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WITH THANKS TO JOHN K AT GENERAL MOTORS ARCHIVE AND THE LATE DAVID JONES AND MAURICE PLATT FOR THEIR PERSONAL CONTRIBUTION & EXTRACTS OF MAURICE'S BOOK "ADDICTION TO AUTOMOBILES" TO THIS SECTION OF vauxpedia

WARNING: THOSE PICTURES MARKED "© GM ARCHIVE" CANNOT BE DOWNLOADED AND USED OR PUBLISHED ELSEWHERE

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1. VAUXHALL E SERIES - WYVERN VELOX & CRESTA BACKGROUND:

During WWII no car design & development was undertaken by Vauxhall at Luton, however, by contrast General Motors in the US continued car design, development & production right up until the early part of 1942. When America joined the Allied forces after Pearl Harbour, just as in Britain, manufacturing facilities were converted to war production but the design facilities were not affected to same degree and towards the end of the end of hostilities when Nazi defeat was becoming more certain there were some tentative design drawings & proposals produced for new post war Vauxhall models, surprisingly they came primarily from the Cadillac Design Studios. The first official “new” post war Vauxhall models, the L Type Wyvern & Velox, were introduced in October 1948, these were in reality a clever facelift achieved by using the pre-war 1940 H Body centre section with redesigned front and rear bodywork. The models were the right cars for an impoverished and decimated post-war Britain and were also just about all Vauxhall could do in such a short timeframe and against the backdrop of such serious material shortages but the L Type was never intended as anything more than stop gap cars until the first all new post-war Vauxhall models were ready, the E Series Wyvern and Velox announced in August 1951

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2. VAUXHALL E SERIES - WYVERN VELOX & CRESTA DESIGN &                                                                                                                                     ENGINEERING:

Initial design work on the new E Series started almost as soon as the Wyvern & Velox L Type models had started production in August 1948. The design parameters were set for a longer and considerably wider design than the narrow pre-war based models they would replace. Planned to be new from the ground up the original aim was to use the minimum of carry over parts - such as engines, body panels and interior fittings - from the L Type cars. The new cars would also use the coil wishbone front suspension that had been due to be introduced in 1950 but was postponed for the E Series. Despite this delay, the new suspension design had already been extensively tested in J Type 14 engineering mules to prove its durability and robustness, at the time Vauxhall were the only GM Division worldwide that was still using the Alex Taub Dubonnet style TT front suspension.

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David Jones and his team, as always, were abreast of the current and upcoming General Motors design trends and focused on the styling cues of the soon to be launched 1949 Chevrolet for the new Wyvern & Velox. Progress with design development was rapid with the first full size clay model completed in October 1948, with a full size styling mock-up ready the following month ready for senior management approval. According to David Jones the new design created a dynamic form by moving the passenger compartment further forward within the wheelbase and combining smooth flush sides and boot line as well as much larger glass area all round. The design gave the further impression of length & smoothness of shape, it was also a complete breakaway from traditional Vauxhall styling in that the normal upright fluted radiator and arched front wings were replaced by a horizontal front grille with the bonnet & wings blended together. The frontal appearance would have been rather anonymous were it not for the cleverly integrated bonnet flutes that gave an easily recognisable link to the normal Vauxhall tradition. In line with modern trends all door, bonnet & boot hinges were concealed with new style exterior push button door handles fitted. The rear lights were also unusual, not only for being integral with the rear wings but also being mounted at each corner of the rear wings and visible from both the rear & side of the car. David Jones claimed at the time of the cars launch that his team had struck a balance in the use of chrome that was between traditional English designs and those of “our transatlantic friends”, this may have been true of the original Wyvern & Velox in October 1951 but went out the window with each subsequent facelift and with advent of the F Series Victor & PA models in 1957 it had well and truly been forgotten.

The new E Series body was some 172ins long, 65ins wide and based on a 103ins wheelbase with tracks of 53ins front & 54ins rear. By placing the passenger seating area within the wheelbase, and using flush body sides, the Design Department were able to make full use of the increase in available space. Bench seating width was 56ins front & 57ins rear - where the seat was mounted forward of the rear axle. The rear seat alone gave some 18ins extra passenger width compared to the previous L Models, David Jones only ever claimed space for up to 4 adults plus 2 children but Vauxhalls marketing advertised the car as having full 6 seat capacity, a bit of a stretch but possible at a pinch. There was also good headroom available with generous entrance height, the wide opening doors hinged on their leading edge for safety as well as enhancing ease of entry. The only aspect that was perhaps not quite a match for rivals at the time was the door windows which still used the vertical sliding system from the previous models as opposed to a winding mechanism that was becoming the norm.

