By the mid-‘Fifties these two quasi-British brands were almost meeting in the middle, but you only have to compare the PA Cresta with a Ford Zephyr to see that the target buyers still moved in rather different circles. The Zephyr may not exactly be austere but it looks positvely monastic when compared to the flamboyance of the Cresta. With its two-tone, banoffee pie-like paint scheme, panoramic front and rear screens, tail fins, grinning chrome grille and huge tail lights that look like boiled sweets, the Cresta was not a subtle car. This wasn’t for someone watching the pennies either – it was an expensive car when new, with a price and performance similar to a Rover P4. But while the Rover is restrained and dignified, the Cresta is downright flashy in a rather wonderfully exuberant way.

The interior is just as unsubtle as the exterior, echoing the trends for ‘Populuxe’ interior design and ‘Googie’ architecture that was all the rage over in America at the time. Here we find a full-width bench seat, a huge steering wheel with a chrome boss surmounted by a huge Vauxhall griffon badge and surrounded by a chrome horn ring. The dials are made of concentric rings of chrome and plastic. The one previous owner has made the typically period modification of a bank of extra dials in the centre of the dash – oil pressure, revs and engine vacuum.

‘Fifties Vauxhalls were almost as famous for their propensity to rust as they were for their glitzy styling but this one has clearly been doted on because it has had no metalwork carried out since it was bought new in 1961. The interior is also remarkably clean and tidy for a car of its age.

Despite standing for a couple of weeks, the straight-six engine starts after just a couple of turns. The ‘three on the tree’ gearshift slips into gear easily and, with a very American tendency to nod on its springs as you let in the clutch, the Cresta wafts out onto the main road.

It doesn’t take long to get the measure of the Cresta. It’s American in its manners as it is in its transatlantic looks. This is a car for comfortable, sedate cruising over long distances. Although on paper it is a quick car for its time, it just doesn’t ask to be handled in such a way. It rewards a smooth hand on the big steering wheel and a considered, gentle action on the column shift. The gear ratios are widely spaced, so while the Cresta is initially quite perky as soon as you get into top gear the acceleration drops off remarkably and the yellow bar in the speedo begins crawling round the dial very slowly indeed. The previous owner added an overdrive to the car, which flicks into action almost instantaneously and only adds to the Cresta’s wafting abilities, with that big, smooth six-cylinder engine purring away under the ornate bonnet.

The other non-standard mechanical feature is a brake servo, which means that the Cresta stops with much, much more vigour than it goes. In fact the first couple of applications see it almost stand on its chrome nose, and my nose almost hitting that panoramic windscreen as I slide off the seat. You soon learn to just brush the pedal, or simply rely on engine braking when you see a corner approaching, as maintaining the sort of speeds the Cresta can lope along at on the straights will see it lean over remarkably and emit the unmistakeable sound of overstressed cross-ply tyres.

You quickly adopt the mindset required to drive a big ‘Fifties car – do nothing quickly and anticipate every maneuver in advance, whether it’s shaving off speed to take a corner or making the slow, deliberate movements with the gear shift needed to get a satisfyingly clean change. This is what the Cresta is best at and you can simply enjoy the view of the fantastic Yorkshire scenery sliding past the panoramic windows. It’s a car to savour in detail – and there are a lot of details to savour.

2262cc six-cyl   
POWER: 72bhp         
0-60mph: 16.7 secs             
GEARBOX: 3-spd man + o/d