Vauxhall Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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Vauxhall Home Country: United Kingdom United Kingdom

Vauxhall & Opel are two companies that are linked in an extremely close manner. It is a situation comparable to the former Hillman & Simca brands. In the case of Vauxhall & Opel they both fell under GM ownership a long time ago. At that time Vauxhall had only a market in the UK and Ireland, where Opel was not very strong at all. The only collision of interests seemed to be in Belgium and Holland. (In Belgium, Antwerp there was as well a car manufacturer called Ranger who was even invented by GM. Though Ranger's own models were basically just re-badged larger Opels, which seems a bit pointless on a market where Opel was too and therefore the venture was short lived. But curiously when Vauxhall had the luxury of a capacity problem the successful Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 was for a couple of years assembled in Antwerp, before Ranger closed its doors for good.) Therefore it seemed an easy and sensible thing to do to move the brands as close together as basically becoming one but keeping the old, traditional names for their respective markets, such basically half the development costs. In rallying terms Vauxhall only once had a fairly independent project, the Chevette, everything before or after were either small scale or totally in line with Opel. Therefore we wish to refer you to the Opel story in rallying, where the Chevette is covered as well. Here we will concentrate on comparing Vauxhall and Opel models for you as a better reference.

Maybe a note to Holden too, as they cooperate with Vauxhall and Opel more than with any American subsidiary of GM. Holden serves the markets in Australia and NZ. They have a factory in Melbourne, Victoria, but most models that are not made there are Vauxhall imports that for Australia & NZ are rebadged to Holden. The main independent Holden models are the related Commodore/Monaro/Maloo that are also sold in UK as Vauxhall but are not available as Opel, nor anywhere in Europe outside the UK. The Holden company logo shows a lion on red background which coincidentally shows some similarities to Vauxhall's griffin on red. The company was founded by James-Alexander Holden as a saddlery turn coach builder. They made the trams for Melbourne and car components for Ford and GM. In 1931 GM bought Holden and they made Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles from CKD kids. One interesting turning point was when from 1964 Holden assembled the Vauxhall Viva Mk1/HA in Australia. 3 years later this car was renamed to Holden Torana and following facelifts and generations were Holden's own design and engineering.

But now Vauxhall: How did Vauxhall start and as well come to their unusual name? Not an easy story but therefore the more fascinating:

Comparing here too, Opel’s name and beginning is explained in the Opel chapter. But Opel started with cars in 1898 and fell under GM ownership 33 years later in 1931. Opel was however not GM’s first venture across the pond. Vauxhall made first cars in 1903 and was bought by GM already 22 years later in 1925. This sell out did not happen for Vauxhall was in a bad state. GM was keen to get access to the British and European markets and so soon after WW1 this seemed tricky using an American name, so they made offers that were hard to refuse. (For the same reason Ford for some time used the German area name Taunus as a second brand identity rather than a specific model name in Germany.)

The easiest way to explain Vauxhall is that they link back to a guild of knights. As well their company logo to the day, a griffin, links to this guild of knights. Now trying not to bore you with 12th century knights, but instead of simply writing ‘Vauxhall was named after a place’ you will see some of the information in the following paragraph keeps returning in Vauxhall’s story. Indeed it even makes sense to go into this and explain where the name of the Vauxhall area (it's not even officially a town but an area within the London borough of Lambeth) itself came from, as Vauxhall Motors themselves link their names more to the Guild of Knights than to a specific place:

One of the most important characters in the guild of knights was Falk de Bréauté - yes, very rare English first name and a surname pointing to Normandy. Although this French province belonged to King John of England, this may explain why Falk was usually referred to by just his rare first name. Falk de Bréauté however also had roots in England and possessed the Bedford Castle. He was a loyal servant to King John and his son Prince Henry when he half ruled as King Henry III (he inherited the throne only aged 9). For his services Falk de Bréauté inherited land (and a wife!) through King John including a huge riverside mansion right at the Thames in London. This mansion was soon known as Falk's Hall and in the local dialect over the time the name changed to Vauxhall. The big 'Vauxhall' mansion soon was famous as Falk opened its large gardens to the public. Later a huge, posh railway station was built there as well as a new bridge over the Thames, connecting the area to the London city centre. Suddenly we had Vauxhall Bridge and Vauxhall Central Station, a big deal for London city centre infrastructure and therefore the whole district is now famous as Vauxhall.

