Vauxhall’s first moment in the sun was much more than a mini-Corvette
Well, that doesn’t look like my Grandad’s Vauxhall Viva.
And how. This is proof that not everything cool in 1960s Britain was happening on Carnaby Street or within the airwaves of Swinging Radio London.
Out in Luton, something revolutionary was happening, too – Vauxhall, purveyor of sombre family saloons, was pulling out all the metaphorical stops, throwing caution to the metaphorical wind and producing a metaphorically scorching concept car.
Metaphors aside, just what are we looking at here?
This, gentle reader, is the Vauxhall XVR – so named because it’s an Experimental Vauxhall Research car. Yes, we know it should technically be ‘EVR’, but X is one of those letters that just belongs on a badge, like ‘GT’ or ‘R’.
And we’re pretty sure that was the last thing on the minds of the attendees of the 1966 Geneva Motor Show, who witnessed a kind of hail-mary from a small, left-field British manufacturer that had, up until this point, produced a litany of cars that’d only raise your pulse if you accidentally stepped out in front of one.
It certainly looks plenty brisk. What sort of performance are we looking at?
Thoroughly 1960s performance, we’re afraid. Even though the power came from Vauxhall’s upcoming 2.0-litre slant-four engine, which was its most advanced road-going engine to date, there was still only around 100bhp on offer.
The slippery bodywork helped the XVR to crest the 161kph mark, which seems even less dramatic the further we get from 1966.
There’s a ‘but’ hiding there, isn’t there?
Ah, you know us too well. This is a British sports coupe, after all, and straight-line speed has never been our first priority. We’re a nation that proudly does more with less. So you’d better believe that the XVR was set up to harness every last hoof and haunch of the 100-odd horses on offer.
Underneath the ‘mini Mako Shark’ bodywork, you’ll find fully independent suspension front and rear, as well as all-round disc brakes. The engine was mounted low, and as close to the middle of the car as possible, to make sure the XVR was as balanced and lithe as possible. Even though the engine is still in the front, it’s far enough back to qualify as mid-engined.
That’s all well and good, but whatever came of it?
Well, you might not believe it, but Vauxhall went on to put the XVR into production, where it dominated the World Rally Championship, vaulting Vauxhall to near-mythic status among petrolheads the world over.
Buoyed by their success, Vauxhall then produced a series of fast and devilishly exciting cars that dominated the roads of Britain and Europe, ensuring their place in the pantheon of greats, next to Porsche, Mercedes, Lancia, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Jaguar.
Yeah… we know. They did none of that. Vauxhall crushed the only road-going version of the XVR and did the same to another rolling chassis, leaving just one extant XVR in the Vauxhall Heritage Centre.
One can only imagine what would have happened if Vauxhall had followed through with something like the XVR…