Keith Adams tells the story of the promising Vauxhall Equus – a sports car from Luton which could have shown the Triumph TR7 the way home, had it made it off the ground.
Panther Westwinds would have built this Magnum-based ragtop, but would it have sold in the post-hot hatch world of the 1980s?
Luton reinvents the sports car
In 1977, Vauxhall-Bedford’s hugely talented Design Director, Wayne Cherry, penned his idea of how a new generation sports car for the masses should look. The car incorporated a considerable amount of his then-current thinking – so it received the famous Vauxhall droop-snoot, a long, low bonnet and stubby high tail.
It was seemingly fashioned using nothing but straight edges – and, on paper, it looked fantastic. At the time, Vauxhall’s Styling Studio in Luton was a busy place to be – it had already produced the Cavalier and Chevette (the UK’s take on the Opel Ascona and Kadett), and was already fashioning some interesting proposals for the Astra (which, sadly, didn’t see the light of day).
The job of building the prototype Equus was therefore entrusted to Robert Jankel’s Panther operation, based in Surrey. There were loose ties between the two companies already – the Panther 6 had oodles of Vauxhall DNA in it and, more tangibly, the popular Lima retro-sports car was based on a Magnum floorpan and powered by that car’s sweet 2.3-litre slant-four engine.
Vague production plans
So, when it came to fashioning the Equus for Vauxhall, Jankel based this concept on his Lima – with the full expectation that, should Vauxhall want to put it into production, it would be a feasible option.
As it transpired, the Equus wasn’t seriously considered for production – the Second Oil Crisis kicked in just after the car’s unveiling, followed closely after by the announcement from BL that MG sports car production at Abingdon would be coming to an end – and, in that cold, bleak climate, a car like the Equus would simply not be allowed to survive.
Vauxhall’s Design Department was soon scaled back after this – and, by 1983, all GM Europe design had been moved to Opel’s base in Russelsheim.