Driving the o.h.c. Vauxhall Victor 2000

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General Motors have been developing sophisticated engines for their European family vehicles, with the high-level camshafts of the Opels and the belt-driven overhead camshaft, cross-flow head, 45º inclined power units in the latest Vauxhall Victors. Although Vauxhall beat Ford to o.h.c. valve actuation (but do not have a twin-cam Lotus head), they eschewed b-i-p combustion chambers as likely to run them into trouble with new American anti-pollution stipulations.

Nevertheless, the new Rig Victor, with its 1,975 c.c. four-cylinder 5-bearing engine giving 104 (gross) b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. has plenty of performance, as I discovered when I drove it last January. Unfortunately, this commendable urge is delivered with too much noise—the engine gets audibly busy when approaching 60 m.p.h. in third gear of the 4-speed gearbox, or at around 70 m.p.h. in the 3.9 to 1 top gear. The lower gears whine. In addition, there is some wind-noise at high speeds and, although the Vauxhall engineers are to be congratulated on the ingenious valve gear and tappet adjustment, either the jockey-pulley for the remarkably thin exposed toothed-belt which drives the o.h. camshaft, or the tappets, set up a nasty sound on the over-run, a sort of rattlesnake death-rattle, which is most irritating. Incidentally, already it has been decided that the tappets must be adjusted only when the engine is thoroughly warm, not from cold, and I think the tapper-adjusting screw has already had to be made stronger, suggesting that this part of the design has caused some initial headaches.

What of the new Victor as a whole? It has been restyled to advantage, with dual headlamps and a lower, re-formed body. It copies Rover in having the back seat moulded to fit two people, the third, if carried, having to find a place between the main seat cushions. It follows American methods in being sold with innumerable options, even the 4-speed floor-shift gearbox of the test car being an option. As a big family car it goes well, giving a top speed of 99 m.p.h., a third gear maximum of 72 m.p.h., and disposing of a s.s. ¼-mile in 19½ seconds. This is not remarkable for an o.h.c. car of this capacity but satisfactory for one that runs on 4-star petrol and sells for around £925, depending on the extras specified.

The coil-spring suspension with properly-located back axle gives a firm ride, so that roll is well controlled in normal cornering but the action is lurchy, with a somewhat squidgy feel if the brakes have to be applied going into corners. This, with the aforesaid high noise level, makes for an unfortunately fussy car—a passenger trying to sleep in the front seat as we devoured a Surrey by-road remarked: “It feels as if we are doing 100 m.p.h.”; at the time the speed was not much over 60 . . .

The steering wheel declares that it is “energy absorbing” but do not think this is intended to describe the effort required to cope with strong understeer by means of steering geared 4.4 turns, lock-to-lock. Yet this is already so heavy for parking that to give it a higher ratio would presumably be unthinkable, although I concede that it is very light when the car is in normal motion, at the expense of being very insensitive steering, which is most unusual with rack-and-pinion. Another disadvantage of the firm ride is that mild body shake is experienced over moderate road surfaces and conveyed to the steering wheel. There is casual, not violent, castor return.

The seats are of generous size, upholstered in Ambla (which I can tell from real leather, available as an extra!) but the separate front ones lack adjustable squabs and the fixed ones are reclined too much for full personal comfort. As I do not use a safety-belt the criticism made of this car, that the controls are out of reach, did not apply. But there were a lot of items I did not like in this new Victor.

For example, the horrid bogus “grained wood” of the deep facia, which is unbroken by glove box or other useful fittings. Indeed, the only front-compartment stowage is a central oddments-box, lockable, but with its lock mechanism apparently deliberately contrived to remove the skin from the back of any hand foolish enough to try to extract a large object from the not very spacious interior. I dislike the key inserting into the door press-buttons and the location of the interior lift-up door handles on the ends of the arm-rests, just where a nervous Auntie May might clutch them and fall from the car (and we hear so much about designing for safety these days!) and the substantial-looking 2-position coil-spring door “keeps” which, nevertheless, all too easily allow the heavy doors to spring back and the clumsy bonnet-prop this Vauxhall shares with its German Opel cousins and the way the gear lever tends to baulk in bottom gear as the clutch is let-in, after the gear feels as if it has been engaged . . .

