The Editor Drives a 1923 23/60 Tourer and the Latest Royale Saloon
When Jerry Duller of Vauxhall’s PR Department rang to say that he had booked Motor Sport the new top-of-the-range Royale model for road-test, it occurred to me that when I went to collect this fine General Motors’ saloon I might as well try another one-time top-model Vauxhall, the 1923 23/60, which is in the Vauxhall Motors’ collection of historic heirlooms.
The Vauxhall range for 1923 comprised the now-immoral 39/98, this 23/60, and the smaller 14/40 model. The 30/98 was definitely a sports car, even if Vauxhall’s preferred to refer to it as a fast-touring car, so we can regard the less highly-developed 23/60 as the top model of the Luton factory’s touring cars at this period. It was just the kind of motor cars which fulfilled the requirements of the better-off citizens in those post-Armistice years. Those whose business ventures had prospered, perhaps, or who had come out of the Forces with a pension. They would have looked for a really sound car of good reputation. An open touring body would have seemed better in many cases than a glass-bound, rattly saloon, for in the early 1920s you usually took a car out for pleasure and relaxation, and enjoyment in which plenty of fresh-air and a decent view of the countryside passing by in leisurely fashion, with its sounds and scents, were an important part.
The buyer with nearly £900 to spend on such a car would no doubt have recalled the excellent war-record of the side-valve 25 h.p. D-type Vauxhalls and, looking for a vehicle without frills, well-built in the rather massive vintage style, would have turned his or her attention on the so-British 23/60 h.p. Vauxhall. It had been endowed for 1923 with the advanced, for a touring car, overhead location of its valves, these, however, being operated by push-rods and rockers, as developed by Mr. C. E. King, and not by the untrusted new-fangled overheard-camshaft nonsense, albeit King had given the new OD-Model Vauxhall duralumin push-rods and an excessive tappet-clearance of no less than .048”, against which even the 30/98’s .025” appeared moderate.
What else might the would-be-motor-car owner of 56 years ago have chosen? Well, there was something of a rival in the 16/40 h.p. Sunbeam, which had also just acquired push-rod o.h. valves, and which cost the same as the Vauxhall in tourer form, namely £895. Like the Vauxhall, it would be remembered for its impressive Brooklands and war-time performances. But it was of only 3-litres’ capacity and the 24/60 Sunbeam was a more expensive, and a considerably larger, car. The Wolseley Twenty was both a more expensive and a more sluggish, side-valve confection and the Clegg Rover a far smaller car. The 15.8 h.p. i.o.e. Humber was refined but rather staid. The newly-announced 20 h.p. Rolls-Royce cost a very great deal more than a Vauxhall, was of American concept, and had but three forward speeds. Armstrong Siddeley fell between two stools, with their 2.3-litre Eighteen and their over-heavy, battleship-like, Thirty, and the latter cost £55 more than the Vauxhall. The new makes, like the “aeroplane-engine” models of older manufacturers, would be mistrusted, but the bigger Crossleys might have been considered, especially after HRH The Prince of Wales’ patronage. All in all, however, it is easy, with hindsight, to see why Vauxhall had a “winner” in their 23/60, with its extremely handsome radiator, its spacious body which blended so well with the fluted bonnet, and its solid construction which must have made the flood of cheap American cars look very “tin-plate” indeed. Cecil Clutton, a confirmed 30/98 advocate, had this to say of it in “The Vintage Motor Car” (Batsford, 1954): “As a quiet and formal car of its period the 23/60 is very hard to beat, but it naturally suffers by comparison with the 30/98 . . .” He gives its b.h.p. as 60.
Vauxhall Motors’ collection of representative models from its illustrious past, brought about in the first place by the enthusiasm of Michael Marr when he was in charge of publicity at Luton and fostered by Derek Goatman, who is now the Public Relations Manager, contains, as I knew, a very original example of 23/60 Kington touring car, returned to pristine order by Alan Garland, who is the unaffectedly-enthusiastic custodian of these historic vehicles. It is representative of the first year of this then-new model, a type which remained in production from 1922 until 1925. This particular 23/60 was delivered to its first owner, Norman Edwards, the Stoke-on-Trent pottery manufacturer, in April 1923. He used it up to 1940 and occasionally after the war until 1955, when the agents who had supplied it, Tom Byatt Ltd., took it back and gave it to Vauxhall Motors. Alan Garland took the head off to give it a valve grind, and he removed the base of the engine in order to discard the Lancaster-type harmonic balancer which was driven from the crankshaft at twice engine speed, realising that if it broke away due to fatigue of its parts, it would come out of the crankcase and wreck the engine. The studs that retained it can still be seen but Garland says he can notice no difference in the running of the engine since he has removed this elaborate mechanical-balancing device. Otherwise, most of the car is original, including the con.-rods, etc. Naturally, it has been re-upholstered and repainted, the Peacock-blue finish blending nicely with its polished aluminium bonnet, and new Dunlop tyres have been fitted. Incidentally, I first drove this particular 23/60 Vauxhall in 1965. . . .
