Blog : HS-Ecstacy

Keith Adams

Vauxhall Chevette HS
Vauxhall Chevette HS

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:

  • Er…

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!


Keith Adams


  1. Surprisingly modern looking that. I did have a 3-way test between a HS, a Lotus Sunbeam and (I think) a 3-series Beemer. But it got thrown away 20-odd years ago, so I can’t remember the outcome……I always loved the ‘Black Magic’ version of the HS – any of those at Luton?

  2. My mate bought a bumped hs chevette back in 1984, he rebuilt it into a hsr spec chevette with the boxed wheel arches, he also ran it with twin 45 dcoe webbers sadly soon after he finished it he was killed while driving his works van near barton lorry park on the A1, but what a car, and so beautiful to my 13yr old eye.

  3. Nice car! Looks much more better than the Opel Ascona/Kadett.
    The interior was much better styled as the dashboard of the much more conservative Opels.
    In Austria both cars were sold but the much better built quality of the Opel helped them to survive in Austria.
    These Vauxhall series were the last Vauxhalls which were sold in Austria and all the former Vauxhall dealers were now Opel dealers or Isuzu dealers and there was still one British car manufacturer less in Austria.

  4. @ Keith Adams

    Loving Vauxhalls is not something to be ashamed of. My earliest memory of a car is of a General Motors vehicle, so I have a big interest in Vauxhalls. 🙂

    You already have a section on Rootes-Chrysler-Talbot. Have you considered adding separate sections on other UK transplants like Vauxhall, Ford of Britain and the Japanese three?

  5. I love Vauxhalls as well, I think for the same reason I love most British cars. Always better then the so called road testers of the day give them cars credit for! Oh and the Vectra was not that bad, Drive a 1996 Vectra againt a Mondeo or Laguna now!

  6. I treated myself to a Vauxhall (In all but name) as a 50th birthday present to myself. A magnifficent 5.7L Monaro. Not long sold it, now saving up for a VXR8
    My first ever car was a HB Viva appart from a brief spell with a 3.3 Ventura these are the only Vauxhalls Ive ever owned out of 50+ cars

  7. Danny Hopkins from Craptical Plastics has been driving it too so he has been tweeting. Didn’t the HSR catch fire?

  8. I guess this is confession time,although I don’t need help or councelling.I too love some Vauxhalls including the shuvvit,Mk 1 Cav,HB Vivas but my moments of joy are seeing any FD vauxhall whether it be Ventora,Victor or VX4/90.There I did it.It’s good to talk !

  9. Oh the Shove it HS – what an animal

    Along with other silk purses like the Lotus Sunbeam – Avenger Tiger or Dolomite Sprint, they are all cars that make me want to shake my dads hand and thank him from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to be a child of the 70`s!

  10. My mum had a beautiful fourth-hand green (metallic, like an apple) Shoveit GL when I was about 9; it went like stink for such a basic little car, but I was the only person allowed to shout shot-gun; mainly as the near-side door sill had rusted away and anyone heavier would have seen sparks coming from their botties.

    However, it had wonderful wheels. Bliss!

  11. Looks like the “Route Napoleon” to me? Living near Cannes we’ve often used this road to visit family in Briançon. Its at its best in the winter when there aren’t too many caravans/camping cars! My favourite trip was using a Volvo 850 T5 for speed and for nostalgia a 1971 Combi. The succesion of sweeping high speed curves just north of St Vallier are my favourite section. There’s a pass just before this section at almost 1 000m although you’d not think you were that high if you miss the sign. Would love to take this route in a Lotus Sunbeam or Dolly Sprint but only if its dry!
    On another subject the French are still very fond of British cars and they are often to be found on the TV. At the moment there are adverts using E types,Rover P6, a Montego estate and the opening title sequence on TF1 features a cartoon Mini.

  12. I’m Jealous – though I do prefer an RS2000 or Talbot Sunbeam Lotus in splendid black and gold coachwork.

  13. I love Vauxhalls (as well as Citroens, Saabs & Rovers). My first few cars were Griffins. And I agree with Ed, the Vectra B was a good car – nope I’m going out on a limb here, they were great cars! I’ve had two and I want another…

    My dad had a Chevette for a bit, a silver 1.3 saloon. Drove it from Fife to Blackburn back in 1993 without missing a beat :).

    There is something that grabs my attention about cars from the late 70s to the 1990s. Maybe thats why I love Wheeler Dealers…

  14. The Vectra B became a decent car after they warmed it over a little from the back end of 1996 (also fitted a high level brake light at the same time). My Dad had a 2.5 V6 SRI on a P plate and that was a cracking car to drive (to be fair I think the suspension on the V6’s was quite different to the standard models). The brakes were incredible – felt like you had hit a wall with little feel but always gave you total confidence that you could bring the thing to a stop from crazy speeds (unlike the Punto I had at the time which had lovely brake feel but no stopping power at all!). Unfortunately with the people in charge these days all we can afford to run around in are weedy econoboxes.

