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WITH THANKS TO THE LATE MAURICE PLATT & DAVID JONES FOR THEIR PERSONAL CONTRIBUTIONS & EXTRACTS OF MAURICE PLATT'S BOOK "ADDICTION TO AUTOMOBILES" TO THIS SECTION OF vauxpedia

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1. VAUXHALL H - 10-FOUR BACKGROUND:

During the early 1930s Britain was desperately pulling itself out of the World wide depression which had started on 24 October 1929 in the USA with the Wall Street crash and then the financial contagion had spread across the rest of the developed world. Of all manufacturing industries the automotive sector was particularly hard hit everywhere and many small motor companies went out of business or were taken over by the largest producers who were better placed to weather the storm. In Britain the car market changed considerably and by the middle of the decade the small, and therefore more readily affordable, 10hp market was growing rapidly. Austin announced its Ten in April 1932, the Morris Ten appeared in September 1932, Ford launched its C Ten in 1934 the same time as Standard with their 10hp model. These were Britain’s volume manufacturers at the time and between them accounted for over 90% of 10hp sales in Britain, Vauxhall lagged some way behind and were seen as slightly more upmarket, and more expensive, despite some worthwhile efforts to move further into the volume sector of the market; first with the Cadet and then the Light Six. The link with General Motors had meant that modern mass production techniques were already in place and working at the Luton plant. By mid-1936 there were rumours circulating in the industry that Vauxhall were working on a new “smaller” car but it was thought to be a 12hp model which would not encroach on the stranglehold the other manufacturers had on the 10hp true small car market – the rumours were wrong, oh so very wrong, and for the first time Ford, Austin, Morris & Standard were going to get a shock like never before, in fact the whole British motor industry was in for a surprise from an unlikely source.

2. VAUXHALL H - 10-FOUR DESIGN & ENGINEERING:

The new Vauxhall 10hp car was exactly the car General Motors had wanted Vauxhall to build since it took the Company over in 1925, Vauxhall on the other hand initially thought the GM takeover meant carrying on as before and the Americans would pick up the tab. Gradually, the culture of the Company changed, sometimes with considerable resistance, and the facilities at Luton had grown. Modern production methods, careful cost control, proper marketing analysis as well as technical innovations such as synchromesh transmission and independent front suspension were all as a result of the influence from General Motors. However, the new 10hp car was going to be a bigger project, much bigger, than anything that had gone before and would require a huge investment, £1m to be precise – a figure that would be used to describe the new model within Vauxhall, “the £1m car”. In fact, the total was probably considerably more, the £1m figure came from the cost of investment in new tooling, expansion of factory space & additional staff, is likely that it didn’t include all the design and engineering costs. Vauxhall resources were considered inadequate for such a large undertaking so much of the initial work and draughting along with most of the body tooling, which started in 1934, was carried out by GM in the United States. David Jones had joined Vauxhall in 1934 fresh from studying at the Royal College of Art and was promptly packed off to Detroit where he would be coached by Harley Earl and his design staff in the “GM” way of doing things. The timing could not have been more fortuitous, most historians credit David’s first Vauxhall design as the 10hp Coupe launched in 1938, in fact he worked extensively on the 10hp Saloon whilst in Detroit which ensured the new car not only fitted in with Vauxhalls styling heritage but also looked quintessentially British, which may not have been the case had the Detroit natives been left to their own devices. By early 1937 seven hand built prototypes of the new 10hp model were near completion of a rigorous development programme which also included European testing in extreme climates and altitudes. 

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The new Vauxhall 10hp car was exactly the car General Motors had wanted Vauxhall to build since it took the Company over in 1925, Vauxhall on the other hand initially thought the GM takeover meant carrying on as before and the Americans would pick up the tab. Gradually the culture of the Company started to change, sometimes with considerable resistance, and the facilities at the Luton plant had grown. Modern production methods, careful cost control, proper marketing analysis as well as technical innovations such as synchromesh transmission and independent front suspension were all as a result of the influence from General Motors. However, the new 10hp car was going to be a bigger project, much bigger, than anything that had gone before and would require a huge investment, £1m to be precise – a figure that would be used to describe the new model within Vauxhall, “the £1m car”. In fact, the total was probably considerably more, the £1m figure came from the cost of investment in new tooling, expansion of factory space & additional staff, is likely that it didn’t include all the design and engineering costs. Vauxhall resources were considered inadequate for such a large undertaking so much of the initial work and draughting along with most of the body tooling, which started in 1934, was carried out by GM in the United States. David Jones had joined Vauxhall in 1934 fresh from studying at the Royal College of Art and was promptly packed off to Detroit where he would be coached by Harley Earl and his design staff in the “GM” way of doing things, this included working with full sized clay design models. The timing could not have been more fortuitous, most historians credit David’s first Vauxhall design as the 10hp Coupe launched in 1938, in fact he worked extensively on the 10hp Saloon whilst in Detroit which ensured the new car not only fitted in with Vauxhalls styling heritage but also looked quintessentially British, which may not have been the case had the Detroit natives been left to their own devices. The final design was clean and free from unnecessary embellishment with no running boards required but was rather generic in style, however, the trademark bonnet flutes ensured it was instantly recognisable as a Vauxhall. By early 1937 seven hand built prototypes of the new 10hp model were near completion of a rigorous development programme which also included European testing in extreme climates and altitudes. 

