Vauxhall’s first front-wheel-drive supermini was the 1983 Nova. It could have hit the market with something a whole lot earlier, had this exciting 1974 prototype been given the go ahead by management.
David Booker, creator of Vauxpedia.net, unearthed these exciting images. They clearly show that, in the mid-1970s, Vauxhall was on something of a roll when it came to design under the direction of Wayne Cherry.
The wedge-shaped Supermini
The supermini class was growing fast in 1974. Fuelled by the First Energy Crisis, and the resultant trend for buyers to downsize, these cars were hot property. It was common knowledge that Ford was advanced in its plans to join the party with Project Bobcat (which became the Fiesta). Unsurprisingly, Vauxhall’s Design Office in Luton was keen to come up with an appealing riposte.
GM in Europe would end up working on its own front-wheel-drive challenger (which matured into the 1979 Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra). But it was in Luton where this project originally started, in the form of the stylish, Wayne Cherry-styled Vauxhall Scamp project.
The car was designed in March 1974 by the Vauxhall Design Team at Luton, which was headed by Ed Taylor (who also worked on the Vauxhall Chevette and Opel Kadett City). It was codenamed XP-903, and took the classic supermini template and ran with it.
Vauxhall’s forward thinking
Scamp was a three-door hatchback, which was about 7.0 inches shorter and 2.0 inches narrower than the Chevette. It was designed from the outset to use a transverse engine and front-wheel drive, and was envisaged to cost some 15 per cent less than the Chevette to build.
The car pictured on this page was the one full-scale glassfibre styling mock-up of what Vauxhall called its S Car, and is shown in the records from May 1974. The design was very avant garde for its time, with neatly integrated bumpers and a near-vertical hatchback, years before the Austin Metro arrived on the scene.
Of course, it’s interesting to see that Longbridge was thinking along the same lines with its ADO74 supermini project (above) at pretty much the same time.
Under the skin: close but no cigar
The Scamp was small. However, inside, thanks to its proposed front-wheel drive layout and long wheelbase, it would have had more rear legroom than the Chevette and Vauxhall Viva. According to Vauxpedia, ‘although roomy for its size, the proposed trimmings were minimalist with sliding door windows and basic instruments. These included a speedometer incorporating a fuel gauge and temperature warning light all mounted on top of the steering column.’
The droopsnoot front-end styling would end up being adopted by all UK-fettled Vauxhalls, from the Chevette to the Carlton, but it was an innovative look for such a small car in 1974.
In terms of engineering, very little physical work was carried out although the Drawing Office had designed an adapted coil rear suspension from the Chevette, but using a beam axle. Engine wise, the plan was to adopt a 989cc version of Vauxhall’s 1256cc engine, with a power output of around 45bhp. This would have been bang on the pace set by the Fiat 127 and Renault 5.
According to the plans, the gearbox was to be mounted on the left-hand side of the car in line with the engine canted back towards the bulkhead. And as well as this 1.0-litre petrol version, it also proposed a 1.3-litre diesel version – again based on the overhead-valve Viva engine.
Would it have worked?
Given the speed of development of cars at the time, the Vauxhall Scamp would probably have hit the market in about 1978, which would have been later than the Ford Fiesta. With this interesting styling – or, at least, a development of it – it might have taken a bit of getting used to. But no doubt, it would have picked up a useful following in the years before the Metro arrived.
Of course, it was a pipedream. Developing a new front-wheel drivetrain around an existing engine would still have been a laborious and time-consuming project. And with what was coming from Opel, it was clear that General Motors probably made the right decision calling time on this car.
That conclusion is reinforced when one considers that the larger and less space-efficient Chevette was a consistent Top 10 seller in the UK, and was profitable venture for its maker, too. Despite being designed to be cheaper to build, it’s unlikely that this car would have made sense financially for Vauxhall, given the development costs it would have consumed on its way to market.
In summary, a nice idea, and a great-looking project, but not one that would have worked, given how well the Chevette worked out for Vauxhall.
All images Copyright GM Archive courtesy of vauxpedia.net.