Droop Snoot Group

HPF - Firenza - Magnum - Sportshatch - HS - HSR

'We're building the classics of the future' - Roy Cooke


Front view of Droopsnoot Firenza

Styled by Vauxhall design guru Wayne Cherry on the HC Firenza, the High Performance Coupe featured lower and stiffer suspension, a Blydenstein modified head, ZF 5-speed gearbox and heavy-duty rear axle; but the most obvious change was that dramatic nosecone. It wasn't just a styling feature - the HPF boasted a drag coefficient of 0.4, and potentially as low as 0.33 with a few modifications - amazingly slippery for a time when most cars were pretty brick-like. The clean lines were finished off with distinguished silver paintwork which predicted modern colour-coding. Sadly, the oil crisis affected sales, and the car was killed off after just a couple of hundred were built.

Who knows where the name came from - perhaps Concorde's droop snoot nose? Still, the name and the shape stuck; Vauxhall's next generation of cars followed the Droopsnoot style, and we pinched the name!

Chevette HS

HS line up at Billing 2006

Building a works rally car back in the '70s normally meant squeezing your best engine into a small family car, adding big brakes, suspension tweaks and different gearboxes and axles to create a 'homologation special', then trying to sell 400 of them. Ford had the Escort RS, Talbot had the Sunbeam Lotus, Fiat the 131 Abarth and for Vauxhall it was the Chevette HS.

The 2279 cc slant four from the HC range - with a new 16 valve head - was shoehorned into the Chevette's tiny engine bay and Vauxhall raided the parts bins, coming up with the axle, brakes and suspension from the Kadett C GT/E, alloys from the Chevrolet Vega and a 5 speed direct top Getrag gearbox. The aerodynamics were improved with a front airdam and rear spoiler; in the Droopsnoot tradition the paint was silver, but the HPF's discreet interior was replaced by a garish tartan.

At over twice the price of a stock Chevette Vauxhall struggled to sell the - essentially handbuilt - cars; some were sprayed black and retrimmed to make the ultra-limited edition HS-X, while the last 40 or so were converted to make the HSR.

Chevette HSR

Graham Kerr's black HSR

Successful though the HS was, it was obvious by 1979 that changes in technology and regulations meant it had to be updated; so it was that the HSR was born

The HSR kept the basic spec of the HS, but got a twin plate clutch and revised 'five link' rear axle location. A beautiful curved big wing body kit was added, improving the aerodynamics and removing unnecessary weight. Wheels grew from 6" to 7" wide, and a number of gearbox and axle options were homologated with the car in case they were needed.

'Plastic Fantastic' won on its maiden outing; and - particularly after development by Tony Pond and Wynne Mitchell - the HSR became arguably the best tarmac car of the early 80s, continuing to win well into the era of the Group B supercars.


Sportshatch in field

So what do you do if you've a few hundred Droopsnoot nosecones left over? You make a sporting estate...

Now officially called the Magnum, Vauxhall's big engined HC load carrier was crying out for the Droopsnoot treatment, particularly after the Styling Department came up with Wayne Cherry's one-off sporting estate, Silver Bullet. The Sportshatch wasn't quite as radical as Bullet, with only the four headlights and a standard Magnum 2300 slant four; but it got the Droopsnoot's tweaked suspension and Avon safety alloys, that nosecone, and a deep, dark red paint job with thick bright red stripes at the waistline - and another outlet for Vauxhall's '70s tartan fetish.

Sadly, as with the Droopsnoot, the Sportshatch didn't really fly off the forecourts, and the build finished at two hundred odd examples; but again Vauxhall created an instant classic, started a trend for sports estate cars, and established a name that continues with the current 16 valve Astras.


Blue Firenza head on shot, lights ablaze

By the time Vauxhall rebodied the HB series Vivas to produce the HC, saloon based tintop coupes were becoming common; there was the Opel Manta, the early Toyota Celica, even a Marina Coupe, and of course - from GM's arch rival - the Ford Capri. Vauxhall had to keep up, and in 1971 they announced the Firenza.