According to Jones, the inside of the new E Series models were the first Vauxhalls to feature an interior that was specifically styled by the Design Department as opposed to being the result of the Engineering Department’s expediency. The position of the seating in relation to the steering wheel angle came in for particular attention while the steering wheel itself was especially made to be pleasant to handle and featured a jewel-like 3D Diakon moulding incorporating the Vauxhall Griffin emblem. Instruments were mounted in a completely new high lustre plastic moulding with all the ancillary controls grouped within easy reach of the driver for the first time. Careful attention was paid to the interior door design eliminating any protrusions, instead a neat plated control with a push button served for opening & pulling the doors shut. The front seat was of a completely new design and construction that gave greater comfort as well as maximising rear leg room. Universal seat springs replaced the normal helical type, these were corrugated from high tensile wire suspended between the front & rear seat rails which enabled the underside contour to match that of the seat face and therefore increased space for rear passenger’s feet.

The Styling Team also planned both the visual and equipment differences between the Wyvern and Velox models, both for the exterior & the interior. Outside the Velox featured a larger bonnet badge, chrome instead of painted front wing flashes, chrome beading for the front & rear window surrounds, door tread plates, crème instead of body colour wheels, hub caps with “VAUXHALL” embossed in the centre, 5.90x15 tyres instead of 5.60x15 and 5 instead of 4 exterior colour choices. The Velox interior used 2 tone instead of single tone trim, front door pockets, door armrests, carpet on door & scuttle, rear seat centre armrest, lower chrome bead on the doors and a choice of 5 instead of 4 colour choices. A shortage, and therefore sharp increase in price, of leather meant that both models used a newly developed material called Vynide for all seat and interior trim, full floor carpeting was standard on either model.

David Jones was extremely proud of what he and his team achieved with the E Series and it was the first of only a few quantum leaps in Vauxhall exterior design, most would be an evolutionary progression. At launch nothing from any other rival could match the Wyvern & Velox for value for money at the price, in fact the Velox was the cheapest 6cylinder car available in Britain at the time. 

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Whilst the design process of the Wyvern & Velox was dealt with in a timely and efficient way by the Styling Department the engineering development of the E Series was far more fractious and hampered by several major factors that were not all directly related to the mechanical design & engineering for the Wyvern & Velox. 

Running parallel to the E Series development was the new Big Bedford 7-ton truck programme which also included a new 300ci (5litre) 6cylider petrol engine and was scheduled for introduction at the same time as the new Wyvern & Velox. Additionally, initial development was starting on the completely new Bedford CA Van that would be launched shortly after the other two major projects. This schedule would have stretched the skilled Vauxhall Engineering Department at the best of times but on top of product developments, and in roughly the same time frame, there was also the first large scale post-war expansion of production capacity at the Luton plant. This £14m capital input would increase the available factory floor area by 30% and was specifically planned to increase output of the new car, it also meant heavy investment in plant & machinery followed by the installation of brand new tooling specifically related to the new Wyvern and Velox. All these projects fell under the general Engineering Department umbrella and required a stable and dedicated management team to co-ordinate, unfortunately this was not the case. To make an already difficult situation worse Vauxhalls Chief Engineer, C E King, had normally left the day to day operations of the Engineering Department to his able assistant Harold Drew, however, for most of 1949 Drew was absent due to serious ill health and spent most of the year in the United States. Much of Drew’s responsibilities fell in to the lap of Passenger Engineer Maurice Platt, by default rather than by choice. With so much at stake, and to ease the considerable burden on Platt, in July Vauxhalls MD Charles Bartlett added two new, high level, appointments – Walter Hill Director of Forward Planning and Harold Johnson Production Engineering Manager – both newcomers to Vauxhall, Maurice Platt became Executive Engineer and Roy Stocks was promoted to Passenger Vehicle Engineer. With these changes in place progress on all fronts moved forward on schedule, for a while.

