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Retro Drive: Vauxhall Victor FB Deluxe Estate. Image by Vauxhall.

Retro Drive: Vauxhall Victor FB Deluxe Estate
Itís snow joke as we take on an Alpine pass in a 52-year-old wagon...

   



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Vauxhall Victor FB Deluxe Estate

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: Character, looks, quite capable if you get stuck in snow

Not so good: Getting hold of a tidy example is going to be tricky

Key Facts

Model tested: 1964 Vauxhall Victor FB Deluxe Estate
Price: when new in 1964, £861, 13s. 1d; value today around £5,000
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, four-speed manual
Body style: five-door estate
CO2 emissions: N/A
Combined economy: 28mpg
Top speed: 76mph
0-60mph: 22.6 seconds
Power: 70hp at 4,800rpm
Torque: 126Nm at 2,800rpm

Our view:

It was as we hit the third patch of snow on the D20, just outside Digne-les-Bains, that we realised something had gone very, very wrong. My passenger in the car - who, to protect his identity, I shall refer to as Jeith Kones, a fellow road-tester who works for Prakers (sic) - glanced across at me, and I stared back at him. "Do you really think we should press on?" I said, with more than a trace of fear in my voice. Jeith paused: "Err...." Yes, thanks for that, Jeith, most helpful.

The car in question was hardly the ideal vehicle in which to be taking on a snow-bound, 1,200-metre high French col. It was a 1964 Vauxhall Victor Estate, to be specific. On its skinny old 1960s-style tyres, lacking any sort of traction control beyond a hefty right loafer and possessed of a modest 70hp, 126Nm four-cylinder carbed engine. Actually, a lack of torque wasn't a major problem. Heaven help us if we had been in the fat-tyred, supercharged 740Nm VXR8, also present on this event, instead.

You see, we weren't supposed to be on a road like this, as our genial Vauxhall PR host had told us at the last coffee stop in Entrevaux that we were not to go via Castellane, our planned route, as the roads were too mountainous and snowy. Better to go directly to Digne. For all the other Vauxhall cars on our trip, the in-dash and aftermarket satnav units did the rerouting job properly. Only our Victor's windscreen-mounted third-party unit and - our saving grace, as it turned out in the end - the navigation in the Vauxhall technical support crew's red Movano LWB decided that a single-lane snake of a road over the shoulder of a frozen Alp would be a far more sensible proposition than some two-lane arterial routes.

The snow got deeper with every fresh patch we encountered in the poor old Victor. As the D20 clambered ever higher, for some reason my little grey cells started processing the details and out came my inner Poirot: "Jeith, have you noticed there are no tyre tracks in all of this snow? Not from any of the rest of our group, nor from any local traffic either?" He paused again. "Ah..." Seriously, man, you've been a massive amount of assistance.

Eventually, after having the Vauxhall FB at a number of ludicrous oversteer angles on the edge of a ravine, all while doing about 3mph, we decided we had braved enough of the white powder - no, not cocaine - and we needed to resort to the snow chains in the boot. The thing is, neither myself nor Mr Kones has ever had cause to fit such devices to any cars. So, in the middle of a sub-zero forest in which the silence was so thick you could cut it with a knife, we began trying to fathom out the process of getting snow chains on an ancient old wagon.

We (largely) succeeded, but neither chain was properly in place over the rear wheels. We couldn't turn around - the road was just way too narrow and the vertiginous drop off one side of it way too terrifying - and to cap it all, the red Movano had stopped further down the pass and as yet had shown no signs of following us up this high. Phone reception was non-existent. We had to get these chains to fit, or else we'd be camping on this desolate road, 3,000ft up and with some 52-year-old blue leather seats as our beds. I didn't fancy sharing body warmth with Jeith in the boot either, that's for sure...

