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WITH THANKS TO JOHN K AT GENERAL MOTORS ARCHIVE AND THE LATE MAURICE PLATT & DAVID JONES FOR THEIR PERSONAL CONTRIBUTIONS & EXTRACTS OF MAURICE PLATT'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 PA - VELOX & CRESTA BACKGROUND:

Since October 1948, with the introduction of the Wyvern & Velox L Type models, Vauxhall had used one basic body design with engine and trim variations to create a range of up to three “different” models. The reasons behind this policy related initially to post war shortages and later the lack of factory production capacity. With a £36m investment by General Motors in a huge expansion of the Luton plant, and also a separate Bedford truck plant at Dunstable, the future path was cleared for Vauxhall to replace the Wyvern, Velox and Cresta E Series models with two distinct and very different ranges, one medium sized 4cylinder car – the F Series Victor – and a new 6cylinder car – the Velox & Cresta PA Series. Both designs would mark a radical and controversial departure from their predecessors and push Vauxhall sales to new heights. This success, however, did not come without its own problems particularly with regards to the new Victor.

2. VAUXHALL PA - VELOX & CRESTA DESIGN AND ENGINEERING:

The forward model programme that included the new PA Series models was agreed in principle at a GMOO meeting in New York during the early part of 1954. Vauxhall Chief Engineer Maurice Platt and Director of Styling David Jones presented their product plans to Ed Riley and his Planning Staff. The expansion of Vauxhall manufacturing facilities had been agreed in principle by the GM Overseas Policy Group in Detroit a week earlier and meant Ed Riley was now fully supportive of a two-model programme that he had so fiercely resisted before. There was to a substantial difference in size, weight, performance and price between the new 4 and 6-cylinder cars. Provisional introduction dates were Autumn 1957 for the 4-cylinder model with the 6-cylinder cars following 6 to 12 months later all of which seemed feasible. The only mechanical components scheduled to be carried forward were the relatively new E Series engines.

As it would be introduced first, the Vauxhall Engineering and Styling Departments started preliminary planning of the mechanical & design parameters for the F Series. Work on the larger PA Series didn’t begin in earnest until June 1955.

Due to the huge investment by GM and the stakes being so high for the planned expansion of Vauxhall’s facilities and product offerings, as happened with the F Series, the final sign off for the new PA models would also be subject to a high-level visit to Luton by senior GM Executives. This took place on 14 October 1955 and was attended by Harlow Curtis and Vice President Fred Donner, a man who would succeed Curtis when he retired. A lavish display was arranged by David Jones and his team the centrepiece of which was a beautifully executed full size model of the new 6-cylinder car featuring the panoramic windscreen already planned for the Victor F Series. This feature looked far more attractive on the 2inch wider, 4.5inch lower and 4inch longer car which was daringly flamboyant but free of the over the top embellishment foisted on the F Type. The attractive Vauxhall PA Series Velox & Cresta are acknowledged by many, although not me, to be best example of design which David Jones was responsible for. For PA purists, the original car with the 3-piece rear window were the best looking.

As before there were two other full size mock ups of alternatives from which Curtis could choose, these followed the miserably drab styling trends of British family cars of the mid 50s and while not outright ugly they were far from attractive. In any event, the outcome was a foregone conclusion, Curtice considered the PA design mock-up with the panoramic windscreen would be a sales winner and the project was given an immediate go ahead. However, in typical Curtis fashion, the planned introduction of the Victor was moved forward to Spring 1957 and the PA to October the same year. This ill-conceived decision had an extremely adverse effect on the Victor programme but less so for the PA models. In the GM Design Studios in Detroit there were concept proposals for the PA drawn up using two different sizes of wheelbase – 105inch & 108inch.

To produce the two new ranges of cars there needed to be a large expansion in Vauxhalls production capacity and a huge investment in new tooling equipment. All Bedford truck production was moved to a new dedicated plant at nearby Dunstable which went some way to free up valuable space at Luton, however even more was needed and a huge area alongside the plant was cleared for car production. It was here that a new press shop, body assembly line, paint shop and final assembly would be constructed and supposedly come on stream for the launch of the F Series Victor in February 1957 whilst continuing production of the E Type until the PA was launched in October. It was only partially completed in time for the Victor but was fully operational by the time the Velox & Cresta were launched.  

