Six steps to buying a Vauxhall PA
Low survival rates are pushing values of these usable slices of Euro Americana. The Vauxhall Cresta and Velox PA ooze tailfinned charm, but these stylish four-door saloons (and occasionally Friary-converted five-door estates) are eminently affordable to both buy and run.
‘To find the right car you’ll probably have to bide your time because there are only a few on the market at any one time’
You’ll have heard tales of Crestas dissolving before they had even reached the showroom, but these Vauxhalls were no more rot-prone than their contemporaries and by now most examples have been restored and have been cherished for years. As a result there are some superb examples out there, although to find the right car you’ll probably have to bide your time because there are few on the market at any one time.
The lack of panel availability today means you should buy the straightest car you can find, even if the steering or suspension feels tired. Beware smokey engines too. Lurid two-tone paint schemes are key to Cresta appeal; cars with a yellow, pink, green or blue finish are sought after, as are the ultra-rare Friary estates.
This guide pools the knowledge of Graham Hindle, Roy Gaskill and John Ankerman of the Vauxhall Cresta Club along with Lawrence Parker of bodywork specialist Parker Motors in East Sussex (01435 810010).
Which one to choose?
The most collectible of the PAs is the earlier Cresta with a three-piece rear window; the cheaper Velox has less of a following with its monotone paint, less plush seat coverings and painted mouldings in place of the Cresta’s chrome and stainless steel items. However, the Velox and Cresta are identical mechanically.
‘Any well-maintained Cresta will be eminently reliable – I take mine anywhere in the country’
1957: the Velox and Cresta PA saloons were launched with a 2262cc ohv six-cylinder engine, independent front suspension, drum brakes all round and a three piece rear window.
1959: a five-door estate was now available through dealers, independently converted by Friary in Basingstoke. The saloon’s three-piece rear window was swapped for a single-piece wrap-around item and the previous ribbed roof became a smooth pressing.
1960: the engine’s displacement was increased to 2651cc, 14-inch wheels replaced the previous 13-inch items and the rear lights and bumper were redesigned. The three-speed manual got Laycock overdrive as an option, or for the first time a Hydra-Matic automatic could be specified. These facelifted models are known as the PADX (Cresta) and PASX (Velox).
1962: the final Cresta and Velox PAs were built. The production run for both totals 173,764, of which 55% were exported. Between 100 and 150 UK cars survive.
Bodywork and structure
As with any car of the period, rust is the Vauxhall’s Achille’s heel and it can strike pretty much anywhere. These cars feature monocoque construction and it’s the areas in the line of fire from debris that are most likely to be tatty, especially the sections behind the front wheelarches and the metal surrounding the rear wheelarches, which cost £200- £400 to repair. Replacement panels (including repair sections) have been unavailable for years.
The sills and door bottoms can also dissolve; budget £500-£750 per side and £300-£500 respectively. A less obvious place for corrosion is at the top of the front wing, where it joins the inner wing and is covered by the overlapping bonnet; repairs cost £350 per side. Also analyse the metalwork around the headlights because corrosion here isn’t unusual; a decent repair costs £350.
Inspecting from underneath is essential, with holed floorpans common. Conversely, cars that look tatty can actually be quite sound here so it really is something of a lottery. Repair panels for the underside are unavailable but it’s not too hard to fabricate suitable parts, although welding can be time-consuming because of poor access in some areas. The box-section stiffeners are the areas most likely to rot, with decent repairs typically costing around £500 per floor.
Anything that’s unique to the estate will be impossible to replace, so repairs are the order of the day. However, only the roof and tailgate were estate-specific, along with the rear side windows; everything else was carried over from the saloon. Scrutinise the tailgate especially closely, because if there’s any corrosion or impact damage it’ll probably be costly to put right.
The 2262cc straight-six originally fitted is rated at 82bhp and 124lb ft; the 2651cc unit fitted from 1960 is usefully more muscular with its 113bhp and 149lb ft.
