Vauxhall Firenza: a coupe ahead of its time?

Some of my earliest motoring memories were formed in the back of a 1970's Vauxhall Viva Estate, as the mother of one of my closest primary school friends had one.

I have to say that I didn't really enjoy my rides to and from school in the back of the Viva; the performance seemed limited and the vinyl seats burned in the summer and were cold in the winter.
So I wasn't feeling too optimistic, when recently I had the chance to drive the latest addition to the Vauxhall Heritage fleet - a Firenza coupe.

For those not in the know, the Firenza was introduced in 1970 and was basically a Capri-rivalling fastback coupe version of the Viva, originally available with engines up to 1975cc.

The Firenza got more interesting in 1973, when like this car, it gained a tuned 131bhp 2.3-litre engine, five-speed manual transmission and the distinctive aerodynamic nose styled by Vauxhall design guru Wayne Cherry and Roy Haynes, with glass-covered headlights.

Sadly, the launch of the "Droop Snoot" coincided with the Arab oil crisis and just 204 were sold before Vauxhall pulled the plug - but what does this freshly restored version feel like today?

Inside the Firenza, it's a typical '70s design with the upright dashboard, grab handle where the glovebox would normally be and a dished three-spoke sports steering wheel. The unique interior trim makes the Vauxhall feel more plush and surprisingly, the ergonomics are generally sound too.

Look closer at the dash and the circular instruments are surprisingly easy to read, even if the rev counter is upside down and the upright driving position could be more comfortable.

Even after 30 years, this recently-restored example surprised by how willing the 2279 four-cylinder petrol engine felt; I was unable to tell whether all 131bhp was still intact though, as the engine was still being run-in after the rebuild.

The Firenza's dog-leg, ZF five-speed gearbox is the first I've tried since an E30 BMW M3 I experienced a couple of years back and despite first gear where you expect second to be it's precise enough. Shame it's noisy and has such a long throw, still it works well enough with the engine.

The steering is reasonably sharp, grip from the special 13-inch wheels is good, although there's more body roll in corners than you might expect.

Even the brakes, which are often the bugbear of older cars, seemed reasonably powerful, though this car is probably at its best having just been restored.

So, the Firenza is a triumph of design and with just a handful of original cars left, its classic status is assured. Aerodynamic nose or not, I don't think the Firenza hides its humble Viva underpinnings well enough for me. Still, Viva underpinnings or not, the Firenza is an interesting '70s oddity.

Vauxhall Firenza
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