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Vauxhall Firenza HP

Published: 10th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Famous Old Nail Firenza which dominated club racing Famous Old Nail Firenza which dominated club racing
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Fancy owning a motorsport legend? Paul Davies looks at true classics that made their names on rally stages and race tracks, and still provide fine drives today

It’s 1974 and Vauxhall’s Firenza HP is launched with a one-make publicity race at Thruxton race circuit. Almost anyone who’s anyone big in touring cars is on the grid, but the winner is Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams. “Gerry (Marshall) tried to take me out at the chicane but I won it on the last lap. It was a Vauxhall day, and he was the Vauxhall driver, and I won the race, and my right leg was in plaster after an accident at Snetterton. That really pissed him off - he said he ran out of petrol,” said Whizzo recently. The Firenza HP (for High Performance) was Luton’s answer to the Escort RS2000 and an effort by the guys at the Griffin to breathe life into sales. With aerodynamics by styling guru Wayne Cherry, a version of the company’s single overhead cam, slant four, engine tweaked to 131bhp, plus a bullet-proof five-speed ZF gearbox, the droop snoot - as it became known - was a motorsport homologation special. The plan was to build them big numbers, but in the end a paltry 204 were produced. The Firenza started life as the coupe HC Viva but, with engines starting at 1159cc, lacked lustre until the big-power 2.3-litre came along. By then the model line had morphed into the classier Magnum, and with the right bits it kick-started Vauxhall’s motorsport renaissance. Whizzo was the first rally star, and top spots in the British saloon car championship went to Gerry Marshall (3rd, 1976) and Jeff Allam (4th, 1977), Will Sparrow took Group 1 (production) honours on the 1974 RAC Rally, and Pentti Airikkala was a class winner on Finland’s 1000 Lakes. In club rallying, George Hill was the man to beat. Dealer Team Vauxhall - first with Coburn Improvements managing the rallying and Blydenstein the racing, then just Blydenstein - was the mover behind the effort. Initially, racing was the target. After success racing production based cars, DTV turned its attention to the free-for-all category of special saloons. With 2.5-litre, 248bhp, twin-cam power (care of Lotus heads - Lotus used the basic lump to design its 907 motor), Gerry Marshall notched up no less than 62 outright wins with the Firenza-based ‘Old Nail’ coupe between ‘71 and ’75. The Repco V8-powered ‘Baby Bertha’ successor – only the centre section and the droop snoot had any resemblance to a Firenza - a further 30 races and two championships in Marshall’s hands. But the Magnum was big and heavy, and even the wizardry of Bill Blydenstein could not make it an outright rally winner against the allconquering Escort. It needed a twin camshaft engine in a smaller, lighter, bodyshell to do that: enter the Chevette HS (a car we’ve covered-ed). Nowadays it’s not ultra-competitive, but a few loyal drivers keep the Firenza flag flying. Tony Davies campaigns the same Transpeed car he raced 30 years ago in Classic Modified Saloons, and Marshall’s son Gregor is following in his great dad’s tracks. Through the efforts of the Droop Snoot Group, the marque is alive and well, and it’s a lot less common than a Ford Escort!

Vauxhall Firenza HP Summary

Production

Firenza HP: 204; Magnum (all models): 20,200

Technical

Engine: front mounted, in-line, four-cylinder, angled in engine bay. Single, belt driven, overhead camshaft. 2279cc.
Power: Firenza HP with 2 x 1.75CD carburettors, modified exhaust manifold and camshaft - 131bhp; Standard Magnum 2300 - 111bhp.
Gearbox: five-speed ZF (Firenza HP); four-speed Vauxhall (Magnum).
Drive: rear wheels on all.
Suspension: Independent front with wishbones and coil springs; rigid rear axle with coil springs and trailing arms.
Brakes: disc front, drum rear with servo.

Claim to fame

Put modern Vauxhall motorsport on the map. Dramatic styling of the droop snoot HP, and that Thruxton race. Afterwards DTV’s mainstay until the advent of the more agile Chevette. Highly successful production category racing car, and the Old Nail and Baby Bertha special saloons.

Famous names

Will Sparrow, Gerry Marshall, Jim McRae, Jeff Allam, Bill Dryden, Jim Thompson, Pentti Airikkala, George Hill, Barrie Williams, Tony Davies, David Hall, Gregor Marshall the late James Hunt.

Where to buy

Genuine Firenza HP and Magnum 2300 hard to find - start with the Droop Snoot Owners Club. Base models (1159-1975cc) best seen in your local newspaper or Classic Cars for Sale ads. Try E-bay for a lucky punt?

What to look for

Rust everywhere (especially inner wings), valvegear problems caused by cam belt failure (when was it last changed?). If it says it’s an HP is it for real as many were cloned although hard to do properly?

What to pay

Project 2300cc cars from £400. Firenza HP recently advertised in Droop Snoot Noos at £2900.

Clubs

Droop Snoot Group - http://www.droopsnoot.co.uk

Classic sport

Eligible for the Classic Modified Saloons racing class. Not a competitive classic category historic rally car these days, but would have presence on the stages! Most parts generally available second-hand through Owners Group. With ready supply of 2.3-litre engines (also used in Bedford van) why not make yourself a Firenza HP? It can be done!

Competitive Rating: 5



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