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The new 4-cylinder engine fundamentals were initially mapped out by GM Engineers in the US and then handed over to Vauxhall to fully develop, test and build. It was the first 4cylinder engine Vauxhall had built since the early 1920s and incorporated some advanced design features for the time and was certainly influenced by General Motors engineering practices used in the US – but in miniature. Early in 1937 Maurice Olley and Alex Taub transferred to Luton from senior engineering posts in Detroit and had respectively become responsible for the design & development of Vauxhall cars and of Vauxhall – Bedford engines, both reporting to Chief Engineer C E King. 

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On paper the engine was up to date whilst still retaining relative simplicity to ensure reliability; a cast iron block 4cylinder inline configuration with overhead valves, a bore and stroke of 63.5mm x 95mm giving a capacity of 1203cc, most competitor models still used side valves. To save weight pressed steel was used for the sump, rocker cover, timing and pushrod covers. Unusually, the high tensile steel crankshaft was counterbalanced with built in counterweights giving both static & dynamic balance which made the engine smooth running as well as relieving stress on the 3 diagonally split, steel backed, white metal main bearings with the lower bearing halves bolted in position with additional locating dowel pins. This design was needed because, in the event of repair, the piston and con rod were removed from the top of the engine not from below. All the associated bolts were locked in place by a tab strip instead of the normal castle nut & split pin. The oval ground pistons housed hollow gudgeon pins and were fitted with three rings, the lower being a scrapper, which dramatically increased bore lubrication and therefore increased engine life. The camshaft provided drive for the oil pump, distributor and wipers. The nickel-chrome steel valves also used split cotter pins & stem oil seals for the first time on a Vauxhall engine. Water cooling was thermostatically controlled in the normal way but an additional thermostat, first used on the Vauxhall 25hp, was employed on the exhaust manifold to direct heat to the inlet manifold and therefore reduce the time the engine took to warm up as well as making for smoother running from a cold start. Unusually for an American, Alex Taub was obsessed by the need for ever greater fuel economy and his work on the carburation of the Vauxhall 10hp provided spectacular results. Working closely with Zenith the down draught carburettor was specifically modified to Vauxhall requirements which in effect gave the required rich mixture for full throttle and an exceptionally weak mixture on part throttle, the system was advertised by Vauxhall as “6 phase carburation” and proved to be so effective that the fuel economy figures quoted for the car at launch were viewed with scepticism until proved by RAC testing. The compression ratio was specifically set at a relatively low 6.5:1 so the car would happily run on the anaemic low octane “standard” fuel that was widely available at the time. The ignition system featured an AC distributor with both mechanical and vacuum advance & retard for ignition timing and spark plugs fitted with exceptionally large gaps (0.40”) to run without misfire on weak mixtures. The 1203cc engine was small in physical size as well as light in weight and produced 34.5bhp @ 3800rpm which was similar too comparable 10hp engines used by rival manufacturers, it was also extremely flexible for such a small engine.

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Vauxhall had introduced the “Dubonnet” style independent front suspension in 1934 on The Light Six. For their new 10hp car Vauxhall were ably assisted by probably the most talented chassis engineer at the time, Maurice Olley. Seconded to Luton from GM in Detroit he had previously worked for Rolls Royce & Cadillac. Olley designed a revised “TT” front suspension system for the new 10hp which gave the car a soft ride but stiffened up when road conditions such as hard cornering dictated. The spring and shock absorber settings, as well as front camber & caster angles, were all carefully researched over months of testing to fine tune the ride and handling characteristics, such attention to detail was typical of the man. He immediately had a dedicated skid pan installed at Luton in addition to the small test track that ran alongside the factory.

As proof that the budget was not unlimited, Vauxhall claimed to have tried both 3 & 4 speed gearboxes during the development of the new 10hp car but had in fact “settled” on the established 3 speed for cost reasons - but then tried to convince the world that a 3 speed gearbox was better than a 4, in the end the good flexibility of the 1203cc engine meant it that it was not too much of a handicap. The gearbox was fitted with synchromesh on 2nd & 3rd gears and used a Borg & Beck clutch with maintenance free release bearing.

