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WITH THANKS TO JOHN K AT GM ARCHIVE AND THE LATE MAURICE PLATT FOR HIS PERSONAL CONTRIBUTION & EXTRACTS OF HIS 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 L TYPE - WYVERN & VELOX BACKGROUND:

The first post war Vauxhall models, introduced in November 1946, were virtually unchanged from their 1940 model year pre-war counterparts despite some small cosmetic differences and occasional exaggerated advertising claims. The new larger H Body 10hp, the I Body 12hp and the J Body 14hp were all relatively new and up to date in 1940 but by the time they re-appeared after the war, except for the pretty Coupe, they were far from being cutting edge anymore but neither was very much else made in Britain at the time. Despite this, a car hungry world and a starved home market that would almost buy anything automotive meant that Vauxhall sold everything it could manufacture, which wasn’t an awful lot and by Government decree 75% minimum went for export. This situation wasn’t unique to Vauxhall and applied to all domestic car makers and like most of their competitors Vauxhall knew that new models would be needed as soon as was feasible despite the widespread material shortages and ongoing fuel rationing. The Vauxhall Design Department started working on new models almost immediately with planned launch dates in the Autumn of 1948 when the first post war motor shows were due to take place in Paris & London. During the war years David Jones, had managed to keep abreast of advances in US car design that had continued to develop during the first part of hostilities. David Jones’ team had two factors working against their plans, one was the acute shortage of time and the other was the likely delays, or inability, in getting replacement plant & machinery for anything new from the ground up, Vauxhalls renowned ingenuity and ability to battle the odds would now come into play in bringing the new L Type models to market.

2. VAUXHALL L TYPE - WYVERN & VELOX DESIGN & ENGINEERING:

The very earliest project programme laid down by the Vauxhall Product Planning Committee late in 1945 envisaged the H Body 10hp remaining broadly the same because it was the newest design of the pre- war models and a clever facelift devised by David Jones for the I Body 12hp with a similar exercise on the J Body 14hp models. Vauxhalls Managing Director Chares Bartlett had already been campaigning hard, even towards the end of the war, for the British Government to abolish the antiquated RAC Horsepower Tax Ratings for cars and by the early part of 1946 he had been given enough positive feedback from the Transport Ministry to re-evaluate Vauxhalls future model plans. The Styling Department now worked flat out on a facelift for the H Body which was assumed to be using the 1442cc engine from the I Type 12hp by the time it entered production. The clever design changes gave the car a totally new look without the huge time & costs involved in changing the basic centre structure and floor pan. At the front, there was a new “alligator” bonnet, as it was then known, hinged at the back and opened from the front replacing the previous side opening items, this was complimented by a bold horizontal chrome plated front grille extending into new front wings. At the rear space for luggage was increased and appearance improved by a new curved boot lid and restyled rear wings. The overall effect was like a miniaturised 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline – sort of, if you really squinted your eyes tight! The centre section of the car was almost unchanged; the drawback was that the car remained very narrow compared to some of the rival models that would be launched at around the same time. The two main advantages were reduced development costs and the minimal lead time to get the car into production.

The proposal for updating the H Body were so well liked by Vauxhalls MD Sir Charles Bartlett, and the rest of the Product Committee, it was agreed for David’s designers to proceed with a similar update for the J Body with an engineering plan to use the model for the introduction of the experimental over bored 2275cc version of the pre-war 6-cylinder engine. There were even plans mentioned at this stage to continue production of the H Body 12hp as a basic price leader for the Vauxhall range. Unfortunately, the head of GM Overseas Operations - Ed Riley, did not agree and refused point blank to sanction Luton’s forward programme. He believed Vauxhalls production capacity could be fully utilised making just one body design until his new plans for expansion in capacity could be realised within the next few years, this caused a great deal of tension between Luton’s management and the GM hierarchy in Detroit. The impasse was eventually broken on a visit to Luton by both Ed Riley and GM Executive Vice President Ormond Hunt. Hunt put forward the compromise plan of fitting the new 6-cylinder engine in the new facelifted H based body shell thereby creating two distinct models, differentiated by an appropriate price & equipment difference, using one body design and two engines. Hunt was only in Luton for 2 days and so an engineering team, headed by Maurice Platt, worked through the night to fit the 6-cylinder engine into a mock-up of the new smaller car and establish if the plan was even feasible. The bigger engine was a very tight fit but the consensus by the team that any issues could be overcome and that it would go in and so the green light was given by Hunt, and rather reluctantly supported by Riley, before their return to the US. It was also decided that in view of the impending demise of the RAC horsepower taxation system the new models would use names and not numbers for marketing. Two famous names from Vauxhalls past, Wyvern and Velox, were chosen for the new cars which were given the internal ID of L Type, LIP for Velox and LIX for the Wyvern. One major side effect with the 6-cylinder Velox that had not been fully investigated was that due to the extra length of the engine it meant that for the radiator to be fitted it had to be mounted much lower than planned, below the level of crankshaft pulley. This in turn meant that there was no room for a starting handle and the cost & likely durability of a re-tooled radiator with a suitable hole in the core was considered prohibitive, thus the Velox & Wyvern were the first cars in Europe to do away with a starting handle altogether. Vauxhall claimed it was unnecessary because the cars were so reliable that they didn’t need it but the always suspicious motoring press howled penny pinching as the real reason. 

