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1. BACKGROUND:

Partly by accident and in part because of capital cost Vauxhall had got into a pattern, like many large vehicle manufacturers, of changing or updating their cars body style and design in one model year and introducing engine & drivetrain changes in another. A good example was the introduction of the FB Victor in 1961 with most mechanical components carried over from the previous F Series and then introducing the upgraded 1594cc engine in the last production year in 1964 which was then carried forward to the replacement model, the Victor FC 101 in 1964. This was particularly useful in spreading capital investment costs and also for keeping a current model competitive in the market. However, by the early 1960s Vauxhall’s soon to be new Engineering Director, John Alden, was aware that any further development of the Victor ohv engine and chassis was severely limited and would not be sufficient to be able to compete favourably with the upcoming models from rivals such as Ford as well as being unable to meet new proposed safety and emission regulations in important export markets such as Canada. The unusual result was two programmes for the FC Victor replacement, one for a completely new engine & suspension of advanced design and the other for an equally modern new body design with both to be introduced simultaneously in one new car – the FD Victor. 

2. DESIGN & ENGINEERING:

Engineering – Preliminary design drawings of the new engine were started in February 1963 by Alden’s team even before the launch of the larger 1594cc FB engine and its replacement the FC Victor 101 in 1964. The all new engine, an advanced overhead camshaft unit, was developed stage by stage over nearly 5 years and even when launched in October 1967 included huge reserves for later development not only by Vauxhall but also tuners such as Bill Blydenstein.

One of the initial goals during the development of the new engine was that it should start in production with 50% more power than the existing Victor ohv engine, but weigh little or no more. The initial design started out in August 1964 as a 4 cylinder in-line design with a single overhead camshaft. Structural materials were entirely cast-iron, using the new "thin-wall" casting techniques which were just beginning to be developed for production by GM in the US, the weight savings of using alloy castings was not considered worthy of the extra costs involved despite having been used for the cylinder head of the previous ohv VX4/90 version of both the FB & FC models. Right from the start a five main bearing crankshaft was incorporated with a prerequisite cross-flow cylinder head. It was at this time that John Alden's team decided to expand the scope of the programme beyond just the new FD and incorporate this engine into a replacement for the straight 6 used in the PC range as well the 220D 300D Bedford diesel engines by making a whole family of engines all built on the same transfer line - a V8 petrol and diesel as well as “half” of these making a slant 4 petrol and diesel. Incidentally during the expanded development programme it was also found that the secondary out-of-balance forces inherent in an in-line four cylinder engine were better absorbed when the engine was canted over at 45° which had the other benefit of allowing a lower bonnet line. The very first prototype engine was up and running inside 6 months, a 1725cc unit with a stroke bore ratio of 0.79. For the Victor 101 the 1594cc engine had a stroke bore ratio of 0.94 and the final new engine had 0.67 in 1599cc form, and 0.61 in 1975cc form. Many of these early development engines were evaluated in Victor 101 models.

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The combustion chambers were in the pistons of the first prototype engine and a flat Heron-type head was used with the camshaft being driven by a chain. Once the engine entered the testing phase, development on how best to drive the camshaft went into full swing. The designers determined that the chain driven method would require slack adjustment at approximately 20,000 mile intervals to ensure it remained reasonably quiet (as had been proved in the Viva ohv 1159cc unit), the alternative rubber-toothed belt type were just beginning to become available, first launched within GM by Pontiac in the US. Nevertheless, the rubber toothed belts had major advantages in terms of wear & zero maintenance and so Vauxhalls Engineering Department started tests on the belts for durability using bespoke testing rigs. During this intensive testing Vauxhall engineers broke three test rigs, but not one belt, in fact, even after 2000 hours running at maximum speed there was only a 0.007 in. of permanent set. Following the successful initial test results the second prototype engine used a toothed belt which was made from glass fibres as the tensile medium and neoprene rubber as a covering, in which teeth are moulded on the internal face and capped with nylon for long life. This second engine had the stroke-bore ratio lowered to 0.75. By this time exhaust emissions had become an important consideration and work on sources of unburnt hydrocarbons caused the Heron head to be discarded in favour of a classical hemispherical shape in the cylinder head.

