To the Victor …….

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about the chance of a better future recently. Car advertising always promises that. Cars seldom deliver it.

victor-couple

insigniaThe better future is what most the people in old car adverts seem to take for granted. A trim young couple grin out at me, assuming things will just carry on getting better and better. For them, maybe they did. Certainly their marriage was statistically going to last a fair bit longer than that Vauxhall Victor F that they seem to be so pleased with, but which is probably rusting already. Today, that Insignia may no longer originate in Luton, but it may well last far longer than the modern couple. If they are a couple. Or maybe they’re just colleagues. Actually they look a damn sight more pleased with themselves than with the Vauxhall.

Corny as it may be, old car publicity reflects in some way our society, or at least our society’s sometime deluded image of itself. The Victor first appeared in 1957, a month before 6 European countries signed the Treaty of Rome and the same year that we, in the UK, were told that we’d “never had it so good”. And the Victor’s advertising through the years seems to have been trying to support British Prime Minister Macmillan’s statement. The first version, that we might retrospectively call the FA, was a scaled down Chevrolet, and its advertising was clearly aimed at a family chasing the same, straight down the line lives as their imaginary counterparts across the Atlantic. The images suggest that the problem of fitting luggage into the back of a car took up a disproportionate part of their time.

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But the original Victor wasn’t that well received and the 1961 FB reverted to a more European look. After all, that was the year that Britain was applying to join the Common Market. In its advertising we start seeing the idea that we might aim for a life outside the humdrum everyday. For the first time there is the recurrent theme of a lot of car advertising, the connection with aviation. Why shouldn’t we be getting into a helicopter or, maybe, hobnobbing with the hunting, shooting and fishing crowd?

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The 1964 FC (aka 101) made much of its curved side window glass, increasing interior space. Sharing much beneath the skin with its predecessor, it too was available in quasi-sporty VX4/90 form – though possibly boasting about 4 cylinders and a 90 cubic inch engine was less effective than Ford just calling the warmed over Cortina ‘GT’. With the advertising, the aerospace aspirations remain but we’re now also collecting antiques and, shocking, we’re snogging our spouses, though our cosmopolitan pretensions had been slightly scuppered by France vetoing our application to the EEC.

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In late 1967, with France having vetoed Britain’s EEC membership for a second time, the FD returned to US styling themes, but fortunately at a time when that style looked rather well on a scaled-down Brit. The all coil suspension combined with a new OHC slant four or, even a 3.3 litre OHV six, probably offered a bit less performance and chuckability than it promised yet, at first, it appeared from its advertising that its sole purpose was for rugged blokes to throw it around quarries or deserts. This seemed a bit out of step with the Summer of Love and the rise of feminism (where had the women drivers gone?) And when you saw a family, instead of fawning around the car like a totem, they looked a mite smug.

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By now Vauxhall had abandoned the three year US style model cycle, so the FE didn’t appear until 1972. The new Victor and the 6 cylinder Ventora were truly aspirational, in the most bullshitty sense of the world, if there is any other. At the end of that year, Britain was finally to join the EEC and, in preparation, the FE was even subtitled ‘The Transcontinental’. Gaudy paintings promised assignations in foreign countries, and it wasn’t even clear whether some of the people shown were married, at least to one another.

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Three years later, in 1975, the UK decided by a 67% referendum vote that having joined the EEC, remaining in it was, broadly, a good thing. Three years after that, the Victor, the last UK designed and built Vauxhall, was replaced. Though using a solid English-sounding name that has been, for some reason, oddly resonant in UK branding (suitcases, hotels, TV stations, cigarettes, Conservative Party clubs), with the introduction of the Carlton, Vauxhalls had become just lightly body-engineered, then just badge-engineered, European Opels.

