Three Vauxhalls

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On the road with the Victor 2300 Estate, the Chevette GL and the new Cavalier 1900 GT Coupe

Three different Vauxhalls came into my life recently. The first of these was that very impressive-looking, low-built Victor 2300 Estate. There is little point in devoting much space to it, not because it isn’t a most useful and accommodating vehicle, but because new versions are on the way, in which this rugged four-cylinder engine will figure. So let me just say that this willing Vauxhall was used to tow my 1922 Talbot-Darracq Eight, on its trailer, over a considerable distance and that in some 1,600 miles not only did it never falter and proved very comfortable, but it was found to be an excellent towing-car.

The Chevette I drove last year. But I was anxious to gain greater experience of it, because it represents one of America’s recent excursions into the realms of the truly small, compact car. Full-size American automobiles have never been the best proposition for the average upper-crust owner, with their ornate bulk, dodgy brakes, vague steering, and floating suspension. There are definite exceptions, of course, but this is the norm. Small editions of such unquestionably effortless, dependable-over-enormous-mileages, conveniently-contrived cars have a fascination of their own, however, apart from being of a size far more suitable for European roads.

I have sampled various such US-products, like the Ford Falcon, Chrysler Valiant, etc. The snag is that they never seemed to catch on, here or in the States for that matter, right from the time of the Overland Whippet onwards, and some, such as the Ford Pinto, scarcely reached these shores. The Chevette, a Chevrolet basic conception, is different, being both smaller, and already popular.

I remade acquaintance with the GL edition, which has better trim and embellishments than the standard model. I liked its clear instrumentation, which includes an accurate clock, its very light steering with a small turning-circle and mild castor return action, and the stubby gear lever, with, however, rather a large knob. The plastic surround to the steering column is somewhat flimsy, noticed as the manual choke-control is pulled out, and I could not turn off warm air when I wanted cool air on my face, which I believe is an inherent Chevette fault. There are internal stowages in the form of a l.h. shelf rather obstructed by cleats and the heater-hose, and a central well that held my sand-wich-box firmly! The brakes functioned nicely, the hand lever is well placed, the Michelin ZXs grip well, heating and demisting are well contrived, and details good, such as the flick screen-wiper -action, facia-operated interior lamp, neat door handles (but big keys), rear-window-heater, etc. The two-speed heater-fan is noisy and I didn’t approve of the oval, thick-rimmed steering wheel.

The clutch was apt to be aggressive, the gear change does not equal an Escort’s for smooth selection, one’s left foot has to he parked beneath the clutch pedal, and crosswinds caused some deflection. This game little 3-door car was great fun to drive, however, and it ran over 297 miles to a tankful of fuel, giving a notable 39.1 m.p.g. of 4-star. Oil thirst was approx. 530 m.p.p.

The Vauxhall Chevette is a significant edition to the small-car .stakes, even if it does not feel much like an American “compact”. Stemming from that country, it is surprising that it fails to fit into any definite category. It is not roomy enough to be a regular four-seater. For the same reason, much of the advantage of being a. “hatchback” is missed, because it isn’t a very spacious “estate” job. Regard it as a little coupe and it is fine, except that it hasn’t enough performance to take on a sporting image. The Ford Escort provides seats for four and a big boot, and is available in sporting versions, and there are “hatch-backs” which are better than the Chevette in the convert-to-an-estate-car idiom .

The third Vauxhall I am concerned with here is tile new Cavalier. It came in 1.9-litre coupe form. This is a very impressive move on Vauxhall’s part. Made in Belgium (and I had not driven a Belgian car since I sampled a vintage Minerva) it is really the sporty-nosed Opel Manta with Vauxhall badges. The Cavalier looks, however, like going a long way to getting Luton out of us financial rut.

The saloon versions are really Opel Asconas with the addition of a sporty-nose similar to that of the coupe. Our past enthusiasm for most of the modern Opels endorses the sound sense of this Luton’s European ploy. The lines of this £2,423 four-seater coupe with its Firenza-nose are such that people stopped to admire it and to enquire about it. It is nice to drive, with large comfortable seats, good brakes, a reasonable gear-shift with an angled lever of rather long movements and Vauxhall’s lift-up action protecting reverse, and heavy steering that lightens up as speed increases, although it never becomes really light; it needs just over 4 turns, lock-to-lock.