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The 3rd development engine used flat-topped pistons and a combustion chamber as near a perfect segment of a sphere as possible, with the large diameter in-line valve heads carving off two flats. During emissions testing precise control of combustion chamber volumes & spark timing became necessary so a specially designed extremely rigid, wide-based AC Delco distributor was incorporated to prevent timing variations from shaft flexing and waggle which plagued the ohv Viva engine. The block was cast in high-grade chromidium iron with the crankcase split on the centreline of the crank. Stiff webs supported the 5 main bearing housings (a diesel bottom end was to be used on all engines, which were fitted with white metal shells on the 1.6 & heavy-duty copper-lead on the 2.0litre. Special attention was paid to the bore finish to make it fully compatible with the piston rings, and cylinder walls were honed to a carefully controlled pattern. At the rear of the block the clutch housing was cone shaped, and heavily stiffened inside with webs to reduce vibration. On the 2000 engine the mounting for pre-engaged starter was bolted to an adaptor below the crank centre line. On the right side at the front of the block a very stiff integral support formed a rigid platform for the distributor and a housing underneath for the Hoborn Eaton vane type oil pump, being mounted so high in the block was the reason the engine always rattled for a few seconds on start up, but it was also there to facilitate the V8 versions planned. The same crankshaft was used on both engine sizes, the bore size being enlarged by 9.5mm in the bigger unit. The crank was cast from spheroidal graphite iron and dynamically balanced with a generous overlap of the big end & main bearing journals for extra rigidity; counterweights were arranged on a three-plane scheme.

Connecting rods were specially developed from steel forgings with normal H section and a horizontal split at the big end, secured by set bolts. Gudgeon pins were sweated into the little ends by induction heating. There was provision for an oil jet to squirt from a small hole on the shoulders of each big end each time it passed the mail oil gallery in the crank journal to provide lubrication for the little end and cylinder walls. The pistons were made from die cast aluminium with solid skirts and three rings all above the gudgeon pin. The upper two compression rings were made of cast iron, the top one being inlaid with molybdenum and the lower one stepped internally. The oil control ring below is of 3 piece construction, with a thin rail on each side of a spring spacer. The pistons have flat crowns with a slight nick to provide clearance should the valve timing go wrong for some unlikely reason. The cylinder head too was made of cast iron, the valves arranged in-line at an angle of 6 deg. to the cylinder centre line. The hemispherical combustion chambers were fully machined to give a smooth finish and to equalize their volumes. The valves were arranged alternately to give an even temperature distribution and they were as large as the combustion chamber allowed. The hemispherical shape was machined away to relieve valve masking on the outer edge at each side and the new design of AC spark plug was positioned as near the centre of the chamber as possible. The inlet valves were one-piece Silchromel forgings, and the exhaust valves had austenitic steel alloy heads with a hardened satellite insert for the seats, and carbon steel stems hardened at the tip. Double valve springs had normal single-groove cotters for their caps, the seat angle being 45 deg. and the valve guides being machined directly into the head, this also meant that valve bounce would not occur until 9000 rpm and the engine was safe up to 7000rpm! Initially a Zenith 36IV carburettor was used on both engine sizes with variations in jet settings. Another Vauxhall first was that after build each engine was tested under its own power for 20minutes before installation. In the end only the petrol Slant 4 ohc engine made it to production in the two sizes used in the FD Victor – 1599cc & 1975cc. The new engine weighed in at 350lbs which was just 30lbs more than the previous ohv unit. What is less well known is that the FD was engineered from the start to accept the 6 cylinder 3.3litre PC Cresta engine and was offered in Benelux countries from the start of production where it was sold as the Victor 3300, the same combination became available in New Zealand as well. The Victor FD was the first mass produced car with a belt driven ohc engine and was probably the most advanced power unit available in any European car at launch. A more detailed history of the slant 4 engine is dealt with in a separate section of vauxpedia.

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John Alden’s engineering team had experimented with various drive configurations including front wheel drive, rear engine rear wheel drive and also an independent De-Dion rear axle arrangement but eventually settled on the tried and trusted front mounted inline power unit with rear wheel drive. There were also two high spec V8 prototype Ventora FDs built in 1969, one of which was used by David Jones for a while, these used Holden engines which were an easy fit in the FD engine bay.

