ROLL OUT THE RED
This award-winning Calibra SE9 has been a long-term labour of love born out of a friendship forged between two Vauxhall enthusiasts…
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 ClubCalibra.net 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 at bit.ly/issuespv), 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!
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 ClubCalibra.net 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 ClubCalibra.net 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.
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 ClubCalibra.net 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.
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!