Wednesday June 20, 2018
October 1978 saw the launch of two crucial Vauxhall models, ones that were aimed at the sort of driver who thought nothing of using Luncheon Vouchers five times a week. We have already encountered the Carlton earlier this year and it was complimented by the first really upmarket Gryphon-badged product since the demise of the wonderfully flamboyant Viscount in 1972.
But now there was a car suited to drivers whose first company vehicle back in 1963 was a Viva De Luxe and who had spent the next decade and a half climbing the corporate ladder to boardroom status and, naturally, a car upholstered in the finest of velour cloth.
The debut of the Royale was greeted with considerable interest by the motoring press while Vauxhall immodestly stated that ‘only very occasionally a great new car is born…a car of commanding authority designed and built to the highest standards…a car for discerning motorists who will settle for nothing but the best’.
In short, what solicitor or cost and management accountant who cared about their social standing could afford to resist the lure of such a prestigious car?
The Royale saloon was based on the Senator A and the Coupe on the Monza – and were built in Russheim as opposed to Luton. They marked a further shift from Vauxhall’s previous image of producing scaled-down Americana for British and Commonwealth drivers as their appearance was very much late-1970s Euro-executive, albeit with an interior that made the cabin of a Toyota Crown seem understated, while the Coupe appealed to the driver who might have otherwise considered buying a Reliant Scimitar GTE or even a Datsun 240K Skyline Coupe.
Both Opel models were also sold in the UK, but these were powered by a 3-litre fuel injected engine while the Royales had a 2.8 litre carburettor unit. A Gryphon badged executive car was also deemed essential to compete with the Ford Granada Ghia or the Rover 3500 SD1 for senior managerial fleet sales.
In January 1979 Motor evaluated the saloon and concluded that just as the Senator had wooed ‘many traditional BMW and Mercedes drivers in Europe’ the Vauxhall ‘fully deserves to have the same impact on the equivalent market in the UK’.
They were also highly impressed by the electric windows, central locking, alloy wheels, multi-adjustable driver’s seat, the sound system and the sliding roof. The only two extras were air conditioning and manual transmission as the Royale normally came with 3-speed GM automatic as befitting a car intended to transport an aspiring tycoon along the M27.
The big Vauxhall also represented very good value for money - if £8,354 was a considerable sum 39 years ago, a Royale was still cheaper than a Granada, an Audi 100 CD 5E and a Volvo 264GLE.
Meanwhile Autocar tested a Coupe in that same month and thought that ‘it emphasizes how unusual and distinctive is the appeal of the Vauxhall Royale Coupe that we were not able to find any true competitor for it at the price’. Both versions were replaced in late 1982 by the A2-series Senator and Monza; the former was Opel-badged in the UK until 1984.
It almost goes without saying that you are more likely to encounter an episode of EastEnders that doesn’t sound like a convention of Anthony Newley/Dick Van Dyke impersonators than a 1979-vintage Vauxhall flagship in everyday use. Richard Hughes of Rickinghall in Suffolk found his 1980 example last year – ‘she was in pretty good condition with a very good interior’.
Another reason for buying his Royale saloon was, as with many a managerial-type before him, he fell prey to the lure of that living room-on-wheels appeal. ‘My car is finished in Agate Red Metallic, but first owner added a Sovereign Gold lower half’ – a paint scheme that further enhances that essential uber-early 1980s look.
Best of all, the Hughes Royale is still worthy of that brilliantly over-the-top name four decades ago there were those cynics who pointed out that this sounded less like the latest Vauxhall flagship and more like brand of chocolate mint.
And ironically, according to the marque’s historian David Booker: ‘The Viscount name was dropped in favour of Royale because the name had been registered by United Biscuits for their new chocolate mint cream biscuit!’