Thursday, January 16, 2014

1958 Vauxhall Victor

"You've only got to be at the wheel of a Victor for five minutes to know what superlative value you're getting for your money. In the 4-cylinder class, there's nothing to touch it!  . . .  Looks, liveliness, comfort, safety, economy — you get them all in the Victor, plus the pleasure of owning a car that wins admiration everywhere  . . .  And all over the country, Vauxhall Square Deal Service when you want it: there's none cheaper, none better. Yes, make it a Victor this time. You couldn't make a better choice."

The fact that smaller cars became increasingly popular in the U.S. since the mid-50s, did not pass unnoticed by GM's marketing department. Yet, none of the "Big Three" had any compact car in their production pipeline, until the economic recession of 1958 triggered a veritable compact car boom. GM's new compact cars wouldn't be ready to hit the road before 1960. But a solution for the dilemma was waiting across the Atlantic, as there were two GM-owned companies that built small cars: Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in England. To cope with the raising popularity of smaller cars on their home turf, GM simply began importing Opel and Vauxhall cars. Since 1958, Vauxhalls were sold here through American Pontiac dealers.

David Jones, Vauxhall's longstanding styling director between 1937 and 1971,and Harley Earl's right-hand man in England, was a frequent visitor in Detroit, from where he got his orders. Not surprisingly, Vauxhall cars used to look like puny versions of American designs. Naturally, the new Vauxhall Victor, unveiled in 1957, also showed a strong American influence: coy tailfins, a column mounted shifter, bench seats, jet-age bumper cones and a panoramic windshield were all-american ingredients. In the "old world", the Vauxhall was consequently criticized as being too big, and too American in look and feel. Despite the bad press, the cars sold well, because they offered a lot for the money.

In the new world, in contrast, the Vauxhall Victor wasn't as successful, as GM had wished for. Here, the car somehow didn't find its proper niche. You could get a fullsize Plymouth, Ford or Chevrolet for just a little more money. A V-8 powerplant came standard with all these cars, while the Vauxhall, despite its American looks, just offered an anemic four-cylinder engine with 48hp. Other compact cars were at least more lively than the Victor. On top of that, Vauxhall's build quality was a little shabby, even judged by the low American standards. With that said, as soon as GM's own compact cars were ready to hit the road, Vauxhall became superfluous on the American market, and in 1962, GM stopped selling them here.

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