Dave’s devotion to dad’s Vauxhall Cresta

It’s October 1962, and a 14-year-old Dave Bell is among the nearly half a million visitors to the Earls Court motor show.

He’s there with his parents, Nelly and Arthur, who has decided the time is right to finally part with the only car he’s ever owned, an ageing Standard Twelve.

The object of Arthur’s desire is the Vauxhall Cresta PB, in good company among its fellow newly launched cars at the ‘62 show – the MGB, Lotus Elan, and the latest Ford Zephyr and Zodiac.

“Dad said he wouldn’t have a Ford because Fords don’t start, so the Zephyr was out,” smiles Dave, “and he ran Bedford CA vans for his business, and he liked them. They were good, reliable vans.”

Back at home near Lincoln, where Arthur ran a butchery, the family went to Vauxhall dealership Charles Warner’s, still in business as an MG main dealer.

“Charlie Warner was a friend of my dad’s, and he said ‘we’ve got a VX 4/90 or a Cresta’, and dad said ‘no, we’ll have a Cresta’,” says Dave. “‘I’ll tell you what,’ said Charlie, ‘I’ve got two of the old model ones if you want one that’s a bit cheaper’.

“We came home, went through all the brochures and stuff, and I said to dad, ‘you’re having a new car, get the new model, you don’t want the old one’, and that’s where we ended up, we bought the new one.”

Arthur decided he didn’t want his new car subjected to the then harsh British winter, so placed an order for the Bermuda Blue Cresta PB to be delivered in April of 1963.

By happy circumstance, it’s April 2023 when we sit down to chat about the same car, which sits outside the same house where Arthur first took delivery of his brand new pride and joy.

Dave is 75 now, and has been looking after the Vauxhall for most of its 60 years and 68,000 miles – an average of 1,100 miles for every year of its life.


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“It’s full of memories,” he says, “of my parents and of trips to Essex and Manchester where we had relatives.

“I took this photograph in 1963 somewhere near Buxton when dad stopped for a fag break.

“I’ve never thought about selling it. Dad didn’t pack up driving until he was 94, but he used to use our runabout car, which was a 2-litre Sapphire Ghia, because it had power steering.

“He used to say to me ‘why don’t you sell it, you don’t need it’, but I always said ‘no, I can’t sell it’.”

Although he wasn’t old enough to drive on the roads back in 1963, he still got behind the wheel of the Cresta, as well as various other cars.

We’ve travelled to the village of South Hykeham for our photoshoot, in a spot just across the road from where Dave’s grandma, Alice, lived at the time.

“Every Wednesday, she used to come to ours for tea, and we’d take her back in the car, but we’d go for a drive first,” he remembers. “I liked to go out to Wigsley where the old airfield was, and I used to go on the main runway and drive the car and get it up to 60 or 70. We were all in the car, and I would have been 15.”

He would also drive an Austin A40 pick up and an old Jeep on farmland owned by his Essex relatives, and an Austin Atlantic in a scrapyard behind a garage in Dundee owned by a war-time friend of his father’s.

“It was actually that journey to Dundee, the last major trip out for the Standard, that convinced dad he needed a new car,” says Dave. “I just about got us there and back, and he wanted me to have it but I wasn’t having any of that. In hindsight, I should have done.”

As soon as he could legally drive, Dave would take over behind the wheel on those regular family trips to the north west and south east, “on the A1 before most of it was dualled”.

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“Its big journey was to Morecambe, where some friends of my mother had a guest house,” says Dave. “My parents would go up there on their own, with my mum as navigator with the AA members book as the atlas.

“It was generally used for highdays and holidays, and drives out on a Sunday, when he’d just set off and go wherever he wanted.

“He didn’t go into town in it very often because he had the van – ‘we don’t need to get the car out!’.”

The Cresta PB was a major styling departure from its PA predecessor; out went the ‘50s era tailfins, and in came a more streamlined, conservative design taking its cues from the smaller Victor FB.

The 95bhp, 2.6-litre, six cylinder engine was carried over, albeit with a higher compression ratio, while disc brakes came in at the front.

A three-speed column gear change and handbrake tucked down beside the driver allowed for a front bench seat to make the car a six-seater.