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The Wyvern & Velox were launched to the motoring press and dealer representatives on 24 August 1948 at Luton after which 150 of the new models were driven away by dealers all with a sticker “For a Home Motorist” prominently displayed. The cars were well received at launch as an appropriate response to the new flat rate car tax as well as being popular in crucial export territories where Vauxhalls proved to be far more reliable than their fellow British offerings, largely due to the insistence of Maurice Olley before the war that all the Company’s cars should be tested to withstand both extreme cold, hot & dusty conditions far more thoroughly than was the norm at the time. One possible exception to this was the design of the TT variation of the Dubonnet independent front suspension. Unfortunately, the torsion bar and tube were very highly stressed and both the steel makers as well as Vauxhall production engineers found it difficult to maintain consistently high standards required to avoid fatigue failures. Service mechanics also found difficulty in adjusting the correct riding height. A wishbone front suspension design was already being planned for the H Body 10 and would have been introduce around 1941 were it not for the outbreak of war, in the end it would eventually go into production on the E Series cars late in 1951.

The styling moved Vauxhall away from the traditional prominent upright front radiator but retained the traditional Vauxhall flutes on the new alligator design of bonnet. There were also large front mudflaps fitted to all models. The body structure itself was also much more rigid than the previous models because of a fixed bulkhead behind the rear seat and there was no availability of a sunroof. Various mechanical changes were made including a new 3 speed gearbox with synchromesh on 2nd & 3rd with all gears helically cut. The main shaft was extended and splines encased in a housing therefore eliminating any regular need for lubrication. The previous “waggle stick” gear lever was replaced by a steering column change system, popularized in America for years, although it made little sense in such a narrow car that could realistically only carry a driver and one adult front passenger. The major drawback of this system was the multitude of rods, linkages and bushes that meant after a time it could become very sloppy to operate although Vauxhalls were generally better than most rivals with the same type of gear change. There was a blanket adoption of 12 volt electrics which was becoming normal practice for British cars as new models were introduced. The rear axle and suspension were conventional but showed thoughtful development such as the ends of the two half elliptic rear springs were enclosed in a gaiter so as the sliding parts could remain lubricated. Single acting rear shock absorbers were fitted to the Wyvern with double acting on the Velox.

To save weight and cost the normal widow mechanism was replaced by a spring-loaded lever balanced the weight of the glass and so the widow could be pushed up or down and would stay fixed in place. The facia design was also a departure from standard Vauxhall practice, it was laid out so conversion from RHD to LHD would require minimal unique parts, it was also the first Vauxhall dashboard specifically made for fitment of a radio which was available as a dealer fitted accessory. Two small criticisms levelled at the car were the fact there was only 1 ashtray – for rear passengers, and the boot compartment had no floor cover over the flat mounted spare wheel.  A 10-gallon fuel tank was fitted, with a push button fuel filler cap, on both models but gave a particularly large range for the Wyvern. When launched both cars offered exceptional value for money, with the Wyvern tailored to economy minded motorists, of which there were many in 1948, and with the Velox offered a combination of smoothness and performance unrivalled at the price. Unsurprisingly, initial sales were very strong and Vauxhall sold as many as it could make for much of the L Type production life. 

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The L Type Wyvern & Velox changed very little during their short 3-year production run, however in September 1949 detail changes were announced for the 1950 model year cars. Externally, the revised versions were easily identified from the front by modified front wings with 1ins larger sealed beam headlamps and separate side light units mounted just below. These modifications were made to comply with new lighting regulations in certain export markets but were universally adopted on all cars to simplify production and reduce variations applicable to each different sales market.

