Vauxhall Cresta PC

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Keywords: Vauxhall Cresta PC
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In addition to the Cresta & Viscount PC assembly in South Africa, General Motors New Zealand also built the car from CKD parts from Luton at its Trentham Wellington factory from 1966 to 1971. Only the Standard (PCS) was locally built and changed very little during its production life apart from the braking upgrades but did not receive the 1969 or 1970 model year changes that applied to Britain & Europe. A limited number of Cresta Deluxe, Viscount and Martin Walter Estate cars were imported fully assembled.

In January 1967 domestic market deliveries began of the Vauxhall Cresta estate car. This vehicle, like the PB model before, was a conversion by Martin Walter of Folkestone and sold through Vauxhall dealers with a factory backed warranty. The Cresta Deluxe Estate was 2.5ins higher than the saloon due to a combination of heavy-duty rear suspension, an increase in the outer diameter of the tyres, 7.00-14 from 5.90-14 and the modified roof line. The Cresta Estate was initially offered on the home market at £1,507, which represented a price premium of around 40% over the equivalent Saloon, more than many competitors, even though the car was the largest estate car built in Europe at the time. The Cresta Estate offered a load platform length of 47ins which increased to an impressive 76ins when the back seat was folded down, despite this the lack of sales meant the model was officially dropped at the end of 1968.

There was very little significant development undertaken on the PC Series during its production run, it was due to be replaced by a PD model for the 1970MY, covered in another section of vauxpedia, but this replacement never got beyond the mock up stage because of Vauxhall’s financial position and the declining market for large cars with large thirsty engines. As a result the PC models were given a mild facelift to keep it going until the launch of the upcoming FE range. The changes included the four headlamp grille for all Cresta models, steering column lock, a slightly revised dashboard and at last a decent automatic gearbox – the GM 3 speed Strasbourg unit. The 3 speed manual column shift was dropped in favour of the 4 speed floor change. By the time production stopped sales were almost non-existent and most were registered by Vauxhall themselves and dealers as demonstration cars (that were very rarely demonstrated!). The Cresta & Viscount PC ceased production at the end of the 1972 model year in August and represented the end of the line for a truly large top of the range Vauxhall, it also meant that a potentially profitable sector was abandoned and there would be no equivalent until the launch of the Vauxhall Royale Saloon & Coupe models in October 1978.

THE VAUXHALL PC CRESTA 7.0LITRE FWD ENGINEERING DEVELOPMENT MULE: As a Division of General Motors Vauxhall had access to a whole range of styling and engineering projects that were undertaken by other Divisions throughout the world and the same rules applied to Vauxhalls own experimental projects which could be accessed and evaluated by other parts of the Corporation worldwide.

In 1959 BMC had introduced the front wheel drive Mini which incorporated the gearbox in the transversely mounted engine sump and proved the huge space savings possible with such an arrangement, the car also set new standards in small car road manners. Unfortunately, immobilising puddles and the fact that, as Ford pointed out, BMC lost money on every one they sold were separate issues. The Mini’s designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, had also boldly claimed at the launch of the car that front wheel drive was only suitable, and in fact was only possible, for engines up to 2 litres in capacity.

Whilst the motivation for front wheel drive was clear in small European cars – better space utilisation - for American cars the benefits were far less obvious. Yet despite this the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors was assigned as the lead Engineering Department for working on prototype front wheel drive systems, this research began in 1958 under project engineer John Beltz. It had been initially planned to be used in the upcoming F-85 series (Cutlass) which used a new platform (Y Body) with a 112inch wheelbase and uni-body construction which was very unusual at the time in America. It was classed as a compact in the USA but was still large by European standards. Due for launch in 1961 the added cost and untried nature of the front wheel drive system was deemed too risky and was dropped from the Cutlass plans pushing the FWD programme further up market to larger and more expensive proposed GM projects.

In the end Oldsmobile spent 7 years and 1.5 million test miles developing their FWD system which bore no relation to anything Issigonis had dreamed up but was equally unusual. The new powertrain was dubbed the Unitized Power Package (UPP). It was designed to combine an engine and transmission into an engine bay no larger than a conventional, American conventional, rear wheel drive car. The key to the system was a modified Turbo-Hydramatic heavy-duty three-speed automatic transmission, the TH400, which came about during development of the UPP and was renamed TH425 when used in FWD applications. The transmission's torque converter was separated from the planetary gear set, with the torque converter driving through a 2inch wide silent chain-drive called Hy-Vo, riding on two 12 inch sprockets. The Hy-Vo chain drive was developed by GM's own Hydra-Matic Division and the Morse Chain Division of Borg Warner. The chains were made from a very strong hardened steel and therefore required no tensioners or idler pulleys because they were pre-stretched on special machines at the factory. Although the rotation direction of the transmission's gearing had to be reversed, a large number of components were shared with the conventional TH400. Use of the automatic also obviated the need to devise a workable manual-shift linkage; no manual transmission was ever contemplated, as Oldsmobile engineers had deemed the performance potential to be adequate with the automatic and the fact that virtually all US built luxury cars came with automatic transmissions as standard equipment anyway.

As we now know that the UPP was first used in the Oldsmobile Toronado announced late in 1965 as a 1966 model. The FWD aspect gave limited benefits - a flat interior floor and greater traction in adverse weather conditions - Oldsmobile had even calibrated the suspension to behave like a rear wheel drive car which does question why so much effort and money were invested in the project. It is also rumoured that the model names ToronADO & EldorADO were chosen as a jovial insult to Issigonis whose designs were then coded ADO for Austin Drawing Office.

Now comes the interesting bit! At Vauxhall, Chief Engineer John Alden had gone on record many times saying that his Engineering Department had tried every combination of drive systems apart from a rear mounted engine with front wheel drive and his predecessor, Maurice Platt, had also planned a FWD HA Viva in the early planning stages. During the development of the Toronado Vauxhall were busy working on the PC Series Cresta, generally using the conventional mechanical components from the previous PB model. However, a production ready 7.0 litre V8 UPP unit was imported from Oldsmobile and shoehorned into a prototype PC Cresta. The number plate of the Engineering Test Mule suggests it was registered after August 1966. A normal V8 would have been an easy fit under the PC bonnet, as was proven later with PC prototypes using Chevrolet small block V8 engines, however the addition of the unique transmission meant that to get the combination to fit the front of the car had to be extended by 6 inches at the centre of the front and huge vents cut out the bonnet to prevent overheating, it also intruded into the centre of the front floor of the interior. The whole front suspension was adapted from the Toronado including unique shorter drive shafts. Even with the widest wheel and tyre combination that would fit, the test mule was almost uncontrollable to drive. The engine produced 375bhp and 475ft-lb of torque, it was possible to shred the front tyres in one go! In theory the car would be capable of 140mph but suffered from violent scuttle shake at anything over 100mph. Not surprisingly the car was written off in an accident by a test driver at Chaul End and the whole idea was dropped. But, as with Oldsmobile, it does beg the question why Vauxhall bothered apart from being able to say “yes we’ve tried that” In any event it certainly proved Issigonis wrong again about the 2 litre limit!



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