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The new Velox & Cresta were designed as full 6 seater cars and filled the purpose better than their predecessors. Main exterior styling features were of course the front panoramic windscreen which was slanted at 45degrees with a slight curvature from top to bottom to reduce reflection. The domed roofline sloped back to a 3-piece rear window arrangement which was similar to that used by Buick at the time. 

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Like the Victor design there were no longer any bonnet flutes, instead being substituted by concave side mouldings. Overall length increased by just over 4ins and the wheelbase was increased by 2inches to 8ft 9ins although the front & rear track was almost identical to the E Series, the turning circle was reduced by 2ft to 36ft. Height was reduced by 4.5inches and width by 2inches although internal shoulder width was increased by 3inches. The deep front & rear bumpers were now an integral part of the styling and the front wrapped around the wings. At the rear the huge oval light units housed all but the indicators which were mounted at the tips of the tail fins. Counter balanced, the rear boot lid extended down to bumper level with the spare wheel mounted below the floor. The boot capacity was the largest of any Vauxhall up to the time.

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A 10.5-gallon fuel tank was mounted above the rear axle behind the rear seat and used press down release filler cap located at the base of the rear window. All metal mouldings above the waistline were stainless steel, buffed on Cresta and painted on Velox models, below all moulding were chromium plated by Vauxhall at the factory except for the Cresta wheel discs which were stainless steel. Each door was opened by push down thumb catch with a fixed pull handle, on the rear door the pull handle continued as the chrome trim for the rear wings. Inside push button door locks were fitted all round. Instrumentation consisted of 2 large circular dials, one a speedometer and the other housing temperature, fuel & ammeter gauges and warning lights. A column mounted 3 speed transmission with an under-dash handbrake were similar to those used on the previous models. Provision for a radio was built into the dashboard design but unusually the speaker position was in the middle of the rear parcel shelf. 

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he unitary body construction used three main assemblies – the underbody which was treated with a thick layer of rubber plastic material for protection and to reduce drumming, scuttle and front wing valences and rear end with roof panel and bottom sills. Further, a deep box section side rail was fitted with two substantial cross members, the rear was formed integral with the seat pans at the front anchorages of the rear leaf springs. The front formed the mounting points for the front suspension assembly.

Front suspension design was like that of the F Series Victor but of larger proportions. The unit was attached to the main body structure at 4 points which used conical rubber mountings to prevent the transmission of road noise. It used unequal length pressed steel wishbones and co-axial coil springs with telescopic shock absorbers. Each wheel swivelled on an upper spherical joint and lower trunnion assembly which supported the weight of the car.

The rear axle was a modified version of the previous E Series unit incorporating more substantial bearings, crown wheel & pinion. A slightly lower axle ratio was used, 4.11 instead of 4.125. With 13inch instead of 15inch wheels the overall gearing was lowered from 18.4mph to 17.7mph per 1000rpm. The axle was mounted asymmetrically on the leaf springs with bump stops either side helped to control axle hop under heavy torque loading. A subsidiary stop using a conical rubber moulding on a forward extending bracket trapped between the axle and the spring reached its abutment slightly ahead of the main bump stop above the axle eliminating the axle nose piece oscillating. Each 2.25inch wide 4 leaf rear spring used a plastic button at each end to reduce friction and eliminate the need for lubrication.  Braking used 9inch drums front with 2.25inch wide shoes & rear with 1.25inch shoes, the brake distribution was 64% - 36% biased to the front.

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The exact specification of the engine was surprisingly introduced in the very last few months of E Series production but was not widely advertised or promoted by Vauxhall. It did mean that engine production at Luton was fully established prior to the launch of the PA models. A new head design was the main change, this used individual porting instead of the previous Siamese arrangement. Better flow characteristics, larger valves, new pistons and a higher compression ratio improved the engine’s efficiency throughout the speed range. Carburation was by a downdraught Zenith 34VNT fitted for the first time with an automatic choke mechanism actuated by a thermostat mounted in the exhaust manifold. A rubber bonded damper was fitted to the front end of the crankshaft to eliminate small torsional vibrations. Gross power output increased from 78bhp to 82bhp and torque from 118 to 124lb.ft.

