A brief history of Vauxhall

We look at the history of the classic British brand...

Ever wonder where Vauxhall’s are made? Vauxhall is one of the oldest established vehicle manufacturers and distribution companies in Great Britain. Vauxhall, the trading name of General Motors UK, has become an icon of British industry and Vauxhall cars are British icons.

But, how did Vauxhall achieve its legendary status? We take a look at the interesting history of Vauxhall.

When was Vauxhall founded?

Vauxhall was founded in 1857 by Alexander Wilson. It started as a pump and marine engine manufacturer. It was bought in 1863 and began producing tavelling cranes. It was then that the company was christened Vauxhall Iron Works.

When did Vauxhall start making cars?

Vauxhall started making cars in 1903 and moved it’s production to Luton in 1905. The first car was a five-horsepower single-cylinder model. It was steered using a tiller and had two forward gears but no reverse gear.

About 70 of these cars were made in the first year. The car was improved the following year after it had wheel steering and a reverse gear. The last surviving car was in the London Science Museum in 1968.

1930 Vauxhall in blue parked

The company continued to trade under Vauxhall Iron Works until 1907, when it then became Vauxhall Motors. The company, to begin with, were well known for their sport models. The Y-Type Y1 saw success at the 1908 RAC and Scottish 2000 Reliability Trials. It also saw massive success at the Brooklands circuit. So much so it accomplished 200 miles at an average speed of 46mph.

The Y-Type was so successful it became the A09 car which spawned the Vauxhall A-Type. There were four types of this vehicle produced until 1914. The A-Type Vauxhall could achieve 100mph and was one of the most acclaimed 3-litre cars of its day.

What happened to Vauxhall during World War One?

During the First World War, Vauxhall made large numbers of the D-Type Vauxhall. This was a version of the C-Type, raced in the Prince Henry trials. The D-Type had the same chassis but a de-rated engine. The D-Type was used as staff cars for the British forces.

The D-Type remained in production after the war ended.

What happened to Vauxhall after World War One?

Vauxhall saw success in the pre-war period with their executive vehicles. However, these types of cars weren’t desirable in post-war England and Vauxhall were in trouble.

When did General Motors acquire Vauxhall?

black and white photograph of a Vauxhall Cadet

General Motors acquired Vauxhall in November of 1925 for $2.5million. With this, Vauxhalls target market changed dramatically.

The low-cost two-litre Vauxhall Cadet and the Bedford truck were released in the late 1930s. The Cadet retailed at £280 and was the first British car to feature a synchromesh gearbox. However, just as things were picking back up for Vauxhall, the Second World War was looming.

What happened to Vauxhall during the Second World War?

Production was halted during World War Two so Vauxhall could work on the new Churchill tank.

The factory in Luton was bombed in August 1940, killing 39 employees. The Churchill tank was taken from specification to production in less than a year. More than 5,600 Churchill tanks were built during World War Two. 250,000 lorries were also produced at the Luton factory.

To raise morale, Adelaide Hall appeared in concert on the 23, 24, and 25 February in 1944. Adelaide Hall was an American-born, UK-based jazz singer and entertainer. She was a major figure in the Harlem renaissance. She performed for the workers during their lunch break and performed in front of more than 10,000 workers.

What happened to Vauxhall after the Second World War?

Production resumed after World War Two and cars were considerably more mass-market then the pre-war products.

The Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire opened in 1962 to make components to supply the production lines in Luton. They did not start producing cars until 1964.

In 1963, production of the Vauxhall Viva started. The small family car was to compete with Ford Anglia and Morris Minor. The German version of the Viva was sold as the Opel Kadett. The Vauxhall Viva was launched in Australia in May 1964. In 1966 the Slant Four went into production. The FD Victor was launched at the Earls Court Motor Show which is considered one of Vauxhall’s finest all-British styling efforts.

A Vauxhall Victor parked in countryside

When did Vauxhall become a Royal Warrant Holder?

Vauxhall became a Royal Warrant Holder in 1967. It became a Royal Warrant Holder: Motor Vehicle Manufacturers to HM The Queen – The Royal Mews. The warrant of HRH The Prince of Wales was added in 1994.

It was around this time that Vauxhall were seeing huge success with the Viva and the Victor.

When was the Vauxhall Chevette produced?

The Vauxhall HC Viva was launched in 1970 and became Vauxhall’s best-selling car of the decade. It was featured in the best 10 selling cars in Britain every year until 1976. The Vauxhall Firenza was launched in 1973 and showed a new, aerodynamic look that stayed with the models for the rest of the decade.

A red Vauxhall Chevette parked in the middle of a field

However, Vauxhall were struggling. The market was dominated by the Ford Cortina and they were struggling to keep up. Sales increased with the launch with the Chevette in 1975. It was a small, three-door hatchback and the first of its kind to be built in Britain. The Cavalier was also produced around this time which was supposed to be in direct competition with the Cortina. Both of these proved popular in their respective markets, helping Vauxhall regain the ground they lost.

Vauxhall and Opel

While Vauxhall was seeing considerable success, Opel was seeing more. And, while Vauxhalls were being designed and built in the United Kingdom, they were sharing more and more of their specification, engineering features and stylings with Opel.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was economic turmoil in the UK. Declining build quality and industry strikes contrasted with the ‘economic miracle’ that was happening in West Germany. Not to mention the entry to the European Economic Community made having two lines with pretty much the same cars undesirable. And so, the FE Series Victor, launched in 1972, would be the last all-British Vauxhall.

A Vauxhall Victor parked in countryside

Pretty much all future Vauxhalls would be restyled Opels but Vauxhall would still retain Ellesmere Port and their Luton factory. These Opel-based Vauxhalls were better in quality and design which boosted Vauxhalls sales. The release of the Carlton in the executive car market and the Senator, helped boost sales even further.

