Road impressions

The Vauxhall Carlton

The influence of Vauxhall quality and Opel initiative have made the General Motors, range of Luton cars a factor to be reckoned with for those seeking good small and medium-sized saloons. Just before Christmas I was provided with a new Vauxhall Carlton for appraisal, one of the best of these new models. For a time I was at a loss to know quite how to place it, although it brought me home quickly and comfortably. Then I remembered that a long time ago the Rootes Group used to make a range of family cars which were that much nicer and more fully-equipped than the average in their class, and I think that is how the smart Vauxhall Carlton luxury 2-litre saloon should be assessed.

It may not do all that much for many of Motor Sport‘s younger readers – it didn’t for me – but it is essentially a produce to appeal to their parents and all those seeking a good transport return for an investment of only £4,600. Those who have a high respect for modern Opels will not find this suprising, because the Carlton is, in effect, a Bedfordshire Rekord.

Having been driving a considerable number of automatic-transmission cars I was perhaps unfair in thinking that this new Vauxhall should have rather more low-speed torque than the 116.5 lb/ft. it gives at 3,600 r.p.m., as it does not really like pulling away in top gear from 30 m.p.h., so that in towns one is encouraged to use the lower ratios. This is no great hardship, because the gearbox is quite nice to use, only slightly notchy in fact and the clutch is smooth in take-up. The stubby gear lever has a sliding sleeve guarding reverse. It is just that more gear shifting is called for than I had expected from a 100 b.h.p. (DIN) power-unit and this does not conform to my normally thrifty driving methods The engine is the clever Opel cam-in-head four-cylinder of 95 x 69.8 mm, bore and stroke, which gives a capacity of 1,979 c.c. and from which maximum power is developed at 5,200 r.p.m. It is a smooth-running unit, noisy only towards top revs., but you cannot beat a six or an eight cylinder for real sweetness. However, I soon found that this Vauxhall Carlton was getting along very effortlessly indeed at an indicated 60 m.p.h. (the speedometer was reading quite fast, actually) and that along the Motorways its eagerness had to be repeatedly restrained, in deference to a clean licence. Its actual flat-out pace is better than 110 m.p.h. and it will accelerate from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in just under 11½ seconds. Being used to power steering, I had to get re-accustomed to using muscle-power for parking, but otherwise the Carlton’s steering, as with its disc/drum brakes, is satisfactory, although I thought it a trifle low geared, at 4.2-turns, lock-to-lock. It is pleasing to know that this normal-looking droop-snout saloon can do 94 m.p.h. in third gear from its cast-iron 9.0-to-1 compression-ratio engine, if called upon.

Opel influence is reflected (not literally) in the simple panel, easy-to-read facia but although there is, I suppose, no real need for a tachometer when driving this kind of car, I would have much preferred one to the big clock that matches the Carlton’s speedometer. Four warning-light panels divide these two instruments and the only other dials are those for the contents of the 14.3-gallon fuel tank (which has a lockable filler beneath a flap) and engine temperature. The only stalk-control is a rather short r.h. one, operating all the services, with a twist-grip for the wipers – it always worries me, probably quite without foundation, that such a switch will one day short-out. I was glad I could remove the one key from the ignition switch without the need for two hands, as on the Opel Senator. The Carlton follows the very luxurious and fully-equipped Senator in possessing very comfortable seats, the driver’s adjustable for height, and it has two external mirrors but no internal adjustment for the o/s one. Instead of the Senator’s imposing row of facia switches there is just one, for the rear-window demister. Instead of the Senator’s spoke horn-pushes, the Carlton has a central horn button. The elaborate and very good heating and ventilatory arrangements are easy to adjust and the Carlton owner has plenty of stowage spaces, from a big lockable cubby to front door-bins. I do not like plastic-cum-simulated wood interiors on modern cars, a stupid throw-back to the nice use of real tree-wood and leather on vintage and pvt. cars. The Carlton does not have the former to excess but there is a panel of imitation wood right before the front-seat occupant. Minor points are that, as with the Senator, the speedometer has no 30, 50 or 70 figures needed for British speed-limits, although the readings are so clear that an owner will presumably soon memorise these. Proper bumpers, the Rekord’s rubbing strip, and a generous luggage boot, are more good items of Vauxhall’s new car and on the technical front the new Macpherson-strut front suspension functions well, giving a comfortable ride and satisfactory cornering powers, but with some lean-over. One would not expect this lower-priced live-back-axle Vauxhall to match the outstandingly good road manners of the i.r.s. Senator, but it handles very nicely.

In conclusion, the Vauxhall Carlton is one of those very comfortable, nicely-appointed family cars which is undemanding on the driver and a pleasure to use. It gave me a fuel economy of 27.7 m.p.g. under distinctly winter and local-running conditions, restricted by being fog-bound, but I was surprised that cold-starts involved quite a deal of starter-churning and needed a second attempt after an initial stall. No oil was required in 500 miles. Another complaint was this. C. R. has mentioned, in connection with the Lancia Gamma, that he had thought scuttle-shake to be a thing of the past. I had thought the same about loosely-mounted interior rear-view mirrors, a less structural matter, but irritating nevertheless. But that on the Carlton was so bad that it defeated the anti-dazzle action and the same was true on the £9,500 Opel Senator.

There was also noticeable transmission snatch in traffic, from the Carlton. I also thought the headlamps could give a better beam. However, today’s drivers are spoiled and these remarks should not be taken as detracting from the overall effectiveness of this competitively-priced Vauxhall. I would add that the test car, provided at short notice by Jerry Duller of Luton’s obliging Press Department, had only covered a small mileage, making its willing performance all the more creditable. – W. B.