How tHE NEw VictoR FB swappEd usa glitz FoR EuRo cHic
The Vauxhall Victor FB’s brief was simple – to swipe sales from the Ford Consul and latterly Cortina MkI – but it swapped chrome, fins and Detroit-inspired styling for a more modern, European look.
One of the things Vauxhall worked particularly hard on with the new arrival in 1961 was cleaning up the ‘rust bucket’ reputation the F-Type had earned. It wasn’t unknown for Victors to suffer from corrosion in the wings and sill panels after just two years and Luton designer David Jones and his team worked hard to eliminate as many water traps as possible on the FB. It was also the first Vauxhall to use acrylic paint to ward off the tin worm’s advances – a technique GM was already using on its offerings in the US but still relatively new to European models.
GM’s management pushed for the new Victor to have a broader appeal in what was becoming a very competitive corner of the market and it was under this atmosphere that the glitzier US-inspired cosmetic details were ironed out. The FB’s development team included MG Magnette and Jowett Jupiter designer Gerald Palmer, who was particularly critical of the showier details of Vauxhall’s and Ford’s family cars in the late 1950s. At one design review in 1959 the team experimented with putting small fins and a more elaborate grille on the front but the idea was quickly dropped.
The result was a much more modern looking car that matched the mood of the time – Ford went with an equally European-inspired look for its new Cortina a year after the FB’s October 1961 launch.
The public loved the new model’s style when it was unveiled at the Earls Court Motor Show, but the more basic Victors were overshadowed by Vauxhall’s first foray into sporting models since the 30/98 of the 1930s. The VX4/90 was ostensibly based on the Victor but had a 71bhp twin carburettor engine capable of hauling it to 90mph. It had plenty of visual flourishes to distinguish it on the outside lane of the M1 too, including a side strip outlined in chrome.
The press loved the FB’s improvements in comfort, visibility and refinement, with The Autocar describing it as ‘appreciably better than its predecessor’ and The Motor praising its cruising ability, saying it was ‘fuss-free at any speed’.
Vauxhall sold 328,000 FBs in three years but Ford managed to shift 933,000 Cortina MkIs in its 196266 production run. Luton’s riposte in 1964 was the stylish FC Victor, which claimed to have ‘101 improvements’ over the FB.
The battle for 1960s UK family car sales supremacy was on!