Braking also set new ground for the 10hp class being Lockheed hydraulic drums front and rear with an umbrella handbrake operating the rear drums by adjustable cables. 

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None of the above, good as it was, broke new ground in the way the body construction did, the new Vauxhall 10hp was the first British car to use unitary construction, this system had been introduced some 18 months earlier by Opel in Germany but that was on the Olympia which was a slightly larger and more expensive car than the Vauxhall 10hp. Unitary construction was the 10hp trump card, not only was it stronger it was also lighter so the new cars interior had more room, was faster and more economical as a result. 

3. VAUXHALL H - 10-FOUR LAUNCH & MODEL HISTORY:

Launched at the London Motor Show in October 1937 the Vauxhall 10-Four was a sensation. On press day the motoring press had to do battle with senior executives from Ford, Austin, Morris and Standard to get near the car, the rival manufacturers were stunned by what Vauxhall had done, the breath taking specification in such a small car, the fuel economy claims and the price it was to be offered at was a game changer and they knew it. Ford, Morris and Austin representatives all ordered a 10-Four for delivery as soon as possible – presumably so they could take it apart and find out how they could compete with it because they certainly couldn’t with anything they were building at the time. The first public Motor Show day proved equally chaotic and for the first time Vauxhall had a very long queue just to get on their stand, the little 10-Four was undoubtedly the star of the show, at the time it was probably the best designed, most advanced small car in the World at the price, nothing came close to matching it. It marked the first entry of Vauxhall into the hotly contested small, low priced sector of the market, but instead of the crude, cramped and rudimentary cars like the Morris 10, Standard 10 and Ford 10 that had dominated the market until then the new Vauxhall stunned car makers and the public alike. Here was the first British made car to feature steel unitary construction, making the body considerably lighter without reducing the rigidness of the shell and also doing away with running boards. In addition it came with 4 large doors, an exceptionally roomy interior, synchromesh gearbox, mechanical windscreen wipers, independent front suspension, hydraulic brakes, infinitely variable springs, automatic ignition timing advance & retard, 6 phase carburation and a 34.5bhp counterbalanced crankshaft 1203cc engine which gave smooth, quiet, class competitive performance (60 to 65mph) but combined it with class leading economy of 40+mpg and all this was available at a starting price of £168 for the Standard car and £182 for the Deluxe version. Unsurprisingly, Vauxhall sold the 10-Four literally as fast as they could make it.

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The public launch for the Vauxhall 10-Four was the largest and most expensive ever undertaken by the Company and it was carefully planned and executed by Palmer Phillips Vauxhalls Sales Manager. Firstly, Vauxhall had been building the 10-Four in series production at Luton since the start of September 1937 in order to ensure there would be enough cars for a mass drive-away by Vauxhall dealers immediately after the cars launch at the Motor Show and also sufficient to supply key export markets with stocks for the launch in each country as well as being able to quickly fulfil new orders from customers which immediately began flooding in from just about everywhere. The advertising was just as carefully planned and put a heavy emphasis on the 10-Four fuel economy, this in turn led to some pundits to seriously question the validity of Vauxhalls claims. In actual fact the Company had scaled back the claims through fear of just such criticism, unfortunately for the doubters the figure was proved to be an under estimate as confirmed by the RAC at Vauxhalls request, the claimed 40mpg turned into an easily achievable 43+mpg. Some months later “The Motor” carried out a 500mile test of the car and returned 42mpg with some pretty heavy driving. Palmer Philips was quick to ram the news down the throats of the journalistic community with a wave of press releases and, as if to rub salt in the wounds Phillips then came up with idea of issuing every Vauxhall dealer with a kit that could be fitted to the 10-Four filled with a small amount of petrol and then driven by prospective customers to show how far they could travel on such a small amount of petrol. The same thinking was applied to the point of sale material & sales literature which all highlighted the fuel economy message. Maurice Platt had joined Vauxhall from “The Motor” in 1937 as Sales & Service Contact Engineer and one of his first tasks was to produce a brochure at the request of Palmer Phillips titled “Vauxhall Engineering Leadership” to coincide with the launch of the 10-Four. The Vauxhall 10-Four was an instant sales success for the Company, not just in Britain but also in Europe & Commonwealth territories, so much so that by March 1938 the 10,000th car came off the production line at Luton.

