LET­TER FROM aMer­ica

The Vaux­hall Vic­tor is 60 this year. We drive the car that started it all, and talk to the own­ers who love them so much

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Classic Anniversaries -

Se­date drives through coun­try vil­lages. Sun­day out­ings to see the in-laws over tea and scones. Sub­tly blend­ing in be­side listed build­ings in mar­ket towns – the Vic­tor stands for ab­so­lutely none of these things, and it’s all the bet­ter for it.

Lu­ton’s fam­ily-sized cham­pion has taken plenty of forms dur­ing its 31-year ten­ure, but in orig­i­nal F-type form it stands for an era when Vaux­hall was be­ing ballsy with its four­door of­fer­ings. Even this 1961 Deluxe Se­ries 2 model, which has the more toned-down styling given to the F-type from 1959 on­wards, is un­apolo­get­i­cally Amer­i­can in its out­look.

Even be­fore you open the re­as­sur­ingly chunky door and swing your knee care­fully past the rather ob­tru­sive edge to the wrap­around wind­screen, you’re bom­barded with styling cues nabbed straight from the Pon­ti­acs and Chevro­lets thun­der­ing up the high­ways on the other side of the At­lantic. There seems to be acres of chrome at the front, a pair of promi­nently sized fins at the rump – which on the early mod­els, led neatly down to an ex­haust pipe clev­erly in­te­grated into the rear bumper as­sem­bly – and plenty of two-tone paint­work in be­tween.

But the F-type’s real charm is in how Lu­ton’s en­gi­neers man­aged to shrink all that Detroit at­ti­tude into a pack­age man­age­able for a Bri­tain that was still a year away from open­ing its first mo­tor­way. Un­like the PA-gen­er­a­tion Crestas and Veloxes launched the same year, which could eas­ily have blended in with US traf­fic, the Vic­tor still feels like a car bet­ter suited to Did­cot than Detroit.

You sit up­right in a cabin that clearly bor­rows its tone from the US, but there are two sep­a­rate (and fairly bouncy) seats that put you close to the two-spoke wheels and the floor-mounted ped­als. Like its Cresta big brother, the se­lec­tor for the three-speed gear­box is mounted on the steer­ing col­umn, and it’s a beau­ti­fully sim­ple sys­tem once you’re on the move. Plenty of floor-mounted sticks from this era can feel like pok­ing at a rock­face with a stick, but the ra­tios here are spaced to make the most of the four­pot’s torque and there’s a re­fresh­ing slick­ness to the shift.

Once you’ve slid the shifter up into third and am­bled up to about 50mph or so, the F-type feels like it could sit there all day, gen­tly suck­ing its way across the as­phalt without break­ing into too much of a sweat. There’s a muted pat­ter from the 1.5-litre engine to let you know that it’s tak­ing care of all the tricky work, but the engine note doesn’t in­trude into the cabin too much un­less you slot it down into first or sec­ond and re­ally prod the throt­tle.

The Vic­tor’s com­bi­na­tion of in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion up front, a live rear axle at the back and a 98-inch wheel­base means that it soaks up the sores and un­du­la­tions of Bri­tain’s B-roads beau­ti­fully. Given the bounci­ness of the leather seats, this gives you a sen­sa­tion of float­ing over most of the pot­holes rather than crash­ing into them. But throw it into a bend too force­fully and there’s plenty of body roll and light un­der­steer if you re­ally overdo it.

It isn’t hard to see why the F-type was a hit both here and in those cru­cial Com­mon­wealth ex­port mar­kets, crack­ing 100,000 sales in just 15 months. The Vic­tor is as Bri­tish as you need it to be, but it ex­udes State­side con­fi­dence.

Putting it next to a Hill­man Minx or Mor­ris Ox­ford must’ve felt like com­par­ing a juke­box with a church or­gan.

There’s more than a hint of ‘55 chevy about the Vic­tor’s frontal styling. Two-tone paint re­in­forces the theme. EnginE 1508cc/4-cyl/OHV PowEr 55bhp@4200rpm TorquE 84lb ft@2400rpm MAX­i­MuM SPEEd 75mph 0-60MPh 28.1 sec FuEL Con­SuMP­Tion 24-32mpg TrAnS­MiS­Sion RWD, three-speed man­ual EnginE oiL Cas­trol Clas­sic XL30 4 .5 litres gEAr­BoX oiL Cas­trol Clas­sic ST90 1.25 litres AXLE oiL Cas­trol Clas­sic EP90 1.5 litres WHAT TO PAY // Con­Cours £6k-9k // Good £4-7.5k // us­able £3-6k // ProjeCt £1500-2k

No thump­ing great V8 in Us-in­spired Vic­tor’s engine bay, sadly, but the 1.5-litre ‘four’ de­liv­ers de­cent urge.

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