Prototype 4-Seater Prestige Convertible – 1978 Cavalier Centaur | Season 3 – Episode 10 (Version 2)
Wheels Mar 21, 2023
A Vauxhall Centaur is a very rare car, what makes Michael Horan’s Centaur ultra-rare is that production numbering for this car began at number 25, and this is that very car we are featuring, the prototype.
Michael Horan is a classic car collector/ enthusiast, collecting mainly Opel’s & Vauxhalls and seeing the Centaur for sale on eBay in June 2017, he won his bid and travelled to England and bought the car from Tony White who had owned if for ten years.
In conversation with this author Michael told us about what it is like to own a late 70s Opel prototype. “The Centaur’s 1.9 litre engine and 4-speed manual gearbox are very reliable and an absolute dream to drive and I would not change anything physically or mechanically with the car.” Michael’s Centaur has the optional extra Campagnolia magnesium alloy wheels fitted and the only upgrade item has been real leather Recaros up front.
When operating the hood, Michael loves ease with which the roof folds down in a matter of seconds – manually release two latches & back it goes. According to Michael; “even though there might not be a lot of opportunities to leave down the roof, due to the unpredictable Irish weather, it’s still worth it when the sun does shine.” The next job on the Centaur will be to refresh the paint to the engine bay as it needs a little tidying up.
The story of this unusual car began in May 1977 when Magraw Engineering Ltd., part of the larger KJ Group, UK, seeing a gap in the market left by the popular Triumph Stag that went out of production in 1977, began development of the Vauxhall Cavalier Centaur.
The Magraw company engaged world-renowned car conversion specialists Crayford Engineering, co-founded by Belfast man David McMullan along with his friend Jeff Smith, more on this company in an upcoming story. Mcgraw and Crayford agreed on a £12,000 fee to design a 4-seater T-top convertible based on the reliable and well-proven Cavalier Coupé.
The first prototype cost £5,800 to produce and was completed in November 1977. As is the practice with most other auto manufacturers the production numbers do not begin with 001 and so this car was designated as number 25.
The car was first displayed on Stand No. 18 at the 1977 ‘Motorfair’ at Earls Court and was well received by the motoring press. The launch price was £6,879.60 (Nearly twice the price of the standard Cavalier) and the cars were to only be available from Vauxhall Dealers.
The ‘donor’ car was the Cavalier GLS Coupe, and early versions were fitted with a 1.9 engine with the 2.0 litre introduced in 1978. The Crayford Engineering design involved removing the roof, strengthening the floor-pan with front and rear bracing, and adding an immensely strong T-bar similar to the Triumph Stag, that ensured all the rigidity of fixed head models, with the added advantage of using the original upper safety belt mounting points. The first three cars were made by Crayford and all subsequent cars were made by Magraw.
Mcgraw Engineering, a part of the K.J. Group of Companies based in Bromley, Kent completed the conversion work on the car from fixed head ‘tin-top’ to convertible. The Centaur project was actively supported by Vauxhall Motors Ltd., and was one of the first ever British built cars to be given a full-type approval by parent company General Motors (GM). Each vehicle carries its own Commission number in the glove box.
Although the width of the rear seat was reduced as necessary on each side to receive the hood mechanism, the press release at the time claimed, ‘it is still comfortable and suitable for two passengers, maintaining full knee-room space between the rear and front seats.” The launch publicity also claimed at the time that the headroom for the occupants of the front seats was greater than in the fixed head models.
When describing their design, Crayford Engineering emphasised that fixed quarter lights and a large rear light were crucial safety features. Although it was technically feasible to make the rear quarter lights wind-down or operate with the hood, the company opted for fixed quarter lights to streamline the hood operation. Crayford Engineering claimed in their launch publicity to have “produced the stiffest open-topped car in our 15 years-experience of convertible development, and the hood mechanism is one of the strongest and most advanced in which we have been involved….”
The mohair hood operation (with vinyl available as an option), was designed for ease of use, and the raising of the hood was assisted by gas-operated struts. In its forward position, the hood is mechanically locked by two smooth contoured catches in an orthodox manner. When folded down, it is covered with a hood bag to present a neat and attractive appearance.
The front wings and boot lid of the car bear a “Centaur” emblem, while the B post mouldings feature a Vauxhall griffin. Moving to the interior, the trim is the standard velour trim found in the Cavalier GLS and is available in black, blue, or beige.
The standard listed specifications of this ‘distinguishing coachline’ car included push-button radio, twin door-mounted mirrors and 51J ×13″ Rostyle wheels. Optional upgrades such as auto transmissions and Campagnolia magnesium alloy wheels were offered at an additional cost and an extra “zip-in” detachable glass heated rear window was mentioned as a potential future optional extra.
From 1978 to 1979 McGraw Engineering produced just 118 Centaurs, the majority were Vauxhalls, although several Opels were also manufactured and it is thought that just 70 cars survive today.
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Cavalier & Chevette Club UK
K J Motors Bromley – (Peter Smith) Facebook Page
Simon Cars (UK)
The Crawford Story – David McMullan
Vauxhall Cavalier Centaur Convertible brochure
Vauxhall Cavalier MK 1 Coupe Centaur Convertible Fact File by Sean Hunt & Dan Roberts