Vauxhall is an iconic British car maker, so we wanted to take a look at how the company grew and became the oldest surviving UK car manufacturer today.

Vauxhall Iron Works

Like several of the other companies we’ve looked at Vauxhall started life as something other than a car manufacturer.

In 1857 the company was founded by Alexander Wilson and called Alexander Wilson and Co and produced a number of different items including marine engines and pumps. The company was successful in this industry but after Wilson had left the business in 1894 the focus shifted from steam-powered engines to the exciting new world of petrol engines.

It was in 1897 that the company changed their name to The Vauxhall Ironworks Company Limited and shortly after this they created a single-cylinder petrol engine that was used to propel a small river launch boat called the Jabberwock.

The First Vauxhall Car

It was in 1903 that Vauxhall produced their first car, it had just five horsepower, two gears and no reversing function. The engine used to power this vehicle is said to have been inspired by the original single-cylinder engine used in the Jabberwock. There were two and four seat versions available for drivers to choose from at a cost of £136. Within a year, Vauxhall had also created a six horsepower model version that could reverse.

Vauxhall in Luton

The company was originally located in Vauxhall London but in 1905, just two years after they began creating motorcars, they relocated. This move was in based on the business needing more space for motorcar production lines and a lack of expansion options at their London factory, as well as the cheaper costs in Luton compared to the capital.

It was recently after this move, in 1907, that the company separated their marine and motor divisions and the motor vehicle side became known as the Vauxhall Motor Company that we recognise them as today.

Vauxhall headquarters remain in Luton to this day.

Vauxhall Sports Cars

It might surprise you to learn that in the early 1900s Vauxhall was known for their sports cars.

In 1911 Vauxhall produced their first sports car the C-type, later known as the Prince Henry. It was a doorless four seater and the first of this type of car to be produced by a British manufacturer.

The D-type followed in its tyre tracks after the first world war and became an instant motorsports success.

In 1924 Vauxhall left motorsports in order to concentrate on creating cars for drivers’ everyday lives, which meant they took a move away from the sports car designs towards more practical four-door family cars.

Vauxhall and General Motors

In December of 1925 Vauxhall Motors became a subsidiary of General Motors Corporation (GM). This move allowed Vauxhall to massively expand production and was a contributing factor in their changing target demographic as they began to create models for the modern family’s needs.

They remained a subsidiary of GM for 92 years until 2017 when they were sold to Groupe PSA.

Currently Vauxhall is a part of Stellantis, which was created when PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) merged into on company with several automotive brands beneath it.

Ellesmere Port

One of the most notable locations in Vauxhall’s history is their Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire.

This plant was built in the early 1960s and the first car rolled off the production line in 1963. Over the past 50 years it has been the home of the Viva, Chevette and all generations of the Astra. 

The plant remains operational today and by the end of this year it will be the first of Stellantis’ plants to be solely producing battery-electric vehicles with both commercial and passenger models being produced there.

Vauxhall and Opel

When Vauxhall began exporting to the rest of Europe they were marketed under the brand name Opel, as this was where they were first produced for the rest of Europe.

There’s little change to the vehicle designs, just a few tweaks and adjustments such as changing from a right hand drive to a left hand drive.

Opel was crucial to Vauxhall operations during the late 1960s and early 1970s when the UK was experiencing economic crisis, which affected consumer buying habits, factory power supplies, staffing levels and material supplies due to the number of strikes across different industries. Opel sales continued to increase during this time, in particular in Germany which helped support the Vauxhall side of the business until the UK’s economy settled.

Evolution of Vauxhall Cars

We’ve already mentioned some of the cars that have helped shape the Vauxhall brand and direction but we wanted to take an in-depth look at these as well as their best-selling models that you’ll still recognise today. 

The C-Type

The C-type, or Prince Henry as it is also known, was one of the very first sports cars.

Originally it had a 3 litre engine but in 1913 Vauxhall unveiled a 25 hp 4 litre model and it was one of the fastest cars of the time.

It gained the Prince Henry moniker following the creation of a new car for the 1910 Prince Henry Trials in Germany and Vauxhall used their entry as inspiration for the C-type.

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The D-Type

The D-type was introduced in 1912, a couple of years after the C-type, and because of its four cylinder four litre engine and solid long wheelbase it was capable of carrying a heavier chassis full of luxury touches.

During the ten year production run of the D-type there wasn’t a lot of change to the vehicle’s design other than a few tweaks.

Vauxhall Bedford Vehicle

The Bedford was the name given to Vauxhall’s first commercial vehicle. Introduced in April 1931 it was a massive success and from the initial two-tonner came a succession of buses, vans and even military vehicles during WW2, including ambulances.

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Vauxhall Cadet

In 1930 the Vauxhall Cadet was introduced to the UK market. It was designed to be an affordable family car with a starting price of £280.

Along with the two litre engine the Cadet had a synchromesh gearbox, which was the first time one had appeared in a British car.

Vauxhall Cavalier

In 1975 the Vauxhall Cavalier went on sale in the UK. It was a fresh new hatchback that rivalled the likes of the Ford Cortina.

Drivers had a choice of two and four door models in both a coupe and saloon body style, meaning that most drivers would find a Cavalier that they liked. Not only did the choice of body styling appeal to drivers but it had a spacious interior with plenty of room for all of the passengers and had great road handling for the time.

After a 20 year production run the Cavalier was discontinued and replaced by the Vauxhall Vectra in the company’s line up.

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Vauxhall Chevette

The Vauxhall Chevette was launched in the same year as the Cavalier and was another British first for the company as it was the first small, three-door hatchback to be built here.

It was one of GM’s first attempts at a ‘world car’ and versions were released under several of their brands, including Vauxhall, with minor adaptations to make it better suit the intended market.

Vauxhall was able to retain their brand identity and lobbied for a three-door hatchback version, reminiscent of their racing days, and would end up heavily involved in the design stage of the UK Chevette that they would go on to sell.

The Vauxhall engineers managed to chop 11 inches from the uniform design, added a hatchback rear rather than a saloon styled one, and a box-section crossmember to restore the torsional rigidity they lost due to these structural changes.

Vauxhall Viva

In 1963 Vauxhall started production on the Vauxhall Viva, a small family car that was set to rival the popular Ford Anglia and Morris Minor. And rival them it did, the model was such a success that the Viva was exported to Australia a year after its launch and Opel went on to sell it under the Opel Kadett.

On the UK market over 100,000 models were sold in just 10 months. One reason for the success was that the company had taken great care to make the controls as light as possible, this made it a favourite of driving schools and coupled with the advertising targeted at female drivers a popular choice with women.

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Vauxhall Astra

The first Astra was launched in 1979 as the Opal Kadett, though it was soon renamed the Vauxhall Astra on the UK market. It was the first Vauxhall that offered front wheel drive and was named the What Car? Car of the Year 1980.

In 1981 production of the Astra was moved to the Ellesmere Port plant and after a couple of years they began designs on the second generation, which was released to the public in 1984.

Over the past forty years the Astra has gone through five more major model changes and we’re currently in the seventh generation of the vehicle with no signs of it going anywhere.

The family hatchback remains one of Vauxhall’s best-selling models and today’s models offer drivers a spacious and innovative design. It offers drivers the latest in technology, with a focus on connectivity including 4G in-car wi-fi. Why not check out our current great Vauxhall Astra leasing deals to find out more.

Vauxhall Corsa

The Vauxhall Corsa is arguably the brand’s best known car and is a popular sight on UK roads.

It was designed to replace Vauxhall’s Chevrolet and Nova models but the Corsa A models were actually still known as Vauxhall Novas. It wasn’t until the Corsa B was launched in 1992 that the Corsa name was known. It was sold internationally as both a hatchback and a saloon body shape.

Vauxhall went on to create the Corsa C in 1999 and it would become the most popular supermini and second most popular car overall in the UK for 2002, 2003 and 2004 meaning a lot of them were on the road in the UK at this time. The next generation of Corsa (Corsa D) would win the Car of the Year at the What Car? 2007 awards.

Today the Corsa remains on sale with a fully electric version in the Corsa-e, if you want to learn more about the details and prices for a Corsa today then take a look at our Vauxhall Corsa leasing deals.


Vauxhall Ampera  

The Vauxhall Ampera was the first model that Vauxhall produced with an electric component. It was a petrol hybrid with a purely electrical range of up to 50 miles which at the time it was launched in 2011 was a great distance.

It had an advance powertrain that combined a 16kWh lithium-ion battery and a 111kW electric motor that ensured there was always electric power to drive the front wheels at all times.

It was a great success for the company in 2011 and was the first step in the company move towards electrifying their catalogue as more and more countries put in place emission restrictions and future internal combustion engine bans.

Vauxhall Mokka

The most recent fully electric car from Vauxhall is the Mokka! It has a bold and eye-catching design, that is accentuated by the bold choices of colours available for you to choose from.  In 2021 It won Top Gear’s Design of the Year Award for its innovative stylings.

As well as the fully electric version Vauxhall have released diesel and petrol engine options for drivers who are not yet ready to make the jump but still want to drive the Mokka.

Find out more and about our great leasing offers on our dedicated Vauxhall Mokka leasing deals.


If you’d like to see the models that are currently available then check out our Vauxhall leasing deals and offers to see how cheaply a new Vauxhall could be yours for. We’ve got plenty of car leasing deals for you to look at which we recommend taking a look at, especially our top offers.


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