Like the Victor the 3-speed transmission now featured synchromesh on all gears, it also used a more rigid aluminium casing.

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The Vauxhall PA Velox & Cresta prototypes were extensively tested from mid-1956 onwards, this included the Chaul End proving ground and also in Europe, particularly in Switzerland. The cars were always painted plain black with no badges or chrome fittings as well as being loaded with test equipment and recording systems. The cars were also subject to regular evaluation at the GM Millford Proving Ground in the US.

Almost as soon as the new Velox & Cresta models were announced work began on a facelift to be ready for the 1960 model year. Work on the project was carried out at Luton and also Detroit where a very dramatic window arrangement as well some styling cues from the upcoming Chevrolet Corvair.

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3. VAUXHALL VELOX & CRESTA LAUNCH AND MODEL HISTORY:

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Series production began at Luton on 10 October 1957 and the new Vauxhall Velox & Cresta were announced in the press on 02 October 1957. They were given their first public showing at the Paris Motor Show and immediately after at the London Motor Show. Compared to the dreary offerings from BMC, Ford & Rootes the Velox & Cresta stunned the press and car buying public alike. Compared to the previous E Series models the PA was a revelation not only in style but also in the flamboyant colour schemes it could be ordered with. Despite using similar design cues to the Victor, the new cars were deemed far more attractive and, unlike the Victor, received universal acclaim. Noted were the attractive “harmonica” front grille with the upright Vauxhall griffin badge acting like a jewelled crest on the front of the bonnet, although American influences were obvious & acknowledged they had been incorporated in the most stylish fashion. Prices were increased about 12.5% compared to the previous models but, according to Vauxhall at the time, if they had continued in production their price would have increased by 6% anyway.

Other than the unusual panoramic view of the outside, the interior of the Velox & Cresta was far more conventional in design, more of an evolution of the previous models although they now provided easy 6 seat accommodation. Both models were well equipped, the Velox came as standard with armrests on all doors, rear seat centre armrest, no draught ventilation, dual sun visors, 2 speed electric wipers, Vynide trim and a choice of 8 exterior colours. The Cresta was differentiated from the Velox by a standard heater & 2 speed blower fan, either leather or Elastofab upholstery, electric clock, vacuum operated windscreen washer, cigarette lighter, lockable glove box, rear door courtesy lights, boot light, bonnet emblem, whitewall tyres, full cover wheel discs, stainless steel side window & centre pillar mouldings and an addition choice of four 2-tone exterior paint finishes.

Both Velox & Cresta were available with two compression ratios:


6.8:1 which gave 77.9bhp @ 4,200rpm – 117.6lb.ft @ 1,200rpm for standard low grade fuels and primarily aimed at export markets.


7.8:1 which gave 82.5bhp @ 4,200rpm – 124.0lb.ft @1,800rpm for what was termed at the time premium fuels.      


Some of the earliest cars were not particularly well built, in fact even the press launch photographs show some patchy build quality. Vauxhall waited longer than usual to release cars for road testing by Autocar and Motor presumably to ensure production had bedded in. Sales were strong from the start and the cars were just as popular in export markets.

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Changes for the 1959 model year were minimal, the cars continued to sell in large numbers. Velox models used revised pleated Vynide upholstery and a new range of colours but with the choice reduced from 8 to 7. On the Cresta the seat trim design was revised and the new colours were available in four 2-tone & 8 single colour finishes, Laurel Green was exclusive to the Cresta. A front seat folding centre armrest became a new option for both models. The compression ratio for home market cars was now standardised at 7.8:1 with the lower 6.8:1 ratio only available on export versions. A reinforced bonnet, wider opening front quarter lights and felt underlay for the rear parcel shelf were further revisions. On 06 February 1959, the 2,000,000th Vauxhall rolled off the production line at Luton – a Vauxhall Cresta. In May 1959, a new Estate conversion became available from outside coachbuilder Friary Motors but was factory approved and sold through all Vauxhall dealers. Vauxhall had already considered a factory produced Velox & Cresta Estate but deemed the market too small to justify the capital investment so instead passed the design drawings to Friary for their use in the version they ended up producing.

