The Great Motor Men : Part Six – David Jones

AROnline Contributor Martyn Kelham has produced this series on the great motoring men. Here, in the sixth part, he discusses the Designer David Jones – the man responsible for the styling of so many influential Vauxhalls and Bedfords.

David Jones
David Jones (Picture: Vauxpedia)

In April 2000 we lost a great British Designer. While few of today’s drivers will have heard of David Jones, the classic car scene would be a very different place without him. A number of iconic cars would be missing from those lines of gleaming old cars we find at dozens of classic shows throughout the year.

David held his post at General Motors longer than any other individual in any company, in a similar role. Despite many of his designs being referred to as ‘transatlantic’ or ‘US’ influenced, he came from England. There was no ‘stylist’ background in his family, but there was an engineering link – his father was a manufacturer of agricultural machine tools. His mother was a teacher.

David was educated in Birmingham at the School of Art. Here, he met his wife to be, one Marjorie Derricourt – an art student. In the late 1920s, David earned a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London where, incidentally, Henry Moore was teaching.

Stellar rise within Vauxhall

In 1932, he joined Vauxhall and, following the retirement of Eric Kennington, David became ‘Director of Styling’ but World War II interrupted his career as it did for so many others. He had joined the Royal Engineers as a Captain and spent some time camouflaging airfields – and the rest of the time designing a troop carrier for Vauxhall.

After the war, it can be argued that the Henry Moore influence was evident in much of the automotive styling David penned. Whilst Design Studios in those days were very much ‘art studios’ compared with today’s office environments, his creativity in pushing the boundaries of shape and form are legendary.

These were the days of white-coated Clay Modellers – before designs on a screen or a computer were dreamt of. David visited the GM studios in Detroit quite a lot and he had a good relationship with Harley Earl. The ubiquitous Bedford CA van with its sliding doors and vast cabin space, column change and large glass area (for the time) was a David Jones early design. The Bedford TK cab that we still see occasionally at work in its last incarnation – the first to use the drop ‘quarterlight’ style – was his as well.

Bedford CA Van in its original guise.
Bedford CA Van in its original guise
Bedford CA Van in its later clothes.
Bedford CA Van in its later clothes
The ubiquitous Bedford TK
The ubiquitous Bedford TK

For two wonderful decades, Vauxhall had mostly independent and certainly individualistic styling. For all of that period, David Jones was head of the team. Soon after its opening, a Vauxhall brochure indicated that around 2000 staff were based in Griffin House – a state-of-the-art Styling Studio in Luton – just to design unique Vauxhalls and Bedfords.

The four floors were split between 500 Engineers, 350 Draftsman and, on the sixth floor, the most lavish Styling Studio possible with everything from a fabrication shop to a fully-equipped surgery! David’s huge glazed office was on this floor and had its own kitchen, bathroom and boardroom. Griffin House has often been called the best Design Studio in Europe – and those who knew it, still refer to it as such.

I count myself privileged to have been at Luton at the time of the Victor 2000 FD launch. I have a photo of myself and about a dozen other guys – who were doing a management course in the building – standing on the stairs in the impressive main entrance of Griffin House, behind the new star of the show.

A long and glorious career

David was Head of Styling at Luton from 1937 to 1971: that’s a very long time in the world of car design. His first ‘big job’ for Vauxhall was putting a more modern front and rear end on the pre-War-designed Vauxhall 10 and 12. These became the first Wyverns and Velox models.

His first full car design was the E Series in Wyvern, Velox and eventually Cresta guises.

From this, to this. The Vauxhall 10/12 becomes the new Wyvern with its modernised front and added ‘bustle’.
From this, to this. The Vauxhall 10/12 becomes the new Wyvern with its modernised front and added ‘bustle’

Vauxhall Wyvern E Series
Vauxhall Wyvern E Series

Controversy followed as David’s FA Series Victor and PA Cresta were announced in 1957.

Vauxhall Victor FA Series 1
Vauxhall Victor FA Series 1
Vauxhall Victor ‘FA’ Series 11
Vauxhall Victor FA Series 2

They both had ‘dogleg’ windscreens; lots of curvy glass, sculptured side panels and masses of chrome. History (often written by those who weren’t there at the time!) has often been unkind to the Victor FA. Tales of hitting your knees on the dogleg and the cars rusting away before they left the showroom are more myth than reality. I’ve driven dozens of them over the years and I’ve never hit my knees! As for rust? Well, of course, they rusted… but no faster than a Hillman or almost anything else of that era!