On the early Victor FD ohc models the 3 speed column & 4 speed floor change gearbox was one of the few carry over components from the previous FC Victor 101 but overdrive was available on the 4 speed with either engine. The clutch & housing were redesigned, the housing was strengthened with internal ribbing to cut vibration and for the first time on a Victor a new diaphragm spring clutch was fitted which cut pedal release pressure from 35 to 17lbs. As a further measure to cut noise & vibration the exhaust was hung on rubber straps. The totally useless 2 speed Powerglide Automatic transmission option from the Victor 101 was wisely dropped, in its place a Borg Warner 3 speed unit was an option but only with the 2litre engine. The 3.3litre engine in the Victor 3300 & Ventora were stuck with the Powerglide box until the 1970 model year when it was replaced by the GM 3 speed automatic, the Borg Warner box in 2litre Victors was replaced at the same time.

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John Alden was often quoted as “wanting to fit the widest, fattest tyres possible on Vauxhall cars”, well the Victor FD fell a little short on this score but was still competitive with rivals. The 1600 came as standard with 5.60-13ins cross-ply while the 2000 was fitted with “low profile” 6.2-13ins cross-ply also an option on the 1600. 165x13ins radials were an option on both. The suspension itself was set up for radial tyres and also included wheels with a safety ridge preventing the tyre rolling off the rim in the event of a blow-out. Vauxhall used computer analysis to determine the front to rear braking ratio split, for the Victor 101 it was 65:35 but for the FD it was altered to a 70:30 front bias. The Victor FD 1600 all drum braking system was inherited from the FC 101 but the 2000 came with front disc with servo but the disc size was increased from 9.06ins to 10.03ins diameter and were also available as an option on the 1600 model.

An unusual safety feature for a European car was the inclusion of the GM energy absorbing steering column combined with 30sq-ins of padding on the steering wheel boss, this complied with proposed safety requirements for US & Canada.

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Design – The FC Victor 101 was at best an evolutionary design in spite of the much vaunted “space curve” styling and although it sold reasonably well it failed to match the sales of its predecessor – the FB. The car market, particularly in the UK, was also changing; the days of a mid-sized car just offering one engine size were coming to an end, the car market demanded a wider choice more especially the fledgling company car market. The Victor 101 was just about competitive when launched in 1964, only the Estate consistently outsold its main rivals. Vauxhalls Design Department had already raised the styling bar with the launch of the Cresta PC & Viva HB which both featured the “coke bottle” window line and were trendsetters in their respective classes. The Victor FD was going to have extremely advanced underpinnings and therefore would need a body design to match and it would – and some. Designed wholly at Luton, the styling team led by David Jones, created an exceptionally good looking car from all angles, future head of Holden design Leo Pruneau was largely responsible for the exterior.

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The front end was originally planned to have an "Opel Commodore" style grille with single square headlights, but the major Canadian market required 4 round headlights to comply with forthcoming lighting regulations, this would have meant having two different front end panels as well as separate grille treatments. In the end a US designed grille was adopted for all models with 4 lamps and also a simple variation for Envoy models which used an additional cross in the centre of the standard Victor grille. Ironically, the original Vauxhall designed front end was adopted by Opel for their Commodore. Front & rear windows were boded into place as first used on the Cresta PC and all door rubbers were mechanically attached to the door with no glue used. The fact that there were virtually no exterior changes to the car is a tribute as to how “right” the body design was from the start.

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The Canadian market requirements also meant the Victor FD was designed with safety features not normally associated with British mid-range cars at the time. Safety was another area where the car broke new ground with things like energy absorbing steering column, padded sun visors, wide zoned toughened windscreen, impact friendly dashboard design & padding, recessed switches shape coded depending on use, front seat belts, anti-burst child proof door locks, shatterproof breakaway rear view mirror, flush interior door handles & impact absorbing front seat backs on the 2000 and despite having visibility friendly thin front roof pillars the car could withstand a roll over without the passenger compartment collapsing. Crash protection, including energy absorbing impact zones front & rear, was designed in from the start and tested regularly. All this was enough for the Victor 2000 to win the Donn Safety trophy in April 1968, a major coup for Vauxhall.

The original dashboard design was simple and functional, it followed the general GM style at the time, with the 2000 models having wood effect finish. The rest of the passenger compartment either pretty drab as in the standard model with plain bench seats front & rear or quite opulent looking on the 2000 which featured contoured individual front seats with sculptured rear seats.

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