Good morning! It’s time for another Shitbox Showdown, and today, I have a pair of 1950s import oddities for us to check out. But first, let’s see what you made of yesterday’s X-cars:
The Scion wins it, based largely on presentation, from what I gather in the comments. It just goes to show that if you take some time to craft a well-written ad with some decent photos, buyers do notice. Also, that blue is a great color.
Now then: As you know, our man David Tracy is now a resident of Los Angeles. Since arriving, almost daily it seems, he has bombarded the Autopian Slack channel with Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace ads for cars, seemingly awestruck by the bounty and variety of well-preserved, if not pristine, vehicles for sale. I understand how he feels; I had a similar reaction upon moving to the West Coast. These days it takes a lot to turn my head, such as the time I saw a Saab 96 vacate a parking space on the street across from my old office window, only to have the space immediately filled by a Ford Prefect. (Yes, this really happened, just last year.)
These two definitely caught my attention, and I had to share them with you all. One of them I’ve never seen in person, and I’ve seen a lot of uncommon cars. The other isn’t that hard to find, but seeing one running and driving and street-parked instead of slowly sinking into the mud next to a chicken coop in someone’s side yard is a rare treat. Let’s take a look at them.
1957 Vauxhall Super Victor – $5,000
Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter overhead valve inline 4, three-speed manual, RWD
Location: Orange, CA
Odometer reading: 32,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs, not sure if it’s drivable
Yes, that’s right: a Vauxhall. More than that, a US-model Vauxhall. GM’s British division sold its Victor model in the United States through Pontiac dealerships in the late ’50s. Canada got Vauxhalls, some rebadged as Envoys, up until 1971. They weren’t popular; Volkswagen pretty much dominated what market there was for small cars in America back then, and even though the Victor looked more like an American car (and quite a lot like a small-scale Checker Marathon cab, now that I look at it), it couldn’t shift many sales away from VW’s rear-engined, air-cooled marvels. And if you did walk into a Pontiac dealership looking for an inexpensive ride, chances are you drove out in a base-model Chieftain instead.
The fact that this car was sold new in America makes it just about the only way to get a left-hand-drive car sporting Vauxhall’s famous griffin emblem. The Victor followed other American trends as well; this car’s 1.5 liter four-cylinder engine sends its power to a three-on-the-tree, just like nearly all other manuals on US roads at the time. According to the seller, this engine “runs good,” but the car “needs total restoration.” My guess is that they got it running well enough to move it out of the garage, and that’s about it.
Generally, it looks pretty good; there’s some rust, but it doesn’t look rusted-out. The body is straight, and nearly all of the trim is there. That’s important on a car like this; whatever is missing is going to be missing for a very long time, until you complete an epic quest to find it. We don’t get any interior shots, but I can see through the windows that the inside is piled high with parts; often project cars become their own storage containers for stuff like that.
This is a neat car, and a rare bit of General Motors history, and I hope it finds its way to a new owner who will fix it up.
1958 Renault Dauphine – $5,000
Engine/drivetrain: 845cc overhead valve inline 4, three-speed manual, RWD
Location: West Hollywood, CA
Odometer reading: looks like 15,000 miles in the photo? Let’s call it unknown
Runs/drives? Hell yes!
Renault’s little Dauphine was another challenger to Volkswagen for US buyers. In what would become a pattern for French cars, it was well-received, well-loved, and very popular – everywhere except the US. Early tests praised its road manners and handling, but keeping up on the newly-minted Interstate system was too much to ask of the Dauphine’s tiny engine, and its rustproofing left something to be desired, to say the least. The car sold well at first, but its reputation preceded it in later years, and most American Dauphines rusted away and were scrapped a long time ago.
That makes the presence of this black one, in running condition and with current registration, all that much cooler. This little French car has made sixty-five trips around the sun, presumably all in sunny Southern California, and it’s not done yet. The rear-mounted 845cc engine runs great, the seller says, and the rest of the car is a respectable twenty-footer at least. They do note some rust in the floors that will have to be taken care of, but I’d be shocked if it wasn’t rusty somewhere.
Now, do keep in mind that this car has only 32 horsepower on tap, so you should probably keep it off the 405 unless you want to end up as some Suburban’s hood ornament. And like so many rear-engined cars at the time, including Volkswagen’s Beetle, the Dauphine has swing-axle rear suspension, so watch out for oversteer.
It’s really hard to talk about this car without using words like “charming” and “adorable,” so maybe I just shouldn’t try. It’s charming, and it’s adorable, and damn near everyone who sees you driving it will smile. Cars like this just have that effect on people.
Before I leave you to vote on these two cute little rarities, I have to share an interesting connection I found between them: In other markets, both of these cars had a model based on them called the Contessa. Vauxhall’s VX series, a development of the F-series Victor’s platform, was license-built in India as the Hindustan Contessa, and Renault’s rear-engine architecture from the 4CV, Dauphine, and Renault 8 formed the basis of a few generations of the Hino Contessa in Japan. So there’s your useless bit of arcane automotive knowledge for the day.
So what’ll it be – the three-quarter-scale American car from Britain, or the cute little French charmer?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
Voted Vauxhall. It’s got to have some parts shared with something right? Right?
I would love to see that Renault Dauphine do a drag race against my mom’s old 1959 Nash Metropolitan!
Might have to bring a calendar to time them though!
I saw my first (and maybe only) Dauphine running in the U.S. less than a year ago, and not at a car show. I always thought they were cool (but clearly deficient at the time).
I was driving in a semi-rural area and heard some buzzing engine working very hard, expected to be passed quickly by some older car… and it was a Dauphine! It was working it’s ass off to maintain the 45 mph speed limit at altitude. It was covered in rust/patina… but I still kinda wanted to have it.
Give me the Dauphine… I just like how it looks and has a higher quirk/novelty factor.