1953 Vauxhall Velox
Mick Johnson was handed a large pile of boxes when he took on a Vauxhall Velox in 2014, but he has turned it into a beautiful car. Phil Homer tells the story, and speculates as to why so few of this marque and model survive.
A BOX OF WONDERFUL VELOX BITS
Bought in a dismantled state and stored in boxes, but just look at it now!
Readers' Cars1953 Vauxhall Velox
Iwas a little shocked when researching this feature to find that this model of Vauxhall Velox has a survival rate of just 0.4%. Whilst I can’t quantify the survival rate for every 1950s model, this might well be amongst the lowest. Were they such a poor car? I don’t think so, but in common with many cars of the era, rustproofing was in its infancy and salt on the roads was prevalent, so I am afraid that rust was their greatest enemy. In that respect, earlier pre-war cars had substantial open chassis and often fared somewhat better, aided by the fact that the engines had less than perfect oil seals which more or less guaranteed that the underside of a car had a liberal coating of protective oil.
So it’s a brave man who takes on the restoration of a nearly 70-year-old Vauxhall Velox, especially one like Mick Johnson's fine example here which he got as a kit of parts. Indeed the 'kit' had stood around in the previous owner’s garage for around 30 years. The bodyshell had been stripped bare, the glass, every mechanical component, every nut and every bolt having been taken off and stored separately. All the parts were in boxes, and the boxes were bound with sticky tape. On the tape the owner had written what the boxes contained. The trouble was that in 30 years of storage, all the writing had worn off! Mick was undaunted, though. This wasn’t his first Velox, as he already owned a 1954 model in black. So why did he want another? Well, he obviously liked the model, particularly the low-down grunt of the 2¼-litre engine. His own car was well worn and well used, and he thought that it was soon going to require some substantial work, if not another restoration.
At this point a friend and fellow Vauxhall enthusiast was told at a classic car show about a car, the beige Velox that is the subject of this feature.
Mick's interest was raised, so he followed up the lead. For the benefit of those of us less well versed in Vauxhall history, the Velox name goes back to pre-war days, but was revived in 1947 with a pair of models that shared the same bodyshell (the Model L), the other one being the Wyvern. Vauxhall updated their two models in August 1951 into the Model E, again calling them the Wyvern (four-cylinder) and the Velox (six-cylinder). Both featured a brand new bodyshell.
There was no chassis, so the cars were of integral construction, or monocoques, which meant a substantial weight saving. All the strength was now in the bodyshell and the front extension legs, which were used to carry a separate subframe onto which the independent front suspension was mounted. The double wishbone-type front suspension had telescopic shock absorbers, which were centrally mounted within coil springs. A stabiliser bar was mounted across the car in front of the suspension. The new bodyshell was streamlined, with the wings – though still separate pressings – now more closely integrated with the body. The styling aped a scaled down version of the contemporary GM Chevrolet Fleetline. The wheelbase grew by 5½in and the overall length by 8in. The passenger compartment was also made much wider, and Vauxhall claimed that both new models could seat six – three in the back and three in the front – even though the car still had a relatively small footprint.
Perhaps surprisingly, the two engines were carried over from the L models they replaced. They still followed the pre-war practice by being long-stroke, with relatively small bores to minimise the RAC Hp rating and thus keep the annual road-tax as low as possible. I say the carry-over of these engines is surprising because this RAC rating had actually been dropped in 1947 in favour of a one-size-fits-all single annual road-tax. This had freed up Vauxhall’s engineers, but it appears that the body design came to fruition quicker than the engines could be developed, leaving the initial cars with legacy engine designs under their bonnets.
It took Vauxhall a little more time to come up with two new over-square, OHV engines, meaning that the bore (79.37mm) was bigger than the stroke (just 76.20mm). This gave the four-cylinder Wyvern a capacity of 1507cc and the six-cylinder Velox 2262cc. The reduction in stroke gave several advantages, namely a reduction in piston speed and much less wear. These new engines were introduced to the two cars in April 1952, having commonality in both components and the machine tools used to make them, which made for substantial economies of scale.
The three-speed gearbox (with left hand steering column control) and back axle of the earlier models were retained, with suitable changes to the gear ratios to suit the different engines. The rear suspension consisted of a pair of wide, long semi-elliptical springs and a pair of telescopic shock absorbers located between the axle and reinforced plates in the bodyshell.
The Velox was equipped with a 17½ pint radiator with a larger surface area and an 8in clutch, whilst the Wyvern managed with just 11 pints of coolant and a 7½in clutch. Both sets of wheels were 15in, but the Velox had a wider profile. Whilst the six-cylinder car boasted a larger capacity battery, the electrical system, steering, front and rear suspension and hydraulic brakes were identical on both cars. To match its higher price the Velox the was trimmed in a wider choice of Vynide colours, and more paint choices were available. There were also some 'luxury' extras not available on the Wyvern: the car gained the word 'Vauxhall' embossed in red on the hubcaps, a chrome moulding around both screens, a chrome flash on each front wing, twin wind tone horns, a rear centre armrest, three side armrests, two-tone Vynide upholstery and pockets in the front doors – quite a comprehensive improvement in specification for an all-in price of £833 14s 5d, including purchase tax.
Back now to the Velox in our pictures, and this was owned by a retired builder in Ringwood, Hants. Mick and his wife Beryl visited him in 2014, and were able to negotiate a deal. The builder had stripped the car 30 years earlier with the intention of restoring it, but just never found the time. He assured them that all the components were still present, and that did in fact prove to be the case, which is pretty impressive after all that time.
Mick had borrowed a dropsided trailer, but not a car transporter as the Velox had no wheels. The axle, engine block, front suspension and all the boxes of bits were first loaded onto the bed of the trailer with the side panels raised. Then a couple of pieces of timber were put across the trailer for the bodyshell to be placed on top of them. The bonnet, boot and four wings were put inside the car, along with the seats and trim. The doors were then put in place and roped onto the car. Our couple were then faced with how to get the bodyshell on top the timbers. At this point, the seller opened the door of a shed and drove out an All Terrain Forklift, a tractorsized machine with a hydraulic boom on the front culminating in a pair of forklift prongs. By extending the hydraulics, and by using straps hanging from the forklift, it was possible to hoist the body onto the timbers on the trailer. The whole ensemble was then lashed together and to the trailer with ropes. The intrepid couple attached the trailer to the back of their Land Rover and dragged the whole strange contraption home.
It was then just a matter of putting the jigsaw together again! Mick found that the underside of the shell and the rear axle had been shotblasted clean, so that was a good starting point. A thick coat of oil-based underseal was quickly applied, then began the twoyear task of putting the parts together. In this respect Mick had the distinct advantage of having an identical car alongside him to use as a pattern. The mechanical bits were put together with the aid of Vauxhall’s amazingly detailed Workshop Manual, running to 650 pages. I have examined this document, and such is the level of detail that, for example, the correct carburettor jets are identified for every 2000ft change in altitude. Such detail is overkill when the owners live in Dunstable!
Mick rubbed the car down, but amazingly no welding was necessary and the car was taken off to a paint shop where it was resprayed by his grandson. The colour is the original Sand Beige. All the mechanical parts, including the disassembled engine, went back together without any replacement parts being needed. The rubbers had all perished, but the screen rubbers were available in Australia and the remainder from UK suppliers. A new wring loom was installed that made provision not only for the original semaphore trafficators, but also the addition of flashing indicators all round and extra stoplights at the rear.
Vauxhall were famous for putting a great deal of chrome on the car, you can see it all in the illustrations. Chrome plating must have been cheap at the time, or they would not have been so prolific. Today it is regarded as environmentally very unfriendly and has become very expensive – £3500 needed to be spent to get it looking as good as it is today.
Mick and Beryl praise the torquey six-pot engine and the amount of room they get for their money. There are six inches more width in the front and no fewer than 13 inches in the back when compared to the model it replaced. It is doubtful if three people really can be carried in the front though, since a central passenger would inhibit the driver from operating the left-hand column change gear lever.
Access under the bonnet is superb. The bonnet is hinged at the rear in an alligator style and the counterbalanced springs keep the bonnet aloft without the need for a prop. The bonnet sides display the traditional twin flutes, ubiquitous on this era of Vauxhall, which are infilled with chrome inserts. The distributor, carburettor, fuel pump and pretty much everything that might require attention are close at hand. This car has the optional heater (£14) and Screen Wash Outfit (£2/9/6) fitted. It’s a little surprising to find that the bonnet space is dominated less by the engine than by the wide diameter steel ducting from the radiator to the heater box, which is painted in body colour. The idea of this duct must be to take preheated air from the radiator and then boost its temperature further in the heater matrix before blowing it into the cabin, making for a highly efficient system.
Such was Vauxhall’s confidence in their electrical system that the need for the previously ubiquitous starting handle has been dispensed with. An unusual feature is the windscreen wipers, which are driven through a skew gear off the camshaft via what looks like an additional speedo cable to a small gearbox mounted on the bulkhead. Of course, the faster the car goes, then the faster the wipers go too! Mick much prefers this arrangement to vacuum operated wipers that have a tendency to grind to a halt just when they are needed the most.
Mick and Beryl are no strangers to classic motoring and they believe their project was built to be used. Most weekends they will be found at a local or not so local show, where the car regularly picks up prizes. The total mileage is now 57,000, and that includes touring on the continent and Ireland, mainly to Vauxhall/ Bedford events. It is utterly reliable, and the couple have no qualms about taking it anywhere. The next gathering is scheduled for Switzerland – they intend to be there, and I have no doubt they will.
Our THANKS TO: Brian Parkes for his encyclopaedic knowledge of this and almost every other UK car he has worked on. Also to Ian Coomber, retired ex-board member of Vauxhall UK, for additional information.
The Velox came with trafficator arms, but Mick has sensibly added flashing indicators to work alongside them.
Look at the tiny rear lights!
Vauxhall claimed there was room for three abreast seating up front, but we wonder how that left room to operate the gear lever. Chrome was all the rage in the 1950s. Unfortunately it has fallen out of favour in recent years and replating this lot was an expensive task.
As the bigger brother in the Wyvern/Velox family, this car came with the six-cylinder engine. It produced 67.5bhp and 114lb.ft of torque. It was remarkable for a car of this vintage, but no welding was required to the bodywork. This was sprayed by Mick's grandson in Sand Beige. Collecting the project called for some ingenuity. Parts were loaded into the trailer, boards placed across the sides and the car lowered on top.
1953 was a very significant year in the history of Vauxhall, as the company was celebrating its Golden Jubilee. They'd come a long way!
Mick and Beryl praise the torquey six-pot engine and theamount of room they get for their money
Reiner Tribbe 1 month ago #
I had one of these, bought in 1966, my first car in NZ. Used it on our honeymoon down the south Island in 1967. Caused us absolutely no problems except for no heater. That could be alleviated by putting a blanket over our legs. Was a great car but needed work on the engine so we replaced it. Should not have done so, problem could have been fixed. Colour was more grey than this one but could never been mistaken. Had later a 57 model, was no patch on the 53 model.