Dave Deakin’s Mazda MX-5 pow­ered Chevette is the re­sult of an un­con­ven­tional ap­proach to the restora­tion of a vin­tage Vaux­hall...

Performance Vauxhall - - CONTENTS - Words Dan Furr Pho­tos Michael White­stone

Lov­ingly re­stored Chevette is pack­ing a 1.6-litre MX-5 lump.

Over the years, we’ve seen all man­ner of metal from the Vaux­hall port­fo­lio pow­ered by en­gines sourced from across the GM sta­ble. Whether we’re fea­tur­ing a Corsa with a Z20LET, an As­tra with a C25XE, or a Nova with a B204 sup­plied by a kindly Saab Turbo – it’s clear that the abil­ity to swap com­po­nents be­tween mod­els and mar­ques is one of the key at­trac­tions of own­ing a Grif­fin.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Vaux­halls will only op­er­ate us­ing pow­er­plants from tried and tested Gen­eral Mo­tors donor ve­hi­cles. In­deed, if a healthy dose of time and pa­tience is on your side, then you’re in the for­tu­nate po­si­tion of be­ing able to con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of us­ing the guts of a four-wheeler from an en­tirely dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­turer al­to­gether!

For Stafford­shire man, Dave Deakin, this is old news. A life­long ob­ses­sion with vin­tage Vaux­halls has re­sulted in a num­ber of im­pres­sive cre­ations to roll out of the 37-year-old elec­tri­cian’s garage – many pro­pelled by en­gines sourced from other cars. “My cur­rent long-term project is a Chevette HSR evo­lu­tion rally replica, equipped with an XE nabbed from a rot­ten Cal­i­bra,” he tells us. It prom­ises to be a se­ri­ously hot hatch thanks to its flared wheel arches, chunky bodykit and pe­ri­od­spec rims, but Red­top power is hardly what you’d con­sider to be un­usual in this day and age. “Oh, and I’ve just built a more-door sa­loon with a Mazda MX-5 en­gine in it,” he says. Aha, that’s more like it!

The HSR project has been a

1.6-litre Mazda MX-5 en­gine and gear­box Speed­star Rac­ing XR-4 wheels Bil­stein shock ab­sorbers Cal­i­bra Turbo brakes Opel Manta A rear axle and diff

slow burner, but Dave has no in­ten­tion of rush­ing the work un­nec­es­sar­ily. Un­for­tu­nately, fol­low­ing the sale of other retro rides in­clud­ing a Mk1 Cav­a­lier, this left him with­out a mo­tor to take to the sum­mer shows. “My wife, Tam­mie, owns a mag­a­zine­fea­tured MX-5 and we like to dis­play our cars along­side one an­other wher­ever pos­si­ble,” he continues. “We have a young daugh­ter, and the two- seater setup of the Mazda means that we weren’t able to ven­ture out to­gether as a fam­ily un­less I fin­ished the HSR quickly or bought an­other car. I de­cided to scan the clas­si­fieds as I’m not pre­pared to put the fin­ish of the rally project at risk as a re­sult of need­lessly hur­ry­ing the work,” he says.

T’in­ter­net pro­duced noth­ing of in­ter­est un­til a friend pointed Dave in the di­rec­tion of an on­line ad for a base model Chevette that had been laid up since 2003. Built in 1977 (and in the cus­tody of its own­ers since 1978), the car

had been

grad­u­ally buried un­der a moun­tain of junk in the dank garage that it had been sat in dur­ing the years that had fol­lowed its aban­don­ment. “It took me an hour and half to shift the moun­tain of rubbish that sat on top of its metal­lic brown paint­work!” laughs Dave. “To be hon­est, I didn’t have high ex­pec­ta­tions as the car was ad­ver­tised for sale at just £100, but I was pleas­antly sur­prised to find that it only re­quired a small amount of weld­ing and some mi­nor panel re­pairs.”


Any­one fa­mil­iar with Chevettes will con­firm that these cars love to rot from the in­side out, but a reg­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tion of rust­proof­ing from new meant that the brown budget beater was in re­mark­ably good shape un­der­neath. Nev­er­the­less, the seller was hor­ri­fied to dis­cover that any amount of re­me­dial work was re­quired and of­fered the car to Dave with­out charge. “It was a steal at the ask­ing price, and I stressed that I was happy to shell out re­gard­less, but in the end they would only ac­cept £60!” he chor­tles.

An ex­haus­tive in­spec­tion be­gan as soon as the 1.3-litre L had been trail­ered to the Deakin gaff. The chas­sis rails, rear sills and wheel arches were in need of some TLC (in ad­di­tion to the ob­vi­ous cos­metic dam­age caused by al­most ten years of sit­ting be­neath a pile of boxes), three of the four doors were start­ing to show their age, the bright­work needed a spruce-up and the ques­tion­able beige-and-brown in­te­rior left a lot to be de­sired in spite of its orig­i­nal­ity.