The first hand made prototype was ready in May 1949 with a further eight made over the following 12 months. The E Series testing programme was to be the most extensive, and intensive, ever undertaken by Vauxhall for a car up to that time.

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Unitary body construction was pioneered by Vauxhall in Britain in the late 1930s and this experience was put to good use with the E Series, for the first time the front extension frame was formed with the body centre section and boot area, so even though the Wyvern & Velox were longer and wider than any unitary body Vauxhall before the torsional stiffness was substantially increased. Despite the increase in strength and size, the overall weight increments were relatively small - an extra 60lbs for the Velox and 110lbs for the Wyvern, this was achieved by using larger steel pressings. Unusually, the front wings were built as a unit with the front end sheet metal and radiator grille to increase strength, reduce distortion and ensure an accurate bonnet fit, the air intake for the ventilation and optional heater were also built in. A unique bonnet design meant that it could be opened from either side of the car or easily removed altogether.

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The E Series front suspension was the new wishbone & coil spring system known within General Motors as SALA (Short  And  Long  Arm) and had been developed and tested by Vauxhall several years earlier, on the new Wyvern & Velox both sides of the suspension were connected by a stabiliser bar and supported with vertical double acting shock absorbers, all fixing points used rubber mountings. Wide rear leaf springs carried the rear axle at a point forward of the spring centres with double acting shock absorbers set at an angle to improve lateral stability, again all fixing points included rubber bushes. The result was vastly improved road holding & handling compared to the L Type as well as an improved ride and stability in cross winds.

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A new design of compact weight saving hypoid rear axle was fitted, hypoid gearing enables a larger pinion to be used with a smaller crown wheel and a larger tooth contact area, it was both smoother and quieter than on previous models but retained the same axle ratios as before. The 3 speed gearbox was carried over from the previous models but now used a new lightweight aluminium casing and, on the Velox, a higher ratio first gear. Improved linkages for the column mounted gear change were introduced but were surprisingly still exposed on the section of the column inside the car and synchromesh was still only fitted on 2nd & 3rd gears. The gearbox case & clutch bell housing was cast in one piece with an extension, formed in the rear cover, supporting the outer bearing for the longer main shaft and therefore permitting the use of a shorter & stiffer prop shaft. The worm & peg steering was essentially the same system as that used on the L Type and while the cable operated hand brake was a similar set up to the previous models the lever was moved from under the dashboard to the floor beside the driver’s seat.

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Unfortunately, the new Wyvern & Velox retained the infamous Vauxhall mechanical drive for the windscreen wipers but they now used a new linkage design which worked a cross over pattern making RHD & LHD cars the same which reduced production costs. They were fitted with a clever internal clutch release self-parking device; the new wiper blades were also curved to match that of the screen giving quieter operation. Ahead of its time, the bearing heads for the wiper spindles incorporated integral jets & connections for windscreen washers which were a dealer available accessory for both Wyvern & Velox and, like the L Type models before, the dashboard was designed for easy radio fitment. A new design of easy use push button filler cap was mounted on the rear wing. To free up space in the well designed, flat floor, luggage compartment the spare wheel was mounted under the car on a hinged cradle and released by unwinding a nut with the wheel brace, whilst it didn’t disturb any luggage carried the spare did get covered in road dirt over time. A new design of easy use push button filler cap was mounted on the rear wing. To free up space in the well designed, flat floor, luggage compartment the spare wheel was mounted under the car on a hinged cradle and released by unwinding a nut with the wheel brace, whilst it didn’t disturb any luggage carried the spare did get covered in road dirt over time. 

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As the new E Series models were so much bigger and of such modern design compared to their predecessors Vauxhall management began to doubt the one model two engine policy, there were tentative plans made to just produce the new 6cylinder Velox and continue the 4cylinder L Series Wyvern to compete at the lower end of the market, or to produce both E Series models and give the 4cylinder Wyvern a facelift and rename the car as a price leader to the Vauxhall range. The return of Harold Drew in 1950, and supported by Ed Riley, put a firm block on any such plans on the grounds of ease of production and efficiency. In any event there was neither the man power or the time for such schemes, in any event the L Type would have been well beyond its sell by date by the end of 1951 and the likely demand for the new E Series cars was anticipated to fully occupy the factory output capabilities.

