It wasn't because I'd achieved a university degree or anything quite so exciting. Nope, it was because I attended my first ever proper business meeting. Consumed with pride, I must have looked insufferably smug. There I was, fresh faced, suited and booted and daubed from top to tail in Brut-33. But the truth is, I only got to attend that meeting because my father (who was a proper businessman) had delegated the job. He'd packed me off so he didn't have to attend such a bore-fest. I never really learned much at any of those meetings. Frankly, I didn't pay all that much attention. It was all about ego.
What I did learn, however, was about pecking orders and how metal mattered in this strange corporate culture. I learned how volumes were read about each 'delegate' before they'd even set one foot onto the plush carpeted foyers or scoffed a single canapé. That's because all eyes were focused on the car park. It was all about what kind of badge was slapped on the rearmost flanks of your motor.
I imagine that things are very different in today's world? Isn't it now about having the right kind of transport solutions to reflect how eco-consciousness has transformed your business model into some sort of uber 'green,' sustainable thing of environmental beauty? If your boss arrives in a 10-mpg Range Rover or a tarmac shredding Bentley, it won't really fit in with current narratives? The conference 'chief lady' with her bob, high heels, navy blue culottes and identity tag would be most unimpressed by such a display of planet-shrivelling decadence.
A different world
So yes, it's certainly a very different world. The volume car makers have long-since forsaken that once coveted category ‘Executive Saloon’. Those models have vanished, consigned to the annals of history, eaten up by the dreaded tin worm and transformed into sad mounds of rusty bran flakes. These days Ford will just about be able to find you a Mondeo and Vauxhall-Opel can just about find you an Insignia. But neither of these offerings could ever realistically be looked upon as executive saloons? Neither would fit the bill amidst those latter-day aspiring moguls of my youth.
The era of what we would deem ‘Managers Cars’ has clearly long gone. Superb motor cars such as the Ford Granada/Scorpios, the big Rover 800's, Vauxhall-Opel Carltons and the mighty Volvo 760's still evoke memories of some very important looking individuals wafting about. They were the people who ran our local bank branches, fancy solicitors or GP's.
Even Vauxhall-Opel, once renowned for producing bland, clattery, rust prone vehicles were in on the executive car act. They produced the fairly basic-engineered Carltons and Senators. GM simply bolted on a bit of cutting edge technology onto trusty old running gear to make their next generation cars not only bulletproof but also smooth running, luxurious and economical.
The second generation Senator was only available as a four-door saloon. It replaced the old angular Senator in September 1987. It was a blend of tried and tested hardware married to fancy-pants EFi-ABS-ESP stuff which helped provide the necessary 'street cred'. The result was quite amazing. The cars were opulent and brilliant without ever being excessively complicated. The styling was none too shabby either.
Despite impressive capabilities coupled with uncanny levels of comfort and reliability; few thought of the Vauxhall Senator as an executive saloon. This was rather tragic because they really were absolutely superb. These superlatives were not lost on Police forces up and down the UK who loved the Senators' comfortable, mile gobbling attributes as well as their sharp handling characteristics. The excellent handling gave the Senators the agility of much smaller cars coupled with being sublime, rocket propelled motorway cruisers. But on civvy street, Vauxhall simply wasn't cutting it as a maker of high class executive cars. This was despite the Senator being every inch as good as a Jaguar XJ - at a fraction of the cost.
The Senator initially offered two engines which were based on the long serving in-line-six (cam-in-head) units. They came in either 2.5 or 3.0-litre displacements. There was nothing particularly thrilling about the old stock running gear or the generally archaic engineering except for the fact that - it worked. It worked brilliantly in fact. The automatic gearbox and the engine 'communicated' electronically in order to produce near seamless gear changes. It was astonishing. Everything felt good. This was, without doubt, a premium car experience.
The Senators and the Carltons were RWD, as were most of the finest offerings of the day. Jaguar, BMW, big Volvos, Ford and even Rolls-Royce & Bentley were utilising long serving, well proven RWD hardware in their high end vehicles. At the time, it just seemed prudent to modify proven hardware to run alongside modern electronic wizardry. No one wanted to risk forsaking trusted formulas. I fervently believe that cars were much better for it. They seldom went wrong and even if they did, technicians knew where to find the glitches. Unlike nowadays.
Originally, GM intended to produce the new Senator model in fairly modest numbers but the car became very popular amidst retail as well as fleet buyers. Word got around that the Senator was pretty special despite its archaic running gear. Excellent chassis engineering and superior sound deadening achieved impressive results. The cabin of a Vauxhall Senator was a very pleasing place to be. People also liked the second generation Senator's sleek, aerodynamic design. This made the big six cylinder flagship Vauxhall unusually fuel efficient which again bolstered sales.
Sales were also boosted by excellent build quality including beautifully snug fitting panels. Modern flush glazing made for airy interiors and superior all-round visibility. Soft-feel interior materials felt nice to the touch from the cosseting armchair style seating. All this meant that badge prestige no longer mattered and sales consequently took Vauxhall by surprise.
The Senator was a brilliant car that some people overlooked for all the wrong reasons. Vauxhalls had never been renowned for great residual values so used Senators eventually became sought after as cut price luxury barges for those on a budget. Good examples fell into the hands of those who just wanted a cheap daily hack with a few bells & whistles. Later 24-valve engines weren't quite as bulletproof as earlier engines, so when they did eventually go wrong, tight-fisted Wayne and Waynetta just despatched them to the jaws of the crusher. And, that's how come these old Senators are now so exceptionally rare.
The poor old Senator never earned kudos amidst that latter-day gaggle of M&S-suited 'yuppies'. But that will forever be their loss. The Senator was a great car that simply lacked the right pedigree. And that's a real shame. Unadulterated snobbery and blind prejudice meant that many people missed out on an absolute gem.
Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring.