too far back behind the door line, the excessively large C-pillar, and the lack of resolution and detailing. Maybe a left-field opinion but I thought Vauxhall did a much better styling job with the contemporary HC Viva in terms of overall proportions and detailing eg wheelarches, rear lights, windscreen surround, waist-line etc.

  10. I’m a big fan of the FE/VX series – we had estate examples of both when I was a nipper. The first replaced a decidedly rusty mk3 Cortina, which lasted us all of 18months before tin worm made a mess of it. The FE 1800 estate which replaced it was roomier, had a much nicer interior, and was (in my opinion at least) a very attractive looking car. This was followed by 2 VX estates, a 2300 and a late ex-demo 1800, which in Ember Red with beige velour seats was a very attractive car indeed. Would love to see someone create a VX490 estate, along the lines of the Vauxhall Sportshatch – that would be a very special car indeed!

  11. Vauxhall seemed to have hit a sweet spot with the HB Viva and FD Victor, but went backwards with their successors, while managing to leave holes in the range where Ford could dominate with the Cortina and Granada. Indeed it’s extraordinary how Vauxhall, Austin Morris and Chrysler all failed with the market positioning, all producing cars a bit too heavy to be a Cortina rival, but not prestigious enough to be a true junior exec either.

    Wasn’t the Carlton assembled at Luton initially?

  12. A very extensive article – Thanks Keith. I always had a soft spot for FC, FD and FE Vauxhalls. Despite shortcomings, still look good to me and the final VX models were probably the best by all accounts. My favourites were the VX2300GLS and run out 1977 VX490… though I only ever saw one, in a dealer’s showroom in Newcastle. Also like the photos of these cars!

  13. My Dad bough an 1800 special edition “Transcontinental ES” in 1973. That added a few bits and bobs including a Vinyl roof and Hazard flashers! It felt like the height of sophistication compared to the MK2 Cortina it replaced, but aged badly and was ready for the knackers yard by the time he sold it in 1979. Another of those in between cars that Vauxhall, Chrysler UK and British Leyland foisted on the market and that nobody wanted. A real shame that GM hadnt banged heads a few years earlier and made the FE a badge engineered Opel Rekord

    • The Victor FE did share the floor plan & a few mechanical parts with the Rekord, but it didn’t really need to have the engine sizes increased when they already fitted the market sectors quite well. At least it meant the Cavalier slotted neatly into the gap between the Viva HC & Victor FE when it was launched.

  14. The name Victor had lost a lot of kudos by this time. I wonder if it ever had much. That’s why the name was dropped for the VX series. It’s also why the 2300S limited edition of about 1975 didn’t carry the model name anywhere on the car

    • I remember seeing a 2300S parked by the roadside near a relative’s house. It was a metallic blue I can’t recall seeing in any other Vauxhall and had a blue interior that viewed through the tinted glass looked like the bottom of a swimming pool.Very 70s.

      • The limited edition Victor 2300S came in two colours (met light blue or green) with vinyl roof and black steel wheels plus chrome hubcaps & trim rings. Very soon replaced with the VX moniker. They also made Viva S editions in same colourways. This was at the same time the Cavalier MK1 appeared, which became the object of my attention

        • It didn’t even use the Victor badge – it was literally a Vauxhall 2300S. An uncle had a blue one – a very nice car, and an early one with cloth seats rather than vinyl, and a cassette player.

  15. Remember these when they were around in some numbers during the 70s. Like the 180 or Princess it just did not impress me or any other school boy for that matter, because we knew the Granada from the Sweeney whereas nobody not even the villains drove one of these or a 180 and the only place you saw a Princess was on Terry and June.

    • Being a hopeless pedant I just can’t resist pointing out that Jack Regan was spotted driving a black 1800 wedge whilst posing as a supermarket manager. Hoping the bad lads would ambush him for the days takings y’see. Can’t remember the name of the episode.

      • I can accept that, but it also says everything, the hero is in a Granada, the villains are in a Mk2 Jag no doubt and the victim is in a Princess.

  16. personally I think the fall of vauxhall is more tragic than that of bmc/bl, because vauxhall knew how to style cars and make them desirable

  17. An underrated car, always looked its best in four headlamp form (like its predecessor) and the 2300 was more than a match for a 2.0-litre Cortina. The VX2300 GLS was a decent alternative to a 2.0 or 2.3 Ghia Cortina and looked more distinctive and had the same level of equipment. By the late seventies, Vauxhall quality was improving and rust proofing was better, but sadly only a minority wanted a VX over a Cortina.