When was the Vauxhall Astra produced?

The Astra was produced in early 1980 to replace the Viva. It was a rebadged version of the Opel Kadett and they were sold alongside each other for several years.

The Mk2 Cavalier was launched shortly after the Astra. And while the Astra has stood the test of time, it was the Mk2 Cavalier that saw Vauxhall sales boom. Sales of the Cavalier in 1982 almost trebled from 1981 and Vauxhall’s overall sales more than doubled by 1984.

Vauxhall Astra

A new Astra was launched in 1984 featuring a more aerodynamic design that didn’t look too different from the Sierra. This Astra became European Car of the Year and was the first Vauxhall to do so. The Astra also went onto be re-launched in 1991 and sold well, narrowing the gap between itself and the Ford Escort.

The Vauxhall Carlton also won European Car of the Year shortly after the Astra. There were two versions of the Carlton including the Lotus Carlton. It was the fastest four-door production car at the time with a speed of 174 mph.

When was the Vauxhall Corsa launched?

The Vauxhall Corsa is one of the best known cars in the UK, and is a common sight on British roads. Launched in 1993, the Corsa was produced to replace the ageing Nova. It was also sold under the Chevrolet and Holden and has been sold across the globe. The Corsa A was otherwise known as the Vauxhall Nova.

The Corsa B was the first to adopt the Corsa name and was sold across the globe, in both hatchback and saloon form. The Corsa C was revealed in 1999 to be introduced in October 2000. General Motors called the new chassis Gamma and intended to use it for a number of other models. The Corsa C was the most popular supermini and the second most popular car overall in the UK in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

The Corsa D was co-developed by General Motors and Fiat. What Car? Awarded it 2007 Car of the Year. The car was also used as the villain car in the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A designer was dared to work an image of a shark into the interior in the early stages of development. He hid it so well that it was never removed and features on all production models (it’s on the hinge of the glove compartment).

Light blue metallic Vauxhall Corsa

The Corsa E is the current Corsa which comes with the same exterior and interior dimensions but the exterior panel is new. It looks more like Vauxhall’s other models but in supermini shape. It is thought that the next Corsa will be launched in 2020.

When was the Vauxhall Vectra launched?

The Vauxhall Vectra was originally sold as the Vauxhall Cavalier and then the Vectra from 1995 onwards. It was introduced in 1988 as a replacement to the Opel Ascona. The Vectra was the last Vauxhall to be produced at the company’s Luton plant which stopped producing cars in 2004.

However, the Vectra didn’t receive great reviews. In 2013, Top Gear Magazine placed the 1995 Vectra on its list of “The 13 worst cars of the last 20 years”. Jeremy Clarkson even refused to drive it.

The Vectra C was launched in 2002 and debuted at the Geneva Motor Show. It received a facelift in 2005 but the sales in the UK were not as strong as its predecessors.

Vauxhall and the 2000s

The success of the Astra and Zafira saw Vauxhall going into the 2000s on a high. The Meriva mini-MPV was launched and the Vauxhall Omega production ended in 2003.

The fifth generation Astra was a serious competitor with the Ford Focus and many police forces across the UK adopted the Astra as their standard patrol vehicle.

Vauxhall Zafira parked portrait with water fountain in the background and business woman standing beside the vehicle

In 2006, the second generation Zafira was launched and became the tenth-biggest selling car in the UK. This was the first time an MPV had been featured in the top 10. In 2007, the Vauxhall Antara was launched.

The Vauxhall Insignia launched in 2008 after Vauxhall rebranded with a modified corporate logo. The Insignia replaced the Vectra and won European Car of the Year.

However, in 2009, General Motors filed for bankruptcy. Sale of Vauxhall and Opel were being negotiated. This was part of a strategy driven by the German government to ring fence the businesses from any liquidation.

Vauxhall was sold to Canadian-owned Magna International in 2009. Magna International promised to keep Ellesmere Port open until 2013, but could not promise further production after that date. However, a few months after the sale General Motors called off the deal saying that Vauxhall and Opel were crucial to General Motors global strategy.

Can you see yourself driving around in the Vauxhall Insignia? Check out the modern version of this vehicle today

Vauxhall and the 2010s

The Vauxhall Movano was launched in 2010 and the new Meriva was launched at the Geneva Motor Show the same year.

The Ampera E-Rev was an extended range electric vehicle and went on sale here in the UK in 2011. It won ‘European Car of the Year’.

The Vauxhall Adam, a city car, was launched at Paris Motor Show in 2012. The Mokka, a compact SUV, was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in 2012 too. The same year, General Motors announced plans to move production of the Astra to the UK from mainland Europe. They announced they would invest in Ellesemere Port factory. However, it was reported that the Astra’s produced at Ellesmere Port contained only 25% British parts. This is below the 50-55% local content requirement Britain would have to agree to in a bilateral trade deals.

Vauxhall and the Present Day

In March 2017, it was reported that General Motors have reached a tentative agreement with Group PSA for acquisition of Vauxhall and Opel. It was then confirmed that PSA will buy Vauxhall and Opel Subsidies for £2.2 billion.

And that brings us to the present day. Vauxhall will now be sold to PSA and although the future of Vauxhall is slightly uncertain, we’re sure that Vauxhall cars will still be a common sight on British roads for years to come.

Now we have learnt Vauxhall's impressive history  let's take a look at the models on offer nowadays

Holly Martin

Content Co-ordinator at OSV Ltd
Holly enjoys: Reading, music and spending time with friends.

Within a week of Holly starting work at OSV she became an indispensable part of the marketing team. She's very intuitive and gets on with the whole office effortlessly.
Holly Martin

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