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The Carchive: The 1973 Vauxhall Magnum

Chris Haining June 15, 2018 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 7 Comments

The 2018 World Cup is now in full swing, so I’ve decided to mark it in my own special style by pretending it’s not happening. Perhaps you’ll join me?

“Magnum” is an astoundingly popular name in the automotive world. We’ve seen it before in car form with the Dodge Magnum, we’ve encountered it in articulated truck form with the Renault Magnum, and if I ever find a Rayton-Fissore brochure on eBay for cheap, we’ll meet it again as a luxury SUV. This time, though, it’s a humble British car from 45 years ago. Welcome to the Vauxhall Magnum. Welcome back to The Carchive.

All images can be scaled up with a click, to give you half a chance of reading any of the words

“The Magnum 2300 is the bigger engined member of the Viva Magnum range. This is a car tailored for performance. Its big 2.3-litre ohc engine gives you rapid acceleration which is impressive by any standards”

Ah, the Magnum. Vauxhall’s compact family car, the Viva, had been around for ten years before the upscale Magnum joined the Luton company’s lineup. The original HA series of Viva had ended production in ’66, then the HB generation came and went. With the introduction of 1970’s HC, Vauxhall took the opportunity to take the range upmarket. By adding the Magnum series in 1973, what was essentially a single range could now compete against both the Ford Escort (then the Blue Oval’s smallest model) and the larger Cortina – including its range-topping 2000E “Executive” model.

So, while the Viva plodded on with 1159 and 1256cc engines, the pricier Magnum had far more power under the right hand pedal. The 2300 boasted 110bhp, which wasn’t to be sneezed at in 1973.

“Sit behind the soft covered sports steering wheel of a Magnum 2300. Settle back into the body hugging seats. Clip on the inertia real seat belts and you know that you’re in a performance car.”

That 2279cc slant-four engine was the same block as later breathed on to be slotted beneath the bonnet of the sleekly nosed Vauxhall HP Firenza Droopsnoot, which I rather enjoyed driving way back in 2013. In that guise it produced 132bhp, and 120mph was claimed – somewhat up on the regular 2300’s top whack of just above 100mph. By the standards of the day, though, that wasn’t at all bad.

And the driver undoubtedly felt like he was behind the wheel of something decent, with seven dials peering out from the crackle-finish plastic dashboard, one of which was a rev counter. It’s the same dash assembly that the HP Firenza would use a little later on.

“From the same stable as the big-engined Magnum 2300, the 1800 is also very much a performance car”

Yeaaahhh…. well… naah, not really. That half-litre shortfall dropped power to 77bhp, which was never gonna make a 2135lb car feel sporty. The lower power invited narrower tyres  – down to 155 section from 175, and the instrument cluster was somewhat simplified. Out went the oil pressure gauge and volt metre, and the clock appears to have gone walkabout, too. And there was no rev counter, either. Still, there was good stuff too – a rack and pinion steering system and a disk / drum braking system. As sensible family cars went, it wasn’t at all bad.

“The go anywhere, do anything Magnum that lets you be yourself. Whether you choose the 1800 or the 2300 engined model y0u can be sure that this car will give you exhilarating performance, ample load room and full family size room and comfort.”

As with the Viva, the Magnum was available in four different body styles. There was a two and four door saloon, a two-door station wagon and a relatively slinky two-door coupe, which was confusingly sold as a Viva, a Magnum and a Firenza. The HP Firenza also lent its pointy nose cone to the estate version, which was christened Sports Hatch. A further layer of confusion was provided by the fact that you could order a Viva with the 1800 and 23oo engines anyway.

The Magnum finally faded out just a little way before the Viva. The latter was the last all-British Vauxhall design – every model from thereon in would be essentially a re-badged Opel. The Viva name would later reappear thirty-five years down the line… rather ignominiously plastered onto the rump of the Korean built Chevrolet Spark. Still, the latter is probably just as good an economical, compact family car today as the Viva was fifty years ago.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property – and it still feels a little odd to say – of PSA Group. And I had actually hoped to end up with a Vauxhall Viva (well, an Opel Karl as it’s marketed in Europe) when I booked an economy “Chevrolet Spark or similar” car with Alamo in Slovenia recently, but ended up with an Opel Corsa. Yet again. Three vacations in a row. It’s like a curse)

  • tonyola

    I saw some Canadian Firenzas (a rebadged LHD Viva) when I traveled around southern Alberta in the summer of 1973 – mostly the sports coupes. Apparently they were utter disasters and were quickly withdrawn by GM. If I was ever to lust over a Viva/Magnum/Firenza, it would be a Magnum SportsHatch (the black car), even if the striping is a bit overdone.

    • Rover 1

      They used a similar grille on the next size up Vauxhall, the Victor, sold by the same Pontiac dealers in Canada as the Envoy (or not sold, as it turned out)
      At least Wayne Cherry’s GM styling fitted in even if the build quality didn’t.

  • Rover 1

    The Viva/Magnum to have was also called a Firenza, but with Chevrolet badging. In South Africa Chevrolet was GM’s brand selling locally assembled Opels and Vauxhalls with the US brand name glued on. With the Chevrolet Firenza they went a little further by putting in a Chevrolet 307 V8, to slot into the under 5 litre homologation class for racing. There were only 100 made. It was quite successful racing against the V8 Ford Capri Peranas.



    • I missed out on a brochure for these not long ago. Alas the bidding soared above my usual £5 limit.

      • Rover 1

        Time to up the limit?

        I liked your article on AROnline on the 800.

        • The majority of my eBay ‘winnings’ are under £3! And thank you.

  • P161911

    I almost missed watching a little bit of Le Mans this weekend because of a dyslexic moment confusing FIFA with FIA. (Ignore all FIFA)

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