The first Firenzas used the pushrod and OHC engines from the HB range, wrapped in swooping, good looking fastback clothing based on the standard HC shell. At the Geneva Motor Show the following year a facelifted range was introduced, using the new, larger 1800 and 2300 slant fours and the 1256 pushrod; and there was a new top of the range model, the Sport SL. Interiors were improved on all cars, with the seven dial dash replacing the Viva's old ribbon speedo.

By 1973 though, the Firenza was all but dead. Vauxhall's HC ranges were rationalised, with all the pushrod engined models now called Vivas and the slant four powered cars being badged as Magnums (although perhaps in practice, the lines were a bit more blurred!). The Firenza name lived on until 1975, carried by the last and greatest of the range, the Droopsnoot.

Viva 1600, 1800 and 2300

Red Viva 1800 in field

GT apart, mention 'slant four' and 'Viva saloon' and you'd normally think of the '70s HC range, but hot on the heels of the GT the HB saloons saw an overhead cam option from June 1968. The single carb 1599 cc slant four wasn't a great success, with little more power than the pushrod engines and a greater thirst, and there are few survivors around today. Nevertherless it was still an option on the new HC, and when the coupes got the Victor's bigger 1759 and 2279 engines in 1972 the saloons followed suit.

As with the Firenza, the Viva 1800 and 2300 should have disappeared in 1973 with the arrival of the Magnum; whether by design, accident, or a couple of stillages full of spare badges the OHC Viva brand seems to have continued, at least for a year or two, and particularly on the 1800 auto cars.


Rear view of maroon Magnum coupe

By 1973 the HC range had got diabolically complicated; pretty much any Vauxhall engine you could think of, saloons, coupes, estates, two doors, four doors, and a host of different trim, mechanical and other options. In an attempt to rationalise things, Vauxhall introduced the Magnum name, to be applied to all the slant four engined HCs - saloon or coupe - from the '73 / '74 model year on.

The Magnums got much of the improved trim from the top of the range Vivas and Firenzas, with the four headlight grille and seven dial dash, and of course the 1800 and 2300 slant fours. Coupes were built till '76, remaining shells being used to build the 1256 engined Viva E; saloons carried on to 1978, foreshadowing the end of the HC range the following year.

Viva GT

Metallic red Viva GT at the VBOA open day

The GT tends to be a bit left out among the HCs, but really it's the car that started it all. Back in the mid 60s Vauxhall decided to squeeze their new 2 litre four - then being built for the FD Victor - into the 'coke bottle' HB Viva shell, making an instant sports grand tourer.

Frankly the Mk1 GT was a bit boy racerish, with twin exhausts, four tailpipes and a matt black bonnet copied from Safari rally cars of the era, but it went well; in the hands of Bill Blydenstein, Gerry Johnstone and Gerry Marshall the GT put Vauxhall back on the podium in saloon car racing.

The Mk2 was much more restrained in style but much improved under the skin, and widely applauded as a good sporting family saloon by the motoring press of the time. Withdrawn with the rest of the HB range in 1970, it was effectively resurrected as the 2-litre Firenza; though the GT name made it to an HC shell in South Africa.

The Prototypes

Black Magic at Billing 2007

The driving force behind many of these cars - particularly the Droopsnoot and Sportshatch - was the Vauxhall Design Centre under people like David Jones and Wayne Cherry. They turned out a series of specials, project cars and one-offs during the sixties and seventies which transformed Vauxhall's previously staid image and set the style for Vauxhalls well into the eighties.

Perhaps the best known of these are Silver Bullet, the six headlight, droopsnooted luxury Magnum estate which was Cherry's personal transport for a time; Black Magic, a Chevette HS based experiment in aerodynamics and drag reduction, with deep skirts and HSR style spoilers; and Silver Aero, based on the Cavalier Sportshatch. Fortunately, after some years languishing on the Design Centre roof, these cars were rescued - thanks mainly to Stuart Stringer's hard work - and survive to this day in the hands of DSG members.