The great 30/98 Vauxhall naturally overshadowed the more staid 23/60. The engines, both converted from side-by-side to push-rod overhead valves by Mr. King, were very similar, although whereas the 23/60 had a bore and stroke of 95 x 140 mm. (3,969 c.c.) that of the revised 30/98 was bored out another three millimetres. I suppose it is possible that unscrupulous motor-traders put 23/60 engines into 30/98 chassis to replace power units that had become damaged, or even that 23/60s were palmed-off as 30/98s, because from certain angles the former looks quit a sporting motor car. In fact, the inlet and exhaust manifolds of the two models are quite different, the 23/60’s steering-box is mounted lower, with the shaft for the drop-arm passing through the chassis side-member, and as Alan said, the engine number is very clearly stamped on the engine, the lettering being OD for the touring chassis but OE for a 30/98 of the same age.
To come back to the present, it had been no trouble at all to arrange with Derek Goatman that I went for a drive in the 23/60 before going home in the 1979 Vauxhall Royale. Thus, in May sunshine, Alan took me out of the Bedfordshire traffic, followed by Gerry Duller and the Motor Sport photographer in the comfort of the modern Vauxhall – and I didn’t envy them one little bit! Because somehow this old Vauxhall is the personification of the better vintage touring cars and Alan Garland manages it superbly, treating it as the sort of car it is, so that his every gear-shift is inaudible and he makes the most of the extraordinary top-gear flexibility that was a notable feature of this model, reserving more rapid gear-lever movements and more spectacular motoring for the 1926 30/98 that is in his car – it is having a new cylinder block fitted at present, but I remember driving it 14 years ago.
At the time, when a certain famous weekly motor journal got its chance to try the then new 23/60 in November 1922, Vauxhall’s were using Shaw & Kilburn’s depot in London’s Wardour Street for garaging their Press cars. I well recall collecting test-cars from there, in the 1950s, and of the occasion when the then-Advertisement Manager of Motor Sport offered to collect one for me. Asking the receptionist about it, she pointed out a seat to him. Our man thought she was indicated the nearest car and, finding the ignition key in it, drove it away. This caused the most fearful panic, because it was a customer’s car not a Press car at all. When I was rung up about it and asked where the vehicle might be I could not resist saying that the first thing Motor Sport did with Press cars was to submit them to the destruction test. The panic increased . . .
It was to this same Wardour Street depot of Shaw & Kilburn’s that the Press demonstrator had to be taken during this 1922 road-test, because while the Vauxhall representative who went with the party was driving along the Embankment he had to pull-in suddenly behind a horse-drawn delivery-van, the tailboard of which was projecting. This, “despite the efficiency of the Vauxhall brakes”(!), tore open part of the radiator honeycomb, and immediate repairs were needed. In fact, a new radiator was put on in “a few minutes over the hour”. So, before they went to Brooklands, where the car was timed at 62½ m.p.h. over the mile (a 30/98 did 82½ m.p.h. a year later), and then to some favourite Surrey test-hills, these Pressmen of contemporary times had an unexpected taste of efficient Vauxhall servicing!
I had thought of trying to re-run this 1922 road-test in full, but on reflection decided that I would be unlikely to find a horsedrawn van to run into, apart from which I felt that somehow Mr. Garland wouldn’t have liked me taking a lump of honeycomb out of the 23/60’s radiator. Consequently, we relied instead on the climb up onto Dunstable Downs from Luton on which to try the car and, incidentally, had a very nice lunch at the Dunstable Gliding Club. . . .
