The British press was quick to criticize the Victor for its equipment and build quality -- or lack of same. This puzzled Vauxhall's top managers, some of whom were on loan from Detroit, They didn't panic, but they couldn't ignore the carping from influential magazines.
Autocar and other British publications criticized
the Vauxhall Victor for poor build quality.
Autocar, for example, then noted for discreetly overlooking faults in British machinery, reported that "Teething troubles resulted in the postponement of the full road test which had been planned for earlier in the year -- snags which even yet do not seem to have been entirely overcome. . . . At the highest speeds [the test car had] a pronounced shake at the front end which is transmitted to the steering column and wheel."
The testers also complained of a transmission "resonance which affects the comfort of passengers in the rear compartment" and of a "poor standard of coachwork construction."
But the Victor cruised comfortably at 65 mph; could return up to 35 miles per Imperial gallon of fuel; and had light steering with good, if not outstanding, roadholding. In short, it did exactly what Vauxhall needed it to do, and sales boomed. Some 80,000 were built in the first 12 months, and no fewer than 145,000 were completed before a heavily revised version took over.
Included in that total were 21,000 American-market Super sedans and wagons. They went "over there" in response to the 1957-1958 recession that was fueling U.S. demand for smaller, more economical import cars, especially the Volkswagen Beetle.
As Road & Track observed: "After several years of public apathy. . . General Motors has chosen to recognize this 'fad' by importing some of its own European makes and merchandising them through already established dealers. The [Victor] and Opel [Rekord] are being sold alongside Pontiacs and Buicks, respectively. [This] gets GM into the economy car market without actually tooling up for a new car, [allows] them to test this expanding market [and] bolsters sagging profits for many dealers who [now] find it difficult to move the larger, more expensive U.S. product."
GM had another reason to try selling "captive" imports: public perception. "If foreign things frighten you," said Popular Mechanics in late 1958, "the Vauxhall may allay your fears. . . . [T]his car has enough Detroit in it so it is not strange to look at or drive."
R&T concurred: "Any driver of domestic products . . . can get in and drive away with no coaching. Only the maneuverability and road-holding should surprise him, and these very pleasantly."
Road & Track's first full test, conducted in 1958, praised the Victor's interior and luggage space, the easy-shifting gearbox with synchronized first (still something of a novelty), and overall familiar American feel.
Acceleration was lethargic to say the least; the magazine reporting 0-60 mph taking nearly 26 seconds and the standing quarter-mile 22.6. At least fuel economy was good for the 2,470-pound test weight at 23-29 miles per U.S. gallon.
"At any speed, the feeling of ease and security in handling the Victor will come as a huge relief to those used to recent American cars. The understeer familiar to them is present, but to no severe degree. There is little roll." R&T did find more than a little engine noise and road-induced thrum through the unitary structure, but concluded the Vauxhall could be a "giant killer" for Pontiac.
The Victor captured only 4.6 percent of the
U.S. import market in calendar-year 1958.
But the Victor was not the success in America that it was elsewhere. Pontiac sold 17,365 in calendar-year 1958, only 4.6 percent of the U.S. import market. Price may have been a factor. At $1,988 for the sedan and $2,400 for the wagon, the Victor cost as much as the base versions of some larger, more powerful Detroit cars.
Learn about the changes made for the Victor's final model years on the next page.
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