"The coupé without compromise" was the slogan that greeted television viewers in 1989 as a sleek, futuristic looking coupé raced across their screens, accompanied by plenty of late-Eighties soundtrack and camerawork. The biggest shocker was yet to come though-at the end of the advert it showed not the logo of a bespoke sports car manufacturer or performance brand, but instead the griffin emblem of Vauxhall, makers of well-made yet underwhelming saloons and hatchbacks for middle-class suburban families and regional managers, owned by the American giant General Motors, of which Vauxhall, along with sister company Opel, made up GM's market share within Europe. Having cemented their demographic with cars such as the Astra, Cavalier and Vectra, all of which were about as exciting as vegetarian bacon, GM were looking to move with the times, and having noticed the recent explosion in popularity of coupés, decided to release their own sporty two-door to compete with motors such as the Toyota MR2 and Honda Prelude (both of which had been released to enormous success), taking inspiration from the successful Manta coupé of past (see my first article for more information)
The result was what I saw in front of me on a soggy Saturday morning, the Calibra. And it's a stunning looking result at that. One of the main selling points that Vauxhall pushed when advertising the Calibra was the aerodynamics- and this is not just manufacturer twaddle, as seen in the styling. The front end is made to be as smooth as possible, hence the sloping nose and short headlights, while they make the car look a bit piggy in my opinion, are designed that way so that to minimise air resistance. A smooth, vaulted bonnet, unmolested by other coupé trends of the time such as massive air vents or unnecessary designer lines, flows gradually into an arch to form the roof, before dropping down into a rear window and boot shaped to perplex most Olympic skiers. Around the rear end, large rear lights give a distinctive 70s feel, again reminiscent of the era of coupés Vauxhall wanted to capture. A short rear bumper gives the appearance of a raised rear end, with a small spoiler to give a sporty feel. Certainly compared to other coupés of the time, it looks incredible.
The tide is dangerously close to that Calibra's nose (WheelsAge)
Once I open the door and climb inside though, I'm immediately hit with my childhood when I take a look at the dashboard. And no, that's not because I grew up with my parents owning a Calibra (one can only hope), but rather with the Calibra's less beguiling sister car, the Cavalier. And unfortunately, the Calibra fell victim to GM's old trick of throwing their existing parts into their new models, most of the time in an awkward cocktail around the interior. And while this trick was utilised way worse in some cars, it still doesn't scream "sporty sleek road racer" when you sit down and are greeted with dials and a speedo lifted straight from the Astra and Cavalier. It is comfortable though, and the driving position sits you low, yet with perfect visibility all around. There's not a huge amount of space but the windscreen is massive, and as you turn the key in the ignition, the Calibra's 2.0 litre turbocharged block rumbles into life and settles into a low snarl. It's a great noise and immediately hooks me in for the ride ahead. After that, there's nothing to stop me slipping it into first and pulling away.
On the road, the Calibra feels much as I'd expected it to be- firm and sharp when it needs to be, but sedate and conservative most of the time. This I can somewhat understand, as the Vauxhall marque hasn't been known for handling and performance pedigree, and it provides a comfortable ride, but push it a bit and it begins to tighten up, especially when tackling corners with incline, where the suspension begins to harden. However, pushing it too hard can lead to the inevitable- understeer. Take the Calibra further than its limits allow and it'll shrug its shoulders in befuddlement. I know it's not supposed to be the sportiest but I was hoping it would be able to tackle at least a few tricky bends at high speed. Eventually, it's easier to simply sit back and let the power steering and smooth transmission guide me around the bends and corners. The ride when cruising is smooth, comfortable and crisp-it's a cruiser rather than a bruiser.
More of an executive interior than a sporty one but I'm not complaining (Not2Grand)
However, despite the admittedly underwhelming ride, the Calibra does not disappoint in terms of speed. The 2.0 litre turbo nestled in the front end pulls off with force and surprising accuracy, and with a striking 204 bhp being pushed out, it's not a particularly bad runner once you get it up to full chant, full chant being about 150 mph, pretty nifty considering that the Calibra is based on, predictably, Cavalier underpinnings. Bringing it up from a standstill to 60, it takes around 5.8 seconds, which isn't too bad under normal conditions, but on a soaking wet road, the Calibra takes a while for the needle to hit the 60 mark. The gear change however is tremendous- coupés of this age tend to grind a few cogs here and there, but the Calibra takes each shift in its stride, and eventually leaves me feeling confident enough to bring the car up close to the red line, and not losing much speed on each shift.
So go on then. How much for one of these then? Well actually, you'd be more than surprised. Logging onto Auto Trader on the way home from my drive, I was surprised to find a great low-mileage example (being about 50,000 miles) sitting on the site for only around £4,000, and that was towards the top of the Calibra spectrum. Earlier models (roughly 1989-1994) with higher mileage and MOT normally sit around the sub-£1,000 range, but expect to pay a little more if you want a model such as the 4WD or turbo. Calibras do go for even cheaper prices, the cheapest one I saw being around £450, however expect to have some work to do if you buy one of these. In terms of buying spare parts, Calibras are based on Cavalier platforms and share parts, so components shouldn't be too hard to come by. While the prices may be low for now, due to that car's great looks and soon-to-be-classic status, the prices are beginning to rise, especially on the rarer and early models. Anyway, onto the verdict!
Vauxhall Calibra- the verdict
Now that is what I call a road presence (Autocar)
Overall, the Calibra was nothing I expected, but not at all in a bad way. I have to admit that I let my coupé preconceptions get to me before I drove it, and I was led to believe that it was in fact just as sporty and mad as previous coupés I have road tested, such as the Audi Coupé or indeed, the Opel Manta. What I got was a car that offered a great ride and speed credibility (strange considering the Cavalier was about as wet as it came). I found that this car truly shone whenever it was cruising along an A-road or switching lanes on a dual carraigeway. And as I said before, prices are beginning to rise, so better get in quick and get one soon before the prices slip out of grasp. With that said, I'm off to take a look at the classifieds..
Thanks for reading guys, I really appreciate the support. Cheers, and I'll see you soon!