The Vauxhall VX Four-Ninety
One of the most interesting entirely new cars at Earls Court last October was the VX 4/90 version of the already vastly improved Vauxhall Victor from Luton.
The Vauxhall Motors Ltd. design team, under Chief Engineer Maurice Platt, developed this special edition of the Victor as a special model for discerning motorists—they insist that it is not a sports or even a sporting Vauxhall, although one has only to contemplate the 4/90’s gross power output of 81 b.h.p. allied to its kerb weight of 18 3/4 cwt. to appreciate that this fast Vauxhall should have a lively performance!
Of course, modesty over this matter of how fast a car has to be before it can be termed “sporting” is in the Vauxhall tradition. Was not the famous Prince Henry Vauxhall developed in 1910 from the A-type touring chassis to win the important International Trial that gave it its name without being proclaimed as a “sporting” car? And although the classic 30/98 Vauxhall, originally developed in 1913 from the later Prince Henry model, was guaranteed to lap Brooklands at 100 m.p.h. stripped of road equipment, the Vauxhall engineers merely announced it as a “fast tourer.” After 1918 the 30/98 had acquired overhead valves and more power but, as in the case of the 1962 Victor and VX 4/90, it had a counterpart in the 23/60-h.p. tourer, which outwardly and in basic specification it closely resembled. The Hurlingham of the early General Motors’ regime was a sports-bodied edition of the then-new 20/60-h.p. model. Its lines were, to say the least, striking, as the illustration confirms.
So the advent of this exciting Vauxhall VX 4/90 with 24.7 more gross b.h.p. at an engine speed 600 r.p.m. higher, representing a 44% power increase and 8% greater torque than the new Victor, and its sponsors still reluctant to call it a sporting car, is in keeping with Vauxhall tradition.
The 1,508-c.c. VX 4/90 has a completely new aluminium-alloy cylinder head with aluminised valves inclined at 7° to improve port shape, whereas the normal Victor has vertical valves in an iron head. As Vauxhall possess only a small foundry for experimental work, heads for the production cars are cast by an outside firm but are machined in the factory. There are individual inlet and exhaust ports, “squish” shape combustion chambers evolved without recourse to outside specialists, the compression-ratio is 9.3 to 1, compared to 8.1 to 1 for the normal Victor, water flow through the head has been carefully planned and two downdraught Zenith carburetters on a water-jacketed manifold fed by an A.C. fuel pump replace a single exhaust-heated carburetter. The camshaft is modified and solid-skirt pistons are used in the 4/90. It is interesting that whereas Ford’s new Capri provides a new body style with a normal Consul Classic engine, Vauxhall prefer to offer an outwardly virtually unchanged car with a high-performance engine.
To this high-output engine, which develops 71.3 net and 81 gross b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m., 134 lb./sq. in. b.m.e.p. at 2,600 ft. per min. piston speed, and a maximum torque of 91.2 lb./ft. gross at 2,800 r.p.m., is mated a close-ratio all-synchromesh 4-speed gearbox having ratios of 13.57, 8.79, 5.59 and 4.125 to 1. This box has a delightful floor-located central gear-lever which functions with outstanding smoothness. To cope with the increased torque an 8-in. dia. clutch replaces the Victor’s 7 1/4-in. clutch. Lockheed front disc brakes of 10 1/2 in. dia. have necessitated 14-in. in place of 13-in. wheels, which can be shod with a choice of tyres, including the latest Avons.
To provide appropriate handling characteristics spring rates, front anti-roll bar strength and shock-absorber settings have been altered and experience of a normal Victor with stiffened suspension has convinced us that this should be effective. Steering ratio is unaltered and the excellent feature of the new Vauxhall Victors, namely, a mere four greasing points calling for attention at 12,000-rnile intervals naturally applies also to the VX 4/90.
The body shell, a roomy 4-door saloon with a spacious boot which, however, does not intrude on the leg room provided for back-seat passengers, is retained but a special radiator grille which, if it figured on a Continental car would, we venture to suggest, be hailed as very handsome, somewhat modified tail-lamps, a colour flash down the body sides and polished alloy wheel embellishers characterise the faster model. Within there is a special facia having a narrow band of imitation grained wood matched by similar window fillets, a rev.-counter matching the 4 1/2-in. 100-m.p.h. speedometer (other instruments include thermometer, ammeter, oil pressure and fuel contents gauges), and special I.C.I. plastic upholstery for the very comfortable separate front seats. The rear seat has a folding centre arm-rest and standard equipment embraces thermostatically-controlled fresh-air heating and demisting, screen-washers and headlamps flasher, while in place of the Victor’s under-facia hand-brake the VX 4/90 has a central pull-up hand-brake.
