Friday April 6, 2018
One of the side effects of the passage of time, apart from noticing how young police officers look, is that how certain once respected cars slowly vanish from our roads. In the very late 1970s and early 1980s, the Vauxhall Carlton was the vehicle of choice for sober-minded accountants and bank managers but now they look as fascinatedly dated as an episode of The Young Ones.
The Carlton’s roots date back to the Victor, for since the original F-Type of 1957 it had progressively grown in size to the point that the 1972 FE was rivalling the Consul-badged Ford Granada Mk. I. A year after the introduction of the Cavalier in 1975 Vauxhall revamped the FE as the more luxurious VX range to further differentiate the two line-ups but it was to be the one of the last Anglo-American style models from Luton. 1976 was also the year that General Motors decided that its replacement would be a lightly revamped Opel Rekord E.
Wayne Cherry gave the German design a distinctive “droop snoot” and the new Carlton also had a new fascia; albeit with Opel instruments. Power was from the 2-litre engine used in the more upmarket Cavaliers and there was to be only one trim level - this was to avoid sakes clashes with the Rekord – and a choice of saloon or estate bodies. The launch date was September 1978 and Vauxhall, with charming immodesty, claimed that here was ‘a trendsetter that brings a new direction, a new concept to 2-litre luxury motoring’. In reality the Carlton looked unlikely to cause a sensation, but this was all to the good as it was intended for sober business types rather than the avant-garde.
At £4,600 the saloon was slightly cheaper than a Granada 2.3L and a Princess 2200 HLS. Luton regarded the Ford as the Carlton’s main rival and told its sales team that ‘the best way to convince prospects of the superior qualities of the Carlton is to demonstrate them on a test drive’ so that the potential buyer could have ‘all-round evidence of luxury specifications’. In fact the Vauxhall was well-regarded by the motoring press; Car magazine went so far to state that ‘it has road behaviour to rival those with much more advanced and modern engineering under them’. For the MD there was the Vauxhall Royale , more of which later this year, but for the middle-manager a Carlton in “Bright Copper Metallic” was the perfect car – smart without being at all stolid. To look at the brochures is also to be reminded of an age when a height-adjustable driver’s seat was regarded as evidence of executive-class motoring.
The Carlton would subsequently gain the (very desirable) option of power steering and in late 1980 there came the Viceroy – i.e. a Griffin-badged Opel Commodore C with 2.5 litre power and a specification designed to turn the heads of any Volvo or Granada owner. There was also a new name which was supposed to associate the new Vauxhall with quasi-imperial grandeur but in reality reminded too many people of a certain chocolate mint biscuit. H M The Queen drove a one-off Viceroy Estate but sales of the standard model were limited.
When the Carlton Mk. I and the Viceroy were replaced by the second-generation Carlton in 1982 Vauxhall and Opel now occupied joint dealerships so there was little purpose in any more badge-engineering. And so here is a 1981 advertisement from another world, when TV presenters sounded as though they were audition for the Royal Shakespeare Company and when a Carlton offered ‘a new level of luxury’.