This 23/60 Vauxhall really is a delightful car to drive along country lanes. It is also an interesting car to examine, for it has many unusual details Climbing through the n/s door to take one’s place behind the high-set four-spoke steering wheel, one is confronted by the polished-brass controls quadrant circling the space before one. It has two equal-length levers engraved “Ignition” and “Throttle” and a tiny lever with its own little section of quadrant, labelled “Extra Air”. The quadrant-ring carries the expected “Advance”-“Retard” and “Open”-“Shut” instructions, the latter repeated on the little control quadrant. Pull both the bigger levers downwards and the ignition is retarded, the throttle shut, which is logical. Moving the tiny lever to the left opens two holes in the inlet manifold, to let in extra air. This makes no apparent difference, Alan says, nor did it seem imperative to move the ignition lever about on its big-travel quadrant.
For a touring car the aluminium dash-panel is well stocked, and one senses a trace of the Edwardian about this and other aspects of this fine motor car. The passenger is confronted with a prominent pressure-pump handle, topped by a ball-shaped wooden knob. This is used to obtain initial fuel-feed pressure in the 12-gallon rear-mounted petrol tank, after which a miniature single-cylinder plunger-pump, mounted above the engine’s plunger-type oil-pump, takes over, these pumps being driven from an eccentric on the camshaft. The little one maintains a reassuring 2 lb./sq. in. on the Vauxhall pressure-gauge beside it, the dial reading up to 4 lb. This little dial is matched by the Vauxhall oil-gauge before the driver, calibrated from zero to 40 lb./sq. in., in steps of five pounds, but registering 25 lb. when the engine is warm. In the centre of the dash there is a brass CAV electrical panel, with an ammeter, and three minute switches for putting on the big bell-shaped headlamps, the sidelamps, or bringing in the dynamo. Above it is a dashlamp, which lights as it is rotated, and a brass knob which opens the scuttle vent and sends a draught up one’s trouser legs. To the left of this, impartially shared by the eyes of front-seat passenger and driver, is an 80 m.p.h. Smiths clock. There are little buttons on the right for killing the magneto, for dimming the headlamps, and for starting the engine. While I was noting all this, Alan Garland pointed out some little refinements, such as the door handles, which have a double catch arrangement, the more safely to secure the doors, operated simply by turning the inside or the outside door handles a little further than one would normally, and the entire expanse of the n/s running board having fitted tools, revealed by hingeing it up. (People must have been more honest in the 1920s, for there is no way of locking this foam-lined tool store against a thief.) Then the bonnet-catches not only have convenient finger-holds, but tiny cams to tension their springs, preventing rattles.
That covers the controls of this vintage motor car, except for a raised, plated, cylindrical device that one finds between the air-pump and the speedometer, inscribed “Zenith Carburetter”. This is the mixture control, a lever moving clockwise from “Start” to “Normal” and then to “Weak”. A button on the right-hand side of the body enables the driver to sound a strident underbonnet Klaxon, or he may prefer to blow the bulb-horn, which also protrudes into the underbonnet space.
Driving this delightful motor car is simplicity itself. The gear lever is a heavy-looking r.h. affair, with a normal H-gate, except that Vauxhall put the lower ratio locations on the right, away from the driver. First and third gear positions are in the same plane but there is a shorter movement from third to top than from first to second; reverse (protected by a lift-up control on the lever, needed to release the lever from the slot as well as to prevent it going in), is beyond top. Providing that the correct double-declutching revs. are used the downward changes go in effortlessly, but if you misjudge these the change can be determinedly and noisily baulky. In changing up it is necessary to bring the lever quickly into top, from third, and the higher the revs used in third, the more this applies; if you don’t, there is an absolute baulk. In spite of the wide tappet settings the engine is notably quiet, and it will pull away from under 15 m.p.h. or so in top gear. (One early test-report refers to the driver throttling-down a 23/60 and walking beside it at a brisk four m.p.h. The gears are quiet, too. The foot brake works on the transmission and is very light – the aforesaid tester wrote of adequate braking with it simply by using the pressure of his little finger! I preferred to keep my little finger to myself and to rely on the hand brake, a long lever, to the right of the gear lever, its grip slightly angled towards one, which operates effective rear-wheel brakes. The steering is light, and it isn’t ridiculously high-geared. The multi-plate clutch is likewise light and smooth – when the car was acquired it was fierce and dragged, but washed out, it functioned impeccably. One road-tester found the r.h. roller-accelerator too high off the floor and, sure enough, the former owner had a small support-platform set up beneath the pedals.
