With translatlantic styling and a bullet-proof engine, the original Victor seemed like a recipe for success in the 1950s. It sold well, too… but you’ll have to hunt hard to find one now
Slip behind the wheel, making sure not to catch your knees on the dog’s leg projection that carries the windscreen wrap-around, and settle into a remarkable period piece.
Even the instrument panel makes you think of a 1950s juke box; there’s a big plastic-rimmed wheel and, as you look around the cabin, you can’t miss the two-toned interior. It will probably smell of vinyl, too.
The engine’s a surprisingly flexible slogger and the gearing is low – but with much higher gearing you wouldn’t be going anywhere very fast. You quickly get used to the three-speed column change and the rather vague recirculating-ball steering, but the all-round drum brakes need a bit of forethought until you’re confident.
The live rear axle hops around a bit on bumpy roads, and the skinny crossply tyres mean you’ll corner gingerly until you’ve got the full measure of the car.
VAUxHALL VICTOR F-SERIES – Series II
Top speed 74mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The F-series Victors are a rare find today, and there’s a reason: rust. The old joke about the cars rusting before they left the factory was made for a reason! Unitary construction was in its early days when Vauxhall drew up the design, and nobody had thought about rust traps. The Victor’s shell is full of them. So rebuilding a rusty Victor will demand a lot of skill and a lot of time; if you don’t have an abundance of both, we’d advise you not to try. Professional restoration will cost far more than the cars are currently worth.
Check the inner sills for rust; you should also examine the whole of the underbody area. The really critical area is that around the rear spring-hangers, which sit right in the middle of a major rust zone. You’ll find rust in the rear floor under the seat, and in bad cases it spreads right across the car and up the inner wheelarch. Patching is feasible in some cases, but unless it’s been done very skilfully it will be immediately obvious when you open the back doors.
Rust on the outside of the body will be only too apparent, especially in the rear wheelarches, rear wings, front wings and front panel.
There’s a lot of chrome on an F-series Victor, and most of it will do its best to rust. The Super models have extra, around the windows, and there were optional ‘bonnet birds’ – chromed bullets that sit on the front of the bonnet. Particular problems are the bulbous bumper ends on Series I cars, especially the left-hand rear where exhaust fumes always attack the chrome finish. Your best bet will be to salvage damaged chrome and have it re-plated; it costs, but you could wait forever to find decent replacement items. Chrome trim often did not line up very well when the cars were new, and you could spend many fruitless hours trying to achieve perfection – which would not be original!
The engines have a single Zenith carburettor and are both simple to maintain and long-lived. They are derivatives of earlier Vauxhall types and enjoy good spares support. There are no special weaknesses of the three-speed gearboxes, although the column change may need adjustment to work without crunching the gears. During 1958, a Newtondrive two-pedal transmission option was introduced, but it wasn’t very reliable and soon disappeared. There are probably no survivors.
Estates are exceptionally rare, and only about a dozen survive in the UK. Apart from the obvious body differences, they have a lower rear axle ratio and an extra leaf in the rear springs. Tyres are fatter, too.
The standard interior has two-tone upholstery, with bench seats front and rear, trimmed in Elastofab nylon and rayon. It will be difficult to find replacement trim material. The De Luxe models had individual front seats and leather upholstery – again in two-tone – and this is easier to replace.
When Vauxhall replaced their E-series Wyvern, Velox and Cresta models in early 1957, they replaced a single design with two new ones. In place of the six-cylinder Velox and Cresta came the PA model, while the Victor replaced the four-cylinder Wyvern. Both leaned heavily on US styling trends of the mid-1950s; Vauxhall was owned by GM, after all.
The major styling influence on the Victor was from the 1955 Chevrolet, and the new F series had the same sculpted rear door top, similar front end details, heavily curved front and rear screens, and lashings of chrome. As a much smaller car than the Chevy, it did look a bit overdone, but it seemed to be what the buyers wanted. In fact, the F-series Victor is said to have become Britain’s most exported car at the time.
A better-proportioned estate derivative joined the range in 1958, but from 1959 Series II versions of both models toned down the original styling. The sculpted door tops, exhaust emerging through the overrider, and teardrop flutes all disappeared.
The links with the 1950s tend to overshadow everything else about these Victors. You don’t actually have to wear drapes and have a DA haircut, but it probably helps you to get into the spirit of ownership! The styling associated with the era was so distinctive that it can also be a deterrent to some people: you either love it or think it’s crass and over-the-top.
Driving the Victor is a bit of a so-so experience. Like most saloons of its era, it’s neither quick nor particularly reassuring in the handling department. These were bread-and-butter family saloons, for all their visual distinctiveness, and they behave like it.