Competition cars

Thames TV Firenza replica

Without motorsport the Droopsnoot may well have sunk into obscurity - and the HS, one of Vauxhall's very few genuine homologation specials, would never have existed. Vauxhall had a pretty staid image before the mid '60s, but that all changed when Bill Blydenstein began tuning the HB Viva.

Pretty much every car you see on this page was used in one form of motorsport or another; although GM's 'no competition' policy meant there wasn't really a factory car as such, the vehicles turned out by Dealer Team Vauxhall were 'works' in all but name. Driven by names such as Gerry Marshall, Bill Dryden, Jim Thompson, Tony Davies, Pentti Airikkala, Jim McRae, Tony Pond, Russell Brookes, Chris Sclater, George Hill, Terry Kaby and many others, the DTV cars scored success after success in racing and rallying throughout the 70s and early 80s.

Many of the race successes were in fairly modest Group 1 cars, but DTV are famous for some pretty outrageous specials. Best known are the slant four powered 'Old Nail', which started life as the Thames TV Firenza, and the all conquering V8 Firenza special saloon Baby Bertha; then there's Bertha's Ventora based big sister and the stillborn racing Cavalier, MegaBertha; the Firenza hillclimber Sandblaster and the DTV Chevette dragsters - not to mention the 'Plastic Fantastic' Chevette HSR.

The overseas cars

Chevrolet Can Am racing

The Droop Snoot Group has become home to many overseas versions of our cars, particularly the South African product. The HC was known as the Chevrolet Firenza there; as with the UK cars it was available with a big four, although an upright 2.5 litre. The GT name was carried on in South Africa, Firenza GTs featuring the 2.5, a shorter diff and a UK style seven dial dash.

South Africa also had its own 'homologation special'; the Chevrolet Can Am, known as the 'Little Chev'. Built to compete against the Perana Capris in South Africa's saloon racing series, the Can Am featured the 300 bhp, 302 CID V8 from the Camaro Z28, mated to a four speed GM Muncie gearbox. The shell was modified to take the bigger engine and box, and used the Firenza GT interior, with a lightweight bonnet and an aluminium wing on the boot.

The Slant Four engine

Twin cam slant four Single cam slant four

Overseas cars aside, the thing all these vehicles have in common, and the cornerstone of the Droop Snoot Group, is the Vauxhall 'Slant Four' engine. Developed in the 1960s, the engine first saw the light in the FD Victor, but quickly migrated to the HB Viva GT, starting an association between the slant four and Vauxhall competition and performance cars that was to last until the mid 1980s.

The engine was an oversquare straight four, originally of 1599 or 1975 cc, later upgraded to 1759 or 2279 cc, and developed further in the competition cars to 2500 or 2600 cc using Blydenstein stroker kits. Most slant fours were all iron, single overhead cam with two valves per cylinder; but cross fertilization with Jensen-Healey and the Lotus 900 series engines saw the Lotus LV240 sixteen valve head used on competition cars (and some roadgoing specials), and when the Chevette HS was developed in the mid seventies Bill Blydenstein specified an alloy twin cam, sixteen valve head which was specially developed for the car. There was also an eight valve twin cam project, later abandoned.

Early power outputs, at 80 bhp for the 1599, weren't significantly greater than the pushrod Viva engines, but later engines ran up to 135 bhp on twin Stromberg carburettors, with rally cars up around the 240 bhp typical of the late Group Four era. The real beauty of the engine was its big torque curve, making even the competition cars very flexible and easy to drive compared to more peaky engines such as the Ford BDA and Opel CIH.

The name 'Slant Four' comes from the angle of the engine block, which leans over to the exhaust side at 45 degrees. It's not clear why this is the case - reputedly the engine started life as half a stillborn V8 project, although some say the V8 came later - but it allowed the big banger to fit under fairly low bonnet lines, enabling the swooping 'coke bottle' styling of the HB Viva and FD Victor.