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The Carchive: Posh Vauxhalls from 1982 — Carlton, Viceroy, Royale

It’s Friday night, and the moment that literally some of you have been waiting for. It’s time to discard all that’s new and exciting in favour of the unloved, rusting and forgotten. Welcome back to The Carchive.

A fortnight ago we dissected the Citroen C3 Pluriel, and witnessed some truly whimsical marketing for what was an astoundingly individual — if cynically conceived — car, and quite unlike anything the company makes right now. It’s quite a contrast from the almost abrasively sober marketing of Vauxhall’s 1982 ‘big cars’ range, which ironically is also quite unlike anything the company makes right now.

(Images get bigger and words are easier to read if you click ’em up)

“The Vauxhall Carlton — one of the most extensively researched and developed cars ever to leave a British factory — is now more refined than ever”

As the 1970s drew to a close, the Vauxhall car range was split into two distinct arms, presented in two separate brochures. Your fast-food eating, pop-music listening ordinary man would take the volume that dealt with the car of the lower orders, the Viva, Chevette and Cavalier, while he who strode into the dealership in brogues and suit would be handed a more luxurious document from a concealed, felt-lined drawer, that detailed Vauxhall’s executive models – the Carlton, Viceroy and Royale.

The Carlton wasn’t really a car for executives (even before they started handing that appellation out willy-nilly), but Vauxhall’s learned vendors would brush that issue aside. The Carlton was a business car. Not some hack in which grubby families would drive to the supermarket to buy their Findus Crispy Pancakes.

“Whether for business or private motoring, the elegant Carlton Estate offers an unrivalled blend of comfort and versatility”

Of course, the Vauxhall Carlton was (very) heavily based on the Opel Rekord (‘E’ generation), and a large portion of their production run was built in Russelheim, Germany. I would say, though, that the slope-fronted Carlton actually looks more striking than the conventionally grilled Opel, and that must be some kind of Rekord for a ‘British’ car.

(not sorry)

The Carlton really was something of a styling departure for Vauxhall, Admittedly, the Cavalier (itself a slope-fronted version of the Opel Ascona) did the whole grille-less front thing first, and six years before the Ford Sierra, come to mention it. But stylists could better afford to take risks with that size of car than the bigger Carlton, and the Victor / VX series it replaced were as traditional as they came. It perhaps says a lot about how the first-generation Carlton was received that the updated version got a far more conventional front grille.

“The Viceroy adds an extra — and distinctive — dimension to Vauxhall’s prestige car range”

The first image of the Viceroy in this brochure features an inestimably grimy industrial backdrop. YEAH. This is the car for the people who KEEP BRITAIN’S FACTORIES RUNNING. Such people were eminently deserving of what was was essentially a Vauxhall Carlton but with a bigger, smoggier six-cylinder engine (in other words, an Opel Commodore with a Vauxhall badge nailed to it). The more cylinders you had, it seemed, the better a person you were. The Viceroy really did preview an age where having a BMW 530i instead of a mere BMW 520i really did mark you out as A SUCCESS (at least to yourself, while nobody else on the planet gave the slightest semblance of a toss).

That 2.5-litre straight six only had 115bhp to offer, though, so smoothness was rather more the Viceroy’s oeuvre than speed. But hey, the drivers of such machines deserve to relax after a day ensuring coal is converted into pollution as productively as possible.

“The Royale four-door saloon and the three-door coupe, built and equipped to the same exacting standards, are trend-setters in the competitive prestige market”

The Vauxhall Royale was, of course, the Opel Senator with its steering wheel on the other side. Build for the UK market was entirely in Russelsheim, Germany, and Luton content was virtually non-existent. We’re talking numberplates and tax discs, and perhaps the manuals in the glove box.

The thing is…. the Senator was an exceptional car. Contemporary reviews really didn’t find a great deal to separate it in performance, build, design and comfort terms from the contemporary BMW 5 Series — or even junior models of the 7 Series when the 180 (DIN) hp 3.0-litre straight six versions were scrutinised. Perhaps the styling was regarded as a little nouveau riche, but the car itself was a damned capable conveyance.

