Pity the poor Vauxhall Tigra. Launched in 1994 following a positive response to the 1993 concept, were it not for the arrival of a game-changer from the Blue Oval, it could have dominated the blue-collar small coupé market.
The Ford Puma provided the proof that style and substance could go together; a car that was appealing to both fashion-led motorists and those in search of B-road thrills. The Tigra could get you from A to C in style, but the Puma was the coupé you needed if you wanted to go via B.
Just like the Puma, the Tigra shared a platform with a humble sibling, but while the Fiesta was a great drive, the Corsa B lacked the precision required to give a coupé any sense of thrills behind the wheel. Many will argue that the Puma also had the Tigra licked in the style department, but looks are subjective, so feel free to sharpen your claws in the comments.
GM had lofty ambitions for the Opel and Vauxhall Tigra. A roadster concept was unveiled alongside the coupé at the 1993 Frankfurt Motor Show, and there were plans for the Tigra to be sold in the US as a Pontiac. There was even talk of the Tigra roadster replacing the Geo Metro convertible, along with whispers of a Tigra V6. [I shudder to think how that would have handled. Ed]
These ideas came to nothing, although the Tigra did make it to Brazil and Mexico, where it was sold as a Chevrolet.
Back home, the Tigra was greeted enthusiastically by the press, with CAR labelling it “a design classic from day one”. It pointed to the cramped back seats and said the Tigra “will make you reassess how often you need the rear seats and big-booted versatility of a regular hatchback”.
Although it had reservations about its underpinnings, the magazine praised the 106bhp, 1.6-litre four-cylinder Ecotec petrol engine, calling it “the best bit” of the Corsa B.
Such was the praise heaped upon the Puma when it arrived in 1997 in a blaze of Steve McQueen-fuelled nostalgia, that you’d be forgiven for remembering the Vauxhall for being the Ford’s pretty but shallow sibling. On the contrary, CAR praised its “apex-spearing accuracy” and tyres that enabled you to “enjoy playing around at the Tigra’s limits without having to approach suicidal speeds to access them”.
Top Gear’s Michele Newman reckoned a Vauxhall Tigra with the entry-level 1.4-litre engine was the best option, saying it was better to drive. Despite being 16bhp down on power, the Tigra 1.4 weighed less than a tonne, so the on-paper performance figures didn’t look too shabby. Zero to 62mph in 10.5 seconds and a top speed of 118mph to the figures of 9.5 and 126mph for the 1.6.
A heavy, lethargic and thirsty 1.4-litre automatic was available if you felt like being punished whenever you took that Tigra outside for a ride. On the plus side, you wouldn’t be looking back in anger after trying to get the best out of the Tigra’s stodgy five-speed gearbox.
Vauxhall owned the blue-collar catwalk for the best part of three years before Ford unleashed its Puma on an unsuspecting public. Lotus was wheeled in to tweak the Tigra’s suspension, while a succession of special editions helped to keep the little coupé alive until the turn of the millennium,
From that point, the Tigra entered a period of decline, lacking both the badge and driver appeal to keep it alive. The Puma suffered a similar fate, only to enjoy a resurgence when the market remembered its greatness. Today, you’re more likely to see a Puma than a Tigra at a cars and coffee event.
Which is why this late example has piqued our interest. Registered in 2000, the Tigra has covered just 30,000 miles and is powered by the more desirable 1.6-litre engine (sorry, Michele Newman). You might want to check that the corrosion noted at the previous couple of MOTs has been seen to, not least because the current MOT expires at the end of March.
If you fancy placing a bid on the Tigra, it will go under the hammer at the Manor Park Classics auction on 25 February, and we’d add that there is no reserve price attached to the sale. Alternatively, we’ve found this 9614-mile example on eBay, which is likely to be one of the best in the UK. Sure, it’s £8500, but Michele Newman would approve of the 1.4-litre engine.