The Vauxhall Velox & Cresta were never marketed as in any way sporting cars, however this did not stop two privately entered Vauxhall Cresta models taking part in the 29th Monte Carlo Rally in 1959. In Britain, an Army Team used a Vauxhall Velox to take part in several rally events around the country. 

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Always aware of transatlantic trends the Velox (PASY) & Cresta (PADY) were given a facelift in October 1959 for the 1960 model year. David Jones had toyed with several different rear end treatments but settled on a new single piece rear window and deletion of the ribbed roof strengthening giving a smoother roof profile. To compensate the rear parcel shelf, door pillars and wheel arches were strengthened suitably strengthened. The front facia panel featured a larger (and to most eyes far less attractive) front grille along with simplified chrome trim outside, smoother front bumpers, a new larger capacity radiator, improved heating system, and inside new seating & trim which combined with a repositioned fuel tank gave an extra inch of rear leg room and wider door armrests. Laycock overdrive on 2nd and top gear was also now available as an extra cost option, this also necessitated a larger transmission tunnel fitted to all models. Velox was now offered in 8 exterior colours while the Cresta 2-tone paint schemes were re-arranged and available in 4 choices plus the 8 single tone colours. A new design of boot lock introduced. Changes to the engine valve gear reduced noise and slightly raised the power peak to 4,400rpm and new design engine mounts fitted. Model identification badges were changed, VELOX was mounted on the lower forward section of the front wings while CRESTA was mounted on the side under the rear screen pillar. The redesigned, flatter bonnet used a flush mounted Vauxhall badge instead of the previous bonnet mascot.

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The 1961 model year changes for Velox (PASX) & Cresta (PADX) were announced earlier than usual in late July 1960, surprising also because the update involved sheet metal, engine, transmission as well as trim updates. Mechanically, the biggest change was the introduction of a new larger version of the 6-cylinder engine. The capacity was increased from 2262cc to 2651cc achieved by increasing the bore & stroke to an exactly “square” 82.55mm each, the compression ratio was also increased slightly to 8.1:1. Power output was a healthy 113bhp at the same 4,800rpm as before while torque increased to 147lb.ft @ 2400rpm. The previous engine continued to be available in some export markets such as Velox models for Switzerland. Vauxhall had been experimenting with fitting automatic transmissions to Velox & Cresta models for the previous two years, the 3 speed Hydra-Matic and useless 2 speed Powerglide units – both from GM. This testing had highlighted the need for a larger more powerful engine and was the main reason for its introduction. Fortunately, the 61-05 Hydramatic transmission was the one chosen for the PA and offered as an expensive option for the 1961 cars. With the larger engine and a top speed of 94mph, the Velox & Cresta moved to near top of their class for performance and fitted in with Vauxhalls advertising at the time - “Built for the Motorway Age”. Other mechanical changes included a 1inch larger clutch, larger diameter front brakes which also meant fitting larger 14inch wheels, the rear axle ratio was lowered from 4.11:1 to 3.90:1 and therefore raised the overall gearing. Tyres were changed to 5.90x14 and the turning circle increased from 36 to 39ft.

As usual there were revised colour choices, 9 single tone for both Velox & Cresta and no less than seven 2-tone choices for the Cresta only. At the rear, the cars used new rear light units, revised larger tail fins without indicators built in and a “V” motif mounted at the tip and a revised boot lid and bumper design. At the front, new sealed beam headlights and oblong combined side & indicator light units were fitted. Model names were mounted on the front door upper panel, gold on Cresta, with an additional chrome strip from front doors to the rear. Interior changes included a completely new instrument panel using a “Magic Ribbon” strip speedometer - the strip indicating speed changed from green to amber at 30 mph and to red at 60 mph. 

