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  Vauxhall Firenza 'Baby Bertha'

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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced in:1974
Numbers built:1
Source:Company press release
Last updated:June 27, 2005
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Click here to download printer friendly versionOne of the most ferocious and famous British national race cars ever also has one of the most unusual names: Baby Bertha. Created by Vauxhall in 1974 to compete in the British Super Saloon Series (a "sedan" in Britain is called a "saloon"), Baby Bertha was based on the Vauxhall Firenza but fitted with a full-race 5.0-litre Repco-tuned Holden V-8 producing 500 bhp. At the Goodwood Festival of Speed-June 24-26, in Chichester , England - Baby Bertha ran up the hill in memory of Gerry Marshall. Marshall, Baby Bertha's legendary driver, passed away on April 21, 2005.

Baby Bertha was fast out of the box in the hands of Marshall and achieved one of motor racing's most enviable records. In three seasons of competition, it retired only twice, finished second once but won every other race it started (more than 40 races) and assisted Marshall in winning the Super Saloon Championship two years running. The stock Firenza body center section (floorpan, roof and bulkheads) was married to high-downforce front and rear body sections with a space frame chassis. It carried unusually sophisticated suspension for the time: fully independent front suspension with pushrod-operated spring/damper units, and a de Dion rear suspension with a Salisbury differential and inboard disc brakes at the rear.

The plan for Baby Bertha grew out of Vauxhall's desire to support the production launch of the Vauxhall Ventora V-8 production car in 1973. A race car was developed from the Ventora V-8 (comparable in size to a Vauxhall Omega), which also had to double as a show car. It was beautiful, but big and heavy as a result of its show car dual function - quickly inheriting the nickname Big Bertha from team insiders. The after-effects of the 1973 oil crisis caused the cancellation of the Ventora V-8 road car but not the racer. In a short career, it won three times in six races (winning every time it finished) but was heavily damaged in a spectacular crash at Silverstone. As marketing support for the Ventora V-8 road car was no longer needed, the essential parts of Big Bertha (engine, transmission, suspension, steering) were gathered together as the core of a much lighter, smaller and nimble race car based on the Astra-sized Firenza. And Baby Bertha was born.

Design and build of Baby Bertha was by Bill Blydenstein, with Frank Costin, and the car was raced under the Dealer Team Vauxhall banner. After Baby Bertha was retired from top-line competition in 1978, it passed through a number of owners (including Marshall ) and is currently owned by Joe Ward. It last raced at Thruxton Circuit in Southern England in November 1981 and finished second, driven again by Marshall. Since 1981, Ward has fully restored Baby Bertha to its original condition. At some time, the Holden engine was removed for use in another race project but Baby Bertha remains GM Powered, with a 5.0-liter small-block V-8, tuned by Alan Smith and still retaining Baby Bertha's original Lucas Fuel Injection.

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  Article Image gallery (5) Specifications