Friday March 10, 2017
Around 42 years ago, I concluded that the Vauxhall Magnum was the most glamourous car in the world, one so great as to be on a par with The Goodies or Playaway on BBC2. Admittedly, most vehicles were luxurious when compared with our 1964 Renault 8 but I do remember how I associated the Magnum with the people seen in glossy print and TV adverts. Anyone who drove a new Sunglow Yellow Vauxhall clearly belonged in a smooth world of After Eight Mints, stereo music centres and not worrying about the nearside passenger door falling off into the car park of Burridge Post Office.
Vauxhall devised the Magnum as a way of both rehabilitating the reputation of the HC Series Viva, which had already gained a name for unreliability, and bringing a sense of order to an overtly complex range. The original two and four door saloons were introduced in 1970, followed by the Firenza coupes in 1971, with engine choices that varied from 1,256cc to 2.3 litres. All of this made the plot of your average Hitchcock film appear straightforward by comparison and so from September 1973, the upmarket Viva was now known as the Magnum. The new name was also applied to the more expensive versions of the Firenza, apart from the HP ‘Droopsnoot’.
The ‘very individual car’ was more than a rebranding as the transmission was revised, the suspension gained anti-roll bars and attention was paid to improving the engine’s refinement. A matt black grille enhanced the coachwork so that, in my humble view, the HC is one of the best-looking cars of its generation and its body arguably dates better than the ‘Coke Bottle’ looks of the Ford Escort Mk.1. As befitting its status, the Magnum was decorated with all those fittings essential for any Patrick Mower look-alike owner; namely quad headlamps and Ro-Style wheels. The cabin was well-trimmed with pile carpets and nylon cloth seats, which was a great improvement over vinyl upholstery of lesser Vivas. The entry level 1800 may have sported a mere two dials but, to denote a car that ‘put the sparkle of champagne into motoring’, the 2300 boasted ‘seven sports instruments’.
The Magnum did suffer from a few irritations, the pedals were badly placed and the level of standard equipment was cheeseparing, with a fuel cap lock and reversing lamps costing extra - but it was still a very agreeable package. Vauxhall was proud to note that the 2300’s 0-60 figures were better than the BMW 2002 and at £1,450 the four-door version competed against the Austin Allegro 1750 and the Triumph Dolomite. The last-named was more luxurious than the Magnum but its lines that clearly dated back to 1965. Probably the most versatile model was the 2300 estate, which was described by L J K Setright in 1973 as ‘very very impressive’ which was high praise indeed. Meanwhile Car Mechanic found the Magnum’s reclining front seats ‘a real seducer’s delight’; just remember that this was a time when one of the most popular British films was Confessions of a Window Cleaner.
The launch of the Cavalier in November 1975 might have logically seen the demise of the Magnum, but although the stylish but cramped coupe was dropped earlier that year the saloons and estates gained upgraded engines and an enhanced specification. 1976 saw the utterly fabulous but short-lived Sportshatch, which blended the HP’s nose and suspension with the engine and body of the 2300 Estate. The finish was Extra Dark Wine with ‘Red Volcano’ stripes and although Vauxhall made only 195 Sporthatches they were instrumental in maintaining the Magnum’s profile.
Sales of the Magnum ceased in 1978, just one year before the debut of the first Astra but the two hail from two very different company traditions. The latter exemplified the Opel-influenced Griffin-badged products but the Magnum’s appearance reflected a time when Luton designs were intended to appeal to buyers in Canada, which for many years was a major Vauxhall export territory. And I do miss that generation of deliberately mid-Atlantic looking cars that were aimed at ‘a discriminating band of enthusiasts’ and once seemed as a exotic as a bottle of Hai Karate aftershave.