Storage Field Classic: Vauxhall Victor F-Series – The British ’57 Chevy

This field of cars was once owned by friends of mine, but I drifted out of contact with them over the past few years after I moved out of town. Since the collection in this field is up for auction, I took the opportunity to pay another visit after a five-or-so-year absence. These cars were mostly crusher-bound when my friends saved them and squirreled them away here. While storage in long grass is not great for old cars, it still beats recycling into a fridge or a Kia. In this first installment, let’s look at the most American of all British cars: The first-generation F-series Vauxhall Victor.

The F-series was sold from 1957 to 1961. There are actually two in the yard; this yellow one is from the more flamboyant first series. Anyone having even a passing familiarity with automobiles can tell what influenced the Victor’s styling: it looks like a shrunk-in-the-dryer 1955 Chevy.

The styling works rather nicely on the Chevrolet, but it appears a bit too narrow and tall on the Vauxhall’s 98″ wheelbase, like a nice but slightly ill-fitting suit. At the time, Vauxhall was very much under the control of its parent company, GM, and nothing reflected that more clearly than styling. In the mid-1950s, Vauxhall was peddling its somewhat dated Wyvern, Velox and Cresta sedans, which essentially were variations on the same car. They desperately needed something smaller and more modern.

The Victor was powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that had been reworked to use the better-grade fuels that were now widely available in the UK. Compression had been increased to 7.8:1, and a new cylinder head and new manifolds eliminated the Wyvern’s siamesed intake ports. Fitted with a single Zenith carburetor, it produced 55 hp @ 4,200 rpm, which allowed for easy cruising at 60 mph, and also featured a rather un-British short-stroke design, with a 79.3 mm bore and 76.2 mm stroke.

Much of the new Victor’s look, feel and chassis design was dictated by Detroit. The initial design came from Luton, but it was subsequently tweaked and finished in Detroit by Fisher Body. Styling influences are pure ’50s GM Design Center, as GM insisted on the inclusion of a wrap-around panoramic windshield to distinguish the car in the European market. There was also a heavy, full-width grille and jet-inspired rear bumpers (through which the exhaust was routed), lots of chrome brightwork, including flutes on the bonnet and side spears, and a rear-door crease. The styling, which must have been quite a sight for rather conservative British buyers, was roundly panned by the British press.

The Victor was sold in both base and Super trim levels. To further emphasize its American style, the Victor came with a standard front bench seat and column- mounted, three-speed manual gearbox. The latter provided another sore point for a British press used to floor-mounted four-speeds. A few years later, Vauxhall offered optional Newtondrive, a semi-automatic transmission that neither sold nor worked well.

The interior also had a distinctly American vibe; there was no wood to be seen, and chromed pieces provided detailing touches. Under the skin, though, the Victor was more conventionally European: It used unibody construction, and was suspended with coils and a-arms up front and leaves and a live axle out back. Four-wheel drum brakes handling stopping duty, steering was a recirculating-ball setup, and wheels were 13 inches in diameter.

These Victors were sold by Canadian and U.S. Pontiac dealers, and sold modestly well in the U.S. The familiar styling was probably provided an advantage over some of the more European-looking captive imports at other dealerships.

As with most imports, price became a factor, as a base version of a larger American car could be had for not much more. This one is being advertised for $1975; the cheapest Pontiac in 1958 would have been about $2600.

For Canada only Chevrolet dealers got their own version to sell as the Envoy starting in 1960.The estate station wagon got the name Sherwood.

In Canada, however, they sold very well; in fact, they were the second best-selling import behind the Volkswagen Beetle. While finding one in the Western provinces isn’t terribly uncommon, you’ll usually see these parked in a field and not on the road–actually, over the last 15 years I recall only two that were able to move under their own power. Out east, the road salt used in winter quickly caused most Victors to rust away, which earned the early examples a reputation as some of the most rapidly rusting cars ever made, one which it took years for Vauxhall to overcome in the U.K.

In response to press complaints, Vauxhall slightly overhauled the Victor to create the 1959 Series II. Gone was the bumper-enclosed exhaust that invited massive corrosion. The hood lost its dual chrome accents, the grille was revised, and bumpers were simplified. Even the rear door lost its scalloping. A new top-line DeLuxe trim level featured attractive two-tone paint, and for the second year there was a now-rare estate station wagon variant. Interestingly, Vauxhall never saw fit to produce a two-door or a convertible. For 1960, a few more cosmetic changes were made to the grille and dashboard. A cleanly- styled Victor FB replacement would come along in 1962.

This green one was a running driver only a few years ago, but the yellow example has lived up to its rusty reputation and probably is strictly a parts car.