|General Motors of Canada began importing Vauxhalls from its British subsidiary in the 1948 selling season. A 1950 model is seen here.|
The first Vauxhall appeared on Britain’s streets in 1903. The fledgling automotive company quickly earned accolades for its racing prowess and that added up to impressive sales. In 1925 the firm was welcomed into the worldwide General Motors family and grew to offer a wide range of popular passenger cars and commercial vehicles to Britain's motoring public. Production came to a screeching halt when World War Two broke out in the fall of 1939.
|1939 Vauxhall Ten.|
Targeted by the Luftwaffe, GM’s industrial complex in Luton, England was bombed on August 30th, 1940.
|GM's Luton plant under attack by the Third Reich's Luftwaffe.|
The arial attack damaged the plant extensively, killing 30 employees and inuring another 200. Despite the danger, determined workers toiled around the clock, turning out some 250,000 Bedford army trucks and 5,640 Churchill tanks. Each weapon of death delivered was a nail in the Nazi coffin as Britain and its Allies beat back the Axis aggressors.
|Churchill tanks built by Vauxhall workers.|
When Victory in Europe (VE Day) finally came on April 7, 1945, Vauxhall was able to commit once again to building civilian products. The emphasis of all post-war manufacturing in the UK was on exports. The “Dollars for Britain” campaign was absolutely vital as the government needed to earn American money in order to pay back the huge debt incurred during the long, six-year conflict.
|1946 Vauxhall Fourteen.|
With exports in mind, civilian automobile production resumed at Vauxhall in 1946. At first, warmed over, pre-war Ten, Twelve and Fourteen models rolled out the doors to satisfy the pent-up needs of the domestic market. But the designers in Luton had something pretty hot under wraps in the styling studios and what beauty it would be!
|1948 Vauxhall Velox.|
The completely new Vauxhall lineup was unveiled to the public in 1948. Earmarked for world export, the modest Wyvern and the luxurious Velox shared a pert 2 484-millimetre (97.8-inch) wheelbase and featured frameless construction. Overall length for the pretty pair was a tidy 4 178 millimetres (164.5) inches. The look was described as “ample”. No one doubted that the envelope was strikingly modern. Advertising boasted that the styling “set new standards in elegance of design, character of performance and economy of operation.”
|Britain’s Vauxhall was backed by the considerable resources of GM Canada.|
Floating effortlessly above a no-nonsense chrome bumper, five substantial and gently Vee-d, horizontal chrome ribs made up the grille. The Vauxhall name was spelled out on a chrome hood lip, above which rode the mighty Vauxhall emblem. A chromium ribbon rose upward from the emblem to meet the rocket-like hood ornament, crowning the alligator-style hood. Integrated into the deeply valanced fenders, single, sealed beam headlights wore chrome bezels. Small, circular turn signals were located directly underneath. The single-piece windshield was laminated for safety.
From the side, front and rear fenders were gently rounded and finished off with straight sides. The body envelope was gracefully slab-sided as well. A chrome spear accented the full length of the hood. The front doors opened suicide style while the rear doors were hinged at the centre post in the conventional manner. Running boards had disappeared.
Pulling up behind a Vauxhall on the road, one noted that the rear fenders tapered tastefully into the trunk. A discrete Vauxhall “Four” or “Six” badge was affixed to the mid-section of the deck lid. The T-shaped trunk handle was positioned lower down, just above a deep recess intended for the license plate. The large indent was flanked by inboard tail lamps.
|The Velox was Vauxhall’s most expensive model, listing for $1,825. It boasted a six-cylinder power plant.|
Some 31,000 British vehicles were imported in 1949 and 77,600 in 1950. Austin and Triumph enjoyed brisk sales. The new kid from Britain’s shore to Canada’s fair domain was the Vauxhall. GM launched a massive advertising awareness campaign in order to familiarize Canadian consumers with “Britain’s Finest Famous Low-Priced Car.” Publicity ensured that everyone knew Vauxhall was a genuine GM product, that it was available at Pontiac-Buick dealers and that it was properly "Canadianized".
Canadianization of Vauxhalls translated into 12-volt electrical systems, a robust heater-defroster unit and electric wipers as standard equipment. A three-speed, synchromesh, manual transmission --operated by a lever mounted on the steering column--appealed to our driving habits, while our British cousins preferred floor-mounted four-speed manual transmissions.
|Fitted with left-hand drive for the Canadian market, Vauxhall boasted a full set of gauges on its instrument panel.|
There was a distinctly European flavour about Vauxhall, even if ours were fitted with left-hand drive. In typical British fashion, turn signals operated from a switch mounted in the centre of the steering wheel hub. In keeping with European tradition, a well-equipped toolbox was stashed in the trunk. Should a tire need changing, the socket was located at the mid-section on each side of the body; the Stevenson jack operated with a rachet lever.
While sharing body shells, the fancy Velox boasted a new overhead-valve, six-cylinder engine under the hood. The top end of the speedometer was marked 70 (miles) and the 2.5-litre (54.75-horsepower) mill promised top speeds of 120 kilometres (75 miles--ancient Canadian units of distance) per hour. Velox sported cream-coloured wheels, making it dead easy to distinguish from Wyvern at a glance.
|Wyvern was the lower priced Vauxhall. The four-cylinder model sold for $1,663.|
Velox was further distinguished from Wyvern with the use of genuine leather upholstery and incorporated a large, fold-down centre arm rest in the back seat and arm slings (passenger assists) for convenience and comfort. The cabin was large enough to carry “four burly passengers in comfort with room to shift their positions.”
Advertising bragged: “Traditional British craftsmanship shows in every detail of this sleek sedan,” and so it did. Small but not cheap, Vauxhall’s flagship listed for $1,825. On the same showroom floor, domestically built Pontiacs ranged in price from $1,803 to $2,083.
Vauxhall was a very welcome addition to the twinned Pontiac and McLaughlin-Buick dealerships in 1950; there were no McLaughlin-Buicks at all. The prestigious automobile long favoured by the royal family and prime ministers was missing from GM Canada's lineup. Oshawa didn’t resume building the luxury marque immediately after World War Two at the request of the Federal Government and curtailed their importation from the US until our own substantial wartime balance of payment deficit was squared away with Washington.
|King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada in 1939. They ride in a new McLaughlin-Buick limousine built especially for them.|
Powered by a durable 1.5-litre (35-horsepower), four-cylinder engine, the 970-kilo (2,140-pound) Wyvern was capable of zipping along at a comfortable 100 kilometres (60 miles) per hour. Passengers in the Wyvern had no leather on their “tension-sprung” seats; they rode on practical Bedford Cord. Its wheels were painted to match the body. The lower-priced stable mate cost $1,663.
There were few options for Vauxhall, though a radio and fog lamp were available.
Billed as delivering “outstanding performance with excellent economy,” a driver could expect to squeeze 560 kilometres (350 miles) out of the Wyvern and 450 kilometres (280 miles) out of the Velox before pulling into a Golden Eagle, White Rose, B/A or Husky station to fill up the 45- litre (10-Imperial gallon) gas tank.
The rugged little Vauxhalls did well in 1950. Records indicate that 1,508 of the well-groomed, smart sedans were registered to happy owners from St. John’s to Victoria. It was an auspicious beginning for the captive import that would grace domestic Pontiac-Buick dealers’ showrooms for the next twenty-three seasons.
Copyright James C. Mays 2003 All rights reserved.