The mechanicals of this 1923 23/60 Vauxhall are typical of its period. The channel-section chassis endorses the car’s touring character by having both axles above the rear-shackled half-elliptic springs and in having no shock-absorbers. The engine has cast-iron pistons and gives its 60 b.h.p. at 2,000 r.p.m. Cooling is by a whittle-belt-driven impeller with an alloy fan on its nose, this possessing curved blades very close to the honeycomb. Above the impeller is a sizeable thermostat, to which Rolls-Royce found recourse around this time. The dynamics is driven by belt from the clutch-shaft, ignition is by a Watford F04 magneto, with its h.t. leads coming out of tubes in the valve-cover to reach the plugs, and the updraught Zenith carburettor is on the n/s, its oblong-square-section water jacket differing from the more cylindrical water-muff of a 30/98. On the opposite side of the engine is the three-piece exhaust manifold, held together by threaded lock-rings, with a central down-pipe. The centre-lock wire wheels carry Dunlop “herringbone” 880 x 120 tyres, the original size, and the gearbox is separate from the engine. Fuel consumption is in the region of 20 m.p.g. and top speed perhaps 60 to 65 m.p.h. Equipment can be summed-up as rubber foot mats, two on each running board, a two-pane windscreen, a spare wheel on either side of the car, and a steering-damper. The engine number is OD 235 and the Reg. No. serves as a reminder that the car served originally in the Black Country. Such cars lived long, and as the 23/60 was made with landaulette and saloon bodywork, these cars were in use as country taxi’s, garage hacks, etc. well into the 1930s.
So much, then, for this enjoyable flashback to the vintage years. As the first spots of rain began to splash down, I transferred to the Vauxhall Royale and drove off, thinking what an excellent thing it is that Vauxhall Motors maintains such a fine fleet of its older vehicles. The Managing Director, fortunately, encourages this and, indeed, has not only recently had the original Luton offices restored to their former glory but has had installed therein, on show, the 1904 tiller-steered 6 h.p. Vauxhall. As the offices were intended only for human habitation, this necessitated dismantling the car to get it in – and it will have to be dismantled and reassembled again, if Alan Garland is to drive it in the Brighton Run, later this year.
To try the Royale so soon after taking the wheel of Vauxhall’s 1923 touring car was apposite, because it is the first executive-class car Vauxhall Motors has made since the 1920s, if one overlooks the calamitous sleeve-valve 25/70 of 1927 and a limited run of Big Sixes and 25 h.p. models from 1934 until the outbreak of war. Having said that, the point has to be made that this impressive Royale is really an Opel, made in entirety in Germany, even to the Vauxhall badges and lettering, so that it should properly be called an Opel-Vauxhall. On the other hand, there is the useful difference that the specification variations are enhanced because for the version sold and serviced through General Motors’ Bedfordshire plant a smaller engine is used, 2.8-litres instead of 3-litres, and it has a single Solex DVG 4AI downdraught twin-choke carburettor for the single overhead-camshaft power unit instead of fuel-injection. Thus there is some choice of price and petrol consumption, between the Opels labelled Senator (saloon) and Monza (coupé) and the saloon and coupé with the Royale motifs.
The big Opels are outstanding cars, particularly from the aspects of handling, ride and refinement, but there is no need to elaborate too much on these qualities, because we covered the Senator and the Monza quite fully in the February issue of Motor Sport. Suffice it to say that the Vauxhall versions have the same commendably comprehensive equipment, which includes electric window-actuation, a sliding and tilt-position sunroof, adjustable steering-wheel, a driving-seat with height as well as the other locations easily adjustable, alloy road wheels, lockable fuel-filler cap, a Philips’ 460 radio/cassette stereo-set, head restraints for all four passengers, washers and wipers for the Bosch halogen headlamps, laminated windscreen with top tinting, internally-adjustable o/s door mirror, and partial central-door-locking, although the boot-lid needs a key to open it, unless a facia switch is used to release it electrically, after the ignition has been turned on.
