CHEVETTE RED TOP
SERIOUSLY COOL XE’D STUNNER
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.
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.
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