“I didn’t have high ex­pec­ta­tions as

the car was ad­ver­tised for sale

at just £100”

“These were jobs that I could sort fairly eas­ily thanks to my years of train­ing in the mo­tor trade,” ex­plains Dave. “Be­sides, I could dip into the pile of spares that I’d amassed for the HSR project when­ever I needed to,” he adds. De­spite this as­sur­ance, the pri­mary con­cern was how well the nuts and bolts were able to per­form. Thank­fully, a new bat­tery and a re­newal of typ­i­cal ser­vice items were the only re­quire­ments to en­sure a suc­cess­ful first turn of the key.

With the car up and run­ning, the ini­tial phase of the restora­tion could be­gin in ad­vance of an out­ing to the 2013 VBOA Na­tional Rally at Billing Aquadrome. Early ef­forts in­volved re­place­ment met­al­work in the af­fected ar­eas, how­ever, rear wheel arches for Chevette sa­loons are

vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to source. Sub­se­quently, Dave skil­fully fab­ri­cated his own pan­els and set about weld­ing them into place.

The en­su­ing body­work prepa­ra­tion and paint was ap­plied in the com­fort of the Deakin dwelling, and a re­newal of the fac­tory clutch, oil seals, and gas­kets fol­lowed there­after. “The toil was com­plete in ad­vance of the trip to Billing, but I couldn’t lo­cate the source of an oc­ca­sional mis­fire,” Dave frowns. “It was only when we re­turned from our weekend away that I had a brain­wave re­gard­ing the en­gine in Tam­mie’s MX-5 and started to mea­sure it in re­la­tion to the avail­able space un­der the Chevette’s bon­net!”


Tam­mie was un­der­stand­ably re­luc­tant to al­low her show car to be vi­o­lated, but Dave used it as a blue­print to de­ter­mine the fea­si­bil­ity of fit­ting the run­ning gear. With the cal­cu­la­tions com­plete, a donor MX-5 was sourced (much to Mrs Deakin’s re­lief!) and was soon gut­ted of its all-im­por­tant 1.6-litre en­gine, gear­box, ECU and wiring loom.

Shoe­horn­ing Ja­panese equip­ment into the Vaux­hall was a tricky process, and Dave found him­self man­u­fac­tur­ing his own mounts in­cor­po­rat­ing sturdy Ford Es­cort RS2000 rub­bers. The Mazda’s gear­box is much longer than the GM equiv­a­lent and re­quired sig­nif­i­cant mod­i­fi­ca­tion in or­der to shorten its cas­ing and gear se­lec­tor hous­ing by a whop­ping 4.5-inches. The Chevette’s trans­mis­sion tun­nel was al­tered to suit, and a cus­tom prop­shaft was fab­ri­cated and cou­pled to an Opel Manta A axle and diff ca­pa­ble of han­dling the re­vised level of power be­ing sent to the rear wheels.

The MX-5’s en­gine is also much deeper than the Chevette’s orig­i­nal unit, and the coil­pack mounts were repo­si­tioned to avoid con­flict­ing with the car’s fac­tory heater ma­trix and bulk­head-mounted blower mo­tor. A slim­line ra­di­a­tor from the Rover parts bin was also nec­es­sary due to limited space up-front, but the fin­ished B6ZE in­stall looks like a fac­tory fit – even with the at­tach­ment of a Piper­cross in­duc­tion kit – and is fed by Facet and Opel twin fuel pumps, fea­tures a cus­tom throt­tle link­age and boasts a com­plete, home­made stain­less steel ex­haust sys­tem.

A full re­spray at a pro­fes­sional bodyshop fol­lowed and Dave sourced a set of SSR XR-4 rims that suit the car per­fectly, now that it sits closer to the tar­mac on Bil­stein dampers and 40mm low­er­ing springs. Re­cessed head­lights with black sur­rounds add a rally in­flu­enced touch to the front end, while a com­plete GLS in­te­rior fresh­ens up the cabin.


Stop­ping power is en­hanced fol­low­ing the in­clu­sion of Cal­i­bra Turbo calipers, Audi discs and Manta A rear drums, which may prove to be an in­spired move now that Dave is con­sid­er­ing in­tro­duc­ing his Chevette to the world of forced in­duc­tion. “I’m us­ing the car as my daily driver but am think­ing of adding a tur­bocharger as the en­gine’s stock in­ter­nals are able to deliver much more than the quoted 120bhp.”

In keep­ing with the tra­di­tion of the build thus far, parts will be sourced from out­side of the GM fam­ily, but it’s this in­no­va­tive ap­proach that has given a once-ne­glected Chevette a whole new lease of life with­out break­ing the bank. And that’s food for thought to any Vaux­hall owner con­sid­er­ing an al­ter­na­tive to fa­mil­iar en­gine swaps!

“A cus­tom prop­shaft was fab­ri­cated and

cou­pled to a Manta A axle and diff”

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