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