Looking Again at the 3.3-litre Vauxhall Ventora
ONE Friday evening, earlier this year, my wife and I, instead of watching the Forsyte Saga, drove to the Savoy to meet Mr. David Hegland, the new Chairman and Managing Director at Vauxhall Motors of Luton, and hear him deliver a speech explaining how Government restrictions and strikes were crippling the Motor Industry of this country, causing Vauxhall’s profits to sag—and, he might have added, British Leyland to declare no-profits for four depressing months.
This otherwise enjoyable evening reminded me that I had let much time elapse since I last tested a Vauxhall car. So it came about that my 1970 Easter egg consisted of a Ventora II—an egg of Goodwood Green Starmist, lined in gold. Ignoring sarcastic enquiries from those who had previously seen me in an Alfa Romeo as to whether I had given up real motoring for Lent, I set about re-discovering what the Ventora is all about. I had previously tried this Victor-size six-cylinder push-rod 3,294-c.c. four-door four-seater saloon in 1968, when I had been issued with one having an abnormally noisy engine. Since then better instrumentation and more interior stowage have been contrived for this unique Vauxhall. Moreover, the Ventora II I used over Easter had a notably quiet power unit and this big, low-stressed engine in a compact car (just over 140 gross b.h.p. at a calm 4,800 r.p.m. on an 8 1/2-to-1 c.r. for a kerb weight of approx. 23.2 cwt.) gives it a very good performance on the 3.09-to-1 top gear—quite “30/98”, if the VSCC will pardon the simile ?
In other respects this Vauxhall Ventora was a bit of a bad egg. It became tiring over the rougher roads because of its lively ride and excessive vibration and kick-back at the steering wheel. It does not hammer from the back-end like an Avenger or Cortina, does not undulate like an Alfa Romeo, but it shakes the occupants up and down to a considerable degree; the steering, asking 4 ½ turns, hick-to-lock, from a small, rather high-set leather-covered wheel, is somewhat heavy, is affected by road irregularities, and is not particularly accurate, although of rack-and-pinion type. The turning circle is notably compact, however. The central, gaitered gear-lever controls a notchy gear-change, the lower gears whine, and although reverse is protected by a lift-up catch on the lever, as used by Rover, it is one thing to slide this up and move the lever backwards with the palm of the hand, another matter to have to do this while pushing the lever forward, as one has to on the Ventora. The clutch needed some care for a smooth start.
The Ventora’s Ambla front seats are big but only moderately comfortable; squab-rake is easily adjusted by lever. There is a grained Vynide facia and a Vinyl-covered roof, and the styling is imposing, particularly in frontal view.
Instrumentation includes a speedometer and tachometer (labelled TACH) with clear white figures (but a flickering speedometer needle), backed up by separate small dials for oil pressure (approx. 45 lb./sq. in.), water heat (about 75°C), fuel contents and battery charge. The horizontal heater/defroster quadrant is clearly labelled. The facia fresh-air vents function well and the flick switches down on the console, behind the gear-lever, controlling two-speed wipers, auxiliary lamps if fitted, and main lighting, must be considered well positioned now that we are more accustomed to this location; screen washing is achieved electrically by a neat little press-button behind the wipers’ switch, and the soapy liquid it squirted was most effective. A r.h. stalk controls flashers, horn, and lamps’ flashing and dipping. The hand-brake is between the seats and the servo disc/drum brakes work well. There is a “tinny” but lockable cubby-hole of useful size and moulded under-facia shelves. Unfortunately the latter, like the divided rear shelf, tend to spill their contents. The lockable boot is extremely commodious (25.8 Cu. ft.), with the spare wheel upright on the o/s. A heated rear window, wing-mirrors, twin exhaust tailpipes, sill interior locks, etc., are standard equipment and the test car was on Firestone F7 tyres. These tyres broke away quite early, but gently, in the wet. The Lucas four-lamp lighting is effective on both full and dipped beam, the facia lighting embraces the console-switch symbols, and there are reversing lamps. The Vauxhall radio appeared to be u/s. The engine, which started promptly on auto choke, was protected by Vauxhall anti-freeze. There are two keys, that for ignition locking the steering; the external door locks are incorporated in the push-in buttons. Rear window demisting is only partially effective due to the considerable area of glass; it switches off with the ignition, but the wipers do not. There is a rather too dim fuel-level light and the fuel gauge was about one gallon on the pessimistic side. The top of the control stalk came off, depositing its internals on the floor. The prop-up bonnet opens to reveal the very flexibly-mounted slender engine and has sound-damping material on its underside, cut away to clear the air-cleaner. Plugs, dip-stick and the Exide Supreme battery are accessible on the o/s and the last-named is immune from proximity to engine heat.
The in-line-six-cylinder engine of the Ventora, borrowed from the Cresta, intrigues me, because this 92 x 82.5 mm. 201 Cu. in. power plant, GM’s answer to Ford’s V6 3-litre, while of modern over-square bore and stroke, and having aluminium pistons, to my mind has a worthy ancestor in Chevrolet’s very durable “Stove Bolt Six” or “Cast-Iron Wonder”. It has a modest peak speed of 5,000 r.p.m. and develops maximum torque, 185.7 lb. ft., at 2,400 r.p.m. Unlike Ford, GM use a forged-steel crankshaft.
It is as a useful workhorse, disguised by a smart, well-finished body, that the Vauxhall Ventora II should be judged. Luton makes much of its eight-coat body protection, its “Magic Mirror” acrylic paint, its factory-applied underbody seal, its quality control (of such factors as pistons matched and balanced in sets to a 2k-tenths of a thousandth of an inch tolerance, and micro-honed cylinder bores) and its 645 assembly-line inspectors. And now Vauxhall has its own 700-acre proving ground at Lidington, 18 miles from Luton. The heavy carpets on the floor of the Ventora are a visible measure of its quality. . . .
In respect of handling and ride this Ventora was a disappointment but its accelerative qualities are good—from rest to 60 m.p.h., for instance, it was only 0.3 seconds slower than the Alfa Romeo 1750 I had been driving immediately prior to becoming a Ventorist. (Top speed is said to be to 108 ½ m.p.h. but I was not venturesome enough to try for this—anyway, Easter was spent in speed-restricted England.) I got 21.2 m.p.g. (of 4-star) from the well-established six-cylinder engine, which used no oil in 600 miles.
As a big-capacity “compact” with the easy-running quality of an American automobile, the Vauxhall Ventora II is in a class of its own and at its best on easy main-road routes. It sells for £1,268 13s. 7d., and is opposed in the Ford range by the more sporting Capri 3000GT at £1,341.—W. B.