Vauxhall's sporting saloon

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The first full road-test report on the latest VX 4/90

In time for the last London Motor Show the Vauxhall Company introduced revised cars, of which the excellent 3.3-litre Cresta has already been eulogised in these pages. The sporting saloon of the range, the VX 4/90, has always been a well-equipped, high-performance car but in the past we felt that somehow it didn’t quite get over. Consequently, it was with interest that we accepted for road-test the latest version of this fast family saloon from Luton, with its twin-Zenith 3-bearing, 1,594-c.c. engine.

The 1965 VX 4/90 has a completely new body, the sides and windows of notably curvacious form to provide increased interior space, the rigidity of the body/chassis structure has been improved appreciably, curing the shake which was one of the shortcomings we criticised in the past, while performance has been maintained by an increase of cr. from 8.5 to 9.3 to 1, the extra 1-1/2 b.h.p. thus gained combating a weight increase in the body of some 60 lb. Steps having been taken to reduce the transfer of noise to the car’s interior and to give it better road-holding and more effective braking, this Vauxhall VX 4/90 is a palatable proposition, especially when the pains taken to underseal and render the bodyshell corrosion-proof (described previously in Motor Sport), the special pigmented acrylic lacquer and “thermal re-flow” body stoving to give a high-gloss deep lustre finish that needs no polishing, and the 30,000-mile or 30 months’ greasing schedule, are taken into account.

The VX 4/90 is one of those cars which seem effortless to drive from initial acquaintance. The new control and instrumentation arrangements are practical and convenient. On the driver’s right are Vauxhall’s usual wipers’/washers’ knob and all-purpose lamps’ knob, with another knob between them for the Lucas Ranger and Fogranger spotlamps, if fitted. A panel immediately before the driver accommodates four small matching dials for, I. to r., oil pressure/water temperature, engine revs., speed, and amps./fuel contents. The oil gauge reads to 80 lb./sq. in. but normally shows 40 lb., the thermometer is calibrated to 220° F., normally indicating 180° “. The tachometer goes to 6,000 r.p.m., the red sector commencing at 5,500 r.p.m. The speedometer – these are A.C. instruments – goes to 100 m.p.h. and is also calibrated in k.p.h.; it has total and trip mileometers. The fuel gauge notes that the capacity is to gallons, or 45 litres, but indicated “full” with 8 gallons in the tank. The full-beam warning light reflects in the I.h. dial, offsetting to some extent the fact that the rheostat-controlled instrument lighting can be turned off.

Above and below this business-like section of the facia there is crash-padding, generously deep below the panel. The heater controls, as two horizontal quadrants, are centrally disposed above the non-push-button Vauxhall radio (an extra), and are clearly labelled, the 2-speed blower being engaged by pulling out the r.h. knob.

The ignition key engages close to the left of the steering column (a lock is extra), and there is a central, lockable facia oddments box, rather cavernous but far more commodious than a normal cubbyhole. Ash-tray, cigarette-lighter (an extra), and choke knob are above it. The oddments box lid lacks a handle, and making it open could easily break a girl’s finger nails. There are parcels shelves each side under the facia and a hand-grip confronts the front-seat passenger. Large ventilation ducts are attached to each side of the scuttle.

The single spoke of the steering wheel is padded, there is a rather sharp-edged full horn-ring, and the centrally-placed gear and brake-levers are well located. A l.h. stalk works the turn indicators and, depressed, flashes the headlamps. On the test car the horn appeared to have a sore throat and there was an occasional “short” in the radio. Sill interior door locks are used, the front doors give courtesy interior lighting, the vizors swivel but do not possess a mirror, and the side arm-rests are too low-set to be fully effective. Small ash-trays with neat flush-fitting lids occupy the rear arm-rests. The rear seat has a folding centre arm-rest. The front window winders need four complete turns, The external mirror is spring-loaded, which made it difficult to adjust. The bonnet needs propping up, and another irritation is that if one forgets to push the release knob home, it is necessary to do this before the bonnet can be locked shut. The lid of the extremely capacious 23 cu. ft. boot stays up automatically. The test car had safety belts for all seats, the latter upholstered in imitation leather.

Visibility is enhanced by strips of beading which mark the extremities of the car, but not everyone admired the new grille and wheels, which give the latest small Vauxhalls some resemblance to a Dinky Toy.

On the road the now VX 4/90 runs eagerly, the measure of its performance being shown by the figures in the accompanying table, timed by electric speedometer. This showed an average degree of “flatter” on the part of the car’s speedometer, which was 2 m.p.h. fast at 30, the same at 40, 3 m.p.h. optimistic at 50 and 4 m.p.h. “fast” at 60 m.p.h. The engine goes very quickly “into the red,” and at just over 5.500 r.p.m. genuine maxima of 28, 43 and 68 m.p.h. are obtainable in the indirect gears. The ratios give approx. 5-1/4, 8-1/2, 13-1/2 and 17-1/2 indicated m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. It is a rougher unit than a 5-bearing engine and noisy towards maximum r.p.m. The choke control was insensitive and the engine invariably idled at 1,000 r.p.m.

The gear-change has a delightful semi-mechanical action, functioning very smoothly. Reverse is across beyond 1st gear position. The vacuum servo-assisted brakes (discs at the front) are far more effective than they feel, and the steering, if somewhat vague, is fairly light but spongy on full lock, with mild castor-return action, and no kick-back. It is low-geared, however. The suspension is quite soft, which gives freedom from anxiety but lively action over unmade roads, and does permit considerable, but fortunately consistent, roll when cornering fast. The initial feel of understeer changes to roll oversteer but, allowing for this, the VX 4/90 can be taken quite quickly through difficult bends. Only very bad surfaces cause momentary back-axle tramp. My impression of the sporting Vauxhall over long journeys was of a spacious, comfortable car which covered the miles deceptively quickly, its effortless acceleration aiding high average speeds. It was also notably economical. Fast main-road driving gave an average of 28.1 m.p.g. We do not normally include performance-testing on the track in our fuel consumption assessments, but even this treatment, and driving in London rush-hour traffic, only pulled the figure down to 26-1/4 m.p.g. The engine should accept Premium petrol but pinked to an extent which suggested it preferred 100-octane. The practical range, from “full” to “empty” on the gauge, was 200 miles. The oil-level called for a quart of Castrol after 1,000 miles. The dip-stick is slightly obstructed by the h.t, leads. In this distance the engine had begun to falter at below 2,000 r.p.m. and the l. h. turns-indicator warning light ceased to function. The former trouble was due to a breakdown in insulation in the h.t. wiring, soon cured at Vauxhall’s Service Station in Wardour Street, London.

The overall impression of the new Vauxhall VX 4/90 is that it falls into that useful category of sensibly-sized family car, properly equipped for comfort and convenience, with above-average performance, the last-named attribute reflected in a s.s.1/4-mile time of 19.6 sec. and a top speed of 96 m.p.h. Many extras are available from Vauxhall dealers and the price can be described as competitive, at £872 11s. 3d. inclusive of p.t.—W. B.

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