Concepts and prototypes : Vauxhall Scamp

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

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 Oil 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. But 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

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

28 Comments

  1. Note how the door goes up into the roofline and over the A pillar – not sure how that would work. Sliding windows sounds like early Mini but going to windups would have meant a major styling change. Using the old 1256cc engine sounds a bit like the way that the A series possibly hindered the Metro.

  2. I’ve never heard of this before, it sounds very interesting.

    Was any thought given for using the smaller Opel Kadett engines, which were used in the Astra & Nova in FWD?

  3. Makes me think how far behind GM Europe were at this point in time,it’d be another half decade before the FWD Astra/Kadett came out and the Cavalier Mk2/Ascona didn’t emerge until the 1980’s. Ford were a little quicker bringing out the Fiesta & Escort Mk3 but it goes to show that both Ford & GM concentrated more on styling over engineering as did their US based owners,while the vehicles may have looked right,in mechanical terms they were well behind the best that Europe had to offer

  4. So the Scamp was longer than the Nova by almost 5 inches, wonder if bigger engines were considered such as the 1.6 CiH or 1.6 Family I/II, unless the 1.3 OHV engine was somehow capable of being turbocharged like the 1.3 A-Series in the MG Metro Turbo (though without the limitation of the latter’s in-sump gearbox layout restricting higher power outputs).

    Guess a 5-door version would have likely placed the Scamp nearer to mk1/2 Vauxhall Astra territory, perhaps the styling of the Scamp could have at least been carried over for a Nova-based Vauxhall city car below the Nova along the lines of the 1983 Opel Junior concept had the latter reached production.

    Would have been interesting seeing Vauxhall and Opel producing different models and even engines a bit longer instead of the latter eventually dominating and swallowing up the former.

  5. The Vauxhall Scamp resembles the first model sold as the Renault Twingo, not produced in RHD therefore not sold in Britain.

  6. See signs of Twingo, Harris Mann’s super mini proposals and Fiat Uno in it’s design. Show’s you how advanced Wayne Cherry was in his designs and had Vauxhall been in a better position what could have emerged.

  7. My first thought on seeing that was Lancia Y10. There’s a lot of Breadvan Polo in there too and it looks very much a 1980s design so it was way ahead of its time for the early 70s.

  8. An interesting & decent looking little car. As mentioned here, its style of body integral bumpers was a pointer to the future. A sub one litre motor producing 45 bhp was about on a par with others at the time, (my Datsun Cherry also put out 45hp in 1979).

    Personally I prefer the Vauxhall’s look to the ADO74. I guess the NOVA was the eventual car designed for the market sector.

  9. A neat little design. Given front-wheel drive was investigated for the original HA Viva I suppose they already had some previous design experience to draw on, even if it hadn’t been used in a production vehicle.

  10. Opel also had played with superminis like the Scamp starting in 1969.This used the engine and transmission from a Mini for the first prototype. But the idea was dropped because they didn’t think they make money on it. So they made the Astra/Kadett instead. This to me sounds like the bighand of Detroit saying no.

      • Nate, I have only seen one picture of the original car which was a wire framed model surrounding the mechanicals and seats. I cannot remember if it was driveable. There was another photo which showed a car, or model, with a detachable engine bay for easier servicing . But I think this was for another project. Not sure if I have the pictures.

  11. Interesting and it showed Vauxhall was becoming more confident in the mid seventies. Sadly Vauxhall had to wait eight years to introduce its first real supermini, but the Scamp had many features that were introduced into the Nova, fwd, a 1 litre economy model, a three door hatchback and eventually, a diesel option.

  12. A really interesting design. It reminds me slightly of the Skoda Roomster in that the front and back halves don’t seem to quite match up!

    It’s a shame this or something similar wasn’t taken forward, though working closely with Opel to harmonise technology, as GM’s conversion to FWD was a bit back to front as the smallest car, the one which would benefit most, was the last one to be launched!

  13. When comparing the Vauxhall Scamp with the Harry Webster led ADO74 project, it makes me think the latter would have made a fairly decent Triumph supermini especially if it featured a more droopsnoot inspired front-end similar to the Triumph SD2.

  14. Interesting, but a misuse of language in the introduction, to say that Luton’s boys had ‘designed’ this car, when all they had done was build a non-functioning styling mockup.

  15. If I’m not mistaken, the front and rear bumpers are the same. Also, the door design is like the “autoclave” doors Ford used on the first generation Taurus that wrapped into the roof and over the pillars. They were said to be easier to mount, were stronger than those with separately formed C-section window surrounds, and hid any misalignment. Entry into the rear seats might have been hampered by the lower rear door cut, but the overall look is amazingly fresh and forward looking. And there is more than a little of the third generation (1983-1987) Honda Civic in the design. Well done Mr. Cherry!

    • Just in case there are any automotive designers or body engineers reading this….wrapover doors are a complete disaster. You will notice that manufacturers will do it. Then never do it again! Door fit becomes 3D, so your door gaps are a function of X y and z. So you get wind noise, waterleaks, and fit and finish issues throughout production.

  16. Wayne Cherry certainly had a clear vision of the future with this design back in 1974. There are even styling cues evident on cars currently in production today – I see echoes of VW Up! in the black rear end treatment. The other comments here draw comparisons with recent designs too. Remarkable. You could almost trace the side profile to come up with the AD074 proposal though to my eyes the Vauxhall effort is much more successful.

  17. Vauxhall probably didn’t need the Scamp as the Chevette, which initially was a smallish three door hatchback, came on the market in 1975 and stole a march on Ford, Chrysler and British Leyland by being the first British small hatchback. Also using a Viva engine and transmission saved a lot of money, and the design was mostly based on the Opel Kadett.
    By the late seventies, though, the Mini had become old hat and this was when the Scamp could have been launched as a modern competitor to the Mini and using 1 and 1.2 litre Opel engines. If the Scamp was assembled in Britain and priced at a similar level to the Mini, then it could have made serious inroads into Mini sales. I’d think the Scamp, with its smooth Opel engines, better crash protection, better space for passengers and luggage and better reliability could have done very well.

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