Cavalier Mk1 Centaur

1978 to 1979
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The name Centaur comes from the Greek Κένταυρος, Kéntauros or hippo-centaur and is a mythological creature with the head, arms, and torso of a human and the body and legs of a horse, as a choice of name for a well-engineered, attractive, sleek convertible car it really doesn’t cut the mustard. It was however a name that General Motors held on their portfolio of car and truck nomenclature and was first used in the US on a Design Concept vehicle called the GMC Centaur and as the picture shows it was quite an apt name for that particular vehicle! Crayford Engineering Group, with a workshop based in Westerham near Sevenoaks in Kent, had built up an enviable reputation for modifying all sorts of cars from Fords to Mercedes, from highly tuned engines, stretched chassis and most of all for convertible conversions. Their first foray into the General Motors stable was an up-market version of the Vauxhall HB Viva called “Prince” which was a flop. The second was far more successful, the HB Viva convertible, these are still very rare and are highly collectable.UK at Westerham in 1970, and was photographed outside Crayford House, the home of Crayford’s Managing Director David McMullan. Motor magazine at the time ran a small piece claiming a sole UK concessionaire had been appointed in East Grinstead but this never came to anything and to my knowledge no Opel Commodore or the similar Rekord C convertibles were sold in the UK, it certainly was never advertised and the prototype was sold on to Deutsch Coach-builders in Cologne Germany. The next GM car that Crayford were involved with is almost forgotten today and was a chopped roof version of the Opel Commodore A 2 door Coupe. Only one LHD prototype of the Commodore convertible was made in the Butlion of Vauxhall who worked in the Engineering Department at Luton and would rise to become a senior Director at Vauxhall in the mid-1980s. He had seen the Cavalier mock-up and thought it was a shame such an attractive looking car was just let die. In brief following discussions between Vauxhall and Crayford set up by Butlion, the pictures and exact dimensions of the mock-up were released to Crayford who then went on to produce a fully fitted working prototype in early 1978. In a further twist in 1987 David McMullan decided to retire. The Crayford Company, whose biggest assets were the worldwide brand label and the Argo ATV franchise, was sold to a new partnership lead by David Butlion, by then a senior Director at Bedford Truck and Bus Division. The Argo made Crayford the world’s largest supplier of ATV machines outside North America. In 1989 David Butlion sells the business and leaves to develop a new sports car with an ex Vauxhall designer. They set up a factory in Devon to build a fabulous car like a Lotus 7 on Steroids called a Merak. They made only 6, all sold in Germany & Japan before David Butlion ran out of funding and had to wind up the company in 1993. He and his family had to sell their home in Harpenden and move back to South Africa after 16 years in the UK. When the Cavalier Mk1 was launched in 1975 it was an instant sales hit and as discussed elsewhere on the site Vauxhall were far more involved in the development and design than most people give Vauxhall credit for. Late in 1976 the Luton Design studio had produced a concept mock-up of a Cavalier Convertible based on the Coupe body-shell, remember it was also around this time that Vauxhall had the two Chevette Saloon Convertibles built. No further work was done on the Convertible idea and attention switched full time to what would become the Cavalier Sportshatch. David McMullan at Crayford had many contacts throughout the motor industry and one of these was David Crayford announced the Cavalier Centaur to the press in August 1978, based on the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 2000GLS Coupe along with full UK Type Approval and fully backed by Vauxhalls factory warranty. The cost at announcement was £7,103, of which £2,808 was for the conversion but if automatic transmission was specified or Campagnolia magnesium alloy wheels cost could break the £8k barrier. Although expensive, as a full size 5 seat convertible it had little competition at the price. The conversion was also available on the Opel Manta but only 2 were ever produced. At the same time of the launch it was confirmed that Magraw Engineering Ltd would build the car under licence to Crayford at their workshop in Mumford near Plymouth. Magraw Engineering had employed a lot of the skilled workforce made redundant after Mumford Conversions Ltd had gone bust earlier. Magraw also had ties with the large Vauxhall dealer chain, KJ Motors Ltd, but the car could be ordered at any Vauxhall dealer who would then purchase the car direct from Magraw Engineering Ltd. On the exterior of the car, a "Centaur" badge is on the front wings and boot lid, while on the B post mouldings a Vauxhall griffin can be found. 5 1/2J x 13" Rostyle wheels are standard, while Campagnolo alloys were an option. The roof section is formed of a strong T-bar and is coupled to the B posts and outriggers for strengthening as well as front and rear bracing for rigidity. Fixed rear quarter glass ensures good all-round visibility when the hood is up and offers draft protection for the rear passengers when the hood is down. The hood can be opened and closed using gas operated struts. When opened, a tailored cover completely encloses the hood to enhance the car's flowing contours. When the hood is closed, this cover is stored on the rear parcel shelf. The interior trim is the standard velour trim of the Cavalier GLS in black, blue or beige. Each vehicle carries its own commission number in the glove box. In total 118 examples were produced but the reason production stopped was Vauxhall deleted the Cavalier Coupe for the 1979 model year meaning Centaur production stopped at the same time. There is thought to be only around 20 of the 118 Centaurs built left on the road. With thanks to Dave at
Prototype based on the 1900 GlS Coupe.
Cavalier Mk1 Centaur Brochure.
An earlier picture of Concept 2 painted in yellow.
Jon Pertwee on the Magwar stand at the London Motor Show in 1978.
James Hunt at KJ Motors Promotion. Don’t forget James Hunt was employed as a Vauxhall Ambassador at the time.