The unstressed engines tend to last well if anti-freeze levels are maintained at 50:50, but on the 2.6-litre engine, failure to do so leads to the cylinder block cracking between the core plugs.
Interior trim is durable but missing or damaged pieces may be more costly or difficult to source than you might expect. Engines are scarce and so too are the parts to rebuild them – just as well that they’ll happily rack up 100k miles between rebuilds if properly maintained.
This area is behind the exhaust manifold, so look for evidence of coolant and oil leaks and check for signs of misfiring. Sourcing a replacement engine isn’t easy, so if you want to retain originality you’re into the realms of getting what’s there stitch welded at £500-£2000, depending on how much of the dismantling you do yourself. Some owners fit a 3.3-litre Cresta PB/PC unit instead, which is more readily available but also prone to cracking because it’s a bored-out version of the 2.6-litre powerplant.
Noisy tappets are normal, but if there’s a real racket coming from the top end an overhaul is required at around £700 including a lead-free conversion. If there’s any blue exhaust smoke, indicating that the cylinder bores and/or piston rings have worn, the engine needs a complete rebuild and this will cost at least £2000 because of high parts prices.
Some of the ancillaries can be problematic. While distributors tend to be reliable, the automatic choke can suffer from an accumulation of carbon and the rubber diaphragm perishes so you’ll need to get the Zenith carburettor overhauled. Rebuild kits cost £55; exchange units double. The water pump’s bearings can also fail, leading to it seizing; replacement pumps cost £65.
Most PAs are fitted with a three-speed manual gearbox; a few of the last examples have an automatic transmission (extremely rare), while a handful of cars feature a Laycock overdrive. Pre-facelift Crestas got a 4.11: rear axle while revised models were fitted with a 3.9:1 ratio; a 3.03:1 unit was optional. Gearboxes, clutches and differentials all last well, but the column-change gearshift linkages can wear badly. Nylon bushes to fix the latter are £10 per pair while clutch kits are available fromthe club for £120 exchange.
If overdrive is fitted and it seems reluctant to engage, it’s most likely to be an electrical fault such as a duff relay or a poor connection. Alternatively the filter might just need to be cleaned out or the oil level could be low. If the overdrive has worn it can be rebuilt for £450; a Laycock J-Type unit was used.
On 2.2-litre cars the clutch slave cylinder hangs low and it gets bombarded by debris. Rebuild kits and new cylinders are available for £12 and £75 respectively, but in the case of the former the bore might be too pitted for the cylinder to be worth saving. Because the cylinder is located through the gearbox mounting, the engine has to be dropped to replace it. So while it’s a straightforward enough DIY job, professional replacement can easily run to £400.
Steering, suspension and brakes
Burman recirculating ball steering was fitted throughout, with a lower-geared set-up used from the 1960 facelift. The steering box lasts well if it’s not allowed to run dry; check for leaks and if it’s very vague it should be possible to tighten things up. However, if all of the adjustment has been used up you’ll need to find a better used ’box; budget £100 for something suitable.
The suspension contains 17 grease points, all of which need attention every 1000 miles or so. Failure to do so will lead to rapid wear, especially in the front trunnions; replacements cost £75 per set.
Disc front brakes became optional in October 1961, and a servo had become optional the previous year, so most PAs have an unassisted all-drum braking system. Disc-braked cars aren’t unusual though, with many converted after leaving the factory; PB and PC parts are interchangeable. New discs and calipers are available through the club at £140 and £110 per pair respectively.
The Velox came with moulded vinyl trim and the Cresta got leather. It tends to be durable which is just as well, because there’s no repro trim available and even used parts are scarce. A club member might have some, but don’t count on it; a full retrim is likely to cost £1200- £2000 depending on the material used. Carpet sets are available from Coverdale Carpets for £175-£350.
The electrical system is very simple but wiring looms can go brittle, although Autosparks of Hull can supply new ones for £260. The rest of the electrical system tends to be reliable and repairable if problems arise.