It was the kind of car that boardroom execs of up and coming companies who deal with things like computer databases and fibre-optic technology and other non-traditional, growth industries might swan around in between seminars, while the construction and finance industry magnates would roll in an S Class.

“The Royale Coupe, five inches shorter and one inch lower than the saloon, is a versatile four-seater that’s more than just a pretty face”

The Coupe, though — otherwise known as the Opel Monza — was something completely different. While in mainland Europe it could be chosen with a four-cylinder engine, those sold in the UK only received the straight-sixes, and then — after the update for 1983 — only the big 3.0-litre engine. That made it a pretty fast car for its time, with 133mph possible on a long enough stretch of unrestricted autobahn, or the M1 past Luton in the days before speed cameras.

And, of course, it was the car that introduced many Brits to the digital dashboard for the first time. It had a similar torque-curve display for engine revs as the early C4 Corvette (which disappointed everybody by actually being a colour overlay on a strip of LED segments) and three-digit speedometer, and was quite the coolest thing I had _ever seen_ when I first clapped eyes on one at an impressionable age. Especially as it was a black example of the later Monza GSE, with its black exterior trim and moody anthracite wheels.

Of course, Vauxhall hasn’t had its name on a Coupe since the Tigra of the 1990s; a tiny and relatively unconvincing Vauxhall Corsa based rival to the Ford Puma — if you exclude the Fearsome, Awesome and 100% not a Vauxhall in any way, shape or form Holden Monaro.

With Vauxhall and Opel now a part of PSA (alongside Peugeot, Citroen and DS Automobiles), there’s a chance of a new Peugeot 508-based sedan turning up, and perhaps the outside whiff of hope for a coupe. But, while Opel might, I really don’t think the Vauxhall badge has enough cachet to carry that off. Compact hatchbacks and attractively financed SUVs seem the best that we can hope for going forwards.

(All images are of original manufacturer’s promotional materials, photographed by me. Copyright is property of PSA, I should imagine, but I don’t suspect they’re particularly bothered about what Vauxhall did in 1982)

  • J Hobson

    Vauxhall had the Calibra in the 90s and still have an Astra coupe today.

    • Calibra was before the Tigra. Fair point on the Astra, however It must say something that I’d forgotten its existence.

  • I’ve always thought that the big Vauxhalls of the 80’s looked so much like the Fox chassis Fairmont, or is it just me.

    • I found an image but this Fairmont obviously has the optional left rear hubcap delete, which makes it very rare, indeed.

  • Sjalabais

    Those names though…we like to ask for “names, not numbers” on cars, but slapping on “Viceroy”, “Royale” or “Sir Snobalot” really shouts distinction, doesn’t it? Maybe that would be a decent Encyclopedia Hoonatica: Cars that were luxurified by in-your-face-badges. I have one immediate example:

    • That’s glorious.

    • Alff

      Carlton is no snob. There’s even a popular dance named after him.

    • neight428

      I’m a fan of “Vanden Plas”. I get that it actually means something in Britain, or at least once did, but it was basically unknown in the US before they slapped it on Jaguar sedans that might have ran well for about a month before they crapped out. Dodge/Fiat should use the name on the worst car they make just to start a fight.

      • Sjalabais

        AP news a month from now: Dodge/Fiat executives getting burned out trying to chart their worst quality product

    • Vairship

      It’s not a lowly Renault 5, it’s a Renault 5 Baccara

  • tonyola

    The Monza coupe is still butch and good-looking after all these tears. It’s a shame that GM never bothered to send it to the USA – imagine a turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 under the hood.

    • Rover 1

      Or imagine it with a 5 litre V8.
      At a time when the Holden Commodore, the strengthened bodyshell, rack & pinion steeringed, V8 version of those saloon cars was winning Group A saloon car races all over the world against SD1 Rovers and M6 BMWs, a coupe version was made up by Peter Brock’s Holden Dealer Team using a Monza bodyshell imported to Australia as parts.



      By the time it was completed it had the facelift model’s front panels which gave better aero, Corvette brakes, and a T5 transmission fitted to the 250bhp Holden V8.
      Only one was made then but some since using Royales imported.