Gerry Marshall’s furious Firenza
In April 2005 the motor racing world lost one of its most unforgettable characters when the legendary Gerry Marshall passed away while in the process of testing a Chevrolet Camaro at Silverstone. No one who saw him drive will ever forget the experience, for although like all racing drivers Gerry wanted to win, he always did it in flamboyant style, hanging the tail out at every opportunity. In a 40-year career that took in all classes from rallying to historic Formula 1, Gerry racked up more than 600 victories, making him the most successful driver ever in British motor sports history. But it was as a saloon car racer that Gerry excelled, proving virtually unbeatable during his time with Dealer Team Vauxhall in the 1970s.
One of Gerry's most memorable races from this period formed part of the BBC Television series '100 Great Sporting Moments'. Featuring full-volume commentary by the irrepressible Murray Walker, this epic scrap is the Osram / BARC Trophy race run at Crystal Palace in September 1971, which pitted Gerry in the DTV Viva GT against Martin Thomas (Chevrolet Camaro) and Mike Crabtree (Ford Escort). The trio swap places and paintwork for the entire race before Gerry is narrowly pipped for the win by Mike Crabtree, only for a 10-second jump-start penalty to relegate the Escort driver to 2nd place and elevate Gerry to 1st (Thomas's Camaro had crashed). Gerry had practised with ’Old Nail' for the race, lapping 1 second slower than in the Viva, and decided the latter was the better bet.
With the Viva now replaced, the focus of the DTV effort switched to the Firenza. Although not designed with competition in mind, the Firenza's 'slant four' engine would be transformed by renowned Vauxhall tuning specialist William 'Bill' Blydenstein, who managed to coax around 265bhp out the final 2.6-litre long-stroke derivative.
Affectionately known as 'Old Nail', Gerry's first and most successful DTV Firenza, the car featured here, is one of the most successful racing saloons of its era, as evidenced by the accompanying results summary listing at least 59 overall victories and four class wins between September 1971 and February 1978. During this period 'Old Nail' won the Forward Trust Special Saloon Car Championship in 1972 (overall) and 1973 (over 1,300cc class), the Simoniz Saloon Car Championship in 1974 (over 1,300cc class) and the Scottish Saloon Car Championship in 1975 (over 1,300cc class, with Bill Dryden driving). 'Old Nail' was continuously developed over the years to keep it winning.
In 1978 'Old Nail' was presented to Gerry by a grateful Dealer Team Vauxhall and remained in his possession until his death in 2005.
Bonhams will be offering the legendary ex-Gerry Marshall 1971 Vauxhall Firenza 'Old Nail' at their upcoming Goodwood Members’ Meeting auction on the 7th April. For more information on this and other vehicles at the sale, click on the link below. Photos courtesy of Bonhams.