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
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.
No thumping great V8 in Us-inspired Victor’s engine bay, sadly, but the 1.5-litre ‘four’ delivers decent urge. There’s more than a hint of ‘55 chevy about the Victor’s frontal styling. Two-tone paint reinforces the theme.