Why you’d want a Vauxhall Calibra
Just a two-door Cavalier coupé? Clever engineering and styling made the Calibra feel so much more special.
The world’s most aerodynamic production car (an accolade it would hold for 10 years) with a Cd of just 0.26 in 8v form, 0.29 in other forms, its super-clean and handsome body was styled by Wayne Cherry and Erhard Schnell.
Supported by a rev-happy ‘red top’ 16v engine or a lower-powered but torquey 8v, with a slick-shifting close-ratio ’box, it was an appealing package.
Tiny 2.75in-high headlights helped achieve the low drag figures, but do disappoint when it comes to seeing the road at night; it was also very hot inside in summer due to the big glasshouse, without air-con (not even an option at first).
The Calibra’s USP in the marketplace was its full-length GM2900 Cavalier floorpan – this gave it the best rear-seat accommodation in the class, as well as helping achieve its amazing Cd figure.
Electric windows, mirrors and sunroof were standard on all models, as were power steering, ABS, an alarm and central locking.
Four-wheel drive became optional for the 16v in 1990, curing the traction and torque-steer issues, followed by the Turbo, which even blew away the Ford Escort RS Cosworth…
Finally, a four-cam V6 was added with traction control, though motoring magazines still moaned that GM never addressed the fundamentally dull dynamics.
There were many special editions: Tickford from 10/’91, 26 built (interior upgrade, alloys); SE 8v from 10/’92-8/’93, 1821 built (Caribic Blue, alloys, velour/leather); SE2 16v from 9/’93-4/’94, 429 built (Solar Yellow, leather, alloys); SE3 8v from 5-8/’94, 392 built (Rioja pearl); SE4 8v from 1-6/’95, 907 built (Magnetic Blue pearl, cream seats, alloys); DTM from 5/’95, 167 16v, 37 V6, 25 Turbo (Chequer cloth or Anthracite leather, lowered, alloys); SE5 8v 11/’95-3/’96 (Black, cream leather, lowered, alloys); SE6 8v 4-6/’96, 55 built (Iceland Blue pearl, cream leather, air-con, alloys); Turbo LE 8/’96, 51 built (Black, lowered, BBS alloys, heated leather, air-con, plaque); SE7 16v, 33 built (Magic Grey pearl, cream heated leather, air-con, alloys); SE8 16v, 458 built (Magnetic Blue pearl, Anthracite cloth, air-con, alloys); and SE9 V6, 301 built (Flame Red, Anthracite leather, BBS alloys).
Two prototype convertibles were built in 1992, and in Continental Europe there were other Opel specials including the Keke Rosberg edition, plus the Cliff, Colour and Last.
Images: James Mann
Vauxhall Calibra: what to look for
See above for what to check when looking at Vauxhall Calibras for sale.
The popularity of the ‘red-top’ engine in motorsport speaks volumes: it’s a great unit, but it responds best to regular servicing, with cambelts at 36,000 miles or 4-5 years.
V6 cambelts at 40,000 miles, auxiliary belt at 60k, tensioner at 100k – though if the history is limited it’s best to do all and the water pump together.
Soggy dampers are common, plus wear in suspension lower-arm joints – worse in lowered cars with bigger wheels. Check the condition of the brakes, too.
A range of Getrag manual gearboxes, was fitted, six-speed on the Turbo: check the shift quality, signs of clutch wear, and the colour of the oil on optional autos.
Check the drains are clear – if blocked, water backs up and the bulkheads rot. There are two other ’screen drains, two for the sunroof and two for the tailgate.
A wide range of trim options was employed during production and some can be hard to source; the first points to wear are the driver’s seat bolsters,
Vauxhall Calibra: before you buy
If you’re looking for a ‘green’ classic, the Vauxhall Calibra has good credentials – all had catalytic converters and fuel consumption was impressively frugal, even from the Turbo.
On the road, all should feel lively and solid; wayward handling indicates worn dampers, while clonks may be broken springs or worn suspension joints.
As interest grows, lots of neglected Calibras are coming back on the road, often after spells sitting unused outside: check the MoT history carefully and beware of multiple electrical and maintenance issues with long-neglected cars.
Budget to replace the cambelt, tensioner and water pump if this hasn’t been done in the past five years, and check carefully for signs of head-gasket weakness, especially on the 16v and V6.
On Turbos, check that the 4x4 warning light comes on and goes off as it should: the transfer box and the six-speed gearbox on these cars are weak and can be hugely expensive to fix.
Turbos must have matching tyres at similar wear levels: damage one and you must replace all four.
