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1. VAUXHALL FB - VICTOR & VX4/90 BACKGROUND:

The original Vauxhall Victor, the F Series, was an overall sales success, mainly due to massive demand from export markets. However, the model suffered many deficiencies most of which surrounded the early production build quality and body design which was initially far more transatlantic in flavour than planned because the original clay model was damaged during transport to the US where development work was to be carried out. The “repair” undertaken by GM stylists in Detroit, made their own “improvements” to the car. The Series 2 model was cleaned up by David Jones’ Design Department at Luton and was actually nearer to the original design proposed some years earlier. This revised model was better received, particularly in the British home market. In terms of mechanical reliability, the Victor had gained a very good reputation in service, however, any good will gained from this was blown away by the propensity of the Victor body to rust. It seems hard to believe now but with some of the earliest cars it was not unknown for brand new Victor models in dealer showrooms to show the early signs of body corrosion and after as little as two years of use on British roads some would already have holes in the wings and sill panels. Unfortunately, it would take years for Vauxhall to shake off the "rust bucket" reputation it acquired and so when it came to the Victor F Series replacement one of the top design priorities was to eliminate, right at the start, as many water traps as possible as well as adding enhanced anti-corrosion measures during the production process. The new Vauxhall Victor FB would also be the first Vauxhall, and one of the first cars in Europe, to use acrylic paint although it had been used in the US for some years. The main design & engineering parameters set out for the FB Programme were: attractive appearance, improved durability and weather tight sealing, reduced routine maintenance, increased passenger space, reduced weight, improved performance & fuel economy, strengthened customer appeal and continued competitive value.  

2. VAUXHALL FB - VICTOR & VX4/90 DESIGN & ENGINEERING:

During 1958, General Motors in Detroit had seen some major leadership changes: After overseeing the design of GM’s 1959 models the legendary styling chief Harley Earl retired and was replaced by Bill Mitchell as head of GM Design worldwide and this would usher in an era of less ornate and cleaner styling. The rather inept GM President Harlow Curtis retired at the end of August and was replaced by the less flamboyant but far more competent John Gordon. Against this background, the Luton Design Department began sketching out various styling proposals for their new FB Victor early in 1959 but David Jones was now under pressure from Vauxhalls senior management, and even his own staff, to ensure the styling of the new car was less controversial and would have a much broader appeal in what was becoming a highly competitive sector of the market. Gerald Palmer, father of the Jowett Javelin, had joined Vauxhall in 1955 as Passenger Vehicle Engineer, and assigned to the FB development team, was particularly critical of American styling excesses.

The first full size clay mock-up was completed in August 1959 and David Jones’ team had demonstrated the versatility of their talents by creating a simple, restrained but nonetheless attractively styled saloon. The side scalping showed some influence from Pontiac and their soon to be launched Tempest and would therefore sit well in Pontiac showrooms in the US and Canada. The only aspect that did not fit in with any general GM design trends at the time was the “turtle back” rear end styling which although still good looking did restrict the achievable luggage capacity. In fact, the boot design shared much in common with the Australian Chrysler AP5 Valiant. With no panoramic windscreen or complex body panels to contend with the design presented no significant manufacturing issues.   

John Gordon made his first Presidential visit to Vauxhall at Luton in October 1959 to familiarise himself with the Corporation’s British Division, sign off the new FB Programme and also visit the London Motor Show. In stark contrast to his predecessor Gordon was quiet, thoughtful and a meticulous observer and styling critic. At the Design Review he made some suggestions, including adding small rear fins and a more elaborate grille, in order to make the transition from F Series to the new car less dramatic. These were acted on but ultimately dropped before production, the other issue discussed was the whether or not the Victor name should be dropped in order to emphasize the changes which had been made, it was the head of GMMOO, Pete Hoglund, who unequivocally recommended that it should stand unaltered. 

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The overall design did not alter significantly from the first clay to the final production version although the detailing was cleaned up during the development period. As if to emphasise the crucial issue of the exterior styling, David Jones took the unprecedented decision to invite a close friend and professional sculptor to view an early clay mock-up of the FB and give his critical advice on the design. Originally, the plan was to use a 99inch wheelbase, but this was stretched to 100inches during the early part of the programme. A particularly attractive Estate model was also developed at the same time as the Saloon and was planned to launch simultaneously, unlike the previous model.

Whereas the previous Canadian Envoy branded version of the Victor was designed by GM in Detroit the FB Envoy was entirely styled in house at Luton. The changes involved were mainly cosmetic and less significant than those previously made for the F Series Envoy: a new grille, different rear light units, a rear number plate moulding on the boot lid, seat & door card revisions and a chrome surrounded side stripe in contrasting colours. Although not planned at the time, the exterior changes would be used in a new sporting model – the VX Four Ninety.  

