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1. BACKGROUND:

Planning for an FE range facelift scheduled for 1975 was already well underway in April 1974 when GM legend Bob Price took over as Vauxhall Managing Director. He wanted a car range that would stretch from the base (1800cc) end of the market right up into Jaguar territory. Price was constantly irritated by the fact companies would buy all their fleet cars and Bedford vans & trucks from Vauxhall but then the head of the outfit would drive a Jaguar or Mercedes.

2. DESIGN & ENGINEERING:

No option was off the table, Price even considered the possibility of importing a modified, stiffened and Europeanised version of the soon to be released 1975 Cadillac Seville in RHD as a top line model. The plan was dropped because, although small by Detroit standards, the car was still too chintzy and thirsty for European tastes. An FE Viscount V8 Show Car had been due to appear at the 1973 London Motor Show, it was a very luxurious version based around the Ventora and fitted with a Holden 4.2litre V8, the car was pulled at the very last minute, along with any production plans, because of the oil crisis. It did however showcase a radically different interior and dashboard which Price considered a vast improvement on the original FE Victor, VX4/90 and Ventora and gave the go ahead for an even more extensive facelift for the FE range to be done as quickly as possible. The result was the VX Series which turned out to be far more than a mild makeover and cost £4.5m. The update was not just cosmetic and included many engineering upgrades as well, the car was launched in February 1976 as the VX Series and was an effective stop gap measure until a new replacement design could be offered. Good as it was the VX2300GLS still did not take Vauxhall very far upmarket, it just enabled the car to compete more effectively in the market it was already selling to.

Bob Price and the Design Department knew it would need a bigger car to do what they wanted. In a fortunate twist of fate Price was also very good friends with Bob Jankel at Panther Westwinds. Panther were a company that not only made their own cars but were also specialists in coachwork & prototype manufacture, they also were building links with Vauxhall in preparation for the launch of their Lima in 1976 which was based around Vauxhall Magnum components. In March 1975 Price gave the go ahead for Wayne Cherry’s team to pen out a design for a stretched version of the facelift FE, by June 1975 a fibreglass styling mock-up was ready for appraisal.

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The FE Prestige Concept was given the go ahead for prototype build by Price and, as time was constrained, the project would be sub contracted to Panther to make two with each one having a different rear door treatment 2 or 4 front headlights, also there was only a need for one to be a fully road going prototype using an Opel 2.5litre CIH engine with air conditioning.

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The FE Prestige Concept was given the go ahead for prototype build by Price and, as time was constrained, the project would be sub contracted to Panther to make two with each one having a different rear door treatment 2 or 4 front headlights, also there was only a need for one to be a fully road going prototype using an Opel 2.5litre CIH engine with air conditioning. Having been fortunate enough to own the road legal prototype I can accurately describe the multitude of changes that were made over the standard VX2300GLS. These were as follows:

The front radiator grille was made from chrome plated brass and was extremely heavy.

The lower front valance although similar in appearance to the standard car was fashioned by hand in metal.

Light units were from the first prototype and not the oblong ones in the pictures they, were fitted by Vauxhall when the other was scrapped. The units were larger than the 4 lamps fitted to the VX2300GLS and fitted into handmade brass fixtures that were then chrome plated. The lower fog lamp units were standard VX2300GLS fitments.

The bonnet was also handmade, from steel, and featured a flush grille at the rear under which the washer jets were fitted. It was supported by gas struts when open.

Although the car was the same width as the normal VX the front bumper was handmade and thicker than normal, extending further around the front corners with a much larger rubbing strip.

The front wings were standard from the peak of the wheel arch back but forward of this the wing was made up of hundreds of small oblong strips of steel to give the different shape.

The front windscreen was standard tinted glass, the front doors were also standard.

The colour coded door mirrors with chrome mounting stalks were from Cadillac and were both heated & electrically operated.

The vinyl roof was thickly padded and trimmed with chrome plated brass fittings, it also extended around the smaller rear window.

The rear doors were the standard items cut & shut with the extra length and used a fixed quarter window. The main rear door glass was unique.

The tinted heated rear window was unique and bonded in place.

At the rear of the car the boot lid was standard but fitted with thick carpet on the underside & electrically operated from inside the car, it also featured a thicker moulding on the lip which, like all the exterior mouldings, was chrome plated brass. The boot was fully trimmed in deep pile carpet and sound deadening. The spare wheel well was modified so the larger tyre would fit.

The rear bumper was handmade the same as the front and extended around the car closer to the rear wheel arch.

Possibly the least professional part of the car were the rear lights and centre panel – the rear lights were made from 4 standard units and were cut and glued together to make the longer units with rear fog lights included, the rear panel was just the standard item cut down to size.

Inside the car the seating looked standard and was surprisingly not leather but they were beefed up & the sides were finished in leather. The front head rests were standard but leather covered, the rear head rests were not attached to the seat squab but bolted through the rear parcel shelf which was thickly carpeted and included two large speakers. The door cards were custom made of wood covered in leather and used leather covered standard arm rests but also were finished off with real wood veneer. All windows were electrically operated. The centre console extended right back into the rear compartment and was leather covered & again finished with wood veneer. The automatic transmission lever was chrome plated with a wood veneer T bar handle. The dashboard was the standard VX2300GLS but covered in real wood veneer, all parts of the dashboard that would normally be plastic were covered with padded leather. The carpet was Wilton, there 6 interior lights and one in each door. The steering wheel was amazingly a standard VX Series 2 spoke but leather covered with a wood veneer centre bar.

The car was not very fast or quick mainly because of the huge increase in weight, it also didn’t handle very well and had a huge turning circle.

3. SPECIFICATION & MODEL PICTUES:

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Cost constraints and also the likely market competitiveness meant that further development of the FE was cancelled, the one road going car was used as limousine transport by Vauxhall Motors for a time picking up VIP guests from Luton Airport until I owned it for a while! The other option considered was a hatchback model based on the GM V-4 Platform, this Concept is detailed in a separate section of vauxpedia.

A second, cheaper project, was started and involved a major revision to the standard size FE using a droop snoot front end – look carefully in the picture to the left and you will see the slanted front end with different wings and also note the different front and rear bumpers and accented window line. It also used some suspension components from the Rekord E. However, by now time was running short and there were doubts that the FE’s overall look would survive for very long against the upcoming competition from Ford and BL.