When launched the Wyvern & Velox were only available in 4 colours choices; the proverbial Black, Nickel Grey, Gulf Blue& Alpine Green, all were solid enamel paint, for the 1950 model year this choice changed dramatically. Today metallic paint is the new “normal” for car colours but it came about completely by accident. General Motors had used DuPont paints from the very early days of the Corporation, in fact Pierre S. DuPont was elected President of GM in 1920, and in conjunction with the Fisher Body Division the two were responsible for all the body & paintwork for GM’s North American models. For the 1928 New York Auto Show Harley Earl, had planned a large display of GM’s flagship Cadillac models, included in these was scheduled to be a green Cadillac Town Sedan. Fisher Body had planned each car to be painted & prepared for the display but there was a problem with the last car in line, the pigment mixing equipment developed a fault and the paint contained a large amount of ground up metal flakes which went unnoticed until the Cadillac Town Sedan was finished. Harley Earl was notorious for having a short fuse and did not suffer fools gladly, with no time left for a re-paint he was told of the mistake and aside from flying into a rage he insisted on seeing the car for himself. Fortunately, he liked it – a lot. The car was displayed at the show and the public liked the new finish too.

Despite this, Vauxhall were exploring unknown territory by offering their own polychromatic paint schemes, called Metallichrome, because of the use of enamel not lacquered paint and the aging paint shop equipment in the Luton plant at the time. In a very drab & dreary post war Britain these new colour schemes were a revelation and there was now a choice of 5 for the Velox and 4 for the Wyvern; Black with bronze leather interior or the option of red leather for the Velox only, Metallichrome Grey with bronze leather for Wyvern & red for the Velox, Metallichrome Blue with bronze leather for Wyvern & silver grey for the Velox, Metallichrome Green with bronze leather for Wyvern & green for the Velox and finally Metallichrome Fawn with bronze leather for the Velox only. As before the Wyvern wheels were painted in the body colour whilst the Velox were crème. Inside, the Velox dashboard was also painted in a variety of colours according to the choice of exterior paint, all Wyverns were painted Antique brown. Vauxhall deserve congratulations for the effort and taking a chance with this change, unfortunately the Metallichrome finish initially was not very durable, frequently faded quickly and often suffered from peeling over time. The new paint finish was not available on vehicles assembled locally in Australia, South Africa or New Zealand. The only other visible exterior change was the adoption of new wide section 5.90 15ins tyres for the Velox, the Wyvern continued with 5.00 16ins tyres.

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Inside both Wyvern & Velox models featured a new, slightly wider, front bench seat although there were no claims made by Vauxhall of an increase in the 4-passenger carrying capacity. On the dashboard, the ammeter was replaced by an engine temperature gauge & a dynamo charge light. Mechanical changes included a new snow shield to protect the gear-change linkages, new improved & extended rear spring gaiters and engine exhaust valves made from XB steel which were more corrosion resistant when leaded anti-knock fuels were used. To try and eliminate steering wander & improve the handling qualities on the road there were revisions to the king-pin thrust bearing layout which reduced steering friction to a lower and more consistent level. This was achieved by supporting the weight of the car on a single ½ ins single thrust ball between conical seating instead of the previous ball thrust race, also new oil seals maintained the fluid reservoir inside the hollow king-pins which was replenished by grease gun via a screwed nipple during servicing. The most significant mechanical change was the adoption of a completely new Burman worm & peg steering gear which was claimed to reduce friction by 75% compared to the previous set up. It also included for the first time an adjustment to compensate for wear by means of a screw to move the spherical ended peg into closer mesh with steering worm. 

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In Australia, the Wyvern & Velox were locally assembled by Holden and besides the “English” versions there were also some unique variations. The Wyvern name had been used since before World War II in Australia on a locally produced 2 seater roadster, the Caleche, which used the pre-war Bedford van chassis as the base, it was still in production in Britain and retained separate chassis construction. There was also the availability of the “Australian” body L Type which was a curious mix of the newer Wyvern & Velox front end combined with the 6 window I Body 12hp rear half, this came about because of production restrictions and the availability of specific parts but proved popular as the local body was more accommodating for passengers. No further changes were made to the specification until the end of the LType model production in July 1951 when the factory was re-equipped for the launch of the new E Series models. According to Charles Bartlett, Vauxhalls Managing Director, the LType had taken 2½ years to develop at a cost of £650,000 and more than 1,000,000 man hours, this investment had proven to be worthwhile as a credible stop gap range and in the interim given the Company sufficient breathing space to develop the first completely all new post war Vauxhall models.

3. VAUXHALL L TYPE - WYVERN & VELOX SPECIFICATIONS:

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4. VAUXHALL L TYPE - WYVERN & VELOX PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS:

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