Motors first came to Luton in 1905. The Vauxhall Iron Works had
been operating in Vauxhall South London and began making cars in
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.
was involved in motor racing and early success led to the development
of the famous Prince Henry - the first true sports car. In 1924
Vauxhall dabbled in motor cycles but the 998cc four cylinder integral
drive machines would prove to be expensive and the idea was not
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 workforce in the war, many transferring from Luton's hat industry.
Unfortunately 39 souls lost their lives when a German bomb hit the
factory in 1940. The heavily camouflaged factory continued to be
a target, a landmine destined for Vauxhall blew up the town's bus
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.
In 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
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
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. The last
Vectra will be driven straight into the company's heritage centre
alongside examples of most of Vauxhall's models.
and a Renault van will be continued to be built by IBC vehicles
in Luton. The Frontera Four wheel drive concept is now rather passé,
so news of its replacement is awaited with some trepidation.
It used to be
said that when Vauxhall sneezed, Luton caught a cold. Most Lutonians
will remember the Vauxhall holiday when the whole town was deserted,
and many a toy shop benefited each Easter as workers received a
handsome cash bonus as profits were shared out. The closure is not
the economic disaster it would have been forty or fifty years ago,
but it is the end of another major industry in a town that attracted
people from all over the world to work in its many factories, of
which Vauxhall was the largest.