  18. My dad had a 74′ 2300. He really liked it but sadly a skoda killed it.
    The 2279cc engine was a damn sight more reliable than the 2300 in the SD1 which replaced his victor.

  19. One anomaly that finally went with the FE was the ancient three speed column shift that was found on some base model FDs, which harmed refinement and economy, and all FEs came with a floor mounted four speed manual transmission. Also the bench seat was scrapped as most British car buyers preferred individual front seats.
    It was a shame the FE didn’t sell in large numbers- half the amount of the FD- as it was better rustproofed, the new engines were more powerful and fairly refined( more so the 2300), and the car was improved continuously throughout its life. I think like most other people it fell between the Cortina and Granada in the market, the styling wasn’t as distinctive as the handsome FD, and there was still the old worry that a Victor or VX was a ruster. Also the Cavalier started to steal sales after 1975 and even dropping the Victor name on lesser models in favour of VX and improving equipment levels didn’t help.

  20. The 3 on the tree & bench seats were practically a relic of an earlier age by the 1970s.

    I’ve mentioned else that the engine sides put the FE between market sectors.

  21. As far as I recall, the earlier FD Victor 1600 got the column change, but the 2000, VX4/90 and Ventora all got floor change. Prior to that, earlier Vauxhall’s were known for having column gear changes and bench seats.

    The Magnum got the benefit of those 1800 & 2300cc motors in the smaller HC body.

  22. I was interested in the photo at the very top . It shows a Britannia Boeing 707 , whose service for Britannia was very short lived indeed

  23. @ christopher storey – I thought the plane was a 707 too. Britannia later majored on the Boeing 737-200 series

  24. I’m living in Switzerland and my parents drove all Victor generations. Most of them were assembled in Switzerland; just the last one, a green FE VX 4/90 with auto trans was Luton built. Beeing a car addict, I followed the development of Vauxhall very closely. I agree with “Nate” that I also didn’t understand the use of the 20 year old 6 cylinder construction in the FE. In hindsite it would have been wiser to use the Opel CIH 2.8 six with 140 hp in carburetted and with 158 hp in fuel injected form. The latter would have given the car a performance level superior to a Granada 3.0 V6 or even a Rover 3500. I guess the Ventora’s fortunes would have turned in a different direction. In my opinion, the by far nicest car of the FE range was the stillborn FE prestige prototype built by Panther which is shown in the text above (remember having seen this foto in a Vauxhall special in “Motor”, I guess in 1977). It’s a pity that this car doesn’t seem to exist any longer…as far as I know.

  25. A couple of points – the FB was designed by David Jones, and the Carlton Mk1 was built at Luton, only during a long strike in 1979 was a few assembled in Antwerp but never in Germany. All the Carlton Mk2s were built in Russelsheim. Personally, I thought the VX2300GLS was the best car Vauxhall made in the 1970s, more than a match for the Granada Ghia Mk1, the GLS Estate was canceled at the last moment – after the handbooks had been printed!

    • GLS estate – do you know of any pictures? I’m with you, I think the 2300GLS was a fine car – it’s certainly my favourite Vauxhall. There were plans to give it a drop snoot front, a little like a mk1 Carlton – have a look at the Vauxpedia website – they had a number of plans for the VX platform before it was abandoned in favour of the Carlton.

    • @ David Booker, of the British big four in the second half of the seventies, Vauxhall probably made the best cars and were rapidly losing the rotbox image from the sixties. The Carlton was the last big British Vauxhall( even if it was really an Opel) and a capable car that could see off a bigger engined Cortina and was nicer to drive. Also buyers were turning to the Cavalier in growing numbers as this was developingh a reputation for being a well made, good to drive family car.

      • There was nothing British about the Carlton at all. It was a rebadged Opel Rekord with a restyled front end. Some where CKD’d at Luton in the early days but that soon changed and all where imported. Applying your logic, the last British big Vauxhall was the 94 Omega.

        • The Carlton was the last big Vauxhall to be assembled in the UK, and continued to be assembled in Luton until it was replaced in 1982. Obviously the British content was significantly less than the VX, as the slant four engines were dropped in favour of the more efficient 2 litre Opel engine, but most of the 1978-82 Carltons were assembled in Luton. The Viceroy and Royale were imports and were really Opels with a Vauxhall badge.