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So far it has been established that, with a few exceptions, the new E Series Wyvern & Velox were carefully planned and well-designed cars. The biggest let down and also the most often questioned enigma regarding the cars was why they were launched with the old pre-war engines. Originally planned to coincide with the launch of the new cars was a range of completely new 4 and 6cylinder power units designed by an engineering team headed by Maurice Platt, Vauxhall Engineer Passenger Cars at the time. Their design had started before the E Series styling programme began and were signed off ready for production in January 1951 These were modern OHV short stroke “over square” units that would produce more power and torque at lower piston speeds and offer improved economy, power, reliability & longevity. The official Vauxhall reason was that there were delays in delivery of machine tools for the new units, this is not very plausible as the new engines had been signed off for nearly 10 months before the new E Series launch. Unfortunately, all available resources which included manpower was concentrated on getting the new Bedford 300ci engine into production. In fact, the new 4cylinder engine was ready in time mainly because it was to be used in the new Bedford CA Van and was required for prototype testing but the 6cylinder was deemed not a top priority. So the new E Series Wyvern & Velox models were launched with the old pre-war engines, this was not too much of a handicap in the Velox but was a major problem for the Wyvern, the 1442cc engine produced just 35bhp, the cars weight had gone up by 110lbs so performance, even by early 1950s standards, was dismal and more significantly was also worse than the car it replaced despite Vauxhalls claims to the contrary. It did at least still give reasonable economy for a car of its size.

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Production started in August 1951, the Wyvern (EIX) & Velox (EIP) were enthusiastically received by dealers, the motoring press and a car hungry buying public, initial sales outstripped what the factory could supply.

3. VAUXHALL E SERIES - WYVERN VELOX & CRESTA MODEL HISTORY:

In April 1952 the new “square” engines were finally introduced and got their first public showing at the Dutch Motor Show held in the same month. The definition of a square engine design is one where the cylinder bore dimensions equal those of the piston stroke, judging by the amount of Vauxhall publicity and advertising describing it you would think Vauxhall had invented the concept, in fact it was far from new and was already widespread across Europe. In fact, both the new engines had a bore slightly greater than the stroke so were in effect “over square”, they were also closely related in that the 4cylinder was in effect the 6cylinder without the extra pistons. This relationship meant there was a fair amount of common components which helped to reduce production costs and both engines would remain in production for many years to come, the 4cylinder until 1969 in the Bedford CA Van and the 6cylinder ‘till 1975 in the Vauxhall Ventora FE.

The Wyvern (still EIX) 1508cc engine produced 40bhp @ 4000rpm and 70lb.ft @ 2000rpm and gave the car more respectable top speed of just over 70mph whilst improving the already acclaimed fuel consumption. The Velox (EIPV) 2262cc engine produced 64bhp @ 4000rpm and 108lb.ft @ 1200rpm and pushed the top speed to over 80mph whilst retaining remarkable flexibility as well as adding another 3 to 4mpg, unlike the 4 cylinder the 6 had the ability to be significantly increased in size if required. Both engines used a 6.4:1 compression ratio and benefitted from larger valves, improved porting and manifolds as well as a redesigned combustion chamber as well as a new replaceable oil filter element mounted on the crankcase. A new Zenith 30VIG-7 carburettor was fitted to both units. Vauxhall claimed 50% less bore wear as well as longer crankshaft & bearing life, both of which were to proven correct over the following years. Tighter machine tolerances were achieved as a result of new more modern tooling equipment. There were no further specification changes until October 1953 for the 1954 model year.

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Announced in October 1953, the 1954 specifications for the Vauxhall Velox & Wyvern showed a host of progressive improvements following two years of production and feedback from dealers & customers as well as careful examination of warranty reports.

The original, and novel, side opening bonnet was changed in favour of a conventional alligator style with rear mountings, this was because of excessive hinge corrosion which had caused problems on the earlier cars, at the same time there was also a new “Wyvern” mascot available as a dealer fit accessory for all E Series models. The bonnet was sprung loaded so needed no prop to hold it in place once opened, the release lever was located in the top of the front grille.