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The first addition to Vauxhall 10-Four range came in March 1938 with the launch of the attractive 10hp 2 Door Coupe. When David Jones returned from his sojourn to Detroit early in 1937 the Engineering staff and the Drawing Office were located in the main office block & adjoining workshop area were used for machining experimental parts, prototype car assembly, engine testing and the servicing of vehicles that were undergoing road tests. About 300 people were employed in the Department but it was chaotic, fragmented and had grown in size just by tacking on extra space where available. A small portion of this space had been allocated to Eric Kennington and his staff in what was a pretty primitive Styling Department. Fortunately, a large, brand new purpose built building was nearing completion to house all Engineering & Styling functions under one roof, called V Block it was located in a commanding position overlooking the main plant. Kennington chose the major change as an ideal time to retire and David Jones was appointed as head of Styling and set about creating a design studio using his experience gained with GM in Detroit. Despite all the upheaval Jones and his new team were able to design the 10hp Coupe in a very short time period starting in the old block and finishing the project in the new facilities. The major difference to the 10-Four was the Coupe used a traditional separate chassis, this was a heavily modified, lightened & shortened version of the DX chassis, all other mechanical components were from the H 10-Four. The car sold for £198.00 which was a considerable increase over the 10-Four Saloon but was smaller, offered only realistically 2+2 seating and was no faster than the Saloon. However, it did have an undeniable visual appeal, unfortunately not enough prospective customers were willing to pay a premium for this and sales were not on the same scale as the Saloon, curiously more were exported than sold in Britain. 

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H A Dean, a long serving Vauxhall employee, had transferred from Assistant Service Manager to the Engineering Department in charge of the Experimental Workshops. Under the watchful eye of Chief Engineer C E King, Jones & Dean started to re organise the new V Block operation into a proper Design & Engineering Department so that by the end of 1938 Vauxhall led the British motor industry in terms of product development and employed 335 engineers, draughtsmen, modellers & designers.

The 1939 10-Four Saloon & 10hp Coupe models received detail improvements to refinement and trim. There had been some criticism of the engine noise becoming obtrusive above 50mph, a reduction in noise & vibration was achieved by improved Z slotted engine mountings similar to those of the 12hp, also like the 12hp the crankshaft featured stiffening ribs. Inside the car under the carpet was fitted a layer of insul-wood, jute felt & bitumized taper felt covering the floor, toe board & scuttle. Transmission smoothness was improved by the addition of 3 additional cushioning springs. BHB pistons were fitted with improved Vauxhall designed rings made by Hepworth & Grandage which reduced oil consumption to a minimum of 3,500miles per pint and gave even better bore wear. New stronger bumpers, a new design of interior trim panels and smaller 16ins wheels with larger 5ins section tyres were also fitted. Prices remained the same except for the 10hp Coupe which was reduced in price to £188.00. Vauxhall even hinted at a convertible version of the Coupe would soon be offered, in the end the idea was dropped.

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The plans for the 1940 model year were extensive and had they been implemented in full they would have certainly increased Vauxhall 10hp sales significantly. The first part of the plan was to drop the slow selling Coupe model which was also costly to manufacture with its separate chassis, production ceased at the end of July 1939. The 10-Four could almost have been classed as a new car so extensive were the changes introduced. The car was longer & wider, the rear armrests were redesigned and combined gave an additional 4ins of seating width making the car the roomiest 10hp car on the market. Larger front wings and a longer bonnet improved the appearance, at the rear the spare wheel was mounted on the outside of the boot lid and with a redesigned fuel filler meant luggage capacity was increased. A new dashboard was fitted with redesigned instruments. The killer blow to the competition was with all the beneficial changes the prices were actually reduced – the Standard model was down to £159.00 while the Deluxe was reduced to £169.00. This could have gone further, an attractive prototype 2 door model based on the previous 1939 body was considered as a price leader model with a target price of £135.00, this was to be introduced in January 1940 but the outbreak of WWII put a permanent block on the idea.

It is interesting to think how much further Vauxhall designs would have advanced had the War not intervened, as it was the 10-Four was a little masterpiece that changed the small car market and was a quantum leap for Vauxhall. The one thing that was wrong and nobody had given much consideration to with all the excitement about unitary construction was - rust, lots of rust. It would be something that all manufacturers who adopted unitary construction would face and it would be many years until a thorough remedy was applied.

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4. VAUXHALL H - 10-FOUR SPECIFICATIONS:

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5. VAUXHALL H - 10-FOUR PRESS LAUNCH ARTICLES:

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6. VAUXHALL H - 10-FOUR BROCHURES:

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7. VAUXHALL H - 10-FOUR ADVERTISING:

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8. VAUXHALL H - 10-FOUR ROAD TESTS:

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