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All the Victors were adequate cars, but they did nothing that well and they certainly didn’t guarantee you fast-track entry to the Theatre Edouard VII in Paris or unimpeded access to Heathrow Airside. I’ve never been convinced that advertising works as intended – by which I mean that it certainly sells things, but the buttons it pushes aren’t always the ones the advertisers think they’re pushing. Did people looking at these images really see their lives and hopes depicted? This year has shown us that you can get people to do things that posterity might not judge to have been that wise. But whether those people are unknowing dupes, knowing conspirators or just mischievously living their own agendas, who knows? Certainly, if you replaced our social history with the images shown here, you’d think that we had always been idiots. But then maybe we have.

All Victor images have come from the very comprehensive site vauxpedia.net

7 thoughts on “To the Victor …….”

  1. What a superbly written piece of social history Sean. In light of Richard’s article on the Cortina, it shows that Vauxhall were slightly ahead of the game, very in the case of the FD Victor of which the Mk III Cortina is clearly a rip off.
    The advertising is interesting compared to today in that it gives more technical information and is just generally more wordy. Today’s advertising is often reduced to one non-car related brief message and lots of fantastical photoshopping. You refer to the summer of love and feminism in regards to the FD advert but it’s worth remembering that these were things that affected some young people at the time, not the men in their 40’s and 50’s and fleet managers who would actually buy this car.
    On a different note, the couple in thd Victor 101 are defo having an affair or maybe they’ve just been to a car key party and are parked up on the local common.

    1. Thank you Mark. Maybe it’s my sad romanticism that makes me imagine that the couple in the 101 are married and finding their passion rekindled by the frisson of owning a production car with curved side windows. On the other hand, I find the behaviour of the pair exiting the hovercraft in the ‘Transcontinental’ rather suspect. What is she doing? Actually if my experience of riding on the SR-N4 is typical, she might be cleaning vomit off his trousers.

  2. Very interesting. There was always something a bit undercooked about Vauxhalls/Opels of that era. It was clear that their stylists were getting no clear steer, oscillating between Americana, British conservatism and European rationalism between generations and individual lines. Wayne Cherry’s leadership was much needed in that regard, giving GM’s European operations a direction and individual identity.

    1. It’s hard to work out quite what was ‘wrong’ with the Vauxhalls of that era. The FC is tidy enough and, as Mark says, the Mark III Cortina was three years late following the Victor FD’s coke bottle line and, to my eyes, more clumsily. Yet no-one ever goes misty-eyed at the mention of a Victor.

  3. Thanks for that nice insight: the ads played a dance with the mood of the times. Both influenced each other to the steady hypnotic rhythm of manipulations and self-delusions. Admittedly nostalgia makes the older ads more interesting. Still, the newest Insignia is quite soulless and also daft. One single parked car. One. And it isn´t a limousine, just a a nice mainstream motor. Perhaos as society as fragmented and flatted in some ways, the cultural certainties that made the old ads believable are gone. So, all that´s left is some airbrushed concrete banality plus the new car.

  4. Why does no one go misty eyed over the mention of a Victor? Well it’s all in the name isn’t it. Ford name their aspirational model after a winter olympic venue and Vauxhall choose a boys’ comic. Wonderful article Sean, it reminds me of when I used take the ads seriously, particularly the technical details. I think they give an interesting social history of how we perceived ourselves or perhaps, more accurately, how advertising agencies perceived us at a certain time in the last century. It’s notable how the cars were viewed as an essential part of holidays or adventure, hence all the faffing around with luggage. Now we use them to drive to the airport.

  5. I took a detour onto the Vauxpedia site and despite having many pressing tasks to carry out managed to waste a goodly amount of time browsing. There is so much accurate detail; one thing I found astonishing was reading the very short lists of standard equipment on Vivas and Victors. It highlights the sheer arrogance and stupidity of the British motor industry at the time despite their rapid loss of market share to European and Japanese makers to which there appeared to be no response. Reading long term tests of the Victor and Ventora FDs was also shocking for the way the cars were literally falling to bits within a few thousand miles. Entering the British market must have been like shooting fish in a barrel for Toyota and Datsun.

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