  26. Opinions seem to suggest that the VX2300GLS was a worthy replacement for the Ventora (albeit with the smaller engine that didn’t really affect performance). Sadly I never saw that many around. The VX490 is still my favourite… my Dad owned a FC VX4/90!

  27. The Ventora just wasn’t selling and the straight six it used was thirsty and heavy, meaning performance was little better than the 2300. The VX 2300 GLS, with the lighter and newer engine, could reach 106 mph and return 25 mpg( more on a long journey) against 18 mpg for the Ventora. However, the Cortina 2.3 Ghia, with an extra two cylinders, still beat it for top end performance and was slightly quieter at speed.

    • My FD Ventora did 25mpg, but it had overdrive with the 3.09 non-overdrive diff’. The autochoke had been hurled into the nearest bin by a previous owner. The FE was 200 lbs. heavier than the FD and had PAS standard, so it would have been thirstier. Somebody did a triple Weber conversion on the 3.3 which substantially improved performance. Twin Strombergs and around 140bhp would have been a better solution for production. I drove an FE Ventora once which was notably sluggish; but the speedometer was mounted at an angle to the dash, so someone had probably clocked it in a vain attempt to hide mega miles and engine wear. Apparently Staffordshire Police had a fleet of FE Ventoras – they probably got a very deep discount as no-one else was buying them!

  28. David’s website is simply unbelievable. I can’t remember a similar site for another car brand.
    A big, big thank you for your work, David

  29. It’s interesting that the Vauxhall FE range is often compared with Ford’s smaller Cortina although the exterior dimensions were rather matching the ones of the Consul/Granada range. On the continent, the Vauxhall’s sister cars Opel Rekord/Commodore were always compared with the big Fords.

  30. The Victor FD was a close competitor to the Mark 3 Cortina, having a similar coke bottle style and 1.6 and 2 litre engines, and pre empted the move to the bigger Cortina by three years. When the FE was being developed, Vauxhall probably thought the next generation of family cars would be bigger and have bigger engines, and cars like the Chrysler 180 gave some credence to this theory. Also Vauxhall thought the FE could compete against the smaller and less powerful 2 litre Consul/ Granadas and the ADO17.
    What happened was the FE fell between the two market sectors, Ford didn’t upsize the next generation of Cortina in the mid seventies due to the energy crisis and Vauxhall brought out the Cavalier to take on the Cortina more effectively. The FE was also considered too small to take on the Granada and the Ventora’s old and sluggish six couldn’t take on the smaller and more powerful V6 found in top of the range Granadas. It was a car, like the Chrysler 180 and Princess that replaced the ADO17, that struggled to find a niche and sales were half that of the FD.
    That said, there wasn’t much wrong with the FE. It was spacious, comfortable, was decent to drive and the 1976 improvements made the car more powerful and more economical, as it did have a reputation for being thirsty. Also the car had few reliability issues and rust protection improved as time went on, with only the wings being weak points on some cars.

    • But the FD Victor was also a much bigger car than the Mark III Cortina. Victors were matching the Consuls/Consul Classics and Corsairs in terms of size and engine offer. Vauxhall’s problem was that there wasn’t in reality a real competitor to the successful Cortina. A fact which could just be addressed with the introducton of the Cavalier in the mid-70ties.

      • The difference wasn’t that much: The height, width and wheelbase were within an inch or less. The main difference was at the back where the Victor had a noticeably longer tail than the Cortina (there may be slightly more bonnet too, the Victor having a more pointed nose to take the old straight six).

  31. The Cavalier was probably the game changer and saviour for Vauxhall, even if it was produced in Belgium for the first two years and was really an Opel Ascona. The company now had a car that had the same engine sizes as the Cortina, was a similar size and looked more modern when it was launched against the Mark 3 Cortina. When British assembly started in 1977 and an entry model was launched with a 1.3 litre engine, like the base Cortina, sales really took off. Also the VX/ Victor finally had a direct replacement with the Carlton in 1978.