The traction control on V6s can fail – check its operation under hard acceleration. Calibras were built in Rüsselsheim, Germany (‘1’ in centre of the VIN), and from 1991 also in Uusikaupunki, Finland (9 in centre of the VIN), where production would be concentrated after 1995.
Later galvanised cars have survived much better and pre-facelift examples are now rare.
Parts availability is currently a serious issue requiring the trawling of breakers, club forums and Facebook pages to find scarce components.
Vauxhall Calibra price guide
- 2.0 8v: £350/1750/4500*
- 2.0 16v: £450/2000/6000*
- 2.5 V6: £550/2500/7500*
- Turbo: £3000/8000/14,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Vauxhall Calibra history
1989 Sept Opel Calibra launched at Frankfurt, as 2-litre 8v and 16v
1990 June Vauxhall Calibra on sale in UK
1990 Sept Optional switchable four-speed automatic on 8v, 4x4 option on 16v
1991 Oct Holden sales start in Australia/New Zealand (ending August 1996)
1992 July Turbo 4x4 replaces 16v 4x4: new alloys, six-speed, full leather, bigger brakes
1992 Oct Chevrolet sales start in Latin America (ending August 1996)
1993 Oct V6 added: 168bhp, 2WD, traction control, leather, twin airbags, softer ride
1994 Oct Facelift with chrome V-grille, bodyshell now fully galvanised; 16v goes ECOTEC – 136bhp, auto optional
1997 Aug Production ends; last Vauxhall Calibras sold in UK summer ’98
The owner’s view
Influenced by his wife and fellow enthusiast Fenella, Chris Brooker bought this SE2 10 years ago.
“Fenella’s had her V6 for 16 years,” he explains. “Her first love was Opel Mantas, and I have an Alfa Spider in the garage, but the SE2 is my everyday car.
“The V6 is off the road waiting for a radiator to be made – quite a few parts are unobtainable now. The SE2 had been an elderly lady’s car and was left in a garage for years.
“Someone had bought it for the engine, but realised it was too good to break and I managed to buy it for £850; there are less than a dozen left on the road now.
“The paint had gone dull so I had it resprayed, but the only rust was a tiny bit on the rear wheelarches.
“Pre-facelift cars are rare now, so I keep the tailgate, sunroof and windscreen drains clear. I did have to replace the cylinder head because it was cracked.”
ROVER 200 COUPÉ
With 1.6, 2.0 and 2.0 Turbo options, the rapid, compact ‘Tomcat’ outsold the Calibra in the UK, but they do rot; 1.6/1.8 K-series replaced Honda units in 1996.
Sold 1992-’98 • No. built 708,003 built (all R8 200s & 400s) • Price now £1-7500*
TOYOTA CELICA GT/GT4
The market-leading Celica combined great styling, handling and reliability with a range of superb drivetrains including the 4WD GT4. Beware rust and neglect, but they are strong if well-maintained.
Sold 1989-’99 • No. built n/a • Price now £1-17,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Vauxhall Calibra: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
The Vauxhall Calibra has now hit the point where parts are scarce but there aren’t yet any dedicated specialists; however, rising values and a keen owner base are already leading to some items being remanufactured and historical precedent suggests the future is rosy.
Except for specific issues with 4x4s, problems are few and the cars last well: good examples are out there and, with so many variants, there’s a Calibra for everyone.
- Great value and looks
- With so many specials, most advertisers don’t know what they have – there are plenty of bargains out there
- Neglect, complexity and scarcity of parts can make a Calibra an expensive car to own – it’s no surprise that some are still being scrapped
Vauxhall Calibra specifications
- Sold/number built 1990-’98/238,164 (129,284 8v, 82,963 16v inc 3385 4x4s, 14,019 Turbo and 11,898 V6), of which 40,460 were UK Vauxhalls
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine iron-block, alloy-head, ohc 8v or dohc 16v 1998cc ‘four’, optional Turbo on 16v, or dohc-per-bank 32v 2498cc V6, with Bosch Motronic fuel injection
- Max power 115bhp @ 5200rpm to 201bhp @ 5600rpm
- Max torque 125lb ft @ 2600rpm to 207lb ft @ 2400rpm
- Transmission five- or six-speed Getrag manual or four-speed Aisin auto, FWD/4WD
- Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts rear semi-trailing arms, coils, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes ventilated front, solid rear discs, with servo and anti-lock
- Length 14ft 9in (4492mm)
- Width 5ft 6½in (1688mm)
- Height 4ft 4in (1320mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 6½in (2600mm)
- Weight 2654-3091lb (1205-1405kg)
- 0-60mph 9.5-6.2 secs
- Top speed 126-150mph
- Mpg 25-35
- Price new £16,740-22,215 (8v-Turbo, 1994)
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