Vauxhall Iron Works was founded in this Vauxhall district to produce boats and steam engines for boats. This obviously was some time after we had knights, but still it is tempting to compare it to a guild as the company origins cannot be pinned down to just one name or family. The Iron Works founder is named as Alex Wilson but he had nothing to do with the company any more when Vauxhall turned to cars. There are other names that are far more exciting, not only for Vauxhall fans but for rally fans, too: Percy Kidner was the managing director who changed the name to Vauxhall Motors and made the first Vauxhall car in 1903. Already by 1905 the company had to expand, but this being crowded central London Vauxhall Motors moved to more rural Luton in Bedfordshire, yet kept the Vauxhall name. This was a historically interesting idea as the origins of knight Falk de Bréauté and his Griffin symbol are in Bedfordshire and not in London-Vauxhall! But the reason why Vauxhall expanded so quickly was rallying! Percy Kidner himself drove one of the first Vauxhalls ever made on the 1904 RAC Reliability Trial from London to Scotland, which is very much the predecessor event to the famous RAC Rally. Although the event was fairly successful, Kidner came back with a catalogue of things to improve, including a completely re-designed steering and suspension. The resulting car was the Vauxhall Prince Henry - remember Prince Henry turned King Henry III aged 9 under guidance of Falk, so not only did Vauxhall move into the historically correct area, Bedfordshire, the name of the car also links back to Falk's Hall origins! But not contend with that Kidner asked assistant engineer turn legendary star engineer Laurence Pomeroy to look after the engine of the Vauxhall Prince Henry to make this a rally winner. Pomeroy more than doubled the BHP alongside further fine tuning on body and chassis to turn the Prince Henry not only into the first proper British sports car, but an RAC Trial winner on its first attempt in 1908 and therefore again into an even bigger success in the show rooms. This means an early form of rallying did more to the Vauxhall success story than you could fix the company origins to a specific name - unless you accept a 12th century knight that is.

Back to the company origins: Vauxhall Iron Works was not in Falk de Bréauté's hall/mansion but in Vauxhall's main street right next to the railway central station. Curiously today the site where the first Vauxhall car was made is a Sainsbury's supermarket, and you can doubt anyone visiting there today has any idea about the historic significance of this place, not to mention there is not much point for a car fan to visit unless you need some eggs, bacon and mint sauce. But fascinating how quick things moved. First car in 1903, first rallies in 1904, moving to Luton in 1905 because the central London site was bursting on its limits, and the RAC Trial winning Prince Henry model was still to come in 1908. To close the circle they were not doing badly when GM bought the lot in 1925, in contrary this meant even faster expansion while Vauxhall would keep in their very own direction without any relation to American GM cars. Only after GM take over the commercial arm of Vauxhall was formed: Bedford. This again was a historically good name, even though Bedford vans and busses were made in Luton as well, as Bedford Castle is the origins of Falk and his knights. As well Bedford's brand logo was from the beginning the same Griffin that graces Vauxhall, and again even though the Vauxhall name came through the London deviation, Falk's Griffin originates from Bedford Castle. Curiously 1931 was a busy year, it was that year that Bedford was founded, that year that GM bought both Opel and Holden, and by 1931 Vauxhall had a very successful small car called the Vauxhall Cadet - though no relation to the Opel Kadett, but a good link to the core of this story, comparing the Vauxhall & Opel models:

So now to the models: The Vauxhall Viva (HA) was at first the British pendant to the Opel Kadett A, but Vauxhall did a far more extensive job leading to the Viva Mk2 (HB/HC) than Opel did with Kadett B (the Kadett B indeed was basically just a facelift to the Kadett A) and its luxury version Olympia A. The Vauxhall Magnum was basically an upmarket Viva, comparable to the Olympia, but often Magnum refers to the Viva Coupé (for the Firenza was changed, complicated, to avoid confusion here please read the model stories) and eventually both Viva saloon and Magnum coupé were curiously available with a 2.3 engine. Actually, the Viva Mk2 already looked more like a Kadett C rather than a Kadett B. Things became more obvious with the Chevette, which was Vauxhall’s straight version of the Kadett C. These cars were very similar indeed, only the Chevette having a different, bulkier dash and a closed, aerodynamic front where the Kadett C (like Viva Mk2) had a proper radiator grill. As well the Chevette was not available as a coupé, while the Kadett C was very rare as a hatchback (called Kadett City). In fact it was Vauxhall who created the hatchback version to the Chevette and maybe even more surprising but also a fact: The Kadett City was entirely developed at Vauxhall in Luton and even the first prototypes built there. Some stories say that Vauxhall was quite "P'd" off that in return Opel still would not give them the C-Coupé body panels for a Chevette Coupé and Vauxhall was very close to turn to cooperate with Isuzu instead (whose Gemini model was based on the Kadett).

The Vauxhall Cavalier only came with the 2nd generation Opel Ascona. Here is a funny story hidden as the Ascona range came by accident. The Opel Ascona A was originally meant to be the Opel Kadett C but then Opel felt their designer had utterly missed the point! But after the initial bollocking they suddenly decided it could start a new model range as the gap between the conservative Kadett B and the next larger model Rekord was too big anyway – a problem that Vauxhall didn’t have to that extent with their more daring Viva Mk2. (In fact daring is the perfect word, while the Kadett B was still very conservative, and while the HC was only a very mild facelift to the HB and came long before the Kadett B was replaced, you should see the estate version of the Viva HC, more coupé than estate, very much like something that car firms would sell us even today as a sportsback!) In UK the Ascona A never came as their Viva facelift was quite a success and even though the Viva originally was a Kadett pendant the Viva was sold many years alongside the Chevette. Which also explains why Viva and Magnum were suddenly available with engines up to 2.3L and in difference to the Kadett C the Chevette was mainly marketed as a smaller hatchback: the Chevette was marketed below the Viva despite both cars originally relating to the same model range over at Opel's. This again may well have given the idea to the Chevette group4 rally car, if the 2.3L engine fits into a road going Viva, it fits under the bonnet of a Chevette hatchback, too. When the Ascona B arrived, which as well formed the base to the famous Ascona 400, this car was sold in the UK as a Cavalier, only again that the Cavalier had a closed, aerodynamic front. In fact for non-British fans the Vauxhall Cavalier was a strange sight as basically this was an Opel Ascona with the (near) exact Opel Manta front, like a Manta saloon! Interestingly the Manta itself was available as a Vauxhall for a very brief period only, called Cavalier Coupé, and was later even in the UK sold as an Opel through Vauxhall dealers.

