This award-win­ning Cal­i­bra SE9 has been a long-term labour of love born out of a friend­ship forged be­tween two Vauxhall en­thu­si­asts…

Performance Vauxhall - - NEWS - WORDS Emma Woodock PHO­TOS Ade Bran­nan

Ally Mcvit­tie’s Cal­i­bra SE9, win­ner of the 2018 VBOA Chair­man’s Cup com­pe­ti­tion.

the lit­tle things give it away. Those wheels are slightly big­ger than you re­mem­ber. Cal­i­bras didn’t ride quite so low. The head­lights didn’t look like that. From a dis­tance, Ally Mcvit­tie’s 1997 Cal­i­bra SE9 could al­most be stock, yet the closer you get, the more thor­oughly en­hanced it ap­pears.

The in­te­rior bris­tles with cus­tom leather and Al­can­tara, the en­gine bay has been rig­or­ously colour-coded and the duo­tone paint­work re­in­forces an OEM+ vibe. Sub­tle yet per­sua­sive, there’s barely an inch of this Cal­i­bra left un­touched. It’s no won­der ClubCal­i­ voted the ra­di­ant red V6 its ‘best in show’ at the sum­mer’s Vauxhall Bedford Opel As­so­ci­a­tion (VBOA) Na­tional Rally (read about the event by or­der­ing a copy of our Oct/Nov is­sue at­sue­spv), an ac­co­lade qual­i­fy­ing the car for in­clu­sion in the highly an­tic­i­pated VBOA Chair­man’s Cup com­pe­ti­tion. “I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to win!” con­fesses Ally. Nev­er­the­less, that’s ex­actly what he did, go­ing home with a haul of sil­ver­ware and the re­spect of sev­eral thou­sand of his fel­low Grif­fin en­thu­si­asts. Top job!

dif­fi­CuLt JoB

SE (Spe­cial Edi­tion) Cal­i­bras were pro­duced be­tween 1992 and 1997. Each gen­er­a­tion was avail­able in only a sin­gle colour. The Flame Red SE9 was the last of these lim­ited-run coupes, mean­ing Ally’s car rep­re­sents a spe­cial piece of Vauxhall his­tory. Ben­e­fit­ting from an­thracite leather, Irm­scher styling good­ies and light gold BBS six­teen-inch al­loys, barely three hun­dred SE9s were pro­duced. Find­ing a good one isn’t easy.

As if to prove our point, when Ally and his Cal­i­bra-lov­ing chum, Steve Davies (no, not that one), first tracked down the car in 2008, it was far from ex­cel­lent. The paint was badly faded, the in­te­rior was dis­man­tled, the model-spe­cific BBS rims were miss­ing and the en­gine had thrown its tim­ing belt. “At least the body shell was in good shape!” laughs Ally the op­ti­mist. “There was very lit­tle rust. We weighed up the pros and cons and I de­cided to buy the car as a joint project.”

A call went out to the thriv­ing Cal­i­bra com­mu­nity. The re­quest was for any­one with the req­ui­site com­po­nen­try to part with their stash. The re­sponse was swift and pos­i­tive: a new C25XE ar­rived in ex­change for a spare C20XE and a fist­ful of cash, while a set of the cor­rect cham­pag­ne­hued al­loys quickly made them­selves known. Af­ter a lib­eral ap­pli­ca­tion of el­bow grease, plenty of span­ner­wield­ing and the shak­ing of many pol­ish­ing cloths, the re­newed SE9 took the ‘best stan­dard’ award on the ClubCal­i­ stand at 2009’s VBOA bash.

The project had ably met its first goal of be­ing recom­mis­sioned to a high bench­mark be­fore Ally bought out Steve’s share of the car and de­cided to ex­per­i­ment with mod­i­fi­ca­tion. The stan­dard Cal­i­bra al­lows for plenty of air be­tween al­loy and arch, a fea­ture en­cour­ag­ing Ally to play with var­i­ous low­er­ing kits. A process of trial and er­ror fol­lowed. Four months later, the car was rid­ing on the Eibach Pro-Kit springs and Bil­stein B4 dampers it still wears to­day.

Put into ser­vice as a daily driver, this sleek SE9 suf­fered the ef­fects of harsh win­ters in its Scot­tish home­land. Rust patches were ap­pear­ing and the lus­tre was wan­ing. A re­spray was in or­der. “I was about to have the whole car painted in a fresh coat of Flame Red when I no­ticed the var­i­ous As­tras and

Cor­sas with con­trast­ing roof colours leav­ing main dealer show­rooms.” A con­sul­ta­tion with his painter fol­lowed, a dis­cus­sion lead­ing to the ap­pli­ca­tion of OEM Tech­ni­cal Grey on the car’s roof, rub­bing strips and a pair of Vec­tra B door han­dles. A re­turn to the VBOA Na­tional Rally fol­lowed, as did a ClubCal­i­ award for ‘best pre­sented car’.

While his award-win­ning Cal­i­bra was in the paint shop, Ally had its newly ac­quired BBS multi-spokes fin­ished in Tech­ni­cal Grey. The colour palette was ideal, but some­thing was miss­ing. “The car needed big­ger wheels,” he con­firms. A set of seven­teen-inch BBS RX 258s cour­tesy of an As­tra G Edi­tion 100 pro­vided the so­lu­tion. Pow­der­coated in the same Tech­ni­cal Grey as their pre­de­ces­sors and pushed out­wards by 20mm spac­ers, the fresh rims and their Toyo Proxes T1-R tyres make the most of short­ened sus­pen­sion and com­fort­ably oc­cupy space be­neath each wheel arch.