  15. Since the very first car I drove ( on a farm track ) was my uncle George’s two-tone green Victor 101 I have had a soft spot for the griffon badge Lutonmobiles – that was until my Dad bought the rattly rotbox horror that was the Victor FE estate -ghastly.

    The Chevette has always looked crisp – and ROdney Bewes had one in the Likley Lads…

  16. My personal choice would be a mark 2 Escort RS2000 (or a RS1899 if funds would allow), but I’ve got a soft spot for the HR. I love the tartan interior – I’d love tartan interiors to come back into fashion!

  17. Love these and the Lotus Sunbeam, I like the rawness its suits this type car, its the same reason why I would buy a Abarth Strada 130 TC, thumping big carbs spitting and sucking away with a big two fingers to the ozone layer.

  18. As a child, I remember being very impressed with the small steering whell badge on my Uncle’s Vauxhall, squarish badge saying something about safety steering columns? Could anyone remind me?!

  19. PS – that Chevette looks terrific, although the instruments inspired by Ford’s ‘R-module?’ maybe….

  20. BSD

    @No.19-Could you please specify what is an RS1899?

    I know the RS Mexico,the RS1800 and the RS2000 Droop Snoot.
    I never heard of an RS1899.
    could you please help?

  21. Nice looking car, nice wheels too, Its nice hatch, when I was an apprentice I remember one of the staff bought a light blue ordinary spec car,was a 1978/9 T reg, I noted thats its was a flexible hatch backeven then. Great feature, Regards Mark

  22. Any chance of a feature on a little remembered sporting version of the FC, FD( the best looking of the lot) and FE Victors? In their day the VX 4/90s were a better equipped and more powerful alternative to the standard Victors and the FD and FE versions could top the ton, important 40 years ago when most cars struggled to go faster than 90 mph. However, since rust has claimed most of them and Vauxhall were a fading force in the run up to the Chevette and Cavalier turnaround, the VX 4/90s are rarely mentioned nowadays.

  23. Vauxhall also made the Viva Brabham, which is one of a few sporting versions to be named after a Grand Prix team.

    Are there any others than Mini Cooper, Lotus Cortina (& Sunbeam Lotus), Rover BRM & Clio Williams?

  24. Craptical Plastics!
    I see what you mean about todays practical classics magazine.
    I stopped buying it about three years ago as it was not the same without Danny,Simon and of course Will Holman. I see Dannys back along with Nick Larkin (the A55/A60 farina man) but I still look through the magazine and put it back on the shelf in store not buying.
    The problem is they get repetitive over time and you save a bit of money too.

  25. @Richard16378

    There was the Honda Civic Jordan, Peugeot had a Prost scooter, and if you want to get a bit tedious link, the Schumacher Scicento.

    (And of course, every Jaguar 🙂 )

  26. As far as I recall, all Chevette’s except this had the 1256cc engine. I guess the HS2300 used the same 2279cc block that was also fitted into FE Victor’s, VX4/90 – plus Magnum’s. They were not 16V though and I know the Victor/Magnum produced 108bhp & the 4/90 was 116bhp.

    Nice to see this example has been preserved so we can enjoy the memories.

    • Victor 2300 – single Strom – 100bhp
      Firenza/Magnum 2300, VX4/90 (1972-75) twin Stroms 110bhp
      VX2300, late Magnums – improved head, single Strom, 108bhp
      Late VX4/90 (Getrag box) – improved head, twin Stroms, 116bhp
      HP Firenza – high lift cam, unique exhaust manifold, 131bhp.
      Chevette HS – 16V head – twin Stroms – 135bhp.

  27. @19 Denis Shaw. The two tone colours on the 101 you referred to were called Pinewood Green and Pampas green. My dad owned a VX4/90 (1966) in Grecian White & Meteor blue side flash. Although cars were more basic and not as powerful in those days, they did the job and had character … well I think so. Harking back to my youth?

  28. I saw a couple driving a beige Y reg Chevette saloon this week and it reminded me of back in the early 80s.
    These came in some bright colours for the time, my favorite was a bright metallic green, the little hatch cars drove well,always very tight with a slick little gearbox sitting on a large transmission tunnel, some models some featured a smart dash layout which included seperate gauges and a small clock and better models had steel rostyle wheels.
    The 1256 engine was a carry over from the old Viva and the HA van, it wasnt bad but without regular oil changes it could become harse and even “endy” so a quick bodge [then] was to knock the timing back on the distributor.
    The same could be said of the Chevanne which is a long forgot light commercial derivative of the Chevette estate, i spent many an hour putting back together the half tartan seats that always came un clipped around the frame edges…thse were the days!!.