It often was details, but these little variations must have looked strange for the local fans. So the UK had a "Manta saloon". But most likely equally as unusual for the Opel fans must have been the Ascona C Kombi/estate. Well, there wasn't an estate of the Opel Ascona C, but indeed an estate version of exactly this car under the Vauxhall banner was a rather common sight on British roads, a car many Opel fans may have never seen nor even known it existed! It was maybe a result of arch rival Ford doing a mistake. The Ford Cortina was the best selling car in UK for a long time and far outsold its main rival, the Cavalier Mk1, never mind the Cavalier being a good car. And there wasn't even an estate version of the Cavalier Mk1. But when the Cortina was replaced by the much bigger and more expensive Sierra, Vauxhall suddenly launched a Cavalier estate which subsequently turned THE painter, builder, plumber car of the UK, a very clever move that for some reason was completely ignored by the Germans. So if you own a Cavalier estate of that generation (Ascona C would be Cavalier Mk2), try to sell it to a German Opel fan, it has curiosity value added for him while in UK it is just a common, old estate! In return the British Vauxhall friends will find Opel's big cars Kapitän, Admiral & Diplomat weird. The Vauxhall equivalents to Kapitän, Admiral & Diplomat would be Wyvern (4-cyl), Velox (6-cyl) & Cresta (luxury), but soon Wyvern & Velox were forgotten and while the Cresta survived it was ever more americanised which again turned it into some laughing stock for the British. In contrast the German range turned ever straighter in design and survived much longer. (In exact numbers, Wyvern and Velox died very quickly, the Cresta somehow made it to the PC = Mk3 generation, still the Opel versions outlived the Cresta by many years and were build right up to the Senator launch.) With the Cresta being unloved, Vauxhall sold their VX rather well, a big success even. But the VX was really an upmarket Victor, such you have to compare it to Opel's upmarket Rekord, the Commodore. However these big cars Cresta, Kapitän, etc. had the same replacement, Senator & Monza (Monza = a very interesting Senator coupé), which then were the same cars with the same names for both, Opel & Vauxhall (actually initially Senator and Monza were called Royale and Royale Coupé in the UK, but, sadly maybe, the German names were adopted already with the first minor facelift, what the Germans called the A2 generation). In this same context we can as well take the wider picture, as it is interesting how names were re-used within GM, even for unrelated products. Across the American continent there was a small hatchback/coupé, a little on the lines of Opel Kadett C and Vauxhall Chevette, that however here was called Chevrolet Monza! The Australians meanwhile will to the day associate Opel's old "upmarket Rekord" name Commodore with a big V8 saloon, the Holden Commodore.

But back to the Opel & Vauxhall comparison. Some of the models may be less important in rallying terms but we list them as they surely are also interesting to compare for the respective local Opel and Vauxhall fans. As already mentioned, the early Opel Rekord models were also available in an upmarket version called Opel Commodore, that in group1 you may find in the hands of Walter Röhrl and Jean Ragnotti in their early careers. For Vauxhall the VX compares to Victor like the Commodore to Rekord, however the Vauxhall VX was never made as a 2-door coupé like the Commodore that was rallied. Maybe the UK never needed a coupé version on these lines. The Magnum Coupé may have originated from a small Kadett pendant but its rear end design was completely different to the Kadett B & C coupé designs, flatter, longer with big overhangs. Add its 2.3L engine and indeed the Magnum Coupé was a famous privateers rally car even found in the hands of Pentti Airikkala and Jimmy McRae. Still, Commodore rally cars were found in Germany and France but there wasn't even a coupé version of the Vauxhall VX. (Maybe interesting detail for this model range: Röhrl's Commodore was a Commodore B, equivalent to Rekord D and Victor & VX in their last generation FE/Mk5 - strangely first Rekord was called P1 = comparable to Victor FA and the short lived P2 = no Vauxhall equivalent, only with Victor FB/Mk2 came the Rekord A leading into an obvious line. And in all those years Victor FD vs Rekord C is the only generation where you don't see a clear relation between these models.) But soon after the cars became more identical, in particular with the Opel Rekord E (Mk5) that in the UK was named Vauxhall Carlton Mk1. And here we should remind you again of the one most distinct difference between Chevette & Kadett C as well as the Cavalier looking like an Ascona B with the exact Manta front. They have done the same trick to the Carlton. The Vauxhall Carlton was an Opel Rekord E with a flat, closed front, but unlike the Chevette and the Cavalier, the Carlton Mk1 front had sharp edges, reminding a little maybe of the Rover SD1. And the Carlton Mk1 had the widest dash I have seen in my life. I love wide dash boards that are more like a pilot's cockpit rather than a plank with two silly dials. And the Rekord E had one such cockpit but Vauxhall widened it even more to bring the glove box up to the height of the instrument panel, very unusual. However this was the last model that had a distinct design feature to divide Opel and Vauxhall. And curiously the first model to get rid of these differences was the same!! When the Victor name changed to Carlton, the upmarket model VX changed to Viceroy, which was an Opel Commodore without any design changes at all, including the normal front grill. However it seemed not only me as a German found the closed front Carlton much more interesting for this reason, as, despite the big previous VX success, soon the Viceroy range was dropped completely again following very poor sales, while the Carlton was a big success. So I am most likely not alone with this perception: The Viceroy was meant to range above the Carlton and I do like Opels too, but once you have seen a closed front Carlton the other versions just look cheap.

