Road impressions

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The Vauxhall Magnum 2300 Estate

I find it sad that mud continues to be slung from some inexperienced, ill-informed quarters on the name of Vauxhall, past failures having long since given way to a range of excellent performing, beautifully styled, value-for-money cars. My own once tarnished view of the Luton make has received much polishing over the last two or three years in the light of experience largely with the range of 2.0 and 2.3-litre Vivas and Firenzas. Tests of standard versions have been interspersed with those of slightly modified ones: the latter have impressed considerably, showing the models’ true potential, while the former too have impressed, though with slightly more reservations.

For 1974 the Viva (except in its smallest-engined “fleet” form) and the Firenza, this not to be confused with the high-performance streamliner of the same name which made its debut at the Motor Show, have been renamed Magnum, a change of nomenclature which has been accompanied by numerous subtle and worthy modifications so that in reality Magnum means maturity.

In my eyes the Magnum Estate is the most pleasing design of the entire Vauxhall range and with the fatter, low profile, 175/70 x 13 in., more balanced-looking tyres of the: 2300, this load carrier as tested is one of the handsomest of all small/medium cars. The low roof-line and sloping tail interfere with carrying capacity, though the same can be said for most modern estate cars, and the tail-lights protrude into the loading aperture, but the rear styling has one advantage in that the steeply-raked, heated rear window stays largely clear of road dirt, that bugbear of vans and estates, except up the edges directly behind the wheel lines. If sheer load-carrying capacity was the criterion at the price, then a Cortina Estate would be the obvious choice: the Magnum Estate is not a trades man’s vehicle, rather a more practical and roomier option on the sporty and good handling Magnum saloon.

This writer does not own a dog, but is sure the Editor’s canine back-seat driver would be happy in the neatly carpeted rear, a purpose for which many people buy estate cars, for only a percentage of such purchasers have the specific requirement for a load space the size of a Mecca ballroom. It is an ideal, compact, family estate car, with two doors to ensure a comfy rear-seat Colditz for the kids and an adequate space for slinging the shopping and the dog behind the rear seat. Once the rear seat has been folded flat, for which purpose the back-rest locks are released by a single lever in the centre of its rear after the front-hinged cushion has been folded forwards out of the way, the comfortable saloon is converted into an instant van which swallowed easily a kitchen table with two chairs and two stools. Perhaps it is the Magnum’s very compactness which makes this estate car much more acceptable in its dual role than the average estate, for its design avoids that huge area of cold air which heaters designed for saloons are unable to warm and which usually endows the back of the neck with a permanent, cold, estate car feeling.

This ruby-coloured Magnum impressed from the start with the quality of its “Magic Mirror” acrylic lacquer coachwork, both in the consistency and accuracy of its application and in the surface sheen, more comparable to the finish of the Jensen tested elsewhere than to the majority of mass-produced cars. Other than for that ghastly plastic facia, almost acceptable in black, but horrible in the sort of anaemic coffee colour of the test car, the interior is excellently trimmed and extremely comfortable, far from utilitarian. Brushed nylon upholstery is standard and the reclining front seats well-shaped and comfortable—and the rear seat not much less so, which makes a change for estate cars. Deep pile carpet is spread generously, including in the luggage bay, as mentioned above, where it is secured by metal rubbing strips. The spare wheel stands vertically in the offside of the luggage bay, where it is camouflaged by a neat, shaped vinyl cover.

Door trims are much improved for 1974, incorporating full-length armrests, with up swept grab handles/door-pulls at their front ends in similar fashion to XJ6 and BMW arm-rests. Indeed, were it not for that nasty, moulded plastic facia, the interior would appear quite expensive, as it does at night, when subdued green lighting flows from seven instruments set in the panel immediately in front of the driver: designers dictated that the clock should be as large as the 120 m.p.h. speedometer, with trip meter, and 7,000 r.p.m. tachometer, and why second markings and a huge sweep second-hand should be considered necessary on a car clock defeats me; then there are subsidiary instruments for battery condition, oil pressure, fuel (connected to a 12 gallon tank, adequate for almost 400 miles at 50 m.p.h. or about 260 under more normal conditions) and temperature. A panel of practical, unavoidable but ugly warning lights is in the centre of the facia, there are eyeball vents at each end, the central heater controls are illuminated and easy to use, metal knobs controlling the clock and trip meter are likely to spear one’s knees in the event of a crash, steering column stalks control the electric screen-washers and the two-speed wipers which addition ally feature intermittent wipe facilities and lift off the screen at 80 m.p.h. and a button has to be pressed to enable the ignition key to be removed from the column lock.

The interior light is set in the base of the surprisingly non-dipping mirror stem, the brake and clutch pedals are set far too high off the floor making difficult the concurrent operation of the organ throttle (the sporty Firenza has repositioned pedals—why not the Magnum too?) and the steering column is set somewhat high and angled too far to the right, criticisms which are forgotten after a few days of acquaintance. Inertia scat belts which disappear into the side trim are standard, as is a steering wheel trimmed in man-made material which feels remarkably like leather.

That lusty 2,278 c.c., Single overhead camshaft, four-cylinder engine is part of this Magnum’s beauty. Its configuration dictates that it must be a trifle rough, particularly at low speeds and the test car’s engine was less well-balanced than most of its ilk, as was its propshaft, the vibrations from that being added to by a loose exhaust, this car having been thrown together very hurriedly to allow the Press fleet to be reformed with new models at the end of the strike. However, its torque is tremendous and as well as endowing it with remarkable top-gear performance in terms Of acceleration and 10$ m.p.h. maximum it oilers particularly good scope as a tow car. Nevertheless, the gearbox has to be used more than one would expect simply to avoid the engine and sympathetic transmission vibration which occurs below 25 m.p.h. in top, less so in other examples than on the test car, I Would suspect. The gearbox is less noisy than it used to be and the change reasonably quick but notchy, though I was glad that a knob less painful to the hand than the old mushroom one has been fitted at last.

Nobody should underestimate the handling of this range of Vauxhalls, which can be driven very quickly and very enjoyably indeed under practically all conditions. The steering is a trifle heavy but precise, the suspension quite firm to the extent that the ride can become quite choppy on rough roads, but is pleasant enough most of the time, a small concession to make to obtain its handling advantages and there is more understeer when the estate version is unladen. Roll is relatively subdued, even though the Estate relies on its uprated rear coil springs for roll stiffness while the saloon and coupe employ a rear anti-roll bar on the live rear axle. Stiffer rear suspension bushes are amongst the 1974 modifications.

Other modifications include the fitting of a constant velocity joint instead of a Hooke joint in the centre bearing of the split propshaft, the conversion of the rear drum brakes to automatic adjustment—and the servoassisted disc/drum braking system is excellent —pegs to make sure that the Rostyle wheels it square, stainless trims on these wheels, rubber-faced bumpers, a very powerful new four-headlamp system, an aluminised exhaust system and so on. The engine block has been stiffened, some changes made to the twin Stromberg carburation and ignition, a thermostatic valve has been added to the air cleaners and the 110 b.h.p. net is said to be consistent now that the unintentional valve shrouding affecting some of the heads on earlier models has been eradicated.

In all respects other than the rear end treatment and that anti-roll bar, the Estate is identical to the Magnum 2300 saloons and coupes. It retails at £1,529 inclusive of VAT (the 4-door saloon is £1,450, the 2-door £1,410 and the coupe £1,465), as such is remarkably well-appointed, and while the smoothness of its power unit is more agricultural than limousine it adds solidarity to a very rugged and attractive dual-purpose car of sporting performance and handling. —CR.

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