Vauxhall’s Victor poised to conquer the World

In 1957, General Motors, had a golden opportunity to gain a first mover advantage and offer their first “world” car: the Vauxhall Victor.

Unfortunately, GM failed to capitalise on their global reach and GM would wait until the mid-1970s before they got their act together to develop a globally-focused automobile.

The Victor began its development with the world market as part of its product planning brief.

Vauxhall’s planners could see that a gap was opening for a medium-sized four-cylinder car in many markets around the world.

It was a perceptive insight and one that Ford would not fill until the Cortina’s arrival in 1962.

The car was given the code “F”, with a planned release in late 1957. 

By September, 1954 two clay prototypes ready for review.

One was quite conventional in style, while the other displayed GM’s latest wrap around windscreen and tail fins.

The proposal with the wrap around windscreen and fins was chosen. 

To shorten development time by six months, GM decided that the car would be sent to the US for further design development and engineering testing. 

In those pre-internet days, communication issues inevitably occurred and differences in engineering and styling philosophies collided.

The first problems arose when the Victor clay model was damaged in transit to the USA. 

The US styling team decided to make some “repairs”, which included more chrome, “dagmar” bumpers and deep contours and bulges along the sides. 

The outcome was a car that resembled a shrunken 1957 Buick, with a bit of ’55 Chevrolet grafted onto the rear doors.

The UK engineering program ensured it was developed for right and left hand drive markets. 

More than a dozen prototypes were built for durability testing in the USA and the UK.

The split testing caused communication delays in rectifying problems.

Plus, the USA’s testing regime was not particularly focused on the type of rough conditions that the Victor would meet in many countries around the world.

When it was released in early 1957 the car’s styling attracted plenty of comment in the UK. 

Car buyers must have seen something they liked because initial sales were brisk. 

Eighty thousand were built in the first 12 months, a better-than-expected result. 

It was the UK’s number one exported car.

Canadians and American also liked the Victor.

Americans bought 20,000 of them in its first year, but the price was a stumbling block to further growth. 

It was priced similarly to the lowest priced full-sized V8 Chevrolet and, as it was a small car, its value for money was questioned.

Meanwhile, in Australia, Holden dealers were all smiles when the new Victor appeared in September, 1957. 

Finally, they had a car which could compete against the VW Beetle, Hillman Minx, BMC’s contingent of small cars and Ford’s Anglia.

It is no secret that the Victor suffered from many deficiencies most of which surrounded the early production build quality and body design, all due to its shortened development time.

Rust was a noticeable problem.

Criticism of the styling caused Vauxhall to quickly revise the shape into a Series 2 model for release in 1959.

The Series 1 and Series 2 Victor achieved 390,000 sales in the UK, Europe, the USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore during its four years on the market. 

That’s not as many as Vauxhall would have liked, but considering it used the same basic tooling, Vauxhall made money from the car.

It was replaced in 1962 by the larger FB Victor range.

Why GM failed to capitalise on this valuable opportunity to offer a global product with wide appeal can be traced back to how GM operated back then. 

GM believed it could make more money by incentivising their divisions (and bonused their senior managers) to develop very different cars focused on specific countries/regions. 

This decentralised approach spread financial, technical and people resources across many development programs, reducing GM’s focus on projects which had global application and could deliver global profits.

Further, global co-operation was not rewarded, so why would any senior manager in GM do something that delivered no benefit?

Other car companies had a different view. 

Toyota, which embraced a co-operative concentration of resources, developed the 1966 Corolla specifically as a world car.

GM took until the mid-1970s to get their global act together.

It was called the T-car, or the Gemini here. 

In the meantime, Mazda, Toyota and Nissan had pushed ahead with global cars.

Honda, Mitsubishi, BMW and Mercedes were not far behind. 

The future of the automotive industry was clear to see.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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