Coupe heaven that

was Calibra

Vauxhall Calibra, side

IN the early 1990s it was one of the must-have cars on the roads of the UK.

The Vauxhall Calibra drove the Griffon badge to new hoizons with a neat coupe styling and some powerful engines, all packaged in the sharp-suited style that was so familiar among Vauxhall models of the day.

The Calibra emanated from Vauxhall's General Motors German stablemate Opel in 1989 and was sold in Britain until 1999.

Many have assumed that Vauxhall was trying to create something akin to the Ford Capri, but the truth of the matter is that it was introduced to counter the invasion of Japanese sports coup├ęs at the time which were carving a healthy slice of the market.

The Calibra utilised the running gear of the first generation Opel Vectra but it had that certain something that set it apart from the rest.

It was initially only available with front-wheel-drive, but from November 1990 four-wheel drive became available.

One of the secrets of the Calibra's success was the brilliance of its design team, GM's Wayne Cherry and Erhard Schnell who had produced, at launch the most aerodynamic production car in the world.

It remained the most aerodynamic mass production car for the next 10 years, until the launch of the futuristic Honda Insight hybrid and the Audi A2 in 1999.

The Calibra massively outsold its Ford rival, the Probe which was just too American for UK tastes. However, it failed to outsell the punchy Rover 200 Coupe.

When GM acquired Saab there was talk of a Saab badged Calibra, but this failed to materialise as did the plans for a cabriolet.

The Calibra was without doubt a hard act to follow and Vauxhall never really offered a coupe with the same mix of qualities after its demise.

Under the bonnet the initial powe unit was a 2.0-litre eight-valve four cylinder petrol engine plus a Cosworth designed 150bhp 16-valve unit.

A turbo version followed with all-wheel-drive and a six-speed Getrag gearbox followed. This offered a scorching for the time 152mph performance.

My favourite was the 168bhp 2.5-litre V6 which suited this car admirably and was more reliable than the four-wheel-drive version.

It was one of those unique insights into what the coupe customer craved - fabulous looks and a businesslike and dynamic character.

Sadly the Calibra is now a rare sight on the UK's roads with under 100 still running. There are quite a few on SORN notices, but whether any of them will return to the road is anyone's guess.

I have a Calibra and it is a treasured object. Not the full-sized one but a model given to me at the original Calibra's launch in the South of France.

I asked designer Wayne Cherry to sign the box, which he did and it remains a treasured item in my cupboard of motoring memorabilia.


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