Vauxhall Cresta PA Series 1.
Vauxhall Cresta PA Series 1
Vauxhall Cresta PA Series 11
Vauxhall Cresta PA Series 2

Despite comments in today’s ‘classic’ press like, ‘the public didn’t take to the F Type’ – Vauxhall found over 350,000 buyers and the models were very popular in the 1960s. David also penned the PB Cresta – a far plainer and more restrained car altogether – in line with the fast-moving trends of the day.

The Vauxhall PB Cresta Series 1
The Vauxhall Cresta PB Series 1
The Vauxhall PB Cresta Series 11
The Vauxhall Cresta PB Series 2

The later Victor FB had input – especially around the rear end – from the great Gerald Palmer, he of Jowett Javelin fame.

Vauxhall Victor FB Series 1
Vauxhall Victor FB Series 1
Vauxhall Victor FB Deluxe
Vauxhall Victor FB Deluxe

The first new small car from Vauxhall since World War 2 arrived in the form of the Viva HA – which had to use a lot of Opel underpinnings. David kept the styling as simple as it could be. It had to compete with the very plain BMC 1100 and the car sold strongly despite some opposition vehicles having very ‘fancy’ shapes – like the Hillman Minx.

Attention to underbody design and more robust paints allowed the Viva to fare well and longevity of the Bedford HA Viva-based van is legendary (though not quite as long lasting as the ubiquitous Citroën C15 van!).

Bedford HA Van
Bedford HA Van
Vauxhall Viva HA Saloon
Vauxhall Viva HA Saloon

In various histories we read that David’s influence was waning towards the end of the 1970s and his proposed Viva HB found no favour with GM bosses. Leo Pruneau – originally with Opel – had styled a number of those cars and his influence began to be felt at Luton towards the end of the 1970s.

Vauxhall Victor 101 (FC Series)
Vauxhall Victor 101 (FC Series)

This accounts for the Victor 101 having a strong resemblance to the Australian Holden of the time.

In summary, then, David Jones was responsible for the hugely successful big Vauxhalls of the 1950s and ’60s and the first of a long line of mid-sized family cars in the early Victor range. Most importantly, he was also the man that lead Vauxhall back to the showroom with a small family car in the 1960s.

David retired in 1971 but not before he had overseen the development and introduction of the pretty little Viva HB, the ground breaking Victor FD ‘Coke Bottle’ range and the beautifully proportioned Cresta PC, including, of course, the range-topping Viscount!

Vauxhall Viva HB
Vauxhall Viva HB
Vauxhall Victor FD
Vauxhall Victor FD
Vauxhall Cresta PC
Vauxhall Cresta PC

[Editor’s Note: Martyn Kelham has drawn on a lot of valuable information from the very excellent Vauxpedia website, his own collection of Vauxhall-related books and his experience working at a Vauxhall Bedford main dealer in the late 1960s and into the ’70s. He drove thousands of miles in a little HA van and also spent a couple of years delivering new Vivas, Victors, Crestas (and Jaguar 2.4, 3.4 and E-types!) to all points of mainland Britain. But that’s another story…]

30 Comments

  1. Wonderful article. My Dad’s first car was a Victor F series II and was followed by a brand new VX4/90 FC in 1966. Despite the tales of rusty Vauxhalls, both his remained in excellent condition during his ownership. In fact I know of all the cars he owned, his favourite was probably the VX4/90.

    I later owned a Viva HC (that did rust!!) but I still loved it enough to spend money improving it. The Viva HB, Cresta PA series II, Cresta PC and Victor FD were also favourites of mine. Good memories of that era of Vauxhalls. Thanks Martin K

  2. I never realised that the wyvern was so closely based on the prewar design. What a great face-lift!

  3. I think Vauxhalls reputation for rust really hurt the acknowledgement of David Jones. It is a shame as some of his designs were very attractive. My Uncle bought an HC Viva in the late 70s, which my Great Uncle being a Ford man, said that will rust away, which it did.

  4. David Jones was indeed a very talented stylist and designer. The PA Cresta was a masterpiece of styling. It was a great shame that the rampant rusting of 1950s and 60s Vauxhalls overshadowed all their good points (my father owned an F series Victor and I watched the rust holes develop).

    But he passed in April 2000, not 2020 as said in the article.
    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/apr/26/guardianobituaries2

  5. That’s almost a history of my life in relation to cars. Everything from the 50s and early 60s were familiar to me when I had the Dinky/Corgi/Matchbox versions. Then when I owned real cars my first was a Viva HC, a friend had an HB, and I later had a 1.8 Firenza.