When Dave left school, he initially worked with his father in the butcher’s shop, though he soon had other ideas when he passed his driving test.

“I joined the local car club and started road rallying,” he says. “I thought ‘I like this’, and bought a Triumph Vitesse.

“Of course, when you start rallying and you start damaging things, you soon quickly learn how to repair them. I’d also been to night school for car maintenance and motorbike maintenance basics.”

After the Vitesse came a Ford Cortina GT, then a twin cam Ford Escort, as Dave moved into stage rallying and international events, competing between 1970 and 2003, most recently in a Ford Sierra Cosworth.

Dave is pictured here in action in Clipston Forest in the Dukeries Premier Rally, and in an ex-works Escort at Hemswell airfield (copyright Terry Mason).

“When I got the twin cam I quickly learned how to put body shells on – it lasted about a year before we had a big accident in Wales,” he remembers. “I re-shelled it and we went on from there.”


A series of articles on our Cult Classics site.

He went into motor mechanics full time, looking after his father’s vans and, of course, the Cresta, which he would borrow from time to time if his own car was off the road.

“We used to take it out marshalling on night road rally events,” he says, “dad was all right with me taking it out.

“I’ve looked after it all its life really, apart from the first couple of years, so I know exactly what’s been done to it.”

In truth, very little has needed to be done to the car, which has been garaged throughout its life.

The only bodywork repairs have been two new wings and a pair of sills in 1980 (pictured with Arthur and Nelly), followed by a respray in its original blue – though the roof paint remains original.

“The front wings were rotten, and when dad went to Morecambe in it one time, the wing mirrors got ripped clean out because it was so rotten,” he says. “I got the last two wings that Warners had in stock, and the sills were just an MoT thing rather than a restoration.

“I painted the light blue in cellulose and just flatted it, and it’s lasted pretty well – although it does get polished a lot.”

Occasional applications of Waxoyl ever since have kept the rust at bay.

As for the mechanicals, at some point in its earlier life Dave did some light gearbox work, replacing the thrusts in the layshaft.

“Dad used to like leaving it in top gear and just driving it down to nothing, and then pulling away, which it didn’t like,” he smiles. “I put a head gasket on it during Covid because it was not running well. I thought the valves would be worn, but they weren’t – not too badly anyway – but it had blown the gasket because it was old, and that’s it.

“The only other thing I’ve done is replace the original Zenith carb, which featured an old fashioned automatic choke that worked on an exhaust heat thing that pulled the flap open – it never worked properly.

“When the carb died all together, I put a Weber on and it runs nicely now – I should have done it years ago.”

When Arthur died at the age of 97 in 2005, Dave had no intention of selling the car that was steeped in memories, and he still uses the Cresta for classic car shows and drives out on nice days.

“I went to the Great Central Quorn at Leicester with it a couple of years ago,” he says, “about 60 miles there and then back again.

“If I wanted to go anywhere in it and I was desperate for a car I would jump in it and go – it would get you to where you wanted to go. It’s still remarkably good on the road because it goes well.

“It would do 90 on the motorway in its heyday, but  I wouldn’t want to do that in it now.”

According to the HowManyLeft website, the PB is a rare beast indeed, with just four registered for road use in the UK, and another four off the road, including the 3.3-litre example at the Gaydon Motor Museum that Dave visited recently.

There are plenty of other old cars in the workshop and yard at the rear of Dave’s house, including a Mk1 Ford Escort with a Zetec engine that sits in what was the old butcher’s shop.

With his nephew, Robert, who used the Cresta as his wedding car, he still works on customer’s cars, including one or two classics, and the pair are currently restoring a Mk1 Escort van and a Mk2 Cortina.

You can imagine Dave telling his dad that ‘Fords do start’, but he has no complaints that he opted for the Vauxhall.

“Maybe at the time I’d rather he chose the Zephyr, but not now,” he smiles. “Robert and I are both Ford men, and whether he’d want to keep it one day, I don’t know – we haven’t really discussed it.”

So let’s discuss it, as Robert is right here.

“Yes, I’d keep it and look after it, as long as I’ve got somewhere to put it,” he says.

The Cresta looks set to stay in the family for a long time to come.

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