Tuesday September 4, 2018
1978 was a watershed year for Vauxhall. It was the year when FE 1800/2300, the last of their large mid-Atlantic style large saloons, was replaced by the Euro-Executive style Carlton, the year that the Royale outshone even a Toyota Crown regarding sheer luxury and chintz-appeal – and the year of the Cavalier Centaur.
If the Cavalier Coupe was already a strong rival to the Ford Capri, then a surely a drophead version would make its owner feel as sophisticated as Simon Templar, or William Andrew Phillip Bodie at the very least.
The Centaur was devised by Crayford Engineering who, since 1963, had turned the Mini, the Wolseley Hornet, the Morris 1300, the Capri, the Corsair and four generations of Cortina into convertibles. In the minds of the public, the Kent-based firm was primarily associated with BMC/BL and Ford, but they had also created a quite stunning open-air version of the Viva HB.
Crayford based the Centaur on the 1900GLS Coupe and fitted a T-Bar and a mohair hood ‘for that quality appearance’; they also strengthened the floorpan. The Cavalier drophead was to be a star of the London Motorfair, but it was certainly not a cheap prospect.
The elaborate coachbuilding process added £2,808 to the price of the standard model, raising the cost to £7,103, which could have also bought you a Ford Granada Ghia or a Rover 3500 SD1.
However, 40 years ago there was very few British-built four or five-seater convertibles in the sub- Rolls-Royce Corniche class. The Triumph Stag had ceased production in the previous year while the Herald and the Morris Minor already seemed to belong to a distant past of drainpipe trousers and John Leyton records.
From France, there was, of course, the Citroën 2CV and Dyane 6, but these two brilliant vehicles appealed to a different sector of the market. For the motorist who needed accommodation for the family without sacrificing performance (and, let us be quite honest, posing appeal) the Centaur was a very appealing prospect.
That fact that Crayford’s very accomplished work actually enhanced the lines of what was an already good-looking car did not exactly harm Cavalier Convertible’s sales prospects either. The Centaur was made for Crayford by Magraw Engineering - they also constructed a very small number of Opel Manta Convertibles – and Vauxhall’s warranty covered it.
The production run of the Centaur amounted to 118 models, and its demise was not due to commercial failure but for the simple fact that Vauxhall stopped offering the Coupe in 1979. The debut of the Sportshatch in the previous year marked the future for the high-performance version of the Cavalier, but the Centaur was far from an insignificant part of its history.
The Crayford drophead not only enhanced the profile of one of the most important cars ever to bear the Griffin badge, it was also a car with a genuine sense of glamour. And I can think of few better ways to travel through Sandbanks on a summer evening, the hood lowered and Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't') playing on the push-button Phillips radio…