    I was deliberately a Vauxhall person to be different from people I knew who worshipped Fords.

  6. Maybe an interesting (or more likely an ‘anorak’) fact is that the FB Victor and PB Cresta range used the same doors (if you look at the pictures above you can see that). Vauxhall have never had the panning that BMC did with the over-use of the 1800 doors!

  7. My dad was initially a BMC man and we went on a family holiday to Bournemouth in his trusty Morris 1000 (PUT 231). It was on a visit to the BMC dealers to have a crafty look at the ADO16 that was just about to be released that dad spotted a second-hand F Type Victor Deluxe (5749 EL) which we ended up travelling home from our holiday in. In his motoring life he remained loyal to Vauxhall, replacing the F Type with an FC101 (KBC 905E), replacing that with an FD Victor 2000 (DBC 505K) in 1972 when pre-registered versions were sold off cheap because the FE Transcontinental had been released, replacing that many years later when a big boot for family holidays was no longer required with a Mk 1 Astra 1300 (which strangely I do not remember the registration number!)
    This clearly influenced my car choices as although my first car was an Anglia Estate, this was eventually replaced by an 1159cc HB Viva (bought as a stop-gap, money making exercise), which was then replaced by my dream car at the time, a 2 litre HB Viva GT which gained a number of modifications. I then went off the rails slightly and bought a Mini Clubman (for which I built & fitted a pretty hot engine I’d taken out of a 1300GT) that I used to tow my racing Mini. Then things changed, I stopped racing and had a company van for day to day use, so scoured the land and bought a Droop Snoot Firenza which was sadly written off by someone jumping a red light on my way home from work.
    I enjoyed my Vauxhalls, (especially the Viva GT) and revelled in the fact that they were a little ‘different’ and performance-wise underrated. One achievement was when I overtook a Ford-mad mate proudly driving his RS2000 flat out on the motorway in my Firenza, changing from 4th into 5th as I went past!

    • @ Alastair Mayne, while always overshadowed by cars like the Escort Mexico and big engined Capris. Vauxhall did find a niche in the early and mid seventies with sporting versions of the Viva and Victor. Perhaps the ultimate Capri killer had to be the Magnum 2300, which people always thought was just an upmarket Viva, but came with the engine from the VX 4/90 and the light body meant 110 mph was possible, faster than a two litre Capri. Then there was the beautfiul FD VX 4/90, again oh it’s a Victor from most people, but a decent performance saloon that could keep up with a Rover 2000 and was considerably cheaper and more modern, and the last generation VX 2300 GLS, an unfairly ignored luxury sporting saloon that was just as capable as a V6 Cortina.

  8. My Dad had two F-type Victors, a series 1 in black, and a series 2 which was two tone in blue and grey. He’d learned to drive in a FB which presumably influenced his choice. One of my uncles had a PA Velox in a vivid lime green. It was interesting, and rare, as it was the transitional model between Series 1 and 2 and had the one-piece wrap around rear screen, but retained the oval rear lights with flashers in the fins of the series 1. I have a black and white snapshot of the very young me behind the wheel.

  9. @ standhill. my Dad’;s Victor F deluxe series II was also in Horizon blue & Storm grey two tone, with plenty of chrome in those days! I remember we travelled in it from the North East to London in 1963/64. I also recall the final F type series III which had facelifted grilles and headlamp housings.

    Your Uncles PA Velox sounds interesting being a halfway house between MK1 & 2. I vividly remember the change of lights and windows… preferred the series II

    • Hi Hilton. Now that you mention it, I think my dad’s two-tone F must have been a series 3. The radiator grille had horizontal bars rather than mesh shown in the picture. And I definitely don’t recall the badge above the windscreen. I do remember having been on a day out with my best pal, we turned on to the street where I lived in his dad’s P4 Rover 110. And to my shame there was the F with a headlight hanging out of its fittings, The tin worm was making its presence evident. The jokes about “who’s old bus is that?” rang in my ears for some time!

      • Both the F and PA had three stages to their styling, the PA acquiring a single piece wrap-round window in late 1959 along with the taller front grille with a final facelift in late 1960 when the rear lights and tail fins were altered. The front on the last two versions were almost the same, but the 1959-60 model had separate round side and indicator lights, while the final version had lozenge shaped combined units.
        The F series II also had a facelift in late 1960 when the rear screen was made taller and less wrap round and the front grille altered to horizontal bars.

        • Thanks for the info Bernard. On looking at that photo properly I now see that the badge above the windscreen is actually applied to a visor. My dad’s series 1 was scrapped after a short spell of ownership due to epic corrosion in the rear underside which someone had attempted to compensate for by using a railway sleeper. This supported the back seat and located the rear suspension!

