• VAUXHALL EQUUS CONCEPT
Image description

PANTHER LIMA CHASSIS

Much has been written about the Vauxhall Equus concept, especially during 1978 when it was shown publically at the 1978 Birmingham Motor Show, some is speculation, some factual and a lot of absolute rubbish. The initiative for Equus, like many concepts while he was in charge of Vauxhall, came from Bob Price. He had a system of memos that became known as “snowflakes” within Vauxhall, they were ideas and suggestions that were normally meticulously detailed and ranged from – how do we avoid orange peel paint? to - how do we build an XJ6 competitor? Or anything in between. A record would be kept by Price and he would expect an equally detailed reply from whoever he had sent the "snowflake" to. Needless to say many of these “snowflakes”were aimed at

Image description

ONE OF THE MANY PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE VAUXHALL EQUUS FROM NOVEMBER 1978 SHOWING THE FAMILIAR VAUXHALL TRADEMARK DROOP SNOOT FRONT END 

the Design and Engineering Department on ideas to enhance a current model or fill a niche in the Vauxhall line up that could be plugged at an economic cost. One such idea was for a cheap, simple sports car with a modern appeal that was lacking in cars such as the Triumph Spitfire or MG Midget. Work started in October 1977 and within six months Wayne Cherry's design team, headed by lead project designer John Taylor, had completed a full size clay mock up for the car based on the Panther Lima chassis. Why a Panther Lima? For the answer to this we need to go back to 1975; Wayne Cherry had been attracted by the craftsmanship and quality of finish of the cars on display at Bob Jankel's Panther stand at the Motor Show in October 1975. The two men had a lengthy discussion about the possibility of Panther doing some prototype building on behalf of Vauxhall. The first project that Panther undertook was to build two stretched FE VX Series as a concept study for a top of the range car Vauxhall lacked, one to be a fully road going prototype. As we now know the large car Vauxhall wanted ended up being the V Car based Royale and its smaller sibling the Carlton, the Stretched VX did get used as VIP transport between Vauxhall's head office and Luton airport before being sold off in 1979. It was during the VX association that Jankel outlined to Wayne Cherry his plans for the Lima sports car which was originally going to be based on Leyland running gear like the Panther J72 and De Ville.

Image description

EQUUS VIEWED FROM THE REAR WHICH HAS A DISTINCTLY 1975 CADILLAC SEVILLE LOOK ABOUT IT, NOTE THE VIVA HC PETROL CAP

As nobody at Leyland showed the same enthusiasm and interest as Wayne and his colleagues at Luton who were all for anything that would inject some glamour into the Vauxhall brand. Vauxhall had all the hardware that Jankel needed and were only too happy to supply it. So this collaboration was the reason for the Equus to be based on the Lima chassis and the reason why Panther were asked to build it. Back to the Luton Design & Engineering Department: Because a Vauxhall sports car did not figure in GM Europe's forward planning all the work on Equus was done in secret with only a few people within Vauxhall who knew anything about the project. Unconstrained by any Opel interfearence Wayne Cherry and John Taylor went ahead and did what they wanted to see in a small sports car, "we just went ahead and did it" Cherry said, "Boy that's the most uncompromising design I've ever worked on" Cherry further enthused, citing that sports cars had become too compromised and the simple 2 seater concept had been lost. As Cherry further commented on Equus "It's a pure graphic statement. On a car like this the designer has an obligation to try some things he wouldn't normally do on a bread and butter model. The car is defined graphically with edges to give it form and shape. A lot of cars have edges that make them look models from the back of a cereal packet. Others are round and fat. In between these extremes, you can accent the shape with edges so the surfaces are taut and tight not flat and featureless".  

Image description

EQUUS HAD ALMOST PERFECT DETAILING LIKE THE ARMADILLO SIDE LOUVERS, THESE WERE SIMILAR TO ANOTHER CAR CHERRY WORKED ON - THE VAUXHALL XVR OF 1966. NOTE THE NEAT LITTLE "VAUXHALL DESIGN" STICKER AT THE BOTTOM OF THE DOOR

When you look closely at Equus it is the shades and shadows that are defined by simple lines that gives Equus its pleasant form. The body swage so effectively outlines the form by means of highlight and shade that it almost looks as if the silver bodywork has more than one shade of paint, it doesn't. Even simple details like the wheel arches being un-lipped and outlined with rubber strips become part of the overall effect. In order to lower the seats and widen the foot wells on either side of the backbone the Lima chassis was reworked for Equus, the glass-fibre bodywork produced by Panther from the original Vauxhall clay mock-up was quite simple and Bob Jankel was quoted as saying "we could have it in small scale production within nine months". The car used many readily available off the shelf Vauxhall components such as: the CF engine and gearbox, the re-skinned Cavalier Coupe doors, Royale instruments and Cavalier frames.

