On the Radar: the first in a new series of updates in which PB looks at cars sailing very close to the PetrolBlog radar. We start with the original Vauxhall Tigra.
You have to feel some sympathy for the Vauxhall Tigra. For a few years it was the darling of the small coupé world, hogging the limelight as the go-to car for the fashion-conscious girl about town. But then along came the Ford Puma and everything changed.
Launched in March 1994, the Vauxhall Tigra looked every inch the concept car made good. Of course, we all knew it was little more than a Vauxhall Corsa in a dress it bought from New Look, but that didn’t matter. Against the backdrop of the MK3 Astra, Cavalier, Omega and Frontera, the little Tigra felt like a breath of fresh air. It had the look of a fun-size Calibra, which is no bad thing.
For Vauxhall, the Tigra represented a chance to inject some much-needed glamour into a tired brand. The supporting ad campaign used reverse psychology, claiming anyone who ironed creases into their jeans or plumped the cushions on their sofa wouldn’t like the Tigra at all. According to Vauxhall, driving the Tigra was the most fun you could have with your clothes on.
Only it wasn’t. The Tigra may have featured entirely new body panels, but it retained the heart of a Corsa. The interior was the same, the engines were the same and, crucially, the chassis was the same. So once inside the Tigra, it simply felt like you were behind the wheel of a less practical Corsa. Not that this mattered. It looked great and, let’s face it, for most people that’s enough.
For three glorious years the Tigra had things entirely its own way. Budget-conscious buyers opted for the 1.4-litre injection 16v, originally priced at £11,565, while the racier folk chose the £13,565 1.6-litre 16v, which also added ABS, a passenger airbag and a sunroof. Power was rated at 89bhp for the 1.4i and 104bhp for the 1.6i.
Through no fault of its own, the Vauxhall Tigra had picked up an image for being a ‘bit girly’, a tag which would later be attached to the Ford Puma. Only the pert little Ford changed the game, proving that a supermini-based coupé could look good and be great to drive. Motoring mags soon proclaimed the Puma to be one of the best front-wheel drive cars of all-time, prompting none other than Steve McQueen to order a silver one. Or sorts.
The Puma managed to achieve that rare thing of being able to appeal to those driven by fashion, whilst not alienating those fashioned by driving. It didn’t matter that the interior was essentially the same as you’d find in the Ford Fiesta. The Puma looked cooler than the Tigra, performed better than the Tigra and – sorry, Vauxhall – was simply a better product.
Vauxhall responded by asking Lotus to tweak the suspension and there were a succession of special editions. Who remembers the Tigra MTV Summertime or Tigra Bermuda?
But the Tigra was on borrowed time and production stopped in October 1999. Ford celebrated by rolling out the Puma Millennium, alongside the similarly yellow Focus and Ka. The little Tigra soon spiralled into oblivion, even suffering the ignominy of having its name resurrected for the not-yet-ready-for-PetrolBlog-status Tigra TwinTop of 2004.
So the original Vauxhall Tigra is best forgotten, right? Well, no, not exactly. I appreciate I’m probably alone here, but I reckon the Tigra has turned the corner. Not in the same way a Ford Puma could turn a corner, but the Corsa in a corset is starting to look good again. It has taken 20 years, but the Tigra is worthy of a place in the PetrolBlog hall of fame.
Sure, the interior is about as interesting as interesting as a wet weekend in Broadstairs (to use a Vauxhall reference) and there’s barely enough room in the back to seat a pair of pygmy hedgehogs, but since when did anyone buy a Tigra for its practicality? A Tigra with a 1.6i engine (the same as you’d find in a Corsa GSi) could be a whole heap of fun. And you needn’t spend more than a grand to get a good one.
You’ll no doubt point to the elephant – or rather Puma – in the room and say that the same wad of cash would secure a rather delightful Ford Puma of a similar vintage. And yes, that would be the most sensible option.
But since when did PetrolBlog choose the sensible path? Besides, we’re getting to the age when having a milky drink before bedtime sounds appealing and taking extra vitamins in cold weather makes perfect sense. Ironically, the kind of activities enjoyed by people who, in 1995, wouldn’t have enjoyed the Tigra at all. Or so Vauxhall claimed.
I no longer look at a Vauxhall Tigra with disdain. In fact, if I see an original Tigra on the road – which doesn’t happen all that often – I have to look twice. Time has been very kind to the little Vauxhall.
Am I a lone voice in the wilderness? Or does this Spanish-built coupé float your barco? Let me know. If only to put me out of my misery.
Photos © Vauxhall.