With the demise of low grade “pool” petrol in favour of higher octane regular fuel Vauxhall increased the standard engine compression ratios of both the Wyvern & Velox to 6.8:1, this raised the power & torque of the Wyvern to 43bhp @ 4000rpm and 75lb.ft @ 2000rpm, the Velox to 65.5bhp @ 4000rpm and 110lb.ft @ 1400rpm. In Britain there was also increasing availability of higher octane premium petrol and Vauxhall responded with the option of an even higher compression ratio, for the Velox only, of 7.6:1 which combined with a modified cylinder head raised power to 67.5bhp @ 4000rpm and torque to 114lb.ft @ 1400rpm making the Velox one of the fastest saloon cars at the price. Other detail engine changes included new re-profiled camshafts with minor rocker geometry alterations to give quieter operation, new distributors with built in radio suppression and micro-meter timing adjustment to suit different grades of fuel, new oil control rings with increased wall pressure and improved valve gear to aid sealing improving oil economy. The other significant mechanical change was replacing the crude worm and peg steering that was carried over from the L Type to a more modern recirculating ball set up which was lighter and required little or no maintenance. Following in service experience in Africa new dust & draught proofing was fitted along with improved door & boot locks. Inside the only changes were the addition of a dashboard insulator and better floor carpeting.

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In September 1954 Vauxhall announced a completely facelifted E Series range along with an additional top of the range model, the Cresta. The changes, which had been in development for over a year, included exterior, interior and engineering improvements. All models featured a new lower bonnet, a redesigned slim line front grille, larger bumpers with built in front over riders, lower side trim flashes, new bonnet badge, flashing indicators replacing the previous electro-mechanical semaphore design, a new symmetrical Marathon Grey dashboard that was designed for ease of RHD or LHD production, a smaller column mounted gear change lever with all linkages encased in a new column cover, a new flexible joint in 2 part steering column, new steering wheel design, new interior & seat design, chrome plated top piston rings to improve bore wear, the standard compression ratio was lowered to 6.5:1 while all models were offered with the no cost option of a 7.3:1 ratio, a new Zenith 30VIG-11 carburettor, and a new thermal interrupter for the lights.

The Wyvern engine now produced 45.5bhp (gross) @ 4000rpm / 76.6lb.ft (gross) @ 2000rpm and 47.7bhp (gross) @ 4000rpm / 81.1lb.ft @ 2000rpm with the higher compression ratio. A choice of 5 exterior, 4 seat trim, 4 carpet, 2 door trim, 3 headlining and 2 steering wheel colours were offered along with 3 different road wheel colours.

Changes to the 2262cc 6cylinder engine boosted output to 65.5bhp (gross) @ 4000rpm / 110lb.ft (gross) @ 2000rpm and 67.5bhp (gross) @ 4000rpm / 114lb.ft @ 2000rpm with the higher compression ratio. The Velox added to the Wyvern specification with a chrome finish to front grille surround, side flashes, waist line, boot lid medallion, rear over riders. Hub cap badges, wing crown motifs, rear wheel covers, larger tyres, 2 tone upholstery, rear centre armrest, passenger door armrests, twin sun visors and aluminium door sill tread plates. A choice of 7 exterior, 6 seat trim, 5 carpet, 2 door trim, 3 headlining and 2 steering wheel colours were offered along with 5 different road wheel colours.

The Cresta was launched to compete with upmarket offerings from Ford, Rootes and BMC and featured the same engine and mechanical specification as the Velox. Cresta buyers gained the following additional items over the Velox, whitewall tyres, side & rear badges in gold, "Speedbird" bonnet mascot, petrol filler lock, chrome wheel trim rings, leather upholstery, wool headlining & carpets, heater, cigarette lighter, electric clock, coat hooks, lockable & illuminated glove box, passenger sun visor mirror, front door courtesy light switches, boot light and boot carpet. A choice of 4 two tone & 7 single tone exterior, 4 seat trim, 4 carpet, 2 door trim, 4 headlining and 2 steering wheel colours were offered along with 5 different road wheel colours.

