Thanks to the generosity of the guys at Vauxhall Heritage, I’ve been able to tick off another of those ‘must-do’ drives.
You see, I have a little bit of a dark secret. I love Vauxhalls. Okay, only certain ones, if I am honest. So, don’t worry, I am not going to idolise the 1995 Vectra as a good thing. Perish the thought. But if it has a wedge-shaped body, shovel nose, had Wayne Cherry’s fingerprints on it, and harks from the fertile period of growth that Luton underwent between 1975 and 1981 (and of course, it carried on after that, but that is a very different chapter), I am likely to get just a little moist with excitement.
My first (legal) car was a Cavalier Mk1 – and after that I enjoyed some quality time with Chevettes. Okay, so these cars were already undesirable old wrecks when I gained my licence during the late-1980s, but I loved them. And there’s always been a little place in my heart that has been forever Luton. So… when given sole custody of what is perhaps the ultimate incarnation of this breed (and one in incredible condition thanks to the boys at the Vauxhall Heritage Centre in Luton) – a Chevette HS – on the greatest road in Europe… well, I’m going to get just a little bit theatrical.
The HS was a homologation special created to ensure the Chevette was legal for Group 4 rallying. In effect, it’s a three-door version with styling aerodynamic addenda, a slant-four under the bonnet, topped by a Vauxhall designed 16-valve head. There’s a bit of Kadett GS/E going on in the suspension department to keep the 135bhp this fine engine puts out – and all in all, it given the standard economy car was blessed with excellent handling, this sporting remix promised to be an amazing drive.
Except that in contemporary road tests, it was given a bit of a panning. Its high-tune carburetted engine used to like nothing more than to cough and spit in traffic, and at a price considerably higher than the fresh-faced (and too cool for its own good) Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk1, it was seen as a bit rough and ready for 1978. Still, it looked excellent value – and a damned sight more exciting – than the admittedly faster Talbot Sunbeam Lotus.
But that was then, and this is now. In slow going, Vauxhall’s own Chevette HS never missed a beat, and once the roads opened out and the air got thinner in the mountains, it really did come in to its own.
Points that I love about the Chevette HS:
- The steering is quick-geared, full of feel, firm, and just right for those awkward lacets.
- The dog-leg Getrag gearbox means second-third squirting is an absolute doddle.
- Revvy and torquey engine was tractable when cruising, but inspirational above 4000rpm, taking on a lovely hard-edged growl.
- The brakes are adjustable with nice progression and stopping power. No ooooh moments when barelling into a hairpin a little late.
- The styling – I love it! Chunky alloys, that front spoiler and bold red striping look great even today.
Things I don’t like about the Chevette HS:
So, as you can imagine, following the signs for Grenoble in this fantastic little car was one of the most exciting, enjoyable, and, well, nostalgic moments in my driving life. Seriously. I know because I found myself mentally going through my savings and inheritances to see if I could afford to get myself one.
And the answer is probably. But in reality, I can’t remember when I last saw one for sale. And I guess that’s down to the remaining cars’ owners having the same emotional attachment to their HSs. Lucky fellas.
As always, if anyone hears of any, please let me know!
But for now, I’m just going to look at the pictures again!
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.