The General's Revenge?

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Calibra, General Motors’ answer to the Ford . . . . well, in fact, it’s not in response to anything from that other American multinational at all because after the demise of the Capri, hated by some but loved by so many others, Ford has not had a sporting three door coupé in the same mould. Whilst the Escort RS Turbo and the hotter versions of the Fiesta can claim to do the same job, the fact they have junior brethren running around in unsporting, cooking five-door guise diminishes that aspect.

Under the direction of Wayne Cherry, the Opel/Vauxhall designers have been very clever with their new product. Whilst the Calibra is recognisably a GM product, it is distinctive enough from any other of that company’s models to win over new buyers as well as ensure the loyal buyer will have an even broader range from which to choose.

Well, what makes the Calibra so distinctive?

While it may be a sporting coupe in the Capri/Manta sense, it is world’s apart from those two models which can trace their roots back to the Sixties which could even be detected in the latest versions produced during the mid-Eighties. The Calibra, though, represents the thinking of the Eighties and is thus two decades ahead.

On its introduction the Calibra, a model name common to both Opel and Vauxhall, will be available in only four guises but with the same trim level. In 8-valve form, the 2-litre car will be available as both automatic and manual, with women drivers very much targetted by the manufacturer. In 16-valve form it will be available in either two-wheel or four-wheel drive configuration, the latter safe after the horrendous problems they had with the viscous coupling in the early versions of the 4×4 Cavalier. The launch date for the model will be November.

As goes without saying these days, both versions of the engine have catalytic convertors although the respective top speeds of 127 mph and 139 mph will be fast enough for most people.

As we were told by Karl-Heinz Breitwieser, the head of engine development and testing at Opel’s Technical Development Centre, both the 8-valve and the 16-valve, although familiar to the public through their use in the Astra and Cavalier, have been the subject of further development.

The 8-valve engine has had less done to it than the 16-valve. It is already a fully developed powerplant with one of the highest burn rates that can be found in 2-valve configuration. The new Bosch 1.5 management system adapted for the Calibra will eventually find its way onto other 8-valve engines in the range.

The 16-valve unit is similarly well developed, but there were some targets that Herr Breitwieser and his team had set themselves. They were very keen, for example, to get the exhaust sound right as well as improve the driveability and yet still maintain a creditable fuel consumption. They wanted to quieten the noise compared to the Astra’s and Cavalier’s, but they still wanted a pronounced sound.

The torque characteristics were important. While they wanted to have the same torque characteristics of an 8-valve at the lower end, they did not wish it to be at the expense of reduced power. They were already travelling down this road with the 16-valve unit which went into the Astra as it used a new camshaft developed to gain some power without losing low end torque, but now that has been taken a stage further on the Calibra by revising the inlet and exhaust ports, the engine management system and the transmission ratio, so that the car can now accelerate to 60 mph with the need for only one gearchange.

Another engine modification has been the ventilation of the crankcase to help the engine at higher speeds, developed from lessons learnt from the Vauxhall-Opel racers who use these 2-litre engines.

The body is most striking, Wayne Cherry having been able to take advantage of new lighting technology which sees the headlamps only 700mm high, but as effective, if not more so, than larger ones found on most other cars. With the incorporation of the fog lamps, side lights and indicators into a wrap-round lamp cluster, the whole frontal aspect of the car has been greatly reduced, thus helping the Cd factor read a very creditable 0.26, the lowest of any production four-seater anywhere.

Narrow air intakes above and below the front bumper, a steeply curved windscreen at 64 degrees, semi-flush glass which covers the centre pillars, aerodynamic sill mouldings and the distinctive wedge shape all have their parts to play. Discreet black spoilers underneath the front bumper moulding divert the air away from the wheels and tyres to decrease turbulence and are matched by matt black lower sill extensions. These aerodynamic aids can be found on all the models.

At the rear the tailgate is spoiler-shaped while the colour-coded moulded wrapround bumper is fitted with an integral lower spoiler. The rear turn indicators and lamps have smoked lenses for aesthetic purposes and a neat touch is the incorporation of the rear window washer nozzle in the roof-mounted aerial.

On a test drive that took us up to the Col du Turini, part of the Monte route, the car proved very stable, despite the sharp left and right handers it was constantly thrown into. The engine noise was not particularly noteworthy, but the smell of petrol which accompanied the car was.

Where the car did disappoint, though, was the interior. Recognisably Cavalier, it was not up to par with the rest of the car. It simply failed to exude the quality one felt a car of that ilk should have. If Vauxhall is serious about attracting new buyers, the interior should be looked at again. Everything was competently placed, no complaint with the ergonomics, but simply the quality was not as good as, for example, the Audi Coupé. A shame.

With the base model carrying a price tag of £14,750, £17,250 for the 16-valve and £18,890 for the all-wheel drive version, it is not cheap, but so distinctive is the shape, I am certain that Vauxhall will sell their allocation.

WPK

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