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Vauxhall claimed at the time the main influence behind the design of the Victor FB was essentially British “an influence that has been neglected in recent years, or confused by imported fashion” – this was almost an admission by Vauxhall that the previous model was a styling failure. With this new found British flavour the Victor FB did display a certain degree of individuality. In contrast to the “inflated thin-shell” impression - the aircraft influence – that had dominated car design for many years previously, the new Victor had an almost “carved from the solid” appearance. It was a basic aim of David Jones’ Design Team that good proportions and integrated form should be the dominating theme. Width proportions of the new car were as good as those in profile, an accomplishment that was lacking in many rival designs. Wider doors and new front pillars gave a totally fresh appearance to the windscreen and zero draught ventilators. The Victor FB achieved an attractive and smart appearance without resorting to ornamental detail unlike its predecessor.

The rather slab-sided approach of many rival models was a step towards the blending of the wings with the main body mass, but the impression of an appendage at the side of a vehicle remained strong in many competitor offerings, particularly when viewed from the front or rear. In contrast the new Victor FB had two principle masses only, the hull below the deck-line and the superstructure above. The road wheels were recessed within the lower mass which had a complete and integrated form; from this the front and rear wings, as separate entities, had completely disappeared. To emphasise this impression there was a conspicuous blade line at deck-top level extended from front to rear and at the front headlamps was incorporated within the framework of the radiator grille which extended across the full width of the car. At the rear the horizontal treatment of the lamps contributed to the same intention.

Whilst practical and functional considerations were sometimes in conflict with the aerodynamic requirements of a car, the reduction of drag featured prominently in determining the contours of the new Victor FB. The car was 2.5ins lower than the F Series and the frontal area was reduced by 1sq.ft.; this was a valuable gain at the time.  

Simplicity was the keynote of the new Victor FB styling. It was perhaps true to say that the less the styling was aggressively evident, the greater the styling achievement. The result was an attractive form that looked right because it was right, and unlike the previous model was a car that would come close to the attainment of universal approval in markets across the World.

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The Engineering Department, headed up by Maurice Platt, worked closely with the Design Studio to co-ordinate the development of the FB and ensure not only that all the desired goals of the programme were achieved but also that reliability and durability were not impeded. Although the FB went into production with a conventional engineering layout, even before the initial planning of the car Vauxhall engineers had followed closely the development of the rear engine Chevrolet Corvair. Within GM, there was a specialised group led by Charley Chayne and Ed Cole researching ways to combine the engine, transmission & final drive into a single power package unit that could be adapted to rear or front wheel drive, even ex-Vauxhall Engineer Maurice Olley had become a rear engine convert. At Luton appraisals were made of rival rear engine and front wheel drive vehicles, there were also engineering drafts drawn up for a possible rear engine Victor FB but prudence and the absolute need for no launch teething troubles meant the conventional drive layout was retained. The idea of front wheel drive didn’t die with this decision and study continued at Vauxhall for possible future use in smaller vehicle applications.

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The Victor FB was carefully engineered to break new ground for service & maintenance, at the time it was not uncommon for cars to require attention every 1,000 miles and often had a multitude of chassis grease points requiring either frequent visits to the dealer or a Sunday spent underneath the car with grease gun. An entirely new “Guardian Maintenance” plan was introduced simplifying the work and substantially reducing both owner expense & inconvenience. The new Victor was designed to run for 3,000mile or 3 month periods without any routine off-the-road attention. The equated to 50% longer than had been normal practice and 67% cheaper overall. Of particular note was the in the number of lubrication points. The Victor FB only used four lubrication nipples compared with nineteen on the previous model, and the four lubrication points only required attention every 12,000 mile or 12 month intervals. All steering and propeller shaft joints were pre-packed with grease and sealed for life. Full attention was paid to these factors in the design, testing and development of the new car and exhaustive testing proved the simplified procedures were both safe & satisfactory. 

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The Victor FB engine compartment bonnet was released by remote control from a handle on the instrument panel. This handle will release the primary catch and allowed the bonnet to spring to the safety stop position, exposing the safety catch trigger; a depression of the trigger would complete the release of the bonnet. This arrangement provided a safeguard to the contents of the engine compartment against theft; the bonnet could not be easily opened when the doors were locked.

The bonnet was supported in the open position by a prop-bar which nested across the radiator in a rubber socket when not in use. The bonnet could be opened to the vertical position if required for major maintenance work.  

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In the new Victor Estate Car, the folding rear seat squab was held securely in the “up” position by rattle-proof rubber catches at each end. This arrangement eliminated the positive catch of the previous model which was prone to the development of rattles; the action of neither the hook or staple could inflict any damage to the trim of the rear seat or the cushion.

The instrument panel glove box release button was located on the panel above the lid and therefore pressure on the button did not oppose the opening movement of the lid itself. Once opened the lid provided a level platform for cups etc., and suitable indentations on the lid surface prevented such objects sliding off if the car was rocked or shaken.

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3. VAUXHALL FB - VICTOR & VX4/90 LAUNCH:

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4. VAUXHALL FB - VICTOR & VX4/90 PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS:

1961 / 1962MY:

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1963MY:

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1964MY:

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5. VAUXHALL FB - VICTOR & VX4/90 PRESS LAUNCH ARTICLES:

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