As a side note, at least I find Vauxhall was really interesting with model names, before they went in line with Opel. Cavalier for a mid-sized saloon is probably the best car name ever. It's my favourite alongside the Hillman Minx - a naughty Minx, brilliant! I also like Mitsubishi's Galant, but that for exactly the same reason why I like Cavalier: Many British may be surprised I love a Cavalier, but car names is a fascinating subject and the spelling may vary, but in most countries around the globe the pronunciation doesn't change and identifies a gentleman type attitude! I also like Carlton, which exactly like the Vauxhall name itself refers to an area of London, this time to the north towards Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire, plus in a double meaning it is an old, posh male name, fitting for a car that replaced the Victor. And even though very short lived, Royale is not too shabby a name, plus apart from the spelling not being exactly right for England, a name that would also work globally. Compared to Vectra & Insignia, bah, just sterile, meaningless fantasy names....

Eventually as well the model names became the same, however that did not happen in a way entirely free of confusion, you will see why. So we not only have to name you the different names to help identify the cars, but as well have to tell you when the names were unified. Having just covered the Rekord E/Carlton the successor to the Rekord E (and the short living E2) was called Opel Omega, but in the UK this was still sold as a Vauxhall Carlton! So i.e. what most know as the famous 377BHP Lotus Omega, for Britain this is a Lotus Carlton! Only with the 2nd generation Opel Omega Vauxhall took on the Omega name. Similar with the Ascona/Cavalier, the first Opel Vectra was still the Cavalier in the UK, only the 2nd generation Vectra turned a Vectra for Vauxhall as well. The Calibra was the Calibra for both makes throughout. The first Opel Corsa however was a Vauxhall Nova again in the UK, only with the 2nd generation Opel Corsa the Corsa name was taken on in the UK as well. It seems strange the Corsa got a different name for only one generation, especially since it never showed any design differences between Vauxhall and Opel. The reason can only be speculation but may be because Vauxhall had a stronger influence than usual in the design of the first Corsa generation. I.e. German fans will hardly know that the Opel Corsa A dash (before facelift) was even quite similar to that of the Vauxhall Chevette.

However it is exactly with one of Opel's or Vauxhall's most common rally cars where it turns important to avoid confusion! With the Astra the name game was turned vice versa, Astra is a British originating name and was invented when the Kadett/Chevette theme was turned into a very different FWD hatchback layout, a good moment really to change names. Even though the Chevette was mainly marketed as a hatchback, it was available in all versions of the Kadett C except coupé and it did sell quite well in UK as a saloon, too. Hence it was a big change, indeed. Strangely, while the Kadett D = Astra Mk1 was never available as a saloon, the Kadett E was. And while the Kadett E saloon still was called Kadett in Germany it got yet another unique name in UK: the Vauxhall Belmont. But on both sides of the channel this never sold in large numbers. So indeed when Opel counted Kadett D & Kadett E, Vauxhall was already calling these Astra and only with Vauxhall’s Astra Mk3 Opel took on this model name! This is also why for the only time ever Opel did not start afresh with generation tags. When unifying names it would have been very odd calling this an Astra "A" when for the sister brand it was already the 3rd generation Astra. So be aware, I have often found Germans wouldn't believe an old Kadett could possibly already be identified with the modern Astra name and at the same time I have found Brits that would have never linked a Kadett to a FWD hatchback. But this is exactly what happened, Kadett D & Astra Mk1 are perfectly identical cars, so are Kadett E & Astra Mk2. From then on Vauxhall and Opel model names are identical.