The VX 4/90 is geared to give 16.8 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m.; brake lining area totals 95.3 sq. in. working on 277.3 sq. in. of rubbed area of discs and drums.
At the time of the Earls Court Show only one new car and several prototypes battered after extensive testing at M.I.R.A., on Vauxhall’s own pavé-track (where most cars come apart after 1,000 miles’ continuous pounding!) and overseas, including hard driving in Africa, existed, but the VX 4/90 should be in full production early next year. It should make a very good rally car and although not so much as a hint emerges from Luton in respect of a future competitions policy, Vauxhall Motors’ new Managing Director, Mr. William Swallow, is known not to be adverse to rallies, but has stated that if Vauxhall did enter for such events half-measures would not be tolerated. It seems possible that a team of Vauxhalls might be entered for a future Coronation Safari, if not in 1962, perhaps the following year.
It is clear that in the styling of the new Victor, Luton has been given a free hand uncontrolled by the parent company in America and it can be stated that the idea and development of the VX 4/90 is an entirely British undertaking, stemming from about 18 months ago.
The Vauxhall Victor and VX 4/90 body structure consists of steel panels reinforcing box-section members and great care is paid not only to sound damping and the provision of a quiet-running back axle and transmission, but to rust-proofing, undersealing and painting.
So painstaking is the present process of body finishing that it deserves a detailed description. The development programme was launched on three fronts from the earliest design stages of the new model as follows:
(1) The design of a body shell free from moisture-retaining recesses, shelves and corners—particularly underneath the body—and of panels on which paint would flow well and adhere strongly whether applied by dipping or by automatic or hand-spraying.
(2) Revisions and improvements where appropriate to primer and surfacer coats.
(3) The development of a new formula colour-finish to give the best lustre-retention properties and increased wear-resistance.
All three projects were completed early this year, and much practical experience has been obtained with the new methods in the intervening months.
The body design aspect included a new approach to the floor pressings, replacing narrow indentations in the panels by shallow elliptically-shaped dished depressions, so giving a smoother, cleaner underbody of great strength. Wheel arches have been designed to eliminate corners and pockets which may trap mud thrown up by the wheels. Rebates and shelves have been eliminated wherever possible. New equipment has been installed to assist body shop inspectors to identify minor imperfections of metal-finishing.
Two important additional processes are now included in Vauxhall’s well-proved system of body protection. The first is a new deep-dip in black primer paint, replacing the previous underbody dip used by Vauxhall since 1952.
The entire body, with the exception of the roof panel, is now immersed in a 5,000-gallon tank. Paint flows around the inner surfaces of the closed box-sections of the body-structure through holes designed solely for the purpose. There is an additional operation for the door-sills of the body. Into these polythene wax with an aluminium filler is pumped by special spray-gun, to protect the inside surfaces. Secondly, an additional operation is now provided for the underside of the body, following the paint dip. After double-coats of red-oxide primer-surfacer and grey surfacer have been sprayed on the upper surfaces, a coat of red-oxide primer is sprayed all over the underside of the body, including the wings. This is the foundation upon which a 1/16 in. thick coat of bitumen-based compound is applied—standard practice since 1957—to seal the underbody and wings and reduce road noise.
It is in the third section of the development programme that Vauxhall process engineers have achieved the biggest individual advance. This is the introduction to this country of a new-formula cellulose-synthetic enamel, which has very satisfactory hardness and deep-lustre retention properties. Proven by practical usage in Britain and on the Continent, and by long-term exposure tests in several parts of the world, this new deep-lustre finish on its ideal foundations, ensures that the new Vauxhalls will keep their good looks for a very long time.
Every Victor or VX 4/90 body leaving the paint shop at Luton has been protected by the use of no less than 6 3/4 gallons of paint-protective, corrosion-resisting materials. The sequence of operation is:
(1) Prepare base metal.
(2) Phosphate coating.
(4) Primer dip to roof level.
(5) Red-oxide primer surfacer all over—now including underbody and underside wings.
(6) Grey primer surfacer.
(7) 1/16 in. coat of tough bitumen/plastic on underbody and underside of wings.
(8) Two double coats of cellulose synthetic enamel.
(9) Polythene wax containing aluminium pigment pumped inside body door-sills.
Altogether, it looks as if the new Victor-based Vauxhall VX 4/90 will be a worthy successor to such sporting Vauxhall models as the Prince Henry, 30/98 and Hurlingliam, and although we would not go so far as one weekly paper and call it a G.T. car, notwithstanding its manufacturer’s denial that it qualifies as even a sporting saloon, we are confident it will be in great demand amongst enthusiasts and will be regarded with intense interest by rally drivers and those who race saloon cars, particularly as the price, inclusive of purchase tax, is a modest £971. We look forward more avidly than usual to road-testing it.—W. B.