Friday January 4, 2019
‘I wanted a car from my teenage years ... something my father had’. Barry Davies was a Victor fan from a young age – ‘I was 18 in 1976, and my old man had the FD then - it had the most class in the entire village!’ – and in November of last year, he acquired a very exclusive motorcar - ‘it is the last VX2300 automatic saloon from 1976 left, so I am led to believe’.
The VX was the final European-built incarnation of the Victor FE range, which debuted in early 1972 as the replacement for the “Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)” style FD. In some respects, it was a watershed model for Luton, sharing a floorpan with the Opel Rekord D and being the last new Vauxhall to sport in-house styling.
One break from tradition was that a steering column gear change was no longer available and nor was three-speed transmission. At the bottom of the line-up was the Victor 1800 De Luxe, which could still be ordered with a bench front seat, and MD’s tempted by the 3.3-litre vinyl-roof magnificence that was the Ventora.
The FE’s Pontiac style nose was redolent more of The Streets of San Francisco than Dixon of Dock Green, but perhaps the main challenge faced by dealers was that the new Victor seemed to occupy a mid-way point between the Cortina Mk. III and the Ford Granada.
The FE’s rather handsome lines reflected the fact that Vauxhall’s principal overseas sales territory was Canada and its dimensions were geared for that market. Unfortunately, within weeks of its debut, exports would cease following a succession of complaints about the quality control of the HC.
The loss of this major export market was just one issue facing Vauxhall, and by 1973 the company had been forced to cancel several intriguing projects. The enlarged Viva HD, which would have been a direct Cortina rival, was abandoned in favour of Gryphon badged Opel Ascona x while a 4.2-litre V8 engine “FE Viscount”, which was to be a star of the 1973 Motor Show never came to fruition.
In 1975 the Chevette and the Cavalier anticipated a future of Opel-influenced products and marked the beginning of the end for Luton’s design independence.
Meanwhile, the Victor was now approaching its third birthday, and Vauxhall’s management had decided on an extensive improvement programme. This was in part so it would be further differentiated from the Cavalier but also so that that FE could realise its potential. When the VX was launched in early 1976, there was a new grille, modified engines and suspension, an enhanced list of standard equipment, a much-improved interior and a slightly redefined image.
As compared with its predecessor the VX had a slightly more low-key appearance and the cabin of the saloon, with its seats trimmed in ‘handsome ribbed velour cloth’ was a quite a selling point. Vauxhall dispensed with the 19-year-old Victor name to reinforce the message that here was transport for the sales manager rather than the sales representative. It was a true five-seater, the boot was large enough for any number of samples cases and who could resist the opportunity to arrive at that vital business meeting in a car that sported ‘Clean, authoritative styling’?
Barry’s VX is the mid-range 2300, sandwiched between the entry-level VX 1800 saloon and the range-topping 2300GLS; there was to be no Ventura in the post-fuel crisis era. Motor tested the manual gearbox 2300 in July 1976 and found it to be ‘‘A good all-rounder’ and a ‘worthy member of a now very competitive range’.
At £2,708, the Vauxhall was slightly more expensive than a Leyland Princess 1800 HL although a ‘traditional-minded’ fleet buyer would have almost certainly considered the Ford Granada 2000L Mk. I which was virtually the same price as a 2.3-litre VX.
In 1977 Autocar thought that ‘the VX Series has an assured place until the next round of GM rationalisation sees the possible replacement for both it and the Opel Rekord, but that is a long way off yet’. In fact production of the VX ended in July of the following year, and its replacement was the Carlton, a Gryphon-badged Rekord E.
However, this was not quite the end of the FE story. Vauxhall sold the design to Hindustan Motors of Kolkata, and the “Contessa” was made from 1984 until 2002 -
During that same period, the VX began to disappear from British roads and by the 1990s they were already becoming a rarity. Barry’s example looks as splendid as the day it left the factory and in terms of the work he has undertaken ‘I have only fitted a NOS full exhaust and belts plus a good all-round service, but body and mechanicals are all spot on. I’ve just got to sort out the auto choke’.
On the road, Barry finds that the VX ‘goes like stink. I have no problem with the auto box; it always seems to be in the right ratio, and the changes are smooth with more than enough power to get speed quickly’.
The gold VX has ‘yet to make a public appearance here in the Midlands’, and in the meantime various friends, family members and Barry’s mechanic have all remarked ‘how good she looks, and they can't believe the condition for a 42-year-old car’.
One modification for the immediate future is the fitting of ‘some discreet seatbelts for the rear’ as a new generation of classic enthusiasts – Barry’s grandchildren - cannot wait to take a ride in the mighty Vauxhall.
What attracted Mr. Davies to his 2300 was not just the styling and the engineering but his belief that ‘not only this car but all classics need preserving in any practical way - but this car is something of beauty. It is original, rare’ and, most importantly of all, ‘I am its custodian with the challenge of keeping her as she is... for the future’. It is a sentiment with which probably 100% of readers would all concur.