Image description

MORE EXQUISITE DETAILING AROUND THE DOOR MIRRORS OF EQUUS

The Triplex screen might have been a problem as it was intricately curved with the bonnet line and there was no boot lid, access was through behind the front seats. Wayne Cherry wanted to call the car "The Force" but in the end John Taylor's chosen name Equus was used, Taylor also acted as the main link man between Vauxhall and Panther. The car was ready just 10 days before the NEC show and delivered by Panther to Luton Hoo, a favourite for Vauxhall photo shoots, on hand was Cherry and Taylor as well as senior Vauxhall executives including Bob Price who, seeing the car for the first time, took about 10 seconds to say "show it, just go ahead and show it"

Image description

THE EQUUS WHEEL DESIGN PRE-DATED THE VAUXHALL ASTRA MK2 BY ABOUT 6 YEARS

The car was shown at the NEC Motor Show in October 1978 and was a major attraction on the Vauxhall stand and fueled speculation as to whether or not Vauxhall were serious about building it. Car magazine at the time proclaimed the go-ahead had already been given - as usual they were wrong. Equus was a superb piece of design and a credit to the Luton Design Department, it gave Vauxhall something exotic to exhibit, they even produced a brochure about the car, but there was never any serious intention to build Equus. The costs would have been prohibitive for a car with no boot lid and no provision of folding roof and if either were to be engineered into the design then the costs would have escalated further, and this is without getting into issues such as crash worthiness and passenger protection. It was brilliant but just as a pipe dream. The car is now in the US with Wayne Cherry who was so taken with the car he took it with him when he took over as head of GM Design

Image description

VAUXHALL EQUUS CONCEPT INTERIOR DASC86A-303 © GM ARCHIVE

Image description

VAUXHALL EQUUS CONCEPT DASHBOARD DASC86A-304 © GM ARCHIVE

Image description

VAUXHALL EQUUS CONCEPT DASC86A-305 © GM ARCHIVE

Image description

VAUXHALL EQUUS CONCEPT DASC86A-306 © GM ARCHIVE

Image description

VAUXHALL EQUUS CONCEPT ENGINE COMPARTMENT DASC86A-308 © GM ARCHIVE

Image description

VAUXHALL EQUUS & WAYNE CHERRY DASC86A-314 © GM ARCHIVE

Image description

VAUXHALL EQUUS & WAYNE CHERRY DASC86A-315 © GM ARCHIVE

Image description

VAUXHALL EQUUS & WAYNE CHERRY DASC86A-316 © GM ARCHIVE

Image description

TWO VIEWS OF THE VAUXHALL EQUUS TAKEN BY THE STYLING DEPARTMENT. img150-DASC86A © GM ARCHIVE

Image description

IN PROFILE ALL THOSE DETAILS COME TOGETHER IN A MASTERPIECE OF DESIGN, FURTHER PROOF AS IF IT WERE NEEDED OF THE SHEER TALENT THAT WAS VAUXHALL DESIGN. img147-DASC86A © GM ARCHIVE

PRESS RELEASE PICTURE:

Image description

BROCHURE:

Image description
Image description

THE EQUUS BROCHURE FRONT COVER, SPECIALLY PRODUCED FOR THE 1978 MOTOR SHOW. V2451 10.78

THE BACK SHOWED THE 2.3LITRE SLANT FOUR ENGINE AND SPARE WHEEL AND ASLO A PICTURE OF THE INTERIOR

Image description

INSIDE THE FOLDER GAVE A CLUE TO A RANGE OF MODELS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN OFFERRED FROM A TARGA, A FASTBACK AND A NOTCHBACK COUPE. IT IS A SUBJECT OF DEBATE IF ALL THE WRITTING WAS ACTUALLY WAYNE CHERRY'S!

PICTURE MONTAGE:

Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description

THE SIMPLE AND FUNCTIONAL INTERIOR WAS A PERFECT MATCH FOR THE EXTERIOR. NOTE THE CHEVETTE AIR VENTS & ROYALE INSTRUMENTS