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For the last model year of Velox (PASX) & Cresta (PADX) production, the 1962 models were available with 10.5inch Lockheed servo assisted front disc brakes as an option and still rare for a volume family car at the time. New 14inch wiper blades dramatically increased the swept area of the windscreen which now included a “safety zone”. Paint finish was changed in-line with the new Victor FB and used synthetic cellulose enamel for the first time.  The colour choice widened to 14 single tone on Velox, 15 on Cresta and eight 2-tone schemes for Cresta only. The Cresta exterior badges were claimed to be gold plated. 11inch wipers were replaced with 14inch dramatically increasing the swept area of the screen, the windscreen itself was now toughened glass with a safety zone in the middle. Inside the seat trim design was revised, the Velox used deep pile carpets and individual front seats were now an option for the first time. Twin – 2 pivot – padded sun visors were standard, the front ashtray was moved to the top of the dashboard which now included a 110mph speedometer with larger warning lights, a full circle horn ring was standard, on Cresta models grab handles were fitted for rear passengers and carpeting was a thicker tufted pile with thick felt underlay, both versions now featured a simulated wood dashboard and door cap finishes with larger & softer door armrests. The advent of the restrained style FB Victor in October 1961 customers knew that it would only be a short time before a new Cresta & Velox would be launched with similar styling and sales in the last year dropped off markedly, and sure enough the PA Series models were replaced by the PB models in autumn 1962.

The Velox & Cresta Estate cars converted by Friary of Basingstoke, Hampshire became famous when a specially commissioned car for HM Queen Elizabeth II was built, it was in service right up until the early 1980s when it was replaced by a specially built Viceroy Estate

There were a number of prototype ideas that Vauxhalls design department flirted with, one was a 2 door Cresta fastback coupe and was said to be quite attractive in an even more overt American way than the 4 door but it never got past the clay mock up stage. The other was an ultra-luxurious version kitted out with leather, real wood for the dash and door capping’s, wool cloth headlining and electric windows and picnic trays on the backs of the front seats. It was also fitted with an up-rated version of the 2.25 litre engine with twin Zenith carburettors and used as David Jones personal transport for a while – the nickname given to the car? Viscount!!

During the 1970s many PA models were modified or customised by 1950s revivalists and the cars were synonymous with the Teddy Boy / Rock n Roll image. A 1960 PA Cresta also featured in the 1981 video for the track Ghost Town by the Specials.

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4. VAUXHALL PA - VELOX & CRESTA PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS:

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5. VAUXHALL PA - VELOX & CRESTA LAUNCH ARTICLES:

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7. VAUXHALL PA - THE DAIMLER DN250 V8 PROJECT:

Daimler were the quintessential British pompous, stuffy, upper crust car company who operated in their own isolated and Royal patronised bubble that by the latter half of the 1950s were fast becoming separated from the reality of the changes taking place in the British & European car market. The story of how a company like Daimler ever got around to thinking about basing the replacement for their Conquest model on the Vauxhall PA Cresta, possibly the most un-British car ever launched by a British car manufacturer ever, is an interesting insight into just how far a cash strapped company in the 1950s would go to achieve a particular goal. This particular story is centred around one very special V8 engine which was also unlike any other power unit Daimler had ever produced. Daimler had been owned by BSA since 1910, had swallowed up Lanchester in January 1931, and up to the outbreak of WWII had a very loyal, and also Royal, customer base. After the war, Daimler was ill equipped to deal with the austerity conditions that prevailed in Britain and struggled with too many models that were in production for too short a time and failed to sell in sufficient numbers. Daimler announced the introduction of the moderately sized Conquest in May 1953 which was apparently developed in just four months from the four-cylinder Lanchester 14, or Leda, with minor changes and a Daimler style front grille. But somehow it was all too little too late, the company’s image had changed in the public eye and even Royalty deserted Daimler for Rolls-Royce. Shortly after being appointed Managing Director & Chief Executive of BSA's Automotive Division in 1956, Edward Turner was asked to design a new saloon car powered by a V8, thought to essential for sales in the now vital US export market. Turner and his design engineer Jack Wickes began considering the initial concept of their new engine by examining the workshop manual and spare parts list of a Cadillac V8, most likely this would have been the 331ci or possibly the 365ci introduced in 1956. Turner also owned a Cadillac V8 at the time but it is unknown if the engine from it was stripped down and used as any type of template. However, the bottom end was very similar to Cadillac designs. Using a pushrod OHV system kept down design, development and production costs and allowed Turner to base the design of the cylinder head on those he had developed for Triumph motorcycles, including the use of hemispherical combustion chambers. Adapting the Triumph head design for use in a saloon car engine required much work in reducing noise, friction, vibration and improved timing accuracy. 