    • The Carlton was very smooth and comfortable but was surprisingly prone to rust – a MacPherson strut popped out on the LHS of my dad’s Y reg saloon when it was only 6-7 years old. There was also serious corrosion in one back wheel arch and even the fuel tank. He PXd it against a Rover 216EX (without the dealer fit in-car phone, which he didn’t want). The salesman lazily valued the Carlton from his showroom armchair – apparently someone “gave him a lift home” when they looked at what they had bought.
      The Carlton (despite having a much nicer short gearstick than the “wishing wand” in early Cavaliers) – did not feel quick, but it could be made to pick up its skirts and fly – I once held off an XJ6 4.2 in my dad’s car, though I must admit the Jag was driven by a lady, and had a bale of hay in the boot! The Carlton had the very rare option of Laycock overdrive, which operated on top gear only; and did 31mpg in my mature dad’s hands.

  32. Also, The Cavalier MK1 in later Sportshatch form also gave Vauxhall a competitor to the Capri (even though initially only in GLS trim). Nice


  34. Factual niggle: you say the original FE VX4/90 had 110 bhp, but the VX series 490 had “the same 116hp”. Your earlier statement was correct. Niggles, eh: no wonder you’re closing down.
    It’s easy to forget now, how Ford didn’t just dominate the fleet market, but actually defined it. Reps, for example, were given get a 1600cc car; and senior reps got a 2-litre. So nobody wanted a 1500cc Allegro, Maxi, or Dolomite as a company car; they were perceived as slower and less prestigious than a 1600 Cavalier or Cortina. Nobody wanted a Victor 1800, as it was considerably slower than a Cortina 2000. Austin 1750s and Dolly 1850s likewise.
    The VX was a massive improvement on the Victor, despite having front wings which rusted much faster, and electronic ignition which tended to totally fail without any warning. As well as the increased power, fuel economy improved by 10% – if you’ve ever looked at a pre-VX cylinder head, you will understand why – the exhaust gases could only escape through about 75% of the circumference of the valve. The later engine was smoother, as it spent less time fighting itself; and the headlights and grille were much more imposing. The VX490 even had a front spoiler standard.
    What Car judgement on the Victors: 2300 slow, 1800 very slow.
    Their judgement on the VXs: 1800 fast, 2300 very fast.
    A former acquaintance bought a VX2300 which contained a gun under the driver’s seat. I believe this was not standard equipment!

  35. The FE Vauxhalls did the same thing that BL did in times-past; they fell between the gap between market-sector-expectational fleet-car classes.

    They were too big to compete in the 1.6/2.0 [Cortina] sector and too small to compete in the 2.5/3.0 [Granada] sector.

    Why – as an aspiring early-70s middle-ranking area-sales-manager – would you tell your company-car’s providers you wanted a FE with a four-pot 1800/2300cc engine as your next car when Ford had a 2.5/3-litre V6 Consul/Granada?

    Vauxhall really missed-out on the whole ‘product placement’ thing to boost their cars in the customer mindset. Ford got it right; Granadas in The Sweeney, Capris and Escort RS2000s in The Professionals, they could give cars away to the producers and the cost of them would be totally lost compared with the perceptional boost to the brand that resulted.

  36. Vauxhall did get it right with the Cavalier, particularly when production moved to Luton, as it had everything from a poverty level 1300 to a luxurious 2000 GLS. The 1300 was a bit of a nail, though the same could be said of the 1.3 Cortina, but the bigger engined cars had Opel CIH engines that were both smooth and powerful and were more than a match for the Cortina. While the Cortina remained top dog, the Mark 1 Cavalier steadily gained a following among fleet buyers and was quite a well made and rust resistant car for the time.
    THe VX, though, it looked nice, the 2300 GLS looked like a cut down Chevy and was a good car for long journeys, and the estate was a good load carrier, but it wasn’t what the market wanted and the rust bugh hadn’t been totally beaten.

  37. Vauxhall were limited by having an engine no bigger than a 2.3 four after the Ventora was axed in 1975. This meant they were barred from the managing director market, where a siz cylinder car was usually provided by the employer, and while they promoted the VX 2300 GLS as an executive car, it wasn’t good enough to take on the Granada V6 or the six cylinder Rovers that were launched in 1977.
    Help was at hand for Vauxhall by the homogenisation of their car range with Opel. Cunningly the Opel Senator became the Vauxhall Royale in 1978, complete with a smooth 2.8 six, a huge list of standard equipment and a velour interior that was popular at the time. Keeping quiet that the Royale was a German car with a Vauzhall badge could have won over fleet managers thinking it was a British car.

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