The highest performance version of the Vauxhall Chevette was the twin overhead camshaft HS2300 model. This near-120 m.p.h. small car officially ceased production at something over 400 units in total during the last quarter of 1979.
To their credit Vauxhall tried to make it a thoroughly civilised road car. They largely succeeded in this aim while providing a lot of performance, but the real object was competition success. Here they were extremely successful for the Luton marque, with cars prepared at Dealer Team Vauxhall premises in Shepreth, captured the premier home international Rally Championship last season. It was the first time that a Ford had not won the title for nearly a decade. It represented only just over three seasons’ hard work since the debut of the Chevette 16-valve engined model on the 1976 RAC Rally.
Then it was driven by Will Sparrow (by coincidence the last man to win the National Rally Championship in anything but a Ford before Vauxhall broke the tradition), but by 1977 Pentti Airikkala had arrived. The Finn stayed with DTV and produced the victories that ensured the 1979 title, ably supported by Jim McRae.
The replacement of the HS 2300 by the HSR 2300 shows DTV are keen to keep their advantage over the tough opposition found in international rallying these days from sales-hungry concerns like Toyota, Fiat, Opel and even Mercedes. The fact that DTV have appointed McRae to defend the home international Championship and sent Airikkala off in pursuit of the European title is another indication that this is not an outfit to sit on its laurels.
What does the extra R in the car’s title signify?
The designation covers a number of important body and mechanical changes that make the car more suitable for competition today (especially on tarmac events) and a considerable eye-catcher on the road. At £7,140.39, plus £345 in our case for an extra pack of performance parts, there may be a case for the Chevette HSR 2300 as a collector’s car, for only 50 need be made to satisfy the international sporting authorities that this is an evolutionary development of the HS 2300.
The bodywork baffled many casual observers, but everyone seemed to like the metallic silver reshaping that disguised the car’s origins so successfully.
Glassfibre is used for the front and rear wheel arch extensions, as it is for the entire hatchback, with an integral spoiler for production; “ours” was a separate prototype. The entire nose cone with spoiler, the unstressed exterior panel of the bonnet with its distinctive power bulge, the “running boards” — even the rear bumper, all are made in glassfibre too. A small glassfibre lip is moulded above the hatchback orifice and neat provision is made for the fuel tank with a magnetic flap in one rear wheel arch extension.
Where necessary rivets are used for attachment with body filler, the whole job and the smart paint the responsibility of Star Custom Vehicles, Ampthill, Beds. They also supplied some extra wood trim within the otherwise standard HS interior.
That £345 kit included double 48 mm. Dellorto twin-choke carburetters with accompanying inlet manifold and airbox, plus a 3.18:1 axle ratio instead of the production 3.44:1. DTV say the revised carburation (normal fitment is a pair of Stromberg single-choke instruments) provides “up to 10 b.h.p. increase — with the standard final drive we have seen in excess of 15 b.h.p. improvement.”
DTV rolling road figures quote a maximum of 114 b.h.p. at the rear wheels. Standard maximum horsepower is quoted as 127 b.h.p at the flywheel. More important on the road is that there are masses of usable pulling torque between 2,000 and 5,000 r.p.m., making the Chevette a charming car to drive briskly and easily.
The R designation gave DTV the chance to incorporate a twin-plate clutch as part of the specification and other important changes include a revised rear suspension/anti-roll bar mounting that will allow pretty well any rear end layout to be assessed on the coil sprung live axle for competition. To fill those aggressive wheelarch extensions 7 in. rim Cromona alloy wheels are utilised, the test car fitted with Pirelli 215/60 I3 Cinturatos. These look like Minilites but are made in alloy, not the magnesium that earned Tech Del such a high reputation.
The transmission retains the fast-changing Getrag five-speed gearbox, complete with first awkwardly mounted to the left. However a limited slip differential was fitted to the HSR we tried, and that was not standard equipment on HS.
I drove the car for three weeks as C.R. had fallen completely for the charms of a five-speed Golf. He was probably right not to shatter the smooth high performance Christmas he enjoyed with the injected VW, but I enjoyed the trip back to a rorty road car of the kind I used to test regularly. Unfortunately it ended the way many of those tuned tests did in the late sixties to . . . the Chevette started to overheat in normal motoring and it took Vauxhall to subsequently trace the origin of the slow water leak that brought on the condition: it was from a minor gasket on a transfer pipe from head to radiator.
Over that three week period the Chevette was mainly driven along greasy or icy lanes. It acquitted itself brilliantly. The handling was simply the best I have tried in a front engine rear drive car of this nature, the little Vauxhall sprinting from point to point with extra stopping and swerving ability that makes it a pleasure to drive.
The engine does its bit well, but at a 17 m.p.g. penalty. The iron block, Vauxhall aluminium head (they get most upset if you talk about Lotus ancestry, but I still maintain it was Lotus who originally developed the four-cylinder Vauxhall unit, though for another purpose) motor pulls the taller gearing admirably.
The speedometer was reading slow on our car, but nothing could hide the usefulness of nearly 40 m.p.h. in first, 50 m.p.h. in second, 82 m.p.h. in third and 104½ m.p.h. in fourth, all taken at the standard 6,100 r.p.m. Top speed? We managed fractionally over 118 m.p.h. on a test track recently coated with ice. Those who don’t mind the extra noise are invited to pay extra for a fabricated steel exhaust manifold that apparently will allow the Vauxhall close to its theoretical maximum on this axle ratio of nearly 130 m.p.h.
At the conclusion of the test I thought there were only two things that could be improved from the driving side. First were the brakes, for the mixed disc drum layout proved a bit too insensitive for comfort on ice: four-wheel discs or a better match front to rear would improve things, at a price. Secondly those minor instruments do not belong down on the centre console in a serious driving car: you could have an accident looking at them frequently, as I had towhee the overheating set in.
All 50 Chevette HSR 2300s have been dispatched to selected Vauxhall dealers now, but DTV at 0763 60051 say they will try to locate one for interested readers. — J.W.