What to pay
1 Projects worth saving start at £2000, and are only economically viable if you have DIY skills.
2 Good cars fetch upwards of £8000, but at this level expect some imminent need for mechanical or cosmetic work.
3 A superb Cresta will fetch around £15k with the Velox a little way behind.
4 Real show-stoppers can command as much as £25k.
5 Friary estates rarely come onto the market. When they do, expect to pay £12k for a good example, up to £20k for an excellent one.
Owning a Vauxhall Cresta
As one of the technical reps of the Vauxhall Cresta Club (vauxhallcrestaclub.co.uk), Graham Hindle knows his way around these cars – he bought his first PA in 1984. Says Graham, ‘I still own that car and over the past 35 years I’ve owned another 65 examples. I’ve now got four PAs, all of which I’ve completely restored.
‘Even now they stand out in a field full of classics, but PAs aren’t just good to look at; the driving experience is good too. Over the years I’ve modified a few; one of mine now has a Chevrolet V8. I’ve also fitted upgrades such as overdrive and disc brakes; they’re straightforward cars to work on.
‘Any well-maintained Cresta will be eminently reliable; I use all of mine and I’m happy to take them anywhere in the country. Many owners do at least some of their own maintenance and most restorations are carried out on a DIY basis, although full rebuilds are now difficult because of poor panel availability. But overall running costs are very low; I’d struggle to spend more than £200 per year over a long period. ‘Some parts are very scarce but the club sources what it can and sells at keen prices. These parts are available only to members, so at £25 per year it’s worth joining.’
The Cresta pictured is one of two concours-winning PAs owned by Roy Gaskill. He comments, ‘Since I bought my first PA Cresta in 1999 I’ve owned three of them; now I own this one along with another in green and black. The pink car was bought new in 1959 by a lady who drove it for 10 years then put it into her garage. A friend of mine bought it In 1995 when it came onto the market with just 16,000 miles on the clock; I bought it from him in 2004. When the first owner died in 2015 I was asked by the family to drive it behind her hearse, which was very moving.
‘The green-and-black car was completely restored over a 13-year period, using all-new outer panels. You couldn’t do that now because the parts just aren’t available or they’re very expensive; two years ago a new bonnet mascot sold for £1200. ‘They’ll easily keep up with traffic, and are very comfortable and spacious too – a truly family-friendly classic. For me the key appeal is the trans-Atlantic styling; this was the closest we got in the UK to a car that looked American, but these Vauxhalls are small enough to fit in a typical UK garage.’
Just 23 Friary PA estates are known of worldwide, and John Ankerman owns two of them. Says John, ’I bought my first Cresta in the late Seventies, restored it and used it as my everyday transport. Over the years I’ve owned eight PAs; while it’s the Cresta that gets all of the attention, both of my estates are Veloxes. One is the only genuine flat-bonnet [pre-1959 facelift] estate in existence; it’s reckoned just a dozen were made. Bought 30 years ago, this car would be beyond saving to most people, but it’s a piece of history which is why I’m intent on getting it back on the road. ‘There are no records of how many cars Friary converted, but it’s thought to be about 200, 19 of which are known of in the UK. Of these, 14 are Crestas with just five being Veloxes.
‘The estates are very well made although surprisingly little was changed. Most of the outer panels were carried over; only the roof, rear windows and tailgate were new. Two fuel tanks wrap around the spare wheel and the boot floor was reshaped, but apart from a folding rear seat and some unique chrome trim, much of the estate is shared with the saloon.
1960 Vauxhall Cresta PA – £14,000
Private sale. MoT until Jan 2019. In very nice condition including rare cloth interior. Starts well and is reliable, I am an enthusiast and have taken it to many shows. Kept in garage over winter in the last ten years since I’ve owned it. It needs a little tidying cosmetically, but nothing major. I am disabled and recently found it difficult to get help with the cosmetic side of it, although it is very well maintained engine wise.