Today the one and only difference in the Opel and Vauxhall model range is that only Vauxhall has the Australian built big V8 car called Holden Commodore, respectively Vauxhall VXR8. There is no Opel VXR8, nor anything comparable! I personally am mildly surprised Vauxhall doesn't use the Commodore name, as the Opel Commodore was never sold under that name in UK - as well as Vauxhall adopted the names Monaro (Coupé) and Maloo (Ute/Pick Up). Still, the Holden Commodore is not related to the Opel Commodore - in contrary if there was ever any design hint of the Holden Commodore to a European car it was the 1980s Opel Senator/Vauxhall Royale. But I am even more surprised Opel doesn't offer anything similar. With Senator and Omega not one but the two biggest cars of the model range have disappeared without replacement, so Vauxhall decided to fill that gap with the Holden Commodore. And they won double, as with big V8 and RWD and noise (top version even with supercharger) it works well for Vauxhall as a huge image booster. The last time I have been in UK I saw around 10 of them already in the first week! Well you can't miss them with that noise, you hear them before you see them, but that is good for an image booster, isn't it? In fact I love this car and at the same time I wonder if nobody within GM but Vauxhall understands this GM car?! There are rumours that GM wants to close the Australian factory, turning Holden into a sales division only. A big mistake! Yes, GM has tried to establish US American GM products on the British and German markets several times and failed with it each time. OK, the British have a name for not liking US Americans, but here is a surprise for you: I bet the Australians won't buy a US car either! Because this is the catch, the Holden Commodore is not American! Yes it is a big saloon with RWD and a big V8, but its big V8 has more than 160BHP, the suspension does not make you sea sick and the steering is nothing like what you see in American movies. In fact in British car tests the Vauxhall VXR8 was repeatedly praised for its sharp, crisp responses and fun handling and was soon compared to German power saloons that cost more than twice the price! And indeed I have heard several times now that in UK Vauxhall dealers don't have a problem selling the VXR8, they have a problem shifting all those 2nd hand BMW M5s, AMG Mercs, Audi RS4/6s and even Porsches that are littering Vauxhall dealership forecourts in exchange for a VXR8! And if that is what the UK car press and customers compare it to, why shouldn't this work as a dream car for Opel fans, too? You don't even have to sell many, just its pure existence would be an image booster.

Late 2014 add on: Opel announced a new, small, 5-door budget car to stand along the posh, 3-door Adam. And they call the car Karl. Strange name. Vauxhall then announced that they won’t adopt this name, their version will have some detail changes and become the Vauxhall Viva. Clever name, as it sounds melodic, has history and links back to a very successful former Vauxhall budget car, see above. It is the first time since 20 years that Vauxhall and Opel models differ again – exciting!

But in rally terms, keep the Vauxhall Astra in mind, that at Opel would include Kadett D & E:

In the years after Ascona 400, Manta 400 & Chevette HSR, the main models used in rallying were the Opel Kadett and Vauxhall Astra in groupA. These cars were exactly identical except the badge. As well both GM daughter brands carried on operating through independent tuners. There is absolutely no reliability to trace in rally terms which car is an Opel or a Vauxhall as simply badges kept being swapped. Curiously the registration plates seem even a more reliable identification of brands than the brand logos as often the same cars were used but repainted and indeed rebadged according to the country they started in! As a good example the last Astra F2 project was prepared and run for both, Vauxhall & Opel by the British tuner Ray Mellock. Then with the time some cars and badges happened to be swapped between drivers and programs and we found German registered Vauxhalls competing in Britain and British registered Opels competing in Germany - why would Vauxhall for a British program go to Germany to register their car and vice versa? For example on WRC Rally GB 1999 Jarmo Kytölehto used white-red Vauxhall badged GG-VK 907, which was usually Nicky Schelle's German championship car, while Schelle in the meantime was lent S20 VML in white-yellow with Opel badges for his according events. It very clearly proves brand logos were swapped rather than registration plates! This is another good indication why we describe the models here and the sport story (including colours and registrations) under Opel, otherwise the only option would have been to present you here with a perfect copy of the Opel story all over again.

Oh, and I have a favour to ask especially from German fans: Can you please call Vauxhall as "Woxholl", wie 'wo ist Frau Holle', and not "Fa-ux-hal". Sorry, but to English language ears and Vauxhall fans it sounds absolutely stupid!

Vauxhall Rally Cars

Model Class
Vauxhall Vauxhall Chevette  Group 4
Vauxhall Vauxhall Magnum  Group 2
Vauxhall Vauxhall Viva  Group 2