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Vauxhall Home Country: 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 there was also at that time a car manufacturer called Ranger, who produced larger Opels under licence). 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.
But first how did Vauxhall come to its unusual name. 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 in 1931. Opel was however not GM’s first venture across the pond. Vauxhall made first cars in 1902 and was bought by GM 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 market and so soon after WW1 this seemed tricky using an American name, so they made offers that were hard to refuse. For the name, Vauxhall refers to a landmark, but the wrong landmark. Because they are based in Luton in Bedfordshire, while Vauxhall refers to an area in London. The company is actually linked back to a guild of knights who were in charge of the Luton and Bedfordshire area, but also built and maintained the town hall of the London area south of the river Thames, a big deal for the guild. As for the name, everybody has a town hall, this particular town hall and surrounding land was officially called Folk’s Hall which in local dialect over the time became Vauxhall. When the world became a little more modern, the knights turned to producing boats and engines for boats, from 1902 turning towards cars. In an attempt to give credit to both their major possessings, this industry was based in more rural Bedfordshire but given the name of Vauxhall. A little more straight forward is the commercial arm of the group, Bedford, named after the capital of Bedfordshire, where Bedford vans and busses were produced. The logo of Vauxhall displays a griffin, which was also the logo of the guild.
Now comparing models: The Vauxhall Viva was at first the British pendant to the Opel Kadett A, but Vauxhall did a far more extensive facelift leading to the Viva Mk2 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 a Viva Coupé and both 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). 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 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 seems to explain why Viva and its coupé version Magnum was available with engines up to 2.3L and in difference to the Kadett C the Chevette was mainly marketed as a smaller hatchback. 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 front. In fact for non-British fans the Vauxhall Cavalier was a strange sight as basically this was an Opel Ascona with the 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! 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! In return the British Vauxhall friends will find Opel's big cars Kapitän, Admiral & Diplomat weird. There were no Vauxhall variations of these, or maybe the US style but therefore even in UK not very loved Vauxhall Cresta. With the Cresta being unloved, Vauxhall sold their VX rather well. But the VX was really an upmarket Victor, such you have to compare it to Opel's upmarket Rekord, the Commodore. However, after a gap, these big cars Cresta, Kapitän, etc. had the same replacement, Senator & Monza (Monza = a very interesting Senator coupé), which then were the same car with the same name 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, 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. Here are some other models that may be less important in rallying terms but we list them to help avoiding further confusion. 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 Record, however the Vauxhall VX was never made as a 2-door coupé like the Commodore that was rallied. 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. However this was the last model that had a distinct design feature to devide 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, normal front grill. However it seemed not only me as a German found the closed front Carlton much more interesting for this reason, as soon the Viceroy range was dropped completely again.
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.
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. 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! 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! 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 group A. 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. Even the registration plates are not a reliable identification as often the same cars were used and rebadged according to the country they started in (meaning indeed to identify a certain car registration plates are a reliable identification while brand logos are not!). As a good and quite recent example, the last Astra F2 project was prepared and run for both, Vauxhall & Opel by the British tuner Ray Mellock. Then the cars and badges were swapped between drivers and programs and we found German registered Vauxhalls competing in Britain and British registered Opels competing in Germany. 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 Chevette||Group 4|