This Overlooked Race Car Made History At Spa
Photography Courtesy of Bonhams
In 1967, General Motors was stubborn on its factory-backed official sponsorship-racing ban, but that didn’t stop Dutch engineer Bill Blydenstein from seeking a loophole. Blydenstein was already a seasoned racer with connections to a number of GM dealerships, so he conspired to persuade his contacts to circumvent the ban by having dealers sponsor his racing endeavor—and it worked.
Bill and his team had been racing, among other platforms, VX4/90 since 1963, so Vauxhall provided new HB Viva coupes. The Shaw & Kilburn Vauxhall dealership agreed to back the team and the debut race, with Bill behind the wheel, earned a class win. Nevertheless, Bill and S&K thought it’d be best to source a more experienced driver—enter Gerry Marshall.
In 1970, the FIA altered Group 2 touring car guidelines that banned a number of models from competing. Under the new name of “Dealer Team Vauxhall,” or DTV for short, the group made the switch to racing Firenza Coupés. Gerry Marshall actually raced his company car Firenza until the DTV cars were completed—that is, without question, the greatest way to use a company car.
The Firenza proved to be a successful platform so this 1977 Vauxhall Firenza Magnum 2300 Coupé was built to Group 1 spec for the Spa 24 Hours. Running Group 1 limited modifications and despite using the original steel shell, the ‘Spa Magnum’ was under its minimum weight restriction, resulting in added lead weights to meet qualifications.
Typical of the Ardennes, Belgium region, it rained on the Spa Magnum’s big day. The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps’ slippery tarmac kept traction hairy, but DTV improvised. According to Gerry Marshall, when the track was drying, #56 was running Michelin rubber in back for extra grip—something Dunlop wasn’t too happy about.
The tire swap was well worth their sponsor’s frustration, when the ‘Spa Magnum placed second overall thanks to Marshall and legendary driver Peter Brock! In 24 hours, the 2300 Coupé averaged faster than 100 mph over the 2,400-mile endurance. Sadly, Firenza production was ending, which lead to the Magnum being phased out in favor of the new Chevette starting in 1978.
DTV sold the Vauxhall racer to the London Sportscar Company in late 1977. It continued competing in 1978 with Alan Foster and Win Percy claiming the Tourist Trophy at Silverstone, Jock Robertson back at the Spa, and Barrie Williams and Tony Lanfranchi—who rolled the car at Silverstone’s tricky Abbey Curve.
After a 15-year hiatus in a barn, the retired and battered Magnum was auctioned at Autosport International and purchased by Vintage Sports Car Club member Adrian Goding in 2005. By inspecting the bondo filled rear roof section repair from the Lanfranchi rollover, Ivan Dutton (Bugatti guru and former worker for Alan Foster) was able to identify the car as the real Spa Magnum.
SRG Motorsport was tasked with resurrecting the Vauxhall—the down to metal body restoration took over 360 man-hours alone. The restoration took 55 weeks to complete with Gerry Marshall and former DTV team members assisting in recreating the car’s original Group 1 specifications, both aesthetically and mechanically.
Unfortunately, Gerry Marshall passed away before the Spa Magnum’s return to the circuit—this time with owner Adrian Goding behind the wheel at the Silverstone in the Pomeroy Trophy. The Vauxhall, assigned #56 again, took second in class—something Gerry Marshall would be proud of.
– Significant documented in-period race history
– Restored to original specification in 2005
~172 horsepower, 2300 cc 2.3-liter four-cylinder with twin 48DCOE Weber carburetors, Getrag five-speed manual transmission, double wishbone with coil-spring front and live rear axle with trailing arm rear suspension, front disc and rear drum brakes. Wheelbase: 97 in.
Chassis no.: 9E37PCX10377