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Vauxhall Chevette History


The Chevette is a model of car manufactured by Vauxhall in the UK from 1975 to 1983. It was Vauxhall's version of GM's family of small 'T-Cars', which included the Opel Kadett in Germany, the Isuzu Gemini in Japan, the Holden Gemini in Australia, the Chevrolet Chevette in the USA and Brazil and a badge-engineered Pontiac Acadian/Pontiac T1000 in the USA and Canada.

It was designed to replace the Viva, but was sold alongside that model for much of its life. However, unlike the Viva, the Chevette was designed as a hatchback, a style that was rapidly becoming popular in the mid 1970s. For 1975 until 1978, the Chevette was, in fact, the UK's best selling hatchback as rivals failed to field competitive models until the arrival of the Ford Fiesta in late 1977.

More conventional 2 and 4 door saloons and 3 door estate variants were also built from 1976. The Viva remained in production until the end of 1979, when the Astra was launched. The launch of the Astra looked to have spelled the end for the Chevette, but it remained in production for another four years until after the smaller Nova was launched.

A van version, based of the estate and called the Bedford Chevanne was also built, but no coupe version was offered, as with the Opel Kadett.

Although the Chevette was largely a rebadged Opel Kadett C with revised front-end (detailed below), it did use the 1256 cc overhead valve engine of the Viva instead of the Opel power units found in its Kadett sister car. The Kadett's double wishbone front suspension, rear wheel drive and rear suspension with Panhard rod, torque tube and coil sprung live axle were carried over unaltered. Inside, the two cars differed only in terms of their dashboard and switchgear - the Chevette stuck to the British tradition of having the indicator switch on the right hand side of the steering column, while the Kadett had the German custom of the flasher stalk being on the left. The Chevette also had a much more angular instrument binnacle, although the Kadett instrumentation remained.

The Chevette's front end featured a more aerodynamic nose treatment than the Kadett, based loosely on the design of the "droopsnoot" Firenza. In contrast the Kadett had a more conventional flat-fronted design. In 1980, the Chevette underwent a facelift with flush fitting headlights making it look like the larger Vauxhall Cavalier, new wheel designs, revised C pillar vent covers and revamped interior trim with re-designed front seats to increase rear knee room marginally. However, it was effectively on a phase out in favour of the newer Astra, Vauxhall's version of the front wheel drive Kadett, which was launched early in 1980. The Chevette was finally withdrawn from the model range in 1983. The Chevette was nicknamed the "Shove-It" by some, owing to its reputation for unreliability and sometimes lacklustre build quality exhibited by many British-made cars of the period - although Vauxhall were much better in this respect than the likes of Rootes (Chrysler) or British Leyland.

However, it compensated by being very sporty to drive and look at even in base form. Hotter versions gained much recognition on rally circuits for a number of years - see the Chevette HS and HSR notes, below.

The Chevette was sold across Europe, but also in New Zealand between 1976 and 1981. It was unusual that New Zealand had the Chevette, as neighbouring Australia had the Kadett based Holden Gemini. Eventually the car would be replaced by the Gemini.


Chevette HS

The very rare Chevette HSR in road-going trim

Vauxhall decided to abandon company-sponsored saloon-car racing in 1977, and instead decided to go into Rallying. They had a long-standing relationship with Blydenstein racing, and commissioned them to develop a rally version of the Chevette. They created a far more powerful Chevette variant by shoehorning the much larger 2.3 litre Slant Four engine into the shell, and with Vauxhall developed a twin camshaft 16-valve cylinder head for it. The gearbox was discarded in favour of a much stronger Getrag 5-speed box, and the bodyshell was strengthened. Avon Alloy wheels (similar to those used on the droopsnoot Firenza) were used, as well as a newly developed GRP nosecone. The resulting car was extremely fast with almost 200 hp (150 kW), and a far cry from the small-engined Chevettes from which it was developed. In order to compete in rallying, the car had to be homologated, which in this sport meant that it had to be a production model derivative in order to be eligible. Thus Vauxhall motors manufactured the HS following the Blydenstein pattern for sale. The result was an incredibly fast, if rather unrefined road car, and while production was limited to around 400 only, they all sold like hot cakes. Like the Firenza, the HS was available only in silver, with less than subtle red highlighting and a bright red and black tartan interior. Some owners requested that their dealer have their car resprayed black, so there are a few black genuine HS Chevettes in existence.

The HS was an immediate success as a rally car, clocking up notable wins for driver Tony Pond. It advanced the state of the art in world-class rallying quite significantly, and easily outclassed the Mk2 Ford Escort which had dominated the sport recently. However, its reign was not to last, as the Audi Quattro soon appeared, raising the stakes once again by introducing four-wheel drive. To stay competitive, a further version, the HSR, was developed, which was an even more powerful variant, and held its own for several more years into the early 1980s. However, the days of rear-drive rally cars were numbered, and the sport was dominated from then on by 4-wheel drive designs. The HSR was also homologated and sold to the public, though in very limited numbers. It is widely thought that the HSR numbers for homologation were achieved by rebuilding unsold HS models as factory rebuilds, and modifying customers vehicles.

Both the rare HS and the even rarer HSR are now very sought-after collectible classics.


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