Struggle and swear some more, did we; apparently, we also started mangling grammar like Yoda. The blasted things simply would not click into their final position. And it was only as I was trying to get the last damned clasp on the snow chains to lock into place, with my shoes leaking icy cold water faster than the RMS Titanic when the band struck up Abide With Me, and my hands turning a vicious deep purple (or a whiter shade of pale? I'm not sure; maybe I was going mad in the cold), that I noticed the Victor's number plate read FML. How apt.

Luckily, the red Movano came into view and - exposing our ludicrous lack of ability - the technicians promptly snapped a few links on the chains and declared them safely secure. Red of face, from both chronic wind chill and shame, we clambered back aboard the old girl... and drove off up the remainder of the col in perfect safety. Our joy at the incredible difference the chains made to progress, with the Victor now as sure of foot as any modern 4x4, was quickly tempered by the fact we were about 50m shy of the summit when we gave up the ghost; if we'd persevered, we might have done the ascent unaided.

Then we saw the malevolent descent on the far side of the mountain, riddled with snow-deep hairpins, and we accepted the good fortune that had seen the technical crew take the same wrong turn as us. What we did do, as the sun had come out, was wind back the optional Webasto sunroof on the old Vauxhall and revel in the happy conclusion to our 'adventure'.

So what were all these Alpine high-jinks about? Why were we even in such peril the Victor? Well, it was actually the launch of the Astra Sports Tourer and Vauxhall had brought along its heritage example of the Victor to provide some neat counterpoint. Back when the FB replaced the F, it was bigger and yet lighter than its predecessor, just like the new Sports Tourer is bigger inside and up to 190kg trimmer than that which has gone before. Neat.

And what is the FB Victor like to drive if you're not cataclysmically snow-bound up a remote hillside? Well, it's very pleasant. Sure, it's not exactly quick, what with a glacial 0-60mph time of 22.6 seconds and a 76mph top speed. It's not particularly exciting to drive if you set it benchmarks using modern parameters, as of course the steering is very light and lacking feedback, the suspension is comically soft and the brakes on FML 608B are drums all round; Vauxhall offered front discs as an option from July 1963 but this car didn't have them specified.

But boy, is it sweet to drive. It's surprisingly torquey in the mid-range for its age, so it doesn't disgrace itself on A-road-type routes. That steering wheel doesn't tell you much about the front wheels' position and grip, yet it's beautiful to look at and hold, thanks to a thin rim, a design sporting two concentric circles, and a superbly detailed Griffin logo on the boss. The four-speed floor-mounted manual shifts cleanly enough and the ride is exquisite, a direct corollary of soft suspension. Visibility is also first rate, an area where these classics with large glasshouses always best their modern-day counterparts. Maybe the D20 jaunt made us bond with the Vauxhall more than we should have done, but as we finally rolled into Digne unscathed we were both talking to the Victor animatedly and gently patting its dashboard. We'd come through a baptism of, er... snow together and so we felt suitably protective of the glorious old FB.

This is what family motoring looked like in the 1960s and the Victor FB is an attractive estate car, thanks to the Persian Blue VX4/90 side flash and the dark blue paint. With a big boot and plenty of space on board, you can almost imagine affluent middle-class families in the Sixties toddling off to France with all their gear on board for a pleasant holiday. And so long as they knew how to fit snow chains efficiently, then the Victor FB would have got them to their destination in relaxed style. And not, as in this case, in an expletive-ridden, damp debacle that caused two motoring journalists to nearly miss their free lunch - which would have been a disaster of truly epic proportions.

Check out our YouTube video of the Victor Estate in the snow (caution, there's one swear word!) here.



Matt Robinson - 23 Mar 2016



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1964 Vauxhall Victor FB Estate drive. Image by Vauxhall.1964 Vauxhall Victor FB Estate drive. Image by Vauxhall.1964 Vauxhall Victor FB Estate drive. Image by Vauxhall.1964 Vauxhall Victor FB Estate drive. Image by Vauxhall.1964 Vauxhall Victor FB Estate drive. Image by Vauxhall.








 

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