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1. BACKGROUND:

By the middle of 1973 Vauxhall was a company in crisis, this had come about for many reasons: The Canadian Firenza debacle had resulted in the total loss of Vauxhalls largest single export market – Canada – at the end of the 1972 model year and also the huge amount of development money spent on the FE model and the larger 2.3litre engine to comply with Canadian regulations had to be written off. The fuel crisis was pushing sales down in the UK and in Europe and was made worse because Vauxhall had now true small car to offer, the Chevette was still a way off launch which left the 1256cc Viva as the only “economy” model in a very restrictive range that was based around two basic platforms covering less than 50% of the market, the HC & FE, now that the PC models had been dropped. To make matters worse labour relations, always a Vauxhall strong point, had deteriorated and culminated in a long and damaging strike in the second half of 1973. The unions were convinced General Motors were going to pull out of the UK completely. So on the face of it the outlook was pretty bleak, in fact 1972 to 1973 were probably the darkest days in Vauxhalls history.

2. DESIGN & ENGINEERING:

As a result of the Canadian farce and also the escalating warranty rectification costs General Motors sent a high level task force from the US to tackle the production quality issues. In addition, Managing Director Alex Rhea was put on notice that he would be replaced early in 1974, the small profit Vauxhall made in the first six months of 1973 and been turned in to a huge loss by the end of the year. Even before all this had started there had been some fundamental changes in the Design Department; following a near fatal car accident in 1967 David Jones’ health had steadily deteriorated and he reluctantly took early retirement in early 1970, his position was temporarily covered by Ron Hill from Chevrolet in the US until the arrival of Ed Taylor, who was also an American by birth, from Opel in June 1970.

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Ed Taylor had worked on the Ascona and Manta A whilst at Opel and so came with a proven track record for his position as head of Design at Vauxhall. At the time of his appointment the HC Viva was about to be launched with the Firenza shortly after and the FE range design was already locked in and undergoing pre-production testing so there was little chance of any changes he could do immediately – other than appoint Wayne Cherry as Assistant Head of Design.

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The first real fruits of Taylor’s influence were announced for the London Motor Show in October 1973, every model received attention but in particular it saw a complete revamp of the whole HC range – as Vauxhalls biggest seller at the time it was seen as vital to improve the models competitiveness. The Viva range was reduced to a 1256cc 2 door Saloon in Standard, Deluxe or SL trim, 1256cc 4 door Saloon & 3 door Estate in Deluxe & SL. Automatic transmission was now only available as an option on the SL combined with the 1759cc OHC engine. 

What had previously been the 1800 & 2300 OHC Viva & Firenza models were now grouped into a new model range – the Vauxhall Magnum. The visual exterior & interior changes for these new models were actually ready in 1972 it was the engineering changes which took longer to get right. Externally all models came with sports wheels, the publicity cars used an eight hole design which was never sold, they were substituted by the then fashionable Rostyle wheels with chrome trim rings, rubber inserts in the bumpers and body side mouldings, the 4 headlamp black grille from the previous Firenza Sport SL and a matt black rear panel between the rear lights with a red griffin badge replacing VAUXHALL in letters. Inside, Taylor’s team created a much plusher look with fully reclining, deep nylon cloth upholstered, front seats and individualised rears complemented by soft touch fully trimmed doors and side panels with continental style armrest door pulls in the front, thick pile carpet and a new style thick grip 2 spoke steering wheel. Inertia front seat belts were also standard fitment. The only visual difference inside between the models was the dashboard. Instrumentation for the 2300 was the 7 dial instruments first seen on the Viva 2300 and Firenza Sport SL in 1972, the only change was the ammeter was replaced by a voltmeter. The 1800 used a 2 dial dash first seen on the 1973 model year Firenza 1800 SL and incorporated a speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges. On the right side of the 2 dials were the lighting switches and on the left a bank of warning lights. Both models used twin steering column stalks for indicators and the other for the 2 speed wipers with pulse wipe feature and electric screen wash.

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The aim was to move the models upmarket and so refinement was a high priority, it was also identified one of the previous models weaknesses, so the Magnum was fitted with new engine and crossmember mounts, a stiffened cylinder block, revised gearbox, double skinned exhaust silencers and a 2 piece propshaft with constant velocity joint in the centre. This was in addition to improved sound deadening materials used on the floorpan inside the vehicle.

Engine wise to help atomisation of fuel particularly during warm up both engines were fitted with a revised thermostatic air intake, cold air was mixed with air heated by a pipe from the exhaust manifold and the mixture was controlled by a valve sensitive to both temperature and engine vacuum. The 1800 used a Zenith single downdraft 36IVE, replacing the previous 36NE, and was fitted with a revised inlet manifold to improve fuel distribution when cold, while the 2300 had twin Stromberg CD175 carburettors. Both engines featured an improved combustion chamber shape with revised ignition and carburettor settings. Although none of these changes increased the power output of either engine it did improve emissions and driveability along with better fuel economy. Viscous drive cooling fans were also standard fitment. The suspension was a development of the Firenza Sport SL using revised bushings and, with the exception of the Estate, used anti roll bars front and rear.

The Vauxhall Magnum was officially announced on 29 September 1973. This was a problem, it was only days after the strike had been called off and so the only cars available for press evaluation were either pre-production vehicles or 5 or 6 that had been cobbled together in a hurry by the Engineering Department. Although launched as a new model range for a short time in the brochures it was referred to as the “Viva Magnum”. It was available as a 2 or 4 door Saloon, 2 door Coupe and 3 door Estate with either 1800 or 2300 engines and with 4 speed manual or optional GM 3 Speed Automatic gearboxes. There were no variations of trim level, the only visible difference was the 1800 came with 2 dial instruments whereas the 2300 used the excellent 7 dial dashboard, and the 2300 came with 175/70HR tyres compared to the 155/SR on the 1800.

The Magnum range remained virtually unchanged for the 1975 model year but with the upcoming launch of the Cavalier Coupe in October 1975 the Magnum Coupe, which had never been a big seller, ceased production in July 1975. Only 1,692 Magnum Coupe models were built and of these only 525 were the 2300. For 1976 although the Magnum range was reduced, with Coupe being dropped, there were significant changes to the remaining models. The 7 dial instruments became standard on the 1800 and reversing lights became a standard fitment. With the advent of the VX Series upgrades were made to the slant four engines and these changes were incorporated into the Magnum range. The 1800 the downdraft Zenith 36IVE carburettor was replaced by a single Stromberg CD 175 SET and a revised cylinder head which raised power output to a healthy 88bhp, the 2300 reverted to a single Stromberg CD175 carburettor which reduced power from 110bhp to 108bhp but with the revised head driveability, economy and performance were actually improved. This specification remained unchanged until production ceased in July 1977 although the model continued to be listed until the end of December.

The Magnum name was adopted for the Vauxhall Viva HC in New Zealand from 1975, where it had the four headlight frontal treatment of the British Magnum, but standard Viva interior trim. It was available with the 1256cc OHV and 1759cc OHC engines.

The Magnum was relatively successful for Dealer Team Vauxhall in saloon car racing and in Group 1 rallying but real success was not achieved until the Chevette 2300HS hit the rally scene.

3. MODEL IDENTIFICATION & SPECIFICATIONS:

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4. PRESS RELEASES & PICTURES:

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5. LAUNCH ARTICLES:

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