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For the 1956 model year there were some major body design changes, announced in September 1955, which saw the introduction of much larger front & rear screens with a pronounced wraparound curvature, this was achieved by thinner front screen pillars and a completely new roof pressing with redesigned rear pillars. The front grille centre section was changed, again, with larger slots in the pressing. A new more powerful heater was standard on Cresta and optional on Wyvern & Velox and was the only mechanical change. Interiors received a host of improvements, new door trim design with a completely different type door handle, push button door locks, wind down windows front & rear at last and a wider rear view mirror. Seat trim for Wyvern & Velox was Brown or Red Vynide or two tone Vynide & Carskin in a choice of 5 colours. For both models the road wheel colour was the same as the exterior paintwork which was now available in a choice of 7 colours. The Cresta gained extensive and elaborate chrome side trim which also served as breaks for the 2 tone colour schemes. Customers had a choice of 7 single tone colours and 4 two colour schemes where the middle panel colour was also used for the road wheels. The Cresta interior was trimmed in Leather or Nylon in a choice of 10 different colour variations.

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Considering the fact that it would be the last 11 months of production, only 5 for the Wyvern, the final changes that were announced earlier than normal in August 1956 for the 1957 model year were unusually comprehensive. It is doubtful that the additional costs involved in the changes would have been fully recouped by Vauxhall but they did help to maintain sales of cars that were now starting to show their age compared to rivals. Compression ratios for all cars were increased to 6.8:1 as standard and to 7.7:1 for the optional higher compression, the carburettor was changed to the new Zenith 34VN, neither of these changes altered the power output but did increase fuel economy by 8% and improve hot & hill engine starting. For the first time since 1936, and to the relief of many, the wipers were electrically driven by a 2 speed motor protected by thermal interrupter, the previous capillary tube temperature gauge was also replaced by an electric version. A new AC Vivid Arc speedometer was fitted which replaced the more usual needle with an orange bar that indicated road speed. New style rear lights were fitted, these housed a reflector, indicator, tail and brake light in one unit. Front door courtesy light switches were now fitted to the Wyvern & Velox. The front end design was restyled with a full width horizontal bar grille, new side light units, a full width chrome bar on the leading edge of the bonnet with Vauxhall lettering in gold, the bonnet medallion and V motif was moved to the middle of the grille, the Cresta bonnet mascot was restyled, the side nameplates and stone guards were also restyled. The Wyvern & Velox were available in a choice of 7 exterior colours with a choice of 5 interior finishes with trim in Vynide or Tygan & Vynide. All Cresta models now came with the 2 colour exterior with a choice of 7 colours with either a white or black side flash, the interior was trimmed in a choice of Leather (4 colours) or Nylon & Elastofab (4 colours), the previous button seat design was dropped.

Amazingly, the 1957 Velox was the first Vauxhall to be converted into an Estate Car officially sanctioned by the factory – there were 2 models offered, the Grosvenor Estate Car and the Velox Dormobile by Martin Walter. It does beg the question as to whether or not these companies were told in advance how little production time was left for the Velox. Both were awful looking, expensive machines and sales were tiny. Grosvenor, who had built bespoke bodies for Vauxhall chassis since the 1920s went out of business in the early 60s leaving the market to newcomer Friary Motors. Martin Walter persisted but had more success with motor caravans based on the Bedford HA, CA and CF Vans.

The E Series was never marketed as anything other than solid, reliable family transport but some owners did try to exploit the Velox 6cylinder potential with private entries in the Monte Carlo rally. Some companies sold tuning parts such as V.W.Derrington of Kingston-on-Thames who offered a triple SU Carburettor conversion as well as porting & head polishing which would raise the power output to around 100bhp. Vauxhall Engineering Director C E King had a Cresta that was blueprinted and tuned by the Luton Engineering Department and capable of 100mph.  

The Velox & Cresta ceased production in July 1957, the Wyvern had finished at the end of January having been replaced by the new Victor F Series. The next models would be another very radical design departure but that too would bring its own problems.

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4. VAUXHALL E SERIES - WYVERN VELOX & CRESTA PRESS                                                                                                                                      PHOTOGRAPHS:

1951 / 1952 MODEL YEAR:

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1953 MODEL YEAR:

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1954 MODEL YEAR:

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1955 MODEL YEAR:

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1956 MODEL YEAR:

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1957 MODEL YEAR:

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5. VAUXHALL E SERIES - WYVERN VELOX & CRESTA FACTORY                                                                                                                                SPECIFICATIONS:

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