CHEVETTE RED TOP

SE­RI­OUSLY COOL XE’D STUN­NER

Performance Vauxhall - - FRONT PAGE - Words Jarkle Pho­tos Steve McCann

It’s all too easy to forget just how im­por­tant the Chevette was to Vaux­hall when it was launched in 1975. The man­u­fac­turer had strug­gled through­out the pre­ced­ing decade with a dated, lim­ited model range that had at­tracted a rep­u­ta­tion for chronic rust – quite some feat in an era when Bri­tish Ley­land could sell bucket loads of cars like the Ma­rina and the Al­le­gro! Still, things were look­ing up for the Grif­fin thanks to a suc­cess­ful on track mo­tor­sport pro­gramme, in­creased in­vest­ment from the purse-hold­ers at GM, and some gen­uinely at­trac­tive new mod­els. The Chevette went on to be a strong seller for Vaux­hall and was very much part of the street fur­ni­ture of ur­ban Bri­tain right up un­til the early ‘90s. It spawned the bril­liant Chevette HS and the mighty HSR, and pro­vided Opel with their first hatch­back (the Kadett C City), and gen­er­ally carved out a rep­u­ta­tion as a good, hon­est fam­ily car.

Nowa­days the Chevette is a very rare car in­deed, with fer­rous ox­ide and the pas­sage of time hav­ing sealed the fate of most ex­am­ples well be­fore the turn of the cen­tury, but good, en­thu­si­ast owned cars are still out there. This one is owned by Jonathan Arm­strong, a self­con­fessed Vaux­hall nut with a deeply im­pres­sive CV of pre­vi­ous cars, in­clud­ing plenty of hot No­vas.

“I left Vaux­halls be­hind and got into Evos, but about three years ago I wanted an­other go,” Jonathan ex­plains. “I bought a Nova GSi that’d been on the cover of MaxPower, drove it for a mile and had to get out and sell it again – it was that bad, prob­a­bly best left in the past.”

With the front wheel drive hatch un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously sold on, Jonathan in­stead turned to the older, rear wheel drive Chevette, even­tu­ally track­ing down a half fin­ished project that came with the all im­por­tant straight body­work and, hand­ily, an XE slung be­tween the wings.

“The seller hadn’t really done a very good job of fit­ting it, he’d just chucked it in and it needed re-wiring and some shorter, cus­tom mounts made up so that the bon­net could close,” chuck­les Jonathan.

Fin­ish­ing touches

Still, the ma­jor­ity of the hard­ware was there and in place, in­clud­ing the Manta ‘big wing’ sump, Ge­trag 240 gear­box and Manta axle, and the all round good con­di­tion of the metal work meant that Jonathan could jump right in with the build – “It only ended up need­ing a pair of patches to the sills, so not at all bad for such an old, rust-prone car”– The XE was hauled back out while Jonathan set to work re-work­ing and cut­ting the mounts down to size, while a pair of Courte­nay cams and a chip (both left­over from his Nova own­ing days) were added to the en­gine’s spec. Most of the Chevette needed re-wiring and the loom needed to be prop­erly routed, but all in all the con­ver­sion was pretty pain­less and the whole car was up and run­ning swiftly.

The 1256cc Chevette L rolled off the line with a coat of Carmine Red paint­work and though it’d weath­ered the in­ter­ven­ing years fairly well, Jonathan de­cided that it’d be well worth treat­ing it to a re­spray. It also en­abled him to source and fit some widened fi­bre­glass arches, im­por­tant as he al­ready has his eyes on a num­ber of wide wheels that’d never fit un­der the OE arches.

“The only kits out there for the Chevette were HSR replica ones and I just didn’t think they’d work with the sa­loon shape,” ex­plains Jonathan. “I ended up sourc­ing and fit­ting some gen­eral, all pur­pose ones that I found on eBay, and they look a

lit­tle like the bub­ble arches you’d nor­mally find on Es­corts.” Arches fit­ted, Jonathan set about offering the Rota BM8 wheels he bought up to the Chevette. At 8x15in and 9x15in front and rear they’re cer­tainly on the wide side, though noth­ing those bulging arch ex­ten­sions can’t com­fort­ably han­dle! The shell was then sent off to AG Au­to­mo­tive for a fresh coat of Carmine Red, a shade that gives the whole car a de­cep­tive, un­der­stated look, es­pe­cially when com­bined with the body col­ored bumpers and trims.

GRIP­PING STUFF

Jonathan es­ti­mates the Red­top to be putting out roughly 165bhp, so more than enough to have fun in a car that tips the scales at just 920ki­los with a full tank of fuel and an oc­cu­pied driver’s seat! It’s also a sur­pris­ingly handy lit­tle thing when it comes to tack­ling chal­leng­ing bends, partly due to its light weight, but also down to the fact that Jonathan’s fit­ted a Grip­per LSD to the Manta back axle, mean­ing that as much of that power as pos­si­ble is trans­ferred to the tar­mac in a use­able man­ner. He’s also taken care to give the Chevette’s sus­pen­sion some­thing of a spruce up, with Bil­stein dampers at all four cor­ners, Spax low­er­ing springs all round, and a full set of poly­bushes.

“It’s not a track car and I doubt I’ll ever use it as such, I like it too much and couldn’t hack the risk of some­one crash­ing into it, but it’s bril­liant fun to throw round twisty back roads and it does love to go side­ways!”

Chevettes weren’t ex­actly renowned for their stop­ping ca­pa­bil­i­ties when new, and that was when all

they had to deal with was a wheezy lit­tle 1256cc, so of course Jonathan’s also up­rated the brake sys­tem. The front hubs now sport As­tra GTE front calipers, af­ter­mar­ket discs and high fric­tion pads, while a pair of cus­tom brack­ets al­low Jonathan to run a mix of Zafira calipers and Vec­tra B discs on the rear axle.

Fi­nally there’s the in­te­rior, an area where less really is more. The trou­ble with older, retro interiors like the Chevette’s is that they now look very cool in stan­dard guise, so any­thing that isn’t pe­riod tends to stick out like a sore thumb. So it’s sur­pris­ing that the In­te­gra Type R seats that now oc­cupy the front of Jonathan’s car man­age to strike the right bal­ance be­tween ap­pear­ance and sporty func­tion­al­ity, while the deep dish wheel and iconic As­tra GTE ‘digi-dash’ are so cool they look at home in pretty much ev­ery Vaux­hall from the mid-’70s to the late ‘90s.

As Jonathan’s al­ready em­pha­sised, his Chevette isn’t a track toy and never will be, but that doesn’t mean he’s fin­ished with it. De­spite hav­ing only been up and run­ning for a few short months he’s al­ready com­pil­ing parts and plans for a bare shell re­build, and he’s even man­aged to amass an en­vi­able stash of gen­uine, NOS Chevette pan­els and trims. On top of that he’s also bought a pair of Jenvey throt­tle bod­ies and a stand­alone man­age­ment kit, so it looks like this pokey Chevette is set to get even quicker by the time 2016 rolls around.

Flared arches work an ab­so­lute treat Meaty tailpipe gives the XE a great bark C20XE is a nat­u­ral choice, and a big step up from the orig­i­nal 1.3

Carmine Red colour cod­ing ex­tends to pretty much ev­ery

inch of this cool Chevette

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