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By October 1956 detailed drawing were presented to Cyril Simpson and the engineering team at Daimler, within eight months the first test engine (89001) was running on the test bed. Much of the development of the prototype engine was carried out by Dr J.N.H.Tait. Proper fuel metering and adjustments allowed power curve measurements to be taken eight months later in August 1957 and gave 116bhp @ 4400rpm. The final result was a 90 degree V8 engine with part-hemispherical combustion chambers, overhead valves operated by push-rods from a single chain-driven camshaft positioned centrally high up in the “V”. It used aluminium alloy pistons with steel connecting rods run in a cast chrome-iron block with sand-cast high-tensile light alloy heads and crankcase housing with a short stiff dynamically balanced crankshaft carried on five main bearings. The nose of the crankshaft carried a torsional vibration damper, a four-bladed cooling fan, and the pulley for the triangulated thin belt drive for the dynamo and water pump. The dynamo was located between the cylinder blocks and at the rear the drive was taken from the back of the camshaft for the distributor positioned high above the unit behind the two semi-downdraught SU carburettors. There was a separate exhaust system for each bank of cylinders. Light alloy was used for the valve covers, tappet blocks, sump and inlet manifolds. Cooling was conventional by pump and fan with a thermostatic by-pass control. 

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The engine made its first public appearance in the Daimler Dart, but Chrysler had already registered the name and so it was called the SP250 and was a fibreglass bodied sports car specifically aimed at the American market. The 2.5litre engine was only 30 inches in length and developed 140 bhp @ 5,800 rpm which was exceptional at the time. But that wasn't the reason the jewel of an engine was developed, it was for a V8 Saloon to replace the antiquated Conquest which ceased production in 1958. Prior to the SP250 launch the new engine was tested by the engineering team headed by Cyril Simpson with the engine in the Daimler Conquest Century body, although fast & quick if it had been produced it would have still have done little to change Daimler's image. After briefly flirting with a project with Panhard, the engineering team took a standard Vauxhall Cresta PA and fitted the V8 which easily occupied the space normally reserved for the Vauxhall straight six, the result was probably the fastest PA ever built but, with relatively small drum brakes all round - no disc option in 1958, it couldn't stop! It did, however, give Turner the idea of using the Vauxhall body shell, with suitable modifications to "Daimlerize" the interior with copious amounts of wood, leather and Wilton. An exterior with modified front and trademark Daimler grille, later a new more formal roof was fitted and smoothed out rear wing – minus the fins. Mechanically, apart from the V8 engine, disc brakes were fitted with significant suspension upgrades. Turner also entered into tentative private negotiations with Vauxhall Motors Ltd with a view to producing a new Daimler based on the Vauxhall Cresta. A chassis designation of DN250/1 was assigned to the new project and one prototype was reportedly completed but, for whatever reason, Vauxhall were not moving quick enough - probably because they could sell all the PA models they could build themselves and the project dragged on until in the end Daimler were taken over by Jaguar and the whole project was cancelled. There are no pictures of the completed prototype, and what happened to it is also unknown but in all probability, it was just scrapped. 

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Now, one would think that would be the end of the story but it isn’t. A very enterprising enthusiast purchased a PA Cresta without an engine, fitted a Daimler 2.5V8 complete with automatic gearbox and then altered the bodywork of the Cresta to match as near as possible to that of the original artist drawing of the DN250. The interior has been refitted in Daimler style so is as near to the original prototype – if it ever was completed. Would it have been a success? Probably not – Daimler purists would have been put off by the “humble” Vauxhall origins. Nice car all the same. More information about the remarkable build of the car can be found at - www.daimler-dn250.net

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8. VAUXHALL PA - VELOX & CRESTA OWNERS CLUBS:

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