Hands up if you’ve ever driven a Vauxhall? The chances are most of us will have been behind the wheel of a Vauxhall at one time or another – it is one of the UK’s most ubiquitous motoring brands and has been producing cars for all walks of life for over 100 years.
Not bad for a business that started out making pumps for marine engines…
How it all began
The fledgling Vauxhall business began life as Alex Wilson and Company in 1857 – named after the Scottish marine engineer who founded it – before rebranding as the Vauxhall Iron Works forty years later.
It wouldn’t build its first car until 1903 though, when it manufactured around 70 of the Y-Type – a five-horsepower, single cylinder engine, with two forward gears but no reverse, that was steered using a tiller. The ninth of these models took part in a time trial and kicked off Vauxhall’s sporting heritage.
A year later and the car was improved by the addition of a steering wheel and a reverse gear, and then in 1905 production moved to Luton – the company name finally changing to Vauxhall Motors in 1907.
And in what was to prove a milestone for the company, a brand new A-Type Vauxhall beat Rolls Royce on a 200-mile speed test at the then newly opened Brooklands track.
Vauxhall’s pre-WWII years
Vauxhall focused its attentions on high-powered and prestige models, and in 1910 manufactured the Prince Henry – an iconic Edwardian Vauxhall that was enjoyed by the wealthier in society who were keen on both sporting endeavour and new technology.
Over the next couple of decades Vauxhall devoted itself to out-and-out sporting models – in 1913 the 30-98 set the fastest time of the day on its first outing at the Waddington Fell hill-climb in Lancashire, 1922 saw the introduction of the TT Vauxhall and a year later the Vauxhall E-type 30-98 became the fastest catalogued car in Britain.
It wasn’t until 1925, following a buy-out by GM motors that Vauxhall began serious production on more accessible saloon cars designed for everyday driving – it’s significant the first model made under GM was a short wheelbase 21HP model, while subsequent pre-WWII models, the Cadet and Ten-Four were anything but sports models.
During WWII Vauxhall produced three tanks for the British Army – the Churchill Marks I – III – the third iteration of which was the only British tank able to withstand German Tiger tank’s 88mm tungsten carbide shot.
Viva la Vauxhall
The Vauxhall we all know today really began to take shape. Following the introduction of the Velox and Wyvern in 1948, and the PA Cresta with its US-inspired styling and tail fins in 1956, Vauxhall made its first small production car in 1963 with the release of the Viva – a cheap to make, cheap to run, simple and reliable motor that had a production run of some 640,000 before it was discontinued in 1979.
1973 saw the introduction of the Firenza HP – its fibreglass ‘Droopsnoot’ nosecone, five-speed gearbox and acceleration speed of 0-60mph in under 10 seconds made it one of Vauxhall’s most exciting and recognisable models.
Then 1975 saw Vauxhall release a bone-fide game-changer in the shape of the Cavalier – arguably the brand’s most important and most successful models, it quickly became a staple of British motoring and by time it came to the end of its production run twenty years later it had showcased ‘platform’ engineering, SRi sports models 4×4 traction and Vauxhall’s first V6 engine.
The 1980s saw Vauxhall move into the executive arena with the introduction of the Carlton and Senator. 1989’s Lotus Carlton made waves with a windscreen price of £48,000 – surely too much to pay for a Vauxhall regardless of whether Lotus had tampered with the suspension and its 377Bhp engine gave it a top speed of 176mph.
The 80s also saw the introduction of two of Vauxhall’s most iconic models – the Astra and the Nova – of course, the Astra is still going strong today and during it’s 11 year production run the Nova SR became one of the hot hatches of the decade.
The Nova was, of course, replaced by the Corsa in 1993 – speaking of which…
Out with the old and in with the new
Replacing a car as popular and iconic as the Nova can’t have been easy, but Vauxhall managed it with the Corsa – gone was the sharp, angled exterior, replaced with smoother flowing lines along with features like power steering and anti-lock brakes.
The 90s also saw another iconic Vauxhall replaced as the Cavalier made way for the Vectra, a car that was never loved by the motoring press, not least Jeremy Clarkson, yet still managed to be popular with the public. The 1999 facelift model was even more popular than the Ford Mondeo.
1999 also saw the launch of the Zafira, a compact MPV with a revolutionary flexible seating system that offered space for either seven people or 1,700 litres of luggage.
Towards the end of the 90s, Vauxhall saw its entire range come in for criticism following problems with build quality and breakdowns – sales figures remained strong despite this and by the end of the decade its sales were closer to Ford than they had been for decades.
Vauxhall and the eco-car revolution
As motorists have become more environmentally-conscious – not least because of soaring fuel costs – manufacturers have had to look for alternative ways to power their vehicles. Vauxhall has thrown its hat into the ring with the Ampera E-Rev, a hybrid that can deliver a 40-mile range on a single battery charge or an extended 350-mile range thanks to its 1.4-litre petrol engine.
More recently, Vauxhall has released a fuel-efficient city car in the shape of the Adam and the Mokka, a compact SUV – both of which are very much models with the modern motorist in mind – and it’s looking to have road-ready hydrogen-cell technology on the forecourts by next year.
Which is quite a leap forward for a business that started out making pumps for marine engines…
We’ve teamed up with Vauxhall to celebrate Father’s Day this month with a fab contest. For more information on it and details on how to enter, check it out here.