Image description
Image description

1. BACKGROUND:

During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s small car design followed three distinct and very different paths. Conventional front engine with rear wheel drive was adopted by manufacturers such as Vauxhall, Ford and Opel, rear engine with rear wheel drive favoured by Fiat, Renault, Simca and VW and finally front engine with front wheel drive with either a transverse engine mounting such as the BMC Mini and Peugeot 204 or inline like the unusual Triumph 1300. These three trends thinned out to become two in general by the early 1970s – front engine inline rear wheel drive and transverse front wheel drive – the latter was becoming the norm as a result of far better passenger space utilisation and packaging. General Motors had experimented with a rear engine design – the Chevrolet Corvair – and got its fingers well and truly burned courtesy of Ralph Nader. It also, more successfully, tried front wheel drive with the Oldsmobile Toronado & Cadillac Eldorado although these were huge in size and used mammoth inline engines driving the front wheels which had nothing at all to do with efficient packaging. The rest of the company’s US offerings rigidly followed a conventional engineering layout right up until the 1980 launch of the fwd X Cars (Chevrolet Citation etc.). In 1960s Europe Opel followed the US example of rather dull engineering (and designs) as did Vauxhall although their styling had a bit more flair. However, in the early 1960s during the development of the HA Viva Vauxhall had experimented with transverse engine front wheel drive HA prototypes but the idea was rejected by the GM Board as being too costly in relation to the benefits the layout offered. This became the official corporate reply whenever GM Executives were questioned about front wheel drive small cars, amazingly this continued through most of the 1970s and was even more focussed with the launch of the Vauxhall Chevette in 1975. The car was a modern and attractive looking hatchback design but in terms of available space for rear passengers & luggage it fell some way short of competitors and it was also known that Ford were developing a new fwd small car code named Bobcat (Fiesta). Behind the scenes GM in Europe were frantically working on front wheel concepts and most of the initial work was done by Vauxhall at Luton, one of the first was the Vauxhall Scamp Concept from 1974.

2. BODY DESIGN & PROPOSED ENGINEERING:

In March 1974 the Vauxhall Design team at Luton, headed by Ed Taylor, had completed all the styling work on the T Car Hatchback project that would be launched as the Chevette (and Opel Kadett City) a year later when work began on a completely new small car programme code named XP-903 within GM and S Car within Vauxhall – the second time the “S” designation had been used by the Design Department. The parameters were set that the car would be a 3 door hatchback approximately 7 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower than the T Car Hatch but would use a similar wheelbase, with minimal front & rear overhang, and designed from the outset to use a transverse engine and front wheel drive. The market price point was envisaged to be 15% below the base T Car cost and, in view of the estimated addition tooling costs for the FWD engineering, the body design would need to be as simple and cost effective as possible with ease of manufacture given a top priority. Various design renderings were evaluated, including a miniaturised Chevette (the proportions of which didn’t work very well visually), but eventually what is now termed as a “2 box” design was selected - penned by Assistant Design Director Wayne Cherry – and pre-dated similarly styled cars such as the VW Polo by 7 years. One full scale glass fibre styling mock-up was completed in May 1974 and is the car in the pictures, and as can be seen the front and rear overhang was indeed minimal with the bumpers integrated into the body. The wheels are only 13inch but fill the wheel housing giving an indication of just how small the car was but with a long wheelbase in relation to the overall length the actual passenger legroom was more than either the T Car Chevette or the HC Viva, this was achieved not only because of the fwd layout but also the rear seat being mounted as far back as possible and the use of thin framed front seats. Although roomy for its size the proposed trimmings were minimalist with sliding door windows and basic instruments which was just a speedometer incorporating a fuel gauge & temperature warning light all mounted on top of the steering column, the heater controls were mounted on the main dashboard rail.  The car was given the name “Scamp” by the Design Department as it seemed to suit the cars look & character. The front end was a neat, if rather anonymous design with no droop snoot which Vauxhall had only recently introduced on the HP Firenza and was untested for a mass market model.

In terms of engineering very little physical work was carried out but the drawing office had designed an adapted coil rear suspension from the T Car but using a beam axle. Engine wise a 989cc version of the 1256cc ohv unit was tested with a single Stromberg carburettor giving approximately 45bhp which was deemed more than adequate for the proposed weight of the Scamp. The drawing office had also come up with a gearbox to be mounted on the left hand side of the car in line with the engine canted back towards the bulkhead but still using a transfer box mounted under the engine to enable the use of equal length drive shafts. What is more astonishing is that Vauxhall were also drafting designs for a 1300cc ohv diesel engine using a highly modified version of the 1256cc petrol engine, it’s probably fortunate that this idea didn’t get off the drawing board!    

Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description
Image description

3. CANCELLATION:

The Scamp was evaluated by Vauxhalls Product Planning Committee who adopted a wait & see attitude until the launch of the rwd Chevette in March 1975, and as the car was a runaway success the Scamp project was officially cancelled in May 1975 and the usual corporate line was trotted out to journalists at the Chevette launch but it would be the last time Vauxhall or Opel could launch a small car without fwd, you could say the Scamp was the catalyst for the fwd Astra MK1 and Nova - which ironically was also code named S Car.