Indeed the only optional extras are air-conditioning and a 4-speed manual gearbox instead of the smooth GM-Strasbourg 3-speed automatic gearbox used as standard, but the 2.8-litre carburetted engine gives 40 b.h.p. less than the fuel-injection 3-litre, namely, 140 DIN h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m. Naturally, the running characteristics are almost similar, with the same safe cornering to very high speeds, which makes the power-steering considerably heavier than on many cars, as slight understeer is induced, although this recirculating-ball-gear obviates most of the kick-back which a rack-and-pinion system might produce, at the expense of minutely inferior accuracy under small wheel movements. There is gentle castor return and a small turning circle. Body roll under ambitious cornering is well subdued, and the Michelin XVS tyres give security in the wet. The gearing is such that 3,500 r.p.m. equals an indicated 70 m.p.h.; as on the Senator the gearbox tends to change-up too early, even under a kick-down change. Its gate has no detent between “D” and “N”, which Rover, for instance, provide. The engine was just a little more audible than I had expected but this is a quiet car, in which all passengers can converse in ordinary voices at high cruising speeds. There is some wind noise round the driver’s door. The Royale feels a solid, purposeful car, and its boot swallows a very considerable load; I did not much like the big Vauxhall lettering on the silver back panel and the interior is a blend of dark imitation wood and lighter shades of plastics, although the seats, in generous size, comfort, and the crushed velour upholstery, and the floor and boot carpeting, are up to the standards at which GM are aiming this top-of-the-range Vauxhall. In this respect, however, it was disappointing to find the central rear-view mirror incapable of being dipped without moving it out of focus and a very silly little lever which has to be located and depressed before the ignition-key (which is different from the doors’ key) can be removed.
The Vauxhall Royale is a compact yet imposing car, and a very quick one when the need arises, able to put nearly 60 miles into an hour on a cross-country journey. Its splendid road manners, a top speed of 116 m.p.h. and the ability to go effortlessly from 0-60 m.p.h. in 11.4 sec. and to 70 m.p.h. in 14½ sec. make the Royale another “businessman’s luxury express”, although the Rover 3500 is faster, more accelerative, and has lighter steering, and also in a way feels a less cumbersome car. I would think the Ford Granada 2.8i is slightly more “chuckable” and it and the Audi 100CD are also quicker in step-off up to the legal 60 m.p.h. cruising speed than the 27.6 cwt. Royale. But not every executive wants the absolute in performance and those who favour Vauxhalls will find the Royale very impressive indeed. Its appearance is certainly striking, with its double-skinned metallic paint finish, massive bumpers and vee droop snout. It has a fine computation of heating and ventilation from a 4-speed fan and six multi-directional facia-outlets (rather complex to set), easily read main instruments and all minor controls on a single l.h. stalk, except for the horn-button, which is in the centre of the steering-wheel boss supplemented by thumb indents on the wheel’s spoke. In very varied usage I got 20.8 m.p.g. of 4-star, with a best figure of 22. 8 m.p.g., and the fuel tank holds 16½ gallons. The automatic-choke works impeccably, for instant starting from cold, not quite so promptly when warm, and the engine is ready to pull immediately from cold. This is GM’s clever power unit, developed from the Cavalier four-cylinder engine, the short-stroke (92 x 69.8 mm.) six-cylinder Opel engine having a 7-bearing crankshaft, iron block and head, valves, in asymmetrical combustion chambers, operated from GM’s chain-driven “over-block” “under-rocker” camshaft, and a 9 to 1 c.r. – one might say a sort of 1970s’ concept of the one-time famous Chevrolet “Stove-Bolt Six”, installed in a top-model Vauxhall. There are a quartz clock and proper voltmeter, thermometer, fuel-gauge slow to record but steady-reading and oil-gauge (normal pressure 28 lb./sq. in. but the gauge is uncalibrated) for the Royale’s driver to inspect, together with five tiered warning lamps. Ample interior stowages are provided, and the servo all-disc brakes work well, though feeling a thought spongy and needing a fairly firm pressure. The short hand-brake lever is well placed; the foot brake developed a squeak. The heavy bonnet, opened from a n/s release, has to be propped up. It opens to disclose a Varta battery, the dip-stick, etc. Both are accessible. Oil consumption was approx. 900 m.p.p. The steering is geared just under four turns, lock-to-lock, of which half a turn is free movement.
Certainly, with the new Royales, Vauxhall Motors Ltd. has returned very effectively, and with very full-equipped cars, to the place the 23/60 h.p. model once occupied in their catalogues. The price of the Royale saloon is £8,854.56. – W. B.