Thursday 21st March 2002
Car production at Vauxhall’s Luton plant ceased after 97 years. The 7,415,045th and final car, a silver V6 Vectra rolled out at 10.23am, was added to a heritage collection of Vauxhall vehicles at a centre in Luton. Vauxhall Motors first came to Luton in 1905. The Vauxhall Iron Works had been operating in Vauxhall South London and began making cars in 1903.The company needed to expand and chose a seven acre site in Kimpton Road right on the edge of Luton. The town had just opened its municipal power station, was served by two railways and had a ready supply of workers. On 29th March 1903 the first Luton built car rolled out of the factory. This model was under powered and was replaced by a 9hp model in 1906 incorporating the famous bonnet flutes which were a feature of Vauxhall’s until 1959. In 1925 Vauxhall was purchased by General Motors for 2.5 million dollars. Soon after bus and truck production started as the Luton factory expanded. Early Bedfords were based on Chevrolet designs, Chevrolet being a major GM subsidiary. Meanwhile Vauxhall turned to the popular car market. The 1931 Cadet was the first British car to feature a synchromesh gearbox. The 1937 Vauxhall 10 was the first introduction to motoring for many people. The 10 had four seats and returned a frugal 42mpg…quite extraordinary in its time…and all for £168. The Second World War saw Vauxhall play a major part in the war effort. The Churchill tank was produced here and battle damaged tanks came back for repair. Thousands of Bedford lorries were turned out at Kimpton Road including the magnificent QL which was the company’s first four wheel drive vehicle. Military contracts were to occupy Bedford workers for years to come and it was boasted that you could find Bedfords all over the world. Initial post war efforts saw cars built for export, but in 1948 the famous Wyvern and Velox models were introduced with more than a nod to contemporary American styling. The 1951 E type versions saw the wings as being integral to the body in the way of today’s cars. This was the heyday of Vauxhall with as many as 36000 people working at Kimpton Road which had been expanded by excavating the side of a chalk hill away to build AA block.n 1955 bus and truck production moved to Dunstable although the CA van remained at Luton. The 1957 F type Victor and the 1959 PA Cresta turned heads. They were finished in bright two colour schemes with fins on the boot and whitewall tyres. The Cresta wrap-round windscreen was a work of art in itself. These cars represented the end of post war austerity and were destined to become an essential part of the swinging sixties.1963’s Viva was a re-entry into the small car market, but, ominously for Luton, it was built in a new factory on Merseyside – Ellesmere Port. The next even smaller car the Nova was the first example of GM badge engineering. Sold on the continent as the Corsa, Nova was built in Spain. Luton’s lifeline was the 1975 Cavalier, and a very fine car it was. A new production line and massive paint shop dominated the skyline and much of the old factory was demolished. Luton built the next two Cavalier models and also its replacement the Vectra. In 1998 GM announced that the replacement model Vectra code named Epsilon would keep Luton building cars well into the new Millennium. Retooling had started when the fateful announcement was made in December 2000 that the new Vectra would be made in Ellesmere Port and Luton would close.