      • Hi Standhill. Yes the last Victor F models had a horizontal bar grille and body colour headlamp surrounds. I have a copy of a Vauxhall poster from 1960 motor show showing the Victor & Velox / Cresta range in all colour schemes. Looked nice!

  10. Vauxhalll made some very good looking cars in the sixties and seventies and we have David Jones to thank for this. While never as big a seller as the Cortina, the FD was a very good looking car that still looks excellent now. Also the FD became the ultimate Q car, the Ventora, same body as the more humble Victor Super, but with a 3.3 litre six from the Cresta, even better after 1969 with a three speed automatic transmission.

  11. @ Glenn… We share an affection for the FD & FE series Vauxhalls. I still have a 1976 catalogue with good photos of a burgundy VX 2300GLS with cream vinyl roof and chrome wheeltrims. It was a suitable run out replacement for the Ventora though lacking the 3.3 litre engine. Never actually saw many on the open road.

    • @ Hilton D, the Ventora had become too heavy and slow, and replacing it with the VX 2300 GLS was a good move, considering the country was still recovering from the energy crisis. Durham Constabulary considered the car to be a good traffic car and one was a regular sight on the A66 until 1982 when it was retired. Also you could specify a VX with tartan cloth seats, very seventies.

  12. Indeed Glenn. The VX2300GLS had rich velour and the run out VX490 of 1977 had check pattern seats (bit like the Chevette GLS). The VX490 was a better performance option to the Ventora. Shame these were the last genuine British designed Vauxhalls.

    • @ Hilton D, the Carlton replaced the VX range in 1978, but this was very similar to the Opel Rekord and used an Opel engine. The last outing for the slant 4 was in the Chevette HS, which made the little three door Chevette into a real bruiser, capable of 120 mph.

  13. Correct Glenn… I remember the MK1 Carlton being a re-work of the Rekord, as was the Cavalier MK1 a re-work of the Ascona. Now Vauxhall / Opel’s will be re-works of Peugeots! How times change.

    • @ Hilton D, the Chevette was an Anglicised Opel Kadett, but with a British drivetrain to keep the unions and patriotic buyers happy. I always considered this to be a decent small car that proved not all British cars of the seventies were rubbish and helped Vauxhall’s market share improve. The HS was rather a hooligan, though, and I bet drivers had fun scaring V6 Capri drivers, who were surprised when a Chevette could outrun them

      • For a couple of years in the early 80s I had an Opel Kadett Mk 1 (the one which looked like a Mk1 Astra). It was perfectly good, if a bit basic.

        Whilst owning it, I helped a friend do a house move from Nottingham to Leicester. I filled the rear of the car with his massive collection of LPs and 45rpm singles, and drove the whole journey with the car absolutely flat on its suspension…like it was on solid wheels.

      • @ Glenn, Never saw many Kadetts of that design and consider the Chevette to be the better looking version. A pity it didn’t get more power than the 1256cc (apart from the HS2300). I thought the Magnum Estates were good looking load carriers too.

        • I did wonder why the normal Chevettes only had the 1256cc engine.

          Were Vauxhall worried about losing 1.6 litre Cavalier sales?

  14. It’s funny, as a die-hard Vauxhall fan, I have to say the only one of all those pictures that leaves me cold is the FC Victor. It’s not offensive, it’s just spectacularly dull and even the PB Cresta somehow manages to have an elegance that the FC is completely lacking, despite them not being ultimately dissimilar.

    Oh, and I WILL have an FD VX4/90 one day!

    • One person’s dull is an other’s clean and well judged I suppose. Always liked the 101. Our next-door neighbours had an estate version well into the second half of the ’70s. It was immaculate in two-tone green.

    • I find the early FB the most boring Victor, with it’s strange lines at the front like a malformed Viva HA & an out of place Mercedes like rear end, like the front was designed by someone different from the rear.

      At least it was jazzed up in the facelift & smoothed out somewhat.

  15. The FB was indeed designed by two – David’s team for the most part but Gerald Palmer for the rear end.
    I personally like the waterfall rear and it also worked well on the Mk 1 BMC 1800 – until some I’ll-advised soul stuck some fins on it!
    I’m currently looking for a really nice FB or FC estate – I love ‘em both but prefer the deluxe versions – the base models were (and will seem today) very austere.

    • I see, the rear end is good looking but didn’t seem to work so well with the rest of the style.

      The FC was a little blander but seemed to work better style wise.

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