Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
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The Chevette was designed to fit into the Vauxhall range below the Viva, and was initially presented as a hatchback, a style that soared in popularity during the 1970s. The Chevette was the first British-built hatchback of this size, with Ford not responding with a similar product until the following year.
From 1975 until 1978, the Chevette was, in fact, the UK's best selling hatchback as UK branded rivals failed to respond to the challenge of the Peugeot 104 until the arrival of Ford's Fiesta at the end of 1976. Chrysler UK did not launch its Chrysler Sunbeam
for two years, while it was five years before British Leyland came up with the Austin Metro.
In 1976 the range was extended through the introduction of saloon and estate versions, each based on the equivalent Opel Kadett. A minimalist facelift in 1979 saw protruding headlight covers applied to the front of the car and plastic trims to highlight the extractor vents on the rear pillars of the saloon Chevette.
The Chevette was launched in the UK using Vauxhall's slogan and musical 'jingle': "It's whatever you want it to be! - A sporty coupe, a family saloon, a handy estate...". It was made at the purpose built factory in Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, under a government initiative to bring employment to the area.
More conventional 2 and 4-door saloons, and 3-door estate variants (essentially the Opel Kadett with Vauxhall front sheetmetal and engines) were also offered from June 1976. The Viva remained on sale until the end of 1979, when the Opel Kadett D-based Vauxhall Astra was launched, while the Chevette remained on sale until 1984, itself being replaced by the slightly smaller Vauxhall Nova that was launched in 1983, with Chevette production being reduced in November 1981, when Astra production was moved to the Ellesmere Port factory.
This longevity led to the Chevette being exported to Germany after 1979, following the discontinuation of the Kadett C
; here the Chevette was an unusual small car in that it still featured rear wheel drive. A further 12,332 of the cars were sold as Opels in Germany where with effect from October 1980 the car was badged as the Opel Chevette. By this time, it was the only Vauxhall badged car to be sold in in markets such as Mauritius and New Zealand: successor models assembled in the UK for sale in mainland Europe, such as the Astra, were badged as Opels.
van version, based on the estate and called the Bedford Chevanne was also built, and badged as part of GM's Bedford commercial vehicles marque. Although the Chevette was largely a rebadged Opel Kadett C with revised front-end, it did use the 1256 cc overhead valve (OHV) engine of the Viva instead of the Kadett's units, which were produced by Opel. The Kadett's double wishbone front suspension
, rear-wheel drive and rear suspension
with Panhard rod, torque tube and coil sprung live axle were carried over unaltered. Inside, the two cars differed only in terms of their dashboard and switchgear: the Chevette stuck to the British & Japanese right-hand drive tradition of having the indicator switch on the right-hand side of the steering
column, while the Kadett had the mainland European left-hand drive custom of the flasher stalk being on the left. The Chevette also had a much more angular instrument binnacle, although the instrumentation within was similar (though in imperial rather than metric measurements).
The Chevette's front end featured a more aerodynamic
-looking nose treatment than the Kadett, based loosely on the design of the Firenza Droopsnoot
. In contrast the Kadett had a more conventional flat-fronted design. In 1980, the Chevette underwent a facelift with flush fitting headlights, giving it a "family look" alongside the larger Vauxhall Cavalier. It also received new wheel designs, revised C-pillar vent covers and revamped interior trim with re-designed front seats to increase rear knee room marginally. However, it was effectively the beginning of a phase-out in favour of the newer Astra, Vauxhall's version of the front wheel drive
Kadett, which was launched in January 1980. Production finally finished in January 1984, approximately one year after the launch of the Spanish-built Nova.
In 1976, at the instigation of new chairman Bob Price, Vauxhall decided to increase their profile in international rallying. In conjunction with Blydenstein Racing, who ran Dealer Team Vauxhall, the nearest thing to a 'works' competition effort, they developed a rally version of the Chevette. They created a far more powerful Chevette variant by fitting the much larger 2.3 litre Slant Four engine into the shell, using a sixteen valve cylinder head
which Vauxhall was developing. Suspension and rear axle were from the Opel Kadett C GT/E, while the gearbox was a Getrag 5-speed. Chevrolet Vega alloy wheels
(similar in appearance to the Avon wheels used on the droopsnoot Firenza
) were used, as well as a newly developed glass-reinforced plastic air dam.
The resulting car was extremely fast, with 135 hp (100 kW), and a far cry from the small-engined Chevettes from which it was developed. In order to compete in international rallying, the car had to be homologated; for Group 4, the class the HS was to compete in, this meant building 400 production examples. The result was an incredibly fast and well handling, if rather unrefined, road car. Like the Droopsnoot Firenza, the HS was available only in silver, with red highlighting and a bright red, black and tartan interior; though (partly to help sell unsold vehicles) some cars were repainted black, such the Mamos Garage HS-X.
The HS was a great success as a rally car, clocking up notable wins for drivers such as Pentti Airikkala and Tony Pond. It was a challenge to the most successful rally car of the time, the Ford Escort, winning the British Open Rally Championship for Drivers in 1979 and for manufacturers in 1981. To keep the rally car competitive into the 1980s an evolution version, the Chevette HSR, was developed which held its own for several more years. Evolution in Group 4 demanded a production run of 50 cars incorporating the new modifications; these were made by rebuilding unsold HSs and by modifying customers' vehicles. However, the merger of the Vauxhall and Opel marketing departments had already resulted in Dealer Team Vauxhall and Dealer Opel Team (DOT) joining to form GM Dealer Sport (GMDS); with the Chevette soon to be obsolete, Opel were able to force the cancellation of the HSR rally programme in favour of the Manta 400.
The Chevette was a successful model for Vauxhall, with around 415,000 units produced in just under nine years.