Break time

More modifications were planned, but in early 2016, me­chan­i­cal mal­adies stopped play when a camshaft pin sheared. All six ex­haust valves on one bank were bent, forc­ing a strip-down, re­place­ment parts and a skim of the head. “It was a night­mare,” sighs Ally. “Thank­fully, it’s the only prob­lem I had with the car, en­abling me to make it to the Per­for­mance Vauxhall Show a cou­ple of months later!”

De­spite an un­com­pro­mis­ing start, the year got bet­ter as the weeks pro­gressed. For­tu­ity smiled in the Cal­i­bra’s direc­tion when a set of HiSpec four-pot calipers landed in Ally’s lap. Choos­ing a set of front discs proved tricky with­out any in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to the

spec­i­fi­ca­tion of the hard­ware, but by a stroke of luck, the door fit­ter from East Ayr­shire found him­self work­ing next door to HiSpec’s head­quar­ters in Dart­ford. This en­abled him to get hold of be­spoke bells and 325mm cus­tom discs made to fit his sen­sa­tional SE9. Swollen huge be­hind the grey BBS wheels, it’s clear to see the su­per stop­pers mean se­ri­ous busi­ness.

Lady Luck reared her head once again when an ex­otic in­te­rior came up for sale. It’s cabin fur­ni­ture Ally kept an eye on af­ter see­ing it in a fel­low ClubCal­i­ mem­ber’s SE9. Need­less to say, he pounced when he was made aware of the owner’s in­ten­tion to sell. Con­se­quently, the res­ur­rected Vauxhall was equipped with a pair of Co­bra Day­tona seats, fresh door cards and a nicely pre­sented par­cel shelf, all cus­tom trimmed in a com­bi­na­tion of black leather, red Al­can­tara and match­ing stitch­ing pieced to­gether by au­to­mo­tive seat­ing sup­plier, Tran­scal.

In the two years fol­low­ing the work, the rest of the cabin has been up­dated to com­ple­ment

the fresh rims and their toyos make the most of short­ened sus­pen­sion

the look and feel of the tidy twin-tone uphol­stery. As­tra G pedal cov­ers, a Vec­tra B arm­rest and a re­trimmed Vec­tra B GSi steer­ing wheel are chief among the up­dates, but even the A, B and C pil­lars have seen work. Hy­dro-dipped to achieve a smooth, car­bon-ef­fect fin­ish, they’re joined by a re­trimmed head­lin­ing and sun vi­sors cov­ered in Al­can­tara. Cus­tom Opel ‘Blitz’ badg­ing adds a fi­nal dash of op­u­lence.

hid­den aWay

Pop the bon­net and you’ll see this beau­ti­ful SE9 looks just as good un­der the hood. A care­fully con­sid­ered selec­tion of cos­metic up­dates join a com­bi­na­tion of per­for­mance up­grades, in­clud­ing a K&N panel fil­ter and sev­eral fu­elling and air­flow com­po­nents orig­i­nally fit­ted to a three-litre Omega as stan­dard equip­ment. Hy­dro-dip­ping has brought bright red and car­bon­ef­fect fin­ishes to ev­ery­thing from

this spot­Less se9 stands as a fit­tinG triB­ute to Great times the pair shared

Vec­tra B metal cam cov­ers to the air­box, while Roose Mo­tors­port red sil­i­cone hoses spread even more vi­brancy around the en­gine bay. Brushed stain­less steel dress-up cov­ers take a fi­nal showy step by adding gen­uine sparkle. “I’m al­ways in­tro­duc­ing some­thing new be­neath the bon­net,” smiles Ally. His keen­ness to con­tinue the Cal­i­bra’s evo­lu­tion flows over to the ex­te­rior, where clear light lenses, LED halo rings and a Re­nault La­guna split­ter add in­trigue.

With all these pieces in place, it was time for the proud Scots­man to hop into his retro ride and head south of the bor­der for the 2018 VBOA show, but don’t ex­pect to see his car do­ing the rounds in 2019. In­stead, this spe­cial SE9 will be treated to a makeover con­sist­ing of new doors, a full front end re­spray and fur­ther me­chan­i­cal modifications. A full driv­e­train con­ver­sion is planned, with the 2.5-litre 54° V6 pow­er­ing the car mak­ing way for a 3.2-litre unit, while a Sachs clutch, a light­ened fly­wheel and a Quaife lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial prom­ise to give the Ge­trag F25 five-speed gear­box sport­ing tal­ent.

Deep into his tenth year of own­ing this cool Cal­i­bra, Ally can’t imag­ine ever cut­ting it out of his life. “It’s the long­est I’ve ever kept a car, but there’s more per­sonal mean­ing at­tached to this Vauxhall than any other I’ve owned. Steve and I res­ur­rected it af­ter ac­cept­ing the project as lit­tle more than a poorly pink rolling shell. He was al­ways there to tell me we’d get the car sorted and he did a great job of re­as­sur­ing me when­ever I got an­noyed with what­ever job we were work­ing on,” he says, re­mem­ber­ing his Cal­i­bra com­rade, who passed away un­ex­pect­edly last year. Make no mis­take, this spot­less SE9 stands as a fit­ting trib­ute to great times the pair shared. We can’t wait to see it back on the show cir­cuit af­ter the next round of re­vi­sions.

Tran­scal trim­ming helped the car to se­cure top hon­ours at the VBOA Na­tional Rally HiSpec four-pots of­fer plenty of brake bite

even the spare wheel is a looker!

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