Lost Royale: The four-door saloon was Vauxhall’s crowning glory

by Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
20 April 2023 3 min read
Lost Royale: The four-door saloon was Vauxhall’s crowning glory
Photos: Car & Classic

It’s easy to get carried away when looking at barn finds like this 1979 Vauxhall Royale. To be distracted by the headlight wipers. To dream of spending long journeys in the rich comfort of the crushed velour seats. Remembering the time when the Royale represented the pinnacle of Vauxhall motoring.

Okay, the Royale was more Opel than it was Vauxhall; a badge-engineered Senator with a subtle makeover by the company’s talented designer, Wayne Cherry. The four-door saloon was sold alongside the Royale coupé, known as the Monza in Opel markets.

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Going back to the original point, when it comes to barn finds – in this case, a ‘garage find’ – many of us are guilty of dreaming of the destination and overlooking the journey.

As per the Car & Classic description: “Make no mistake, this is a restoration project and will require quite a bit of renovation before it can be driven – don’t expect to just jump in and drive it away.”

The car’s second owner bought this Royale in 1988 and kept it in his garage in north-east London. He died in 1995, so the car remained there until this month, when it was discovered as part of a house clearance. A lost Royale discovered in time for the King’s coronation.

Photo: Vauxhall

The Royale was launched alongside the Carlton at the 1978 UK Motor Show, with production getting underway at GM’s Russelsheim plant in September 1978. Sales continued until the summer of 1982, by which time 7119 Royales had been sold in the UK.

That’s a relatively low figure, but Vauxhall was keen for the Royale to carry an air of exclusivity. “Each year, many cars are launched, few are chosen. Choose one of the few,” was one line trotted one by the Vauxhall ad team. “Very, very occasionally a great new car is launched,” was another.

Vauxhall Royale coupe
Fewer doors, more style. Photo: Vauxhall

The excellent Vauxpedia website recalls a time when Vauxhall’s marketing director, Des Savage, urged dealers to prevent certain people from experiencing the Royale. He said: “Only the right sort of buyers should be sold the car; even if an unsuitable buyer has the cash to buy a Royale, they should be politely declined.”

It’s not quite a ‘Ratners’ moment, but you can imagine the response when the letter was leaked to the press.

Gerald Ratner labelled his cut-glass sherry decanters “total crap”, but the Vauxhall Royale was anything but. Indeed, the German-built saloon could rub shoulders with the likes of the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz W123 and Audi 100, not to mention its chief rival, the Ford Granada Ghia.

Everything except air-con was fitted as standard, with a four-speed manual gearbox available as a no-cost option if you didn’t fancy relaxing with the smooth-shifting GM slush ’box.

Vauxhall Royale auction

At its launch in 1978, a Vauxhall Royale saloon cost £7956, the equivalent of £36,000 in today’s money. That’s the price you’ll pay for an electric Vauxhall Corsa in Ultimate trim. A tidy package, but without the allure of crushed velour.

The brochure called the Royale “the most luxurious apartment ever offered by Vauxhall”, before highlighting its “rich, crease-resistant velour upholstery”, which, as we know, is always superior to leather. Discuss…

Perhaps the only blot in the Royale’s otherwise exemplary copybook was the 140bhp carb-fed 2.8-litre straight-six engine, which lacked the performance demanded by owners with a penchant for velour, wood and lazy-matic transmissions. A 180bhp Bosch-injected 3.0-litre came later.

Vauxhall Royale interior

Comparing the Royale 2800 with the Rover 3500, Audi 100, Ford Granada 2.8, BMW 525, Peugeot 604Ti and Volvo 264 GLE, Motor said: “Even in such formidable company the Royale can hold its head high, with competitive levels of refinement and comfort, and offering above-average driver satisfaction, due not so much to its performance – which is about par for the class, no better – as its sporty, well balanced cornering capabilities.”

It’s a shame that the Vauxhall Royale is such a rare sight. There appear to be 28 on the road, with a further 27 listed as SORN, although this ‘garage find’ will increase the total to 56. Any successful buyer need to apply for a new V5C because the paperwork and key were lost at some point during the car’s slumber.

The engine, which has covered a reported 21,339 miles, hasn’t been started since 1995, and although there are obvious signs of rot, it’s clear that it has been stored inside. What a shame there are no photos of its ‘just-discovered’ condition.

We make no apology for being blinded by the crushed velour, headlight wipers, dealer-fit fog lights, wood trim and period RAC and RNLI stickers. It’s a six-cylinder German saloon with the lightest of British makeovers. A luxo-barge that’s all Royale, no cheese.

Read more

Unexceptional Classifieds: Vauxhall Astra Mk2
Driving Britain’s first ton-up car: Vauxhall’s ‘Car of grace that sets the pace’
Cars That Time Forgot: Vauxhall Monterey

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  • Pauly says:

    The Vauxhall royale, I’m the current owner and have a video of it being removed from the garage it come out of if you’d like to see it

  • Frank Atkinson says:

    Allways had Vauxhalls. Not happy they went with French makers

  • Trevor Knowles says:

    Same colour as the one I had in the early 90s. Lovely car. I enjoyed driving it. Handled well and very comfortable

  • Stephen+Pye says:

    Loved the royale original carlton and the viceroy too. Bring back velour seats warm in winter cool in summer!

  • Robin Hillis says:

    I had 7 Royales in the late 80’s through to the mid 90’s. 4 saloons and 3 coupe’s. I was an enthusiast at an early age. I’d love to have one now and restore it. Is this car still for sale?

  • Graham Foy says:

    definitely Pauly (the video).

    I sold my black 2.9 saloon on about 10 years ago and the idiot who bought it (for £150) scrapped it and a gold one a few months later. I was under the understanding back then that there were only 10 saloons left on the road so it’s great to see another

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