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Vauxhall Firenza HP

Published: 27th Apr 2011 - 2 Comments

Despite wind-cheating shape car always noisy at speed. Rare Avon safety rims may well have been ditched. Despite wind-cheating shape car always noisy at speed. Rare Avon safety rims may well have been ditched.
Well equipped dash but electrics can play up, especially headlamps and the fuse box. Well equipped dash but electrics can play up, especially headlamps and the fuse box.
Unique cloth seats virtually extinct. Unique cloth seats virtually extinct.
Engines are robust and bits still available but is a proper HP? It’s hard to check Engines are robust and bits still available but is a proper HP? It’s hard to check
Nosecones still available but few other panels replicated. Search those autojumbles Nosecones still available but few other panels replicated. Search those autojumbles
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What is a Vauxhall HP Firenza?

It’s a mass-market coupé (Firenza) fastback that’s been sexed up with a sharper nose and a hotter engine, as well as various other go faster upgrades, all taken from Vauxhall’s growing success in motorsport. HP stands for High Performance - and with a top speed of a claimed 120mph the ‘Droop Snoot’ (which is how it became known) is one fruity Firenza and a fine find.

History

In the early 1970s Vauxhall was trying to capture a bit of the ‘’yoof’ market - the 25-40 group with a bit of money to blow on a sporty motor. With the likes of the Capri 3000, BMW 2002, Triumph Stag, Alfa GTV and Datsun 240Z available, the lads at Luton had to come up with something a bit special to make an impact. The result was a Firenza coupé with a heavily tweaked Magnum 2.3-litre engine, beefed up transmission and a wind cheating glassfibre nosecone. The plan was to produce at least 1000 cars each year, with the potential for up to 50,000 to be made in total. But the introduction of a three-day working week due to the Gulf War and quality problems with those windcheating nosecones meant each car had to be finished by hand. So two years after its introduction the Firenza Droopsnoot bit the dust, after just 204 had been produced - all painted metallic Starfire silver with matt black window surrounds. But Vauxhall still had a pile of nosecones sitting in a corner of the factory, which needed to be used up. The answer was to produce the Sportshatch - more or less an estate version of the Droop Snoot. Unfortunately it didn’t get the souped up 2279cc slant-four that the Droop Snoot enjoyed; instead the stock 110bhp motor normally found under the Magnum’s bonnet was utilised, albeit with a few minor head and carburation tweaks to give it a bit more zip. And while the Sportshatch was never officially listed as a production model, no less than 197 rolled off the line - just seven fewer than the officially listed Droop Snoot. Thanks to the new nose cutting drag by 30 per cent, top speed of the Firenza increased to around 120mph, claimed Vauxhall although no road test matched the boast.

In any condition these cars are sought after, but most desirable of all the HP Firenzas are the 20 pre-production prototypes that were modified by the factory then raced at Thruxton in 1974. Most of the remaining HP Firenzas and Sportshatches are owned by members of the Droop Snoot Group (DSG). It’s estimated that about half the HP Firenzas produced have survived with 50 or so Sportshatches having escaped the crusher. For Vauxhall the Droopsnoot was the right idea at the wrong time. The press loved the car; it starred on the front cover of Motor’s 1973 Motor Show issue no less and the magazine heaped praises on the Firenza, saying that Luton had done much more than an enthusiast would dare hope - and it was hard to believe that Vauxhall was going to actually produce it. Alas circumstances meant that it was dead before it left the showroom and the original sales figures were pie in the sky. Indeed Vauxhall had so many Firenza bodies left over that it made an economy special called the Viva E, which at £1399 was almost half the Droopsnoot’s price!

Driving

For a Vauxhall at that time the Droopsnoot was a revelation to drive. Performance was considered strong, although road tests couldn’t get anywhere near the 0- 60mph time of 7.5 seconds claimed by Vauxhall; Autocar was almost two seconds shy of this but midrange pull (always a big-engined Vauxhall forte) still remains pretty impressive to this day. Handling is equally very modern in feel (another Vauxhall trait), but the ride is naturally firm. Despite the fitting of a fivespeed gearbox (big news for 1973), the car can’t be called refined at speed. The ratios of this competition bred ZF ‘unit are well-spaced although the change is notchy with first at a dog-leg. Front seat space is generous but those in the back don’t have it quite so cushy. The boot is enormous however. Autocar summed the car up saying that it was a good effort by Vauxhall although for the price was too rough around the edges… however we at Classic Cars For Sale reckon that compared to an Escort RS2000 the Firenza is equally as good!

Prices

The most a really nice example should set you back is £3500 – and that represents a heck of a lot of individual classic car for the money. One needing a lot of time and effort is closer to £1000, although are becoming very hard to actually find. Something in the middle - a good usable example – is worth somewhere in the region of £2000, but again prices are rising due to the car’s rarity.

What To Look For

  • Vauxhalls used to be real rot boxes but to be fair by the 1970s they were better protected than most rivals. But on anything less than an excellent example expect to find some tin worm.
  • There’s a flimsy splash guard under thetrailing edge of the front wheelarches, and it’s here that rust is most likely to be lurking. It’ll then spread to the front edge of the sill as well as the edge of the bulkhead, floorpan and outer wing. Check the sills for rot - if the outer ones have started to go then there’s a good chance the inner ones will be at least as rusty.
  • Inspect the rain channels that run along the length of the roof; these rust through as do the rear wings at their trailing edge – where the light bracket is secured on the inside there’s a sealing pad that absorbs moisture then dissolves the bodywork around it!
  • Floorpans are likely to need some TLC and take a look at the suspension mountings. At the front, check the subframe mounting points. These are water traps and rot can get a hold very quickly, causing the subframe to separate from the floorpan. If the car is particularly far gone the chassis rails will be rotten, especially where they meet the front subframe.
  • Other areas that dissolve all too readily are the rear wheelarches, the rearmost corners of the boot floor, the inner and outer valances and the rear shock absorber turrets. But that’s not all - make sure you inspect the bottoms of the windscreen pillars, the battery tray, the top edges of the inner wings and the bonnet hinge area. Replacement panels aren’t available apart from outer sills and rear wheelarch repair sections; these are available only through the DSG.
  • Because the nosecone is glassfibre it’s easy to overlook what’s happening behind it. Once water gets into the area around the headlamps it will quickly dissolve without it being apparent - until too late. Mounting points can rot through leaving the cone poorly secured as well. To check, remove the front wheel - the mounting point will be evident on the lower inner wing. Nosecones aren’t hardy but replacements are actually readily obtainable from the DSG.
  • Mechanically the car is much more robust although due to the high positioning of the oil pump the engine can sound mighty clattery after a cold start. If the current owner has had the car a while ask if the (becoming rare) cambelt has been changed within the last 30,000 miles although it’s a no contact engine, thankfully).
  • Even when new the gearboxes used to rattle thanks to a mismatched clutch. The synchro cones also rattle a lot, so although the noise shouldn’t be deafening don’t expect a silent transmission. A vibration from the driveline belies a rubber centre bearing that’s perished on the propshaft. DSG uses Luton-based Reco-Prop to supply rebuilt units at around £100 or so, but if you have the work done yourself just ask for a Morris Marina coupling to be used!
  • The clutch release arm weakens after a while and breaks, taking the cable with it. The Salisbury rear axle is very durable, and once it starts whining it’ll soldier on for thousands of miles. However…
  • The axle was designated ‘052’ and the chances of finding a replacement are pretty much nil now. If the axle has already been rebuilt but makes a grinding noise the chances are it’s been set up incorrectly. If it needs major work it could be tricky tracking down some of the parts. So has a standard Magnum one been installed?
  • Knocking noises or a vibration emanating from the suspension are almost certainly because at least one of the bushes has seen better days. If the castor control arm bushes have perished the resulting movement will probably have elongated the mounting holes in the cross member. Patching up these is a skilled job.
  • Bottom ball joints are also a likely cause of knocking or vibration - they cost £17.50 apiece to replace. Along with the hubs and stub axles these were taken from the FD Ventora, as was much of the front suspension and brakes, although the front anti roll bar is thinner than normal Magnums and there shouldn’t be a rear one fitted either.
  • Check the condition of the front shock absorbers, and while you’re at it have a look at the bolts, which retain them at the top. These tend to seize, and thanks to poor accessibility it can take a whole day just to remove them with a hacksaw. The lower rear suspension arms are a poor design as they tend to rot then break. The DSG has managed to source a few, but there aren’t many left.

Verdict

Whether you’re buying or running a Droop Snoot you’ll need to join the Droop Snoot Group, as in many cases it offers the only cars and parts available anywhere. Dare to be different; the Fireza is a fine car all told and so rare, but make sure any buy is a genuine Droop Snoot. Clones are easy to replicate. What will be much harder to do is to fit the correct seven-dial dash and source a ZF ’box and flywheel along with that Salisbury 052 axle and the HP exhaust manifold.



User Comments

This review has 2 comments

  • When these cars do come up for sale, i have never seen areally nice example sell for 3500 more like 4500hundred and that needing body work and agood paint job,and even some of those cars don,t seem to be in the original silver starfire to start with. 1000pounds for one needing time and money if only,i,ve seen 1500+ for ZF gearbox and then theres the 052 back axle.

    Comment by: droopsnootgroupy     Posted on: 24 Aug 2011 at 08:13 PM


  • The feature was written some years ago and prices have soared - one recently went for almost £9000 at auction

    Comment by: editor     Posted on: 25 Aug 2011 at 12:20 PM

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