The next big step?
The motor sport of the future, or a gimmick? Roborace gets serious The start was…
Since the war I have tested a number of Vauxhall cars. Early in 1949 the bulbous and generally rather curious-looking new Velox saloon was sampled and was regarded as commendably economical when its 2,275-c.c. 6-cylinder engine gave 25 m.p.g., coupled with “American-car acceleration and a 75-m.p.h. maximum.” In 1953 I headed my impressions of the current “oversquare” 2.25-litre Vauxhall “Afloat in a Velox.” The makers took no action, so presumably they didn’t disagree. The car was, however, comfortable and majestic. In 1957 Luton produced the new Victor for me to try. I see that I was not very enthusiastic and, in common with many others, I disliked the styling, referring to the Victor of six years ago as “vulgar.”
The following year a Velox came along for road-test over the August Bank Holiday, and although an electrical fault that simulated low oil pressure was alarming, I commented favourably on the excellent value-for-money that this big 82.5-b.h.p. saloon undoubtedly offered. Early in 1959 I combined a visit to Vauxhall Motors with experience of a Victor station-wagon in which I covered nearly 1,200 miles in a week. I found, as I always have done with this car, that well-chosen ratios and synchromesh on 1st rendered the 3-speed gearbox acceptable and that this extremely useful, reliable car would give 33.8 m.p.g. under winter conditions.
During 1960 I formed a high opinion of the imposing Friary Velox estate car, and last year I drove several Vauxhalls in order to assess the new Victor and VX 4/90, taking one of the former through the Mobilgas Economy Run.
Even the war years had not been Vauxhall-less, for the Proprietor of Motor Sport sometimes lent me his Ten, noted for its economy, which, if it was by then somewhat long-in-the-tooth, wasn’t so decrepit as my Austin Seven. Much petrol has vaporized since those days and so we come to the most-recent product of Luton I have sampled, a smart red PB Velox saloon, handsome in a rather pancake, lofty from the ground, sort of fashion.
How vastly improved is this latest Vauxhall Velox, which, outwardly, resembles an inflated Victor. It seats six if need be, or four comfortably supported with the wide central arm-rests of its broad bench-seats in use.
It is fully and sensibly equipped, especially for its price-class. The facia, a combination of walnut veneer (real!) and non-dazzle p.v.c. sill, has a hooded 110-m.p.h. horizontal colour-changing-ribbon A.C. speedometer incorporating dials recording fuel contents and water temperature (habitually 180° F.), total mileage recorder with decimals (but no trip-recorder), and non-dazzle warning lights. The dials have clear white figures and even the indicators’ warning light is sensibly subdued.
The gears are changed by a rather “notchy-action” but substantial I.h. column lever, the indicators operated by a more slender r.h. stalk. Reverse is unguarded in the 3-speed box, which at first can be embarrassing to those who also drive 4-speed cars. The usual Vauxhall arrangement of minor controls is used, with variously-shaped and also labelled knobs convenient to the driver’s right hand looking after lamps-cum-variable facia lighting-cum-roof light (which also has courtesy action), and screen-wipers-cum-washers. I found these “fumbly” if needed urgently, the foot dip-switch is somewhat remote, and the wipers could with advantage clean more of the wide windscreen. There are big name-plates above the gauges and warning lights to avoid any confusion, and the name “Vauxhall” appears, rather blatantly, before the front-seat passenger, the makers obviously not intending any passenger who is impressed with the car to leave in ignorance of its make!
There is a very effective automatic choke which got the 82.5x 82.5 mm. (2,651 c.c.) 6-cylinder engine going very promptly after all-night exposure to disgustingly cold weather. The 5-position ignition key apparently allows the car to be driven without the key, if you follow me, but how I failed to discover. Nor could I ascertain whether the Velox, or only the Cresta, has the thermostatically-regulated heater. If it had, I wasn’t impressed, because I never had quite the amount of warmth I desired, although the twin vertical quadrant-levers, one for volume, the other selecting the path of the hot air, are clearly labelled.
Those who risk their lives by smoking as well as by motoring have a big covered ash-tray in the facia sill and two more very neatly recessed in each rear-door arm-rest. There is a big “under-lidded” non-lockable cubby-hole, and map-stowages on each side of the scuttle. The front doors have quarter-lights with locking catches and the window winders lower the glasses flush with the sills after one-and-three-quarter turns. Depression of the upholstered steering-wheel spoke or full horn-ring sounds a rather lethargic hooter. Sill interior door-locks, flush-lidded quick-action fuel filler, wide rear-view mirror, good wing-mirrors, twin vizors and one key for all locks are good items but clock and vanity mirror are conspicuous by their absence. The test car had a good Vauxhall transistor long- and medium-wave radio with speaker in the rear-seat shelf.
The handbrake lever now lies very discreetly on the right but is absolutely to hand and has a thumb-hold. The clutch was heavy and sudden in engaging, so the change from hydraulic to mechanical actuation seems a retrograde move.
Six-cylinder smoothness is evident apart from just-audible rather lumpy idling and this 113 (gross) b.h.p. engine gives excellent response to the throttle, quite fierce acceleration being accompanied merely by some evidence that the Zenith is breathing hard through its single downdraught choke.
The suspension kills road-wheel deflections well, the ride being comfortable but just too lively to be outstanding. The back axle, located only by long leaf-springs, makes its title of heavyweight evident only when dancing over really nasty surfaces. The steering is rather too low-geared at 4.25-turns lock-to-lock, and of this a full turn is sponge. There is quick castor return action but this causes heavy control on wide-lock corners, while some shocks are transmitted, although generally the body shell is rigid and completely free from rattles. Full marks, though, for the unobtrusive but excellent servo-assisted Lockheed brakes, disc on the front wheels.
The lid of the extremely capacious boot rises automatically on being released (it is easily locked) and the bonnet stays up automatically, revealing accessible dip-stick, Exide battery, etc.
Other Motor Sport commitments prevented me from driving this modern Vauxhall Velox for more than three full days. However, I pointed this large, comfortable family saloon towards Wales and had the surprise of the winter over the manner in which this conventional, and to my mind quite unsuitable, car coped with the snow and ice. Beyond New Radnor the way to Rhayader was blocked and a steep ice-clad gradient pointed the alternative route, via Builth Wells. This the Velox found easy, thanks to sensitive throttle control in middle gear. We progressed so well over many undulating miles of polished ice, between banks of snow higher than the car and scarcely any wider, that I decided to turn off at a minor crossroads and make for Llandrindod Wells over Gilwern Hill although at the remote Police Station where I inquired if this was prudent the policeman’s wile said it was “very dicey,” while a farmer in a Land-Rover coming the other way called it impossible.
However, although it was “quite a dice,” the Velox took this winter mountaineering in its stride. In the hotel that evening, after we had listened to a party of racing cyclists explaining how they had been forced to dismount and carry their machines over show-drifts and of how, because fog had prevented an R.A.F. helicopter from bringing away an invalid snowbound up in the hills, a rescue party, including the local doctor and led by the Master of Foxhounds, had spent the night walking 14 miles and still been defeated, we were congratulated for making the detour by car. “Of course, you had chains?” they asked (we hadn’t, for British Press Departments never deem them necessary unless asked), and were incredulous when the exact route of our ” detour ” became known—”It is only used by hill farmers and rally drivers,” we were told, and had not been considered passable since before Christmas…
Whether the Vauxhall’s weight distribution is responsible for its contempt of non-adhesive gradients, how much the British-made 5.90 x 14 Goodyear “All Weather Rib, Super Cushion” 4-ply tubeless tyres contribute, I do not know, but I now have a much greater respect for the Velox than I have for most cars in which the motive power is divorced from the driven wheels by a prop.-shaft.
To prevent us feeling too smug, the cyclists in whose company we spent the evening, having ridden (and walked) 80 miles from Birmingham to Rhayader, were riding 100 miles back, avoiding the snow, the next day! Even in their company the talk was of the savage sentences meted out to road users and the exorbitant premiums charged by insurance companies, not because they were cyclists but because some of them owned cars—indeed, on this training run they were accompanied by two well turned-out, “souped-up” B.M.C. Minivans.
In those two days I drove the Velox 385 miles. I do not remember the seat feeling uncomfortable, nor fatigue developing from any other cause, nor did any trouble develop. On the difficult bits, when middle gear was in use for mile after mile, up hill and down, fuel consumption was 20.8 m.p.g. Fast main-road motoring plus cold-starts gave 21.8 m.p.g., an overall consumption of 21.3 m.p.g. The makers’ figure for tank capacity is 10.75 gallons; the actual range was 217 miles. Colleagues drove the car, the total distance being 1,050 miles. The oil level was then still far above the “Oil Required” mark on the dip-stick, although I think about a quart had been consumed. Vauxhall anti-freeze protected the cooling system in very sub-zero temperatures.
To sum up. I rate this latest Vauxhall to bear the noble name of Velox devoid of personality but otherwise a very useful, comfortable, roomy, well-equipped and unexpectedly “sure-footed” car. The price of £840 7s. 1d., inclusive of p.t. (a heater is £14 15s. extra, the screen-washers £2 19s. 6d.) can only be regarded as good value and practical considerations in the car’s favour are the long periods between servicing (chassis lubrication is required only at 30,000-mile or 30-month intervals) and the very thorough undersealing, rust-proofing and conscientious painting undertaken by Vauxhall Motors. This includes the injection of polythene wax and aluminium fillers in the door sills, an undersurface thickly coated with bituminous paint, and three coats of synthetic cellulose enamel baked for at least 28 min. at 190°F., a total of 6.75 gallons of paint and corrosion resisting material on every Victor, more on each Velox and Cresta, as Vauxhall Motors sensibly emphasised in Press advertising while last winter’s weather was at its worst. — W. B.
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