Vauxhall let us have the fastest model of their new Firenza two-door fastback range for full road-test with remarkable promptitude. Inevitably, but illogically, it is being compared with the Ford Capri, as is General Motors’ other recent fastback, the Opel Manta. Illogically, because neither of these cars really challenge the fantastically successful Capri, which not only out-performs them and is available in a far greater number of options but which vanquishes them from the very important styling aspect, its long bonnet accentuating low lines giving a fine impression of power, no matter which size of engine is beneath it.
This the so-termed Capri crushers fail to emulate; the Firenza has a quite stubby bonnet. Ford has said and I have repeated and will repeat again for them, that the only substitute for the Capri is another Capri. So let us cease to liken every new medium-priced notchback as a threat to Ford sales. The fact is that what the Smythe-Johnsons enjoy in one decade the Smiths and Joneses of this World insist on emulating in the next, so that in recent years all manner of fastback, so-called GT coupés have been built on the basis of bread-and-butter mechanicals, to ape the exotic true Grand Turismo motor cars of Ferrari., Maserati, Lamborghini and Alfa Romeo pedigree.
This is an inevitable but unfortunate evolutionary exercise for families could be better off in more roomy saloons. Because the Capri has scooped the pool in this particular coupé category is no reason far comparing every other fast touring fastback with Ford’s clever conception of how such things should be done, the elongated bonnet an essential contribution to this Dagenham theme.
So let’s look at the Firenza on its own merits. It is one of those cars which is reassuring to handle from the first mile of taking it over—or so I found it, having dropped the young lady who brought it to our office to St. Pancras and set off immediately on a non-stop five-hour drive. The steering may lack much castor return action, side winds may tend to deflect the new Vauxhall from the straight and narrrow, rear-ward visibility is somewhat restricted, but it is nevertheless easy and satisfactory to drive.
The gear-change is good, except for a stupidly-formed knob and the lift-the-trigger and push-forward reverse engagement, but, having what I call a non-mechanical feel, is inferior to Ford’s excellent gearboxes. The brake pedal is higher than the accelerator, so that retardation involves lifting one’s leg like a puppy, but the Firenza is by no means alone in this, the Ford Mexico being another I can name. The Vauxhall’s hand-brake needed a tug to hold on hills. Its heavy doors have excellent “keeps”. The driving seat is average-comfortable, a bit hard and sweaty, and as the squab does not adjust (a remarkable omission) it is not possible to alter one’s stance by this means. Sometimes, under heavy braking, there was the impression that the seat was sliding forward, but this was actually the cushion compressing under a combination of g and a 12-stone driver.
The Firenza’s appearance, with gappy rear wheel arches above 13-in. wheels, a curvatious body but flat rear window and snub bonnet with tapering-vee “power tunnel”, to my eyes isn’t inspiring and the interior decor is “Americanised” and rather unfortunate, the strip speedometer with casually-pointing arc-needle having enormous digits which the long-sighted should be able to see without glasses, set in a very deep recess which fits badly into the adjacent trim and has on its deck the washer and two lamps’ switches. These are prominently placed but obscured by the steering-wheel rim. The wiper button is divorced from the washers’ switch, the vertical heater controls are somewhat illogical in movement, and there are no warning lights for choke or rear-window heater.
The decimal mileage recorder (no trip) is difficult to see. Two rather-similar keys look after boot, doors (sill interior locks) and ignition but there was no means of releasing the retracted aerial of the Vauxhall radio. A vanity mirror is a further omission but most astonishing of all is the absence of a tachometer; coat-hooks are also lacking, but wing mirrors were fitted.
The Americans build lots of riding comfort into their cars and, although Europeanised, there is a trace of this about the Firenza, i.e., ride comfort at the expense of absolute handleability, although it goes round corners quite nicely, with light, dead steering (3.2 turns, lock-to-lock) and “glue” contributed by Goodyear G800 Grand Prix tyres. The performance is not as good as it should be, from this sporting-looking Vauxhall composed of VX 4/90-like 1,975-c.c. twin-Stromberg 175CD2, cogged-belt o.h.c. slant engine introduced for the 2-litre Victor, and a Victor gearbox on virtually the HC Viva platform, for it only just reaches 100 m.p.h.; 0 to 60 m.p.h. occupies 11.3 sec., but fuel consumption, optimistic mileometer allowed for, (of 4-star) was an excellent 30.6 m.p.g. I drove 730 miles without needing oil.
The prop-up bonnet is very heavy and its prop crude, and the bonnet release is on the n/s, there are dual Lucas headlamps, supplemented by hung-on Carello auxiliary lamps. The rear compartment is cramped for adults, and a ridge above the back window is dangerous, for heads contact it all too frequently on bumpy roads. On the whole Luton seems to have rushed out this new model, which replaces the Viva GT, rather too hurriedly, and it is a poor successor to the Viva GT.
On the other hand it has suspension so well-damped that it enabled me to have fun over Welsh mountain roads, at the expense of some rear axle bounce but little roll, and there is ample luggage and oddments space, including a lockable cubby-hole, but no shelves on the moulded rear-window surround. Neat internal door handles, elimination of quarter-lights, a cigar igniter and full-size fresh-air gimbals of Ford-like type (except that Ford “Aeroflow” is covered by patents) and a 12-gallon fuel tank are acceptable Firenza items. The Vauxhall Firenza 2000SL costs £1,281.74, or £1,335.90, as tested, with Rostyle wheels, radial tyres and heated back window.