The Cavalier coupe not only has the 1,897-c.c. four-cylinder engine of the Cavalier GL 4-door saloon, this being Opels high-camshaft iron unit developing 90 DIN b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m., but the GL’s styled wheels, 5 1/2 in. wide in the case of the coupe, and shod with radial tyres, 180/70 Uniroyal Rallye on the test car. There is rack-and-pinion steering, double wishbone coil i.f.s., and a live axle on coil springs at the back. The suspension tends to be harsh, and somewhat noise-promoting.

That this Cavalier car is brand-new is surprising in some ways. The angled screen pillars are thick and impede side vision. The instruments are buried in a deep nacelle and a vast red facia confronts the front-seat occupants. Simulated wood strip is used only on the doors, where it carries neat slide-locks and handles. Surprisingly, there is no tachometer, although a r.h.-located quartz clock is fitted. Two vertical heater controls are found to the right of the instrument nacelle (heating and demisting are effective, but the rear-window heater could clear a deeper area), and four facia holes, closed by pivoted flaps, let in warm air for side-window and demisting or cold air, in a powerful stream, for ventilation. The rear side windows can be opened as vents. The boot requires a key to open it and it let in rain water. The spare wheel is vertical, on the offside. The driver’s arm-rest obstructs his right arm when he wants to work the big knob controlling seat-squab angle and this knob soon fell off, necessitating opening the door to alter the driver’s seat rake!

Performance is not remarkable. Top speed is around 110 m.p.h., depending on conditions, and 0-60 m.p.h. occupies 11.1 sec. Seventy m.p.h, comes up, from rest, in 14.9 sec., 100 m.p.h. in 41 sec., and this Cavalier coupe will accelerate from 40 to 60 m.p.h. in top gear in 8.3 sec., or from 30 to 50 m.p.h. in top (observing those speed-limits!) in 8.6 sec. This is not exactly sports performance. But I found this big coupe pleasant to use on a long run. There is some body resonance when picking up speed but it is generally a quiet car, unless the engine is revving fast. It is also a well-behaved car, with no tricks. Cornering normally promotes some understeer and roll is well controlled. Usually a prompt cold starter on an auto-choke, it gave 30.6 m.p.g. of 4-star petrol (mileage recorder correct). This is only notable for a car of nearly 2-litres, The fuel range was 363 1/2 miles, suggesting that more than 11 gallons can be put in the tank.

Reverting to details, there are three big dials, the 130 m.p.h. speedometer, number-calibrated every 20 m.p.h., with decimal mileometer but no trip being flanked by heat and fuel gauges (this latter went to “red” a ludicrous 119 1/2 miles before the tank ran dry) incorporating three warning-lights each. The lamps are selected by a little r.h. turnknob, a single slender l.h. stalk under the steering wheel controlling turn indicators, wipers with a twist of its knob, lamps dipping and flashing. This necessitates an old-fashioned steering-wheel location for the horn button and, worse, it is in the wheel centre; the knob carries a Wyvern and sounds a subdued deep note. There is use of yellow paint for clock, hands, instrument needles, etc., and the dials are ringed with yellow, with other colours for different switches. Minor controls and warning lamps arc clearly symbolled, including the switches for heater-fan and rear-window-heating. Stowage is provided by a drop-door shallow cubby, non-lockable but with a hidden catch, a divided well on the driver’s door and a shallow well surrounding the gear lever. An interesting body item is that the roof incorporates a rollover bar. The body seems well-sealed, the passenger’s door refusing to shut easily unless a window was opened. The winders are very low-geared.

This cosmopolitan car had a French Philips radio and German Hella headlamps. The rear-hinged bonnet release is on the “wrong”, or off-side, and the lid needs propping open. The dip-stick is accessible apart from the width of the engine-bay but was stiff to reinsert. No oil was needed after 1,000 miles. A diagram pasted to the valve cover suggested to me that it is essential to use short-reach plugs in the Opel engine—no instruction hook was issued with the car. Altogether, this Opel with the Vauxhall badge and styling is an interesting addition to the British market.—W.B.

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