Vauxhall may not have made a song and dance about it, but the company has been involved in motor sport for some time.
It all began in London at the Vauxhall Iron Works, a premises largely devoted to building marine engines. The first car was built there in 1903 and it was just 2 years later, in 1905, that Vauxhall’s first engineering director, Percy Kinder, entered the Glasgow to London trial in a six-horsepower, 1039cc development of the company’s original five-horsepower two-seater runabout. Jock Hancock drove a large 2.4 litre, 12/14 hp car which had been introduced in 1904 in the isle of man TT.
Vauxhalls fir victory wasn’t long in coming. With the car side of the business moving to Luton and renamed Vauxhall Motors, Kinder – one of the company co owners- won the 1908 RAC 2000 miles trial, and was especially significant as the car was a 20hp, 3.1 litre four cylinder special designed by the hugely talented engineer, Laurence Pomeroy.
The engine from this car was then at the heart of all but two of the early competition Vauxhall’s, including the legendary 30-98s.
The Prince Henry and the 30-98 are the best remembered early Vauxhalls and were to become inextricably linked with competition. The Prince Henry, which first appeared in competition in 1911was to become a favourite with private owners, is now regarded as the first true British sports car. This was also Brooklands era and Vauxhalls were soon racing and winning on the Surrey tracks steep banking.
In 1909, Kidner and Hancock drove cars stripped to the chassis but, in no time, streamlined single-seater Vauxhalls were built and, in varying and improving shapes, competed successfully for many years.
The first 30-98 was produced for sale in 1918. It was sold to a hill climber Joseph Higginson, who enjoyed tremendous success with it. The sports 30-98 soon followed, but was produced in limited numbers before World War 1 and then again, after hostilities ended, until 1924. In that year, Vauxhall decided to concentrate on family cars and withdrew from competition, although privateers continued to campaign Vauxhalls cars with success.
The absence from competition lasted until the 1960s, when double world champion and grand prix constructor Jack Brabham was recruited to add a sporty flavour to the viva road cars.
But the driver most readily associated with Vauxhall in those days, Gerry Marshall, the larger-than-life racer who thrilled the crowd with his antics in the Viva, Firenzas, Marshall is the most prolific winner ever in British national motor sport and a massive proportion of his wins came at the wheel of Vauxhall’s. He is possibly best known for his sterling drives in “Big Bertha”, a V8- engined Ventora, and its successor “baby Bertha”, a Firenza powered by the same five-litre Repco Holden V8. Marshall also drove a more conventional, but highly modified, Firenza, which became known as “Old Nail”, a car believed to have won more races in British club history than any other. It is still in use today.
In more recent years, Vauxhall has been best known for its British Touring Car Championship participation. With Scotsman John Cleland driving, the Astra took he BTCC in 1989, and he was to split his time between the BTCC and the Thundersaloon Championship in a V8-engined Vauxhall Carlton. Through the 1990s, Cleland campaigned a Vauxhall Cavalier in the BTCC, in the end settling for two titles, the second coming in 1995. Vauxhall has continued in the BTCC, but has also touched the careers of many well-known drivers such as, David Coulthard and American Champ Car ace Dario Franchitti, both of whom competed in a junior Vauxhall single-seater championship. Current Williams BMW driver Juan Pablo Montoya was another star in single-seaters powered by Vauxhall engines.
With regular participation in rallying at all levels, Vauxhall has enthusiastically promoted its production cars and can now boast one of the largest ranges of sporting production models on offer. They may not be as quick as Jason Platos BTCC Astra, but every one has learnt lessons from top-flight competition.
That, no doubt, is one of the reason Vauxhall’s sporty models are such fun to drive and own.
(Donated by ScottG)