Car of the Month : October 2009

This one’s bound to be controversial, but given Vauxhall’s current plight, and the liklihood that what remains at Luton will be put out to pasture, we thought we’d pay our respects by offering up this prized Chevette for Car of The Month.

Styled by Geoff Lawson (later of Jaguar) and Wayne Cherry, the curious RWD supermini looked substantially different to its German counterpart, the Opel Kadett, and thanks to its British engine, it also drove rather more in keeping with its market ambitions. It was a success for Vauxhall, too, and remained on sale well into 1984. But now, numbers are rapidly diminishing… As always, let us know your thoughts at the bottom of the page.

Words and pictures: David Henderson

The little shove-it…

Brown was still in fashion in the early 1980s – and don’t you forget it…

FIRST registered in the South East of London on 18th November 1983, what you see before you is a Vauxhall Chevette L with the blistering 1256cc ball of fire under the bonnet. Built at Ellesmere Port, the Chevette was an attempt by Vauxhall to replace the ageing but popular Viva, with a more modern and stylish hatchback body. GM Europe by this stage were endeavouring to share floorpans across their ranges, with the Chevette (or T-car chassis) being one of the first to enjoy worldwide success for the company.

The Opel version of the car, the Kadett, had been in production since 1973 with a wide engine range including 1.0, 1.2, 1.6 and 1.9 litre engine variants. For some unfathomable reason, Vauxhall decided they would soldier on with the 1256cc engine from the Viva HC, a variant of which was seen in the Viva HA in 1057cc form in 1963. So, not exactly cutting edge, at a time when rival manufacturers offered their cars in a variety of flavours, the Chevette was available in just one – 58bhp, take it or leave it.

The range grew over the years into two door and four door saloons, three door estate and a panel van based on the estate. In late 1979 the range was facelifted, and most noticeably lost the snow shovel headlights (called glow worms for a good reason) in favour of greatly improved flush fitting lamps. This smoothed out the styling, and brought the looks in line with the rest of the range – Mk1 Cavalier, Carlton, and upcoming Astra all featured this styling. GM had intended that the new Astra / Kadett D would replace the Chevette and it’s relatives, and did so across Europe, with production of the Kadett C being halted. The new car was much larger, and as a result much more expensive than the outgoing model. This led to a now vacant market gap, with Vauxhall finding themselves in the strange position of selling rebadged Opel Chevettes in Germany – this only continued for a short period of time.

The Chevette range was finally discontinued in early 1984, but a few still turn up on B plates, presumably old dealer stock that wouldn’t shift. Survival rate now is reasonably good, with the vast majority having been claimed by rust – like all Vauxhall cars of the era, the Chevette has a propensity to corrode at will. Engines and running gear are fairly solid, but the lack of power from the standard engine has led to many cars being fitted with alternative power plants – XE and 1700 Crossflow being popular modifications. Factory condition cars are very rare indeed, with quite a number in the last few years being poached by rally participants, and broken to provide good bodyshells to build rally cars.

So, back to my car. From what can be ascertained, the colour is a reasonably rare one for a Chevette – Mocha Brown, as offered on the early mk1 Nova , mk1 Astra, and mk2 Cavalier, but never previously to my knowledge offered on a Chevette. The car appears to have spent most of it’s life in Croydon, South London, having been sold new in that area. Early history is unknown, but the car came supplied with a wedge of bills from 1994 to 2002, detailing the replacement of everything from an oil seal and wiper blades, to radiator and water pump replacement. All came from the same motor factors and Vauxhall garage in Croydon. The car appears to have been part of some sort of company fleet scheme – a truly stylish company car!

Following it’s time in South London, the car began migrating north, first stopping off for a few years in the Billingham area of Middlesborough, in the capable hands of a gentleman who kept it garaged during his ownership. I spotted the car on ebay in May 2008, having found a new Chevette void in my life, as my previous Chevette saloon had yielded to the aforementioned rust. Described as having some cosmetic issues, the car was in overall very good condition, so a quick service and check over preceeded a summer of classic car shows, with many favourable comments. During this time I had all corrosion issues dealt with professionally, costing a small fortune. In terms of modifications, all I have fitted is some auxiliary gauges in the upper dash – anyone recognise the rev counter?

Roll on to summer 2009, and corrosion in the sills and front wings is discovered (remember the rust problems?) following a harsh winter outdoors – the joys of living in Edinburgh without a garage. At present the car is undergoing a fairly substantial freshen up, with new sills, wings, and numerous patches replacing holes and thin metal. I want to restore the car to her full glory, in the original colour with perhaps a few tasteful modifications. Learning how to weld and panel beat at present, hoping to be all finished for next summer show season. The interior and mechanical bits are in excellent condition, so once the body is finished hopefully it will continue for another 25 years.

Keith Adams
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  1. My grandad’s last car was a Mocha Brown 2 door saloon – EBU 870Y, purchased new from Motorama in Rochdale. It was traded in at 4 years old with 12,000 miles on the clock, along with my dad’s MG Metro, towards a new 205GTI.

    I used to see it in Prestwich, Manchester, on a regular basis in the mid 1990s; it survived to 1997, outliving my grandad by 2 years.

  2. Is that a similar colour to brazil brown which was also a contemporary Vauxhall colour? My dad had that colour on a Nova Swing, which had the attrative beige and brown ‘Ronda’ interior trim

  3. I have a 1984 Chevette L Hatch to She is called SYBil due to part of her Registration, She was also built at Ellesmere Port, sold in Taunton, and then resold to someone in Ellesmere Port. When the owner died it was put on Ebay from where I bought it.

    SYBil also is a rare colour being Olivine Green, A nice Dark Metalic Green. She has only had 3 owners, me being the 3rd and has never been welded or needs welding..

    I love it as its a great handeling car, and love taking it to Classic Car Shows and Driving it about in the Summer months.

    I am currently working on a Sporty 1256 engine with all period parts like hotter cam, Bigger pistons, Blydenstien Cylinder Head and Blydenstien Rocker Cover and a Dellorto 40 carb amongst others perfomance parts.

    She will look a little different under the bonet but it will all be period parts like wot you could have bought in the day. I don’t want to spoil her. I already did that with a previous R reg Hatch that had a Sporty 1256, then a 1750 cc Ford Cross Flow then a 1600 gt Crosflow and finally a Fort 2.0 Pinto. !!!

    The only external consession to non standard are 80’s period Comopmotive CX alloys and Tastefull driving lights.

    Mark, oh yes, & SYBil.

  4. Old article here so a bit of a long shot here…From the article I know you reside in Edinburgh and had a Chevette saloon, my saloon which I sold in 1999 (KAD445V) was last known to be in Edinburgh in 2004, just wondering if its the same car?

  5. Despite not the best colour, this brown Chevette L still looked an inoffensive little car and one of the first Hatchbacks in the UK. The GL & GLS variants were better too with nicer trim. Although it was successful in its category it might have appealed to more buyers with at least another larger engine option. eg The 1.6 Opel or 1.8 from Magnum?

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