  29. Ten years earlier than the Chevette was the long forgotten Brabham Viva a car born in the sixties that never took of or recieved the publicity of the Lotus Cortina.

  30. I don’t need to think back that far to know the FE Victor was a very capable car. A little big for tastes at the time, it handled well and looked good. I love the sound of a slant-four being given a few beans.

    Chevettes come in a few interesting flavours, though all except the HS/HSR had 1256 engines in the UK (elsewhere they have all manner of powerplants) – HS is roughly 135bhp, HSR around 150-250 depending on state of tune.

    Black Magic was a one off, though it inspired the Silhouette special edition (which was inevitably a base-spec 1256 with bits stuck on, most notably HS-looking stickers under the windows). The real one has a more subtle kit than the HSR, a normal 2300 slant-four 8v, and lots of leather and wood.

    And just to make y’all sick, a quick google will reveal how much the prices have jumped on this rare and fun car. 2006, there’s one advertised – a very clean, 2.6 on DHLAs, HS – for £3300. Now in similar condition they’re pushing five figures.

    The one to find is the HS-X – in essence a black HS, sold by dealer MOMOS, and based on Black Magic. The original ads suggest a far less exciting car than third-hand reports of them (which range from it being Black Magic, to turbocharged or a full set of DTV bits), with 135bhp from twin CDs, 0-60 in 8 seconds and 117mph top speed, the main alteration aside from the black paint being alternative decals and styling.

  31. Very interesting read there Keith. I’m from the Cavalier and Chevette Club and we have a bit on the Chevette HS in our Chevette Section of the website and also the SMT Red Arrow CHevette HSR. Link Below. Not many people are aware of this but up till 1981 Vauxhall Cars were sold in continental Europe alongside Opel’s in 11 country’s. That included the Chevette and Cavalier Mk1. This included Germany for the Chevette, where it was launched when the Kadett City stopped procution and was replaced by the FWD Kadett D.
    One other thing to note is our clubs Honoury Prescedent worked in Design at Luton and worked on the Design of the Chevette.

    Here is the link to our site.

  32. A friend of mine just sold his HS last year which has now had a full resto and looks amazing now.

    Another friend has one, and he was also selling a fully painted better than new HS shell on Ebay last year.

    Heres a pic of my FE VX 4/90 that i sold about five years ago,did a quick DVLA check and its still going strong!!!!!


    I have just taken my allyear rounder off the road for some minor resto work,wheelarches,inner/outersills etc,its a black RS2000 custom.

  33. @ 24 Itzhak – March 8, 2012
    Could you please specify what is an RS1899?
    I know the RS Mexico,the RS1800 and the RS2000 Droop Snoot.
    I never heard of an RS1899.
    could you please help?

    Sorry for the confusion Itzhak, it was a typing error – I meant a RS1800!

  34. That green VX4/90 looks like one from the Selkirk/Mellerstain car shows that I used to see regularly – though it was quite a popular colour.

  35. Its Sherwood Green,i bought the car in Glasgow from its second owner and he bought it when it was only a year old!!!!

    Its new owner flew up to Edinburgh to collect it,as i waited for his plane to land i took this last picture at Ingliston showground which is right next to the airport, before he then drove off back down to London with it.

  36. @ 28 Oh god Nick Larkin…They are doomed. He is one seriously odd person. I know, cos I’ve met him. Serious bus freak, and camper than a row of pink tents at Butlins. I notice this month, Fuzz is on the cover. I knew he’d be back, shame he is peering over a Sherpa coupe/A60 coupe. The mag seems to be 90% adverts now as well. It’s only fit to be WHS Library fodder now.

    Anyhoo, screaming back on topic, the Shove-it HS looks like the sort of car that would headbutt you in the pub if you spilled it’s pint, then bite the head off your grandma just for a laugh. That & the equally bonkers Lotus Sunbeam which should be black & silver are 2 70’s legends.

  37. @ 43 Marty B

    Chevette HS and Lotus Sunbeam – I’ve recently watched an old Jeremy Clarkson vid on YT where both of them featured. It was an episode of ‘Clarkson’s Car Years’ where the topic was ‘hot hatches’.
    According to JC, the first modern hot hatch wasn’t the MkI VW Golf GTI, but actually the British Chevette HS and the Sunbeam – which were both “hooligan”, crazy fast cars “even by today’s standards”!
    Sadly though, – still by JC’s words – they could not keep up with the GTI’s success – why?
    “Unfortunately they were not ‘everyday’ cars, because ‘everyday’ they break. So you’d be left with the option of catching the bus to work – or get a Golf GTI”.

    Of course then, good old man’s opinion might be debatable.

    Keith –

    I see you had headlight blockers fitted for driving on the Continent (bravo, sir!) – anyway…look at the opening pic, it seems as if the Chevette is looking through the bend with its eyes! Am I the only one to see that? Yes, I’m a bit twisted I know. XD

    Glad you enjