Afloat in a Velox

Understanding readers might be excused for imagining that the title of this article refers to a happy jaunt in a 30/98 on a decidedly precarious bank-balance!  In fact, it concerns our impressions of the latest Vauxhall Velox, which, although an E-type, bears no resemblance to those vintage cars of the same make and type-designation.

For, whereas the Vauxhall Velox of the nineteen-twenties was intended primarily for sport, the present-day Velox from Luton is a veritable drawing-room-on-wheels.

The Vauxhall people are quite sensible about this. Some time ago, when they were announcing a new range of models, their publicity man told us these were excellent cars in every way, but really not the sort of thing Motor Sport  would want to road-test. “But,” he continued, “later on something quicker may appear and then you shall have a go,” or words to that effect. Which is how we came to have the services of a Velox with the new six-cylinder, 2-1/4-litre, “over-square” engine for a long week-end.

And that Vauxhall did serve, if by this is meant getting its occupants from A to the ever-desirable B in good time and with a high degree of comfort and convenience, which is, after all, the purpose of 99 per cent, or so of the world’s automobiles.

Taking this bulbous saloon away from the London agents in the height of the lunch-hour traffic press, it was astonishing how “at home” the driver felt from the very first engagement of the clutch. Although the near side of the front-end is not visible, the Vauxhall was taken through narrow places and along slim, one-way thoroughfares with equanimity, and very soon West End gave way to Suburbia, Suburbia to the Kingston By-pass and the country. Later, in the evening of the same day, in fog and a hurry, we had no hesitation about hustling homewards in this Vauxhall, which we had driven for rather less than 60 miles.

The reason for this impression of easily serving its driver comes from a sense of spaciousness in the interior (which is very real, for the Velox can accommodate three people on its bench front seat and four, if necessary, on the broad back seat) and the ease with which the car can be controlled at town-driving speed.

The steering is smooth rather than light and although rather low-geared for manoeuvring (three turns, lock to lock), is about right for cornering; it conveys no kick back, suffers no column or facia judder, and is “dead” in the modern manner, but not spongey. The “dried milk” steering wheel is well placed and pleasant to handle, although we preferred to do so by its rim rather than by its two thick, serrated spokes. The clutch bit only at the end of the pedal’s travel but is positive, and the steering-stalk (left-hand) gear-lever works smoothly and very well of its kind. Reverse has no safety catch. The Lockheed-Vauxhall brakes call for firm pressure, but otherwise are excellent in every way and extremely powerful. An easy car to get to know, this Velox. The sliding side windows, devoid of winders, are appreciated early in one’s acquaintance with the car (although two of them were stiff to lower and broke our finger-nails), and further investigation of detail adds to the praise.

For example, the switches, rather brightly plated on an ornate facia, pull out positively or click in according to what the driver wishes to select, and the headlamps cannot be lit unless the sidelamps are on, and vice versa. Alas, these switches are set along the facia base, rather difficult to locate at night. The instruments have rheostat control of their illumination, the heater really works (although its fan is noisy), and the doors open very easily from inside or outside by pressing the button. The engine starts very easily indeed from cold, the ventilative half-windows are useful, there is a big cubby-hole with tin (unlockable) lid, and front-seat adjustment is simple. The doors have parcel-recesses; there is a shelf behind the back seat.

Outside the car, the good ground clearance so that overhang of the tail is no menace when backing over a kerb, the simple press-to-open/press-to-close flap-type fuel filler cap, and the very large luggage locker, free of spare wheel (which is below the floor), with its balanced, lockable lid, are other excellent features. The corner-style rear lamps, too, are reassuring. And, climbing in again, let us give credit for the very good right-hand hand-brake with its simple but effective guard over the release ratchet and its easy, positive action.

Self-parking, engine-driven windscreen wipers, a good, preset (five stations) radio controlled by three simple, accessible knobs on the facia, bright roof-lamp with inbuilt switch, large rear screen, steering-column control of the direction indicators, good fog-lamp and so on, all increase one’s respect for the 1953 Velox. Its 11-gallon fuel tank, too, is appreciated, and fuel gauge and thermometer (merely marked C, N, H) are easy to read. The bonnet is opened from outside by little lift-up-and-over levers which Delaunay-Belleville used up to 1927 or so. The horn is the opposite of blatant.

Altogether, then, this essentially modern  car in the American style is possessed of a great many practical features which point to its designer being a motorist himself.