I did not much like the too-big gear lever knob or the time lost changing gear because the change is a bit sticky, particularly across the gate. I didn’t like the clutch, which is light, but engaged only towards the end of its travel, making care necessary for smooth starts and sometimes needing to be dipped to get the car away quickly, perhaps because of a flat-spot in the Zenith carburation. Other dislikes were the horizontal blind spot where the (single-speed) wipers fail to sweep the extreme o/s of the almost flat screen, lack of a n/s vanity mirror (though this one didn’t bother me personally!), the noisy two-speed heater fan, and sparsity of instruments. On the latter score, the speedometer (with just a total, with decimal, mileometer) is matched by a similar cowled deep-set dial, but this has merely warning lights for BEAM, TEMP., IGN., and OIL, and an uncalibrated fuel gauge, the needle position of which is difficult to read in certain lights and can be confused with the lining on the gauge face. Not much warning of an empty tank is given, the engine then cuts dead, and no ordinary can will replenish the horrid recessed horizontal filler, covered by on unsecured cap on the n/s of the body.

The heater has sensible controls (but as on so many cars, these are unilluminated) and functions splendidly; de-misting is hastened by air-extraction (no ¼-lights) and Ford/Rootes-like, if smaller, facia-vents. Four knobs before the driver light his cigarette, put on the o/s or n/s Butlers spot-lamps, select the side or (Lucas sealed-beam) dual headlamps—and, turned, this one brings in facia-lighting, the range between bright and dim being far less than on older Vauxhalls, and then the roof lamp—and work the wipers and washers. A r.h. stalk looks after turn-indicators, horn, and lamps’ dipping/flashing. Simple and efficient, but not very inspiring. The gear lever is devoid of spring-loading and reverse is outside the bottom-gear location. I can overlook a facia pull-and-twist handbrake, and the delivery driver’s warning that the engine was running rather fast and that the screen-washers gave spray instead of a jet didn’t prove troublesome. But the n/s front ash-tray did—it fell off. And although fed 4-star, the engine had a sorry tendency to run-on after being switched off . . .

The brakes are pleasantly light, but spongy and not entirely convincing. The 13 in. Avon low-profile tubeless H.M. Wide Safety tyres gripped well; the spare wheel hardly obstructs the enormous boot. Sill interior door-locks, coat-hooks and wing mirrors were fitted, and entry and egress are very easy. Fuel consumption averaged 24.9 m.p.g. (tank capacity = 12 gallons) but I was surprised, on removing the extremely accessible dip-stick to find it reading almost at the lowest level, after a distance of 740 miles, although the low-pressure warning light did not go on. Half a gallon of oil was then required. Modern o.h.c. engines should not consume oil at that rate, but either this one did, or we must accept the unhappy solution that Vauxhall’s Engineering Department had not replenished the engine correctly before submitting the car for test. The rather small Exide battery is very well placed, away from the heat, the radiator is ducted and was protected with Vauxhall anti-freeze, the plugs are buried in shields between the four exhaust branches but are accessible if properly tackled; the low-set alternator looks highly inaccessible. Servicing is at 6,000-mile intervals; this Big Victor rates as a grade 4 insurance risk.

The Vauxhall 2000 is a lot of big modern car for a modest outlay, but it falls down on details. It is at its best on a long run. For instance it got along well, going from Brighton towards Guildford although, with traffic checks in its favour, I noticed that it made up nothing on a well-driven Rover 2000. I am sorry, too, that the Wardour Street service depot has been closed, for one associates Vauxhall with this part of London since the days of Shaw and Kilburn, and the 30/98. The Wyvern badge still exists on the ignition key-ring however.—W. B.

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