Sunday, 4 November 2012

'Oldest Vauxhall' auctioned by Bonhams for £94,000

© GM Company

'Oldest Vauxhall' auctioned by Bonhams for £94,000

Here's an interesting article now about the successful sale by Bonhams auction house of an important part of British motoring history - the oldest surviving Vauxhall motor car.

Vauxhall Motors started life in 1857 as Alex Wilson and Company, a marine engine and pump manufacturer started by Scotsman Alexander Wilson in the borough of Vauxhall, London.  In 1897 the company changed its name to Vauxhall Iron Works and six years later built its first motorised carriage (above).  Work on improving the design continued and in 1907 the business relocated to Luton, Bedfordshire, where its headquarters remain to this day.

Vauxhall Motors Limited, as it was from then on known, gained swift success thanks in no small part to its chief designer Laurence Pomeroy, who had only joined the company in 1906 aged 22 but so impressed the management when he covered for the holidaying original design chief that he was given the job himself barely a year later.  Pomeroy would go on to design what are considered the two best pre-war Vauxhalls and the engine that powered them.

The 1908 Vauxhall A-type was a 3-litre, 20hp car that proved to be a great success and leagues ahead of the competition at the time.  In hill-climb trials it completed courses over 30 seconds faster than any other car and was the first vehicle of its class from anywhere in the world to exceed 100mph at the Brooklands race circuit, also posting class-leading fuel economy figures.  It could cruise at 46-55mph, remarkable speeds for the age.

© GM Company

Within 2 years the A-Type (which remained in production until 1915) had been used as the basis for the new C10-Type with an extra 20hp extracted from the engine and a selection of body styles available.  After one was entered in the 1910 1200-mile Motor Trials, which were named in honour of a Prussian Royal, the car became forever known as the Vauxhall Prince Henry.
In the following years further refinements and updates were made on the basic C10-type.  In 1913 the engine was increased to 4½ litres and 98hp, giving rise to the 30/98 model.  A version of this with a lower-powered engine of 4 litres and 60hp became the D-type, much used during the Great War as staff cars.

© GM Company

After the First World War production of the 30/98 was restarted and continued as the E-type, with a more powerful 4.2-litre 115hp variant - the OE-type - joining it in 1923.  Things were looking rosy for Vauxhall until 1925, when a huge corporate behemoth - even then - loomed large on the horizon.  America's General Motors had taken an interest in the company and in 1925 bought Vauxhall Motors Ltd. for $2½million (about $26½million, or £16½million in today's money).

On that day in 1925 the Vauxhall company changed irrevocably.  What is rarely known these days is that prior to 1925 Vauxhall was considered the contemporary of high-end marques such as Bentley, Napier and Daimler.  All that changed following its acquisition by GM, who relaunched Vauxhall so that its products competed with the mass-market, everyman cars.  Models started to appear based on Chevrolets and when GM bought German marque Opel in 1929 the designs of that company too.  In the ensuing 87 years Vauxhall, Opel, Chevrolet (and Australia's Holden, absorbed by GM in 1931) have grown ever more intertwined to the point where almost all of their models today are based on the same single design and often differ only in the badge on the grille.  The last truly 100% Vauxhall-designed car, the Viva, ceased production in 1979.

© GM Company

The sale of this rare early Vauxhall is noteworthy, then, for not only being the earliest known extant example, sold publicly for the first time since it was new, but also coming from a time when Vauxhall was a very different company to what we know now.  It has had a very interesting life by the sounds of it and it is good to see it still appreciated enough to command such a high purchase price.  Vauxhall Motors has been through some turbulent times in its 109-year history but this car (or one very much like it) was there at the beginning.

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