The Vauxhall Victor FE, initially christened the "Transcontinental" in early publicity material, was launched in February 1972 as a development of the FD, with larger capacity slant-four power units, and beefier, more refined suspension. The body, however, was completely new, bigger with a far larger glass area and offering more interior space and a more airy feel. It was the last Vauxhall to be designed independently of Opel, and featured a different bodyshell, its own suspension and rack-and-pinion steering.
In 1975, the Victor name was dropped and the model range renamed the ‘VX’, as a more luxurious alternative to the new Cavalier.
It was a surprisingly fast car for its size, especially with the 2.3-litre slant-four under the bonnet – as found in Vauxhall’s works rally cars. So it’s no surprise that some police forces liked to use them as patrol vehicles, including Durham Constabulary, with whom this particular example started its life.
Registered in 1978, this is one of the very last of the VXs and went into service with Durham Constabulary that August.
It was retired from active service at the end of 1980 but rather than be disposed of like most ex-patrol cars it was retained by the force to be used as a driver training vehicle. For the last 15 years of its life in service, it was actually used as a skid pan car as its combination of rear-wheel-drive and a live rear axle meant it could be made to drift quite easily.
Its life as a training car ended in the 1990s, after which the car was given a superficial cosmetic tidy-up for use at official engagements. In 2008, it was re-discovered during a Durham Police asset audit. The car was sold to an enthusiast of ex-police vehicles who then spent the next eight years restoring it to its original service specification. It was then sold again in 2018 and was featured on the TV series ‘Bangers and Cash’.
It is believed to be the only ex-police FE victor still in existence.
There are a few interesting documents, which back up the Vauxhall’s rather colourful history. Among them are a receipt from 2008 when the car was discharged from service stating that it was being sold for £350 and was not fit for road use.
Also included are a laminated photograph of the car being used for skidpan training and - although the livery on that car is slightly different - it is definitely the same vehicle.
There are also a couple of bits that were found in the car during its restoration including some fuel authorisation documents for it to be refuelled at Durham Police station and an owners workshop manual, along with a laminated file documenting its history, the original old-style V5 showing Durham Constabulary as the owner, and more recent receipts for a new battery and a cam belt.
Thanks to a recent restoration, the Vauxhall is in fine order and appears to be as rot-free underneath as it does on top.
All of the panels are straight and tidy with no obvious damage and the simple police livery is period correct.
More importantly, the flashing blue light and sirens both work and, let's face it, those are the bits that are by far the most fun!
Like many police vehicles, the VX has a rather unusual combination of the largest, most powerful engine on offer at the time, coupled with the simplest and most basic trim.
As a result, it's hardly luxurious inside with low-back seats and a simple clutter free dash, manual windows and no radio.
There's an extra bank of switches on the centre console which operate the two tone horns, siren and roof beacon, while there are cuts in the headlining clearly made (and rather crudely) to enable the beacon to be fitted in the first instance.
There’s a fire extinguisher in the passenger footwell, too, which was also part of the original police kit.
The venerable slant-four is widely regarded as one of General Motors’ best-ever and offers incredibly peppy performance.
That makes it no surprise to find it under the bonnet of a police patrol car, just as you’d fine it powering a Chevette HSR rally car.
You'll have to look hard to find it though - the engine bay of the original FE Victor was designed to accommodate a 3.3-litre straight-six, so as a result the compact slant-four looks somewhat lost inside the engine bay.
On the plus side, it also means ridiculously simple access to carry out any repairs and maintaining this engine promises to be simplicity itself. Not that it needs anything. The engine has recently had a full service including a brand new cam belt.
We were able to conduct a very short test drive and can report that the steering is surprisingly light and that the gearbox brakes and suspension all appeared to behave as they should. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to test its pursuit capabilities.
So, exactly how cool is this? What we have here is a genuine and period correct police patrol car that has been restored to exactly how it would have been when it first joined the force in August 1978.
It's a fabulous looking thing that comes with pedigree and a truly fascinating history that has seen it survive where very few other patrol cars have.
Most period police cars that you see on the road today are replicas, built as props for the TV and film industry.
This one isn't. This is the real deal and it represents a truly unique opportunity.
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