In performance, the excellent acceleration, both in vivid “stepoff” in bottom gear and the ability to go quickly from 50 to 60 m.p.h. in top gear, adds to the pleasure of driving. Expressed in stopwatch terms, 0-50 m.p.h. in a shade over 15 seconds is excellent for a spacious family car, and nearly 60 m.p.h. is attained in the middle cog (6.78 to 1) of the three-speed gearbox. All-out speed is around 75 m.p.h., but the Velox cruises all day at an effortless indicated 70 m.p.h.

Its handling and suspension characteristics are interesting. At low speeds there is a good deal of irritating up-and-down motion and the ride is somewhat soggy, giving rise to a joke to the effect that a supply of Mothersills goes out with each new car. Susceptible passengers certainly confirmed this as possibly a good idea. But, as the speed rises the springing stiffens up and the ride is far better, while still smoothing out all road-surface imperfections. The suspension is well damped for taking hump-back bridges.

Perhaps Maurice Olley, M.S.A.E., M.I.Mech.E., whose learned papers on automobile design contain so much common sense and humour, has had a hand in this. The fact remains that this American-style Vauxhall Velox is a happier car to drive at its higher speeds, suggesting that it is intended for countries in which normal people drive at 40-50 m.p.h. instead of at 15-25 m.p.h. as in England.

In cornering ability this supple Velox is better than would be expected. There is a rather pronounced understeer tendency and this tends to change to a roll oversteer, but the point of changeover remains consistent and generally the driver-in-a-hurry can get through bends very smartly, the steering somewhat heavy to hold against the strong castor action. Tthe Goodyear tyres, moreover, protest hardly at all. But this is not a really enjoyable way of motoring the Vauxhall, and we found we were quite happy to ease back to a more moderate pace after some quick going, and that at 30 m.p.h. in built-up areas the Velox was, perhaps, at its most companionable. Perhaps this impression was heightened by fast driving being rather tiring, the aforesaid steering characteristics, a rather low front seat and the presence of some fumes or “hotsmell” in the car, coupled with a slight bonnet judder and daylight reflections in the curved windscreen no doubt combining to give this impression. Against this, that excellent acceleration and sure braking do much to offset these rather deeply defined observations.

Most people would overlook our “critical-enthusiast” comments in favour of the comfort, convenience and spaciousness of this low-priced, brisk family car which possesses so many sensible details. Moreover, the fuel gauge sinks but slowly, 24-27 m.p.g. being obtainable according to the urgency of the journey.

The engine sounds a bit busy towards 60 m.p.h. in second gear, but does not suffer from valve bounce, nor does it “run-on.”  It was “pink-free” on National Benzole and almost so on the cheapest fuels, and pulls away smoothly from 10 m.p.h. in top gear. It is quiet yet has quite an exhaust burble if you listen outside the car. It called for no oil or water but blue smoke came freely from the exhaust pipe; this was the same car which a contemporary had taken briskly to Monte Carlo the month before.

Reverting to detail, there are deep floor carpets, ample ashtrays, pleasing loose covers over the seats, metal door “pulls,” and the doors lock extremely easily with simple slides, although it is advisable to keep a spare key on one’s person as otherwise one may get locked out. Spinster ladies will appreciate that they can lock themselves inside a Velox. The A.C. speedometer reads to 90 m.p.h. but has no “trip.” There is no clock in the car.

Things we disliked were the rather vulnerable loudspeaker set on the cubbyhole lid, the view in the mirror cut off by the top of the rear window (awkward for those drivers who continually watch the mirror in built-up areas, should that bit of the view which is cut off read “Police” !), the wind noise round the screen at 60-70 m.p.h., a slight rattle from the ventilator windows when open, and the squidyness of the suspension during “rally-test ” manoeuvres, although here the speed obtainable in reverse is useful. There was a loud squeak at the front of the engine, suggesting a water impeller starved of grease. The indirect gears whine.

A good instruction manual comes with the car, usually a sign of willing after-sales service.

Altogether, the Velox of today appealed to us and it should be a worthy contender with the Chevrolet and similar U.S. vehicles for overseas markets.  If, to testers accustomed to compact, hard-sprung cars, we appeared to spend our time floating about the English countryside in the Velox, we certainly did so majestically and in considerable comfort, and returned this Vauxhall very impressed by the value offered at £535 (£833 14s. 5d. with p.t.). — W.B.