When Mr Robinson asked if I’d had a go in the Vauxhall HP Firenza, I said that I hadn’t and that it was unlikely that I was going to take it for a spin either.
Lined up as part of Newpress’s 40th anniversary celebrations during the thrash around Millbrook that is the annual Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders Test Day, there were plenty of other cars to tempt me. There was a sublime Jaguar XJ12 which had belonged to Betty Battenburg’s mater and had been the first long-wheel base XJ12 (it was built to order). Looking resplendent in the Queen Mother’s claret, this was my first experience of such a machine – although I have plenty of six-cylinder XJ and V12 XJ-S previous.
Meanwhile, lined up alongside the Vauxhall and the Jag, was an irresistible Jensen Interceptor III and a Datsun 240Z. In other words, I had already planned my retro classic hit and wasn’t really bothered with the Droopy-faced Lutonian.
You see, I’ve never really bonded with Vauxhalls – and it’s not just because I fall on the Blue Oval side of motoring’s sectarian divide, it’s because I am a handling whore and as a rule, Vauxhalls are somewhat wanting in this regard. Engines good; chassis like an old shopping trolley on the bottom of a riverbed.
Matt though, insisted. “Go on, it’s great fun” he implored and, as a fellow non-Griffin believer and bang-on assessor of cars, I decided to have a go. The other classics were out, the silver machine was just sat there and it would give me something more useful to do than top up my tan.
The first think which struck me was that there was more room than the last Seventies Vauxhall I’d driven – a Chevette HSR – which meant I could get comfy behind the wheel and not feel like I was pedalling a child’s trike. The long-stroke 2.3 fired up and I was then reminded of the ‘joy’ of a dog-leg ZF gearbox with a throw so long and heavy that it felt like I was tasked with opening the breech of an artillery gun during an historic naval battle.
Eventually my frazzled grey matter came to terms with a gearbox whose motorsportish gears were disorientated, and it was then that the Firenza started to flow. Yes, the steering was weighty when compared with the 2013 EPAS-equipped tin I had been driving – but the feel more than made up for the effort.
Driving over the Alpine Hill Route – a rapid-fire twisty course made famous my many film and TV cameos – I was seriously falling for this old Vauxhall. Okay the 2279cc lump droned along, it didn’t like to rev and the gearbox was equally militant and unco-operative in its approach to decadent slick gearchanges, but that didn’t really matter. As too did the comparative lack of shove from this High Performance Firenza’s 131bhp 2.3-litre four-cylinder.
There was none of that HSR nose-heaviness I can recall and instead, the Firenza HP was a family-sized slab of fun. Of course, this should be sort of expected, given that this place was originally built by Vauxhall in the Sixties for development work.
Flying through bends and esses – accompanied by the sound of moaning tyres – thanks to a responsive, talkative front end, a fluid nicely balanced chassis, and a chucklesome amount of olde worlde bodyroll. Let’s not mention the brakes which were er… Anyway, did I mention how good the steering was…?
At the end of it, this old dog had certainly been taught a new trick – plus I’d given one too, to the hopeless Harold behind me who was trying and failing to keep up with the old skool Vauxhall in a brand-new Pug 208 GTI. Doubtless he cried himself to sleep that night.
Sadly only 204 of these cars were built, but its design legacy was certainly more far-reaching than its production run – inspiring Ford in its design of the MkII Escort RS2000 and its Aussie Falcon XB Arcadipane Design’s Concorde bodykit as featured in Mad Max.
So have I been converted? To the HP Firenza, yes; to Vauxhall, erm… Leave that with me and I’ll get back to you.
Tech Spec Vauxhall HP Firenza
- Body front-engined two-door coupé
- Engine 2279cc 8v SOHC four cylinder petrol, 97.5 x 96.2mm.
- Transmission RWD, dog-leg five-speed manual
- 0-60 mph 9.4 secs
- Top speed 117mph
- Max power 131bhp @ 5500rpm
- Max torque 144lbf.ft @ 3500rpm
- Fuel consumption 22mpg
- CO2 emissions n/a
- Price (new) £2625
The Truth & Nothing But…
Vauxhall HP Firenza
+ It’s a Vauxhall, but not as we know it – exploitable uncomplicated fun
– Engine and gearbox could be better
∴ One of the best Vauxhalls from the Northern Hemisphere