17 November 2011

UNSUNG HEROES: Vauxhall Senator

Loved and used by the UK's police forces in the later end of the 1980s and well into the 1990s. Today, the Vauxhall Senator is something of a hidden gem.

A new section here on Definitely Motoring. Where we look at and give obscure, forgotten cars some recognition and credit they deserve.

DESPITE the high praise from the reports written about the Vauxhall Senator. Those who were in the market for a car of its size and price bracket, often overlooked the big saloon bearing the Griffon emblem.

Nevermind stiff competition from the Ford Granada/Scorpio. Executives and company car buyers were simply spoilt for choice of the cars that were on the market that the Senator competed against. There was more cars on offer that had more prestige and brand kudos than Vauxhall.

The Senator was based on the Carlton as it shared the same floorpan, engines and mechanicals but with a longer wheelbase. It was the biggest and most expensive car Vauxhall/Opel had on sale in that period - if you exclude the Lotus Carlton from 1990-92. 

The second generation model from 1987-1994 is a forgotten gem. It had glowing reviews from the motoring press. The Senator was rated every bit a capable executive saloon as those made by more expensive and prestigious rivals like: Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Saab and Rover.

The Senator did have one trump card above its more expensive rivals with the value for money it offered. Vauxhall were generous with the Senator's specification with its long list of standard equipment. Whereas those from the likes of BMW and Mercedes would offer these as optional extras.

To name a few: leather upholstery (a no cost option), ABS, electric windows, alloy wheels, central locking, climate control, air conditioning - it had the lot. Not only that, it was cheaper to service and maintain than its rivals.

The big Vauxhall's assets weren't only on the generous amount of standard kit. The Senator was a wolf in sheep's clothing. The 3.0 litre, 24 Valve straight six engines were refined yet powerful units. Producing 201bhp and 195lb ft of torque, propelled the Senator to 60mph in an eye watering 7 seconds, and went all the way to a blistering 147mph. That's still quick by today's standards.

Like its German rivals, the Senator was spacious and had simple, rugged mechanicals that could rack up starship mileages. They were tough, straight forward, and reliable prior to being a very capable car. Which was why Britain's police forces were behind the wheel of these patrolling the streets.

Oh was it not mentioned that these Senators were rear-wheel-drive? The boys in blue also rated its handling characteristics, prior to its cavernous boot for carrying road cones and other equipment. You may have seen Senators drifting and chasing crooks on The Bill or Police Camera Action.

Today, the Senator is a cult classic with a loyal following. So finding one is like finding a needle in a haystack. Mind you, Vauxhall only sold around 30,000 of them in the seven years it was on sale. I suppose more bought the Carlton as that was another big, rear drive Vauxhall on sale at that time. Mainly because it was a cheaper car as that was also being sold alongside the Senator in the Vauxhall showrooms. 

The grace, pace and solidity for a well engineered car that's very much forgotten nowadays. If you can find a decent Senator for sale today, pound for pound, you can get an awful lot of car for your money.

A fast, civilised and rugged RWD saloon made the Senator a hit with Britain's police forces.

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