The history of Vauxhall can be traced right back to a gentleman called Alexander Wilson, who in 1857 founded Alex Wilson and Company, later the company that built pumps and marine engines would have its name changed to Vauxhall Iron Works. The first move into car production came in 1903 when the company built a 5 horse power vehicle. Steering was achieved by way of a tiller and it only had two forward gears with no reverse. Having realised the limitations of this design, further improvements were made and a new model was made ready for sale.
With a need to increase output, production was moved to Luton in 1905, and two years later the name of Vauxhall Iron Works was dropped in favour of Vauxhall Motors. As with all manufacturers at this time, Vauxhall produced cars for the wealthy and in 1911 a man called Laurence Pomeroy designed a car that is regarded by some as the first sports car. The Type C, which would later go on to be called the Prince Henry, power output was 40 bhp when the model was first launched, but subsequent versions that were designed specifically for the Prince Henry Trial (a Prussian Prince) had there power output boosted to 60 bhp and as a result they could achieve 70 mph. With successes in the St Petersburg to Sebastopol Trial, the RAC 2000 mile trial and the speed trials at brooklands Vauxhall produced replicas to go on sale to the public. The cost at the time to own one of these cars was a massive £580, converted into today's money you would be looking at somewhere in the region of £40,000.
The first World war saw Vauxhall producing cars for the military, indeed just under two thousand, 25 bhp, D-Type Vauxhall's were produced to be used as staff cars during the period of 1914 - 1918. Following the end of the First World War, with money much harder to come by, Vauxhall repositioned itself within the market and began to produce far more somber cars.
1925 saw the Vauxhall brand being taken over by the American car company General Motors, the influence of the parent company and to a great extent GM's competitor, the Ford Motor Company, showed through in the design of future cars and this influence would be seen right the way through to the 1980's. With the stock market crash of 1929, GM Vauxhall created a subsidiary company Bedford Vehicles, this company was founded to produce commercial vehicles for the UK market as importing lorries from the US had become totally uneconomical.
With the outbreak of World War II, car production at Vauxhall was suspended and all efforts were centered on production of the Churchill Tank. The Luton plant went from design to production in less than a year and by the end of the war more than 5,600 tanks were produced, although not all at the Vauxhall plant. After the end of the war production reverted back to passenger vehicles. Now concentrating on mass produced models Vauxhall expanded and in 1960 a new manufacturing plant was built at Ellesmere Port. Mass production did have a downside and Vauxhall gained a reputation for building vehicles that were prone to rusting, although to be fair to them, all manufacturers were suffering from the same problems. The 1960's saw improvements in bodywork protection, but this label would stay attached to Vauxhall for the next couple of decades.
General Motors made another acquisition in the 1920's that would go on to influence the Vauxhall range fifty years later. Opel was purchased by GM in 1929 and until the 1970's Vauxhall and Opel produced totally different cars, the 70's however saw this policy change and Vauxhall began rebadging existing Opel models, Opel was gradually phased out of the UK and in 1981 Vauxhall and Opel dealerships were merged, the only Opel models that remained were the Manta and the Monza who survived through to the latter years of the 1980's. This policy change would lead to the total Opelisation of Vauxhall in the UK. Initially different names were used for the European and UK market, but as time progressed even the names would become standardised across both manufacturer's ranges. Engineering input from Luton began to decline and this would eventually lead to car production ultimately being ceased in 2003.
Production of cars has continued at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant on merseyside where the Vauxhall Astra is assembled, although as recently as 2006 there have been job cuts to improve efficiency as its parent company General Motors tries to cut the massive losses that it is making.
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