Only the geekiest of our readers will know what this car is, and yet it’ll look just familiar to just about everyone. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Chevrolet Hatch in 1300 and 1900 form.
Introduced by GM South Africa, this UK-designed variation on the Vauxhall Viva theme was intended to take on the Japanese and win…
Chevrolet Hatch: Viva South Africa!
That side profile looks very interesting indeed. With its familiar bonnet line and distinctive wheelarch apertures, there’s no disguising the Chevrolet Hatch’s origins. However, before we go into the origins of this fascinating hybrid, here’s a little history lesson. GM’s involvement in South Africa began in 1926, concentrating mainly on its US brands – but, in the 1960s, the GMSA portfolio was expanded to include Vauxhall, adding much familiarity for UK car fans to South African roads.
The first Vauxhall sold there was the HA Viva, assembled in CKD form in the company’s factory in Port Elizabeth. Seeing as this was GM, the branding of the car changed along the way: the HA was a Vauxhall, the HB was a ‘Viva from General Motors’ and the HC was marketed as the Chevrolet Firenza from its launch there in January 1971. It proved reasonably popular from the start, offered in two- and four-door saloon forms, as well as the familiar two-door coupe and three-door estate. The Chevrolet Hatch was an HC and would be along a little later.
The engine line-up was interesting from the start, with the familiar 1159cc Viva engine powering the 1200 and a US-sourced, but locally-produced, 2507cc four-cylinder Chevrolet engine, leaving a massive gap between top and bottom of the ranges. The later 1256cc was drafted in during 1972 to become the Firenza 1300, while the slow-selling two-door was dropped from the range. This was largely how the Firenza range continued until the end of 1975.
Giving the Firenza a unique feel
In August 1975, the Firenza was facelifted and relaunched as the Chevrolet 1300 and 1900. The new design was penned in the UK in Vauxhall’s Luton styling studio, and primarily featured a revised nose with a larger grille and bolder styling. According to the brilliant Vauxpedia website, ‘this model was also considered as a facelift for the Vauxhall Viva but did not progress as Vauxhall was then busy fitting a droop snoot on everything.’
Despite its new name and bold new visage, this was very much the old HC, but with a Chevette dashboard and new 1953cc Chevrolet engine to give the range a more logical progression. Also, it was now only available as a four-door only. Although that would change very soon…
Hatching out a new plan
Back in the UK, Vauxhall’s UK styling studio was putting the finishing touches to this interesting variation of the Chevrolet 1300/1900. The idea was a simple one – to give the South African range a more contemporary feel, and increase its competitiveness against the rising tide of Japanese imports. Although it wasn’t directly related to the Vauxhall Chevette (GM T-Car programme). the car was certainly a beneficiary of it.
So, the car would use the HC’s platform and retain its wheelbase, but incorporate all-new bodywork from the rear doors back. It was sketched out in double-quick time, and reflecting the rushed nature of the project, it incorporated the Chevette’s tailgate and rear lamp clusters to result in a rather awkward-looking truncated hatchback. The tooling for the new model was engineered by GMSA and the panels were stamped in South Africa, thus increasing the model’s local content. However, the side doors were imported from the UK, since these had not been stamped in South Africa since the 1974 Firenza facelift.
As can be seen from the brochure imagery below, it was identical to the Chevrolet 1300/1900 from the A-pillars forward, but was vastly different aft of this point. Launched in late 1975, the new car was marketed as the Chevrolet Hatch, and it was available in just two distinct models – the 1300DL and 1900SL in both manual and automatic forms. Interestingly, this three-door car was called the Hatch before the term hatchback had gained widespread acceptance, making this very much on message with the car market at the time.
However, it was already up against some tough opposition in an increasingly competitive South African car market and, despite some moderately flattering reviews, sales weren’t exactly rapid. That’s not to say that it was a bad car – far from it. It was reasonably practical, but then again, it was larger than the Chevette, and quite long in comparison with the already-popular Volkswagen Golf. As Vauxpedia states, ‘it had one major advantage over the T-Car and that was room, particularly rear leg room, as a result of retaining the HC wheelbase.’
In typical GMSA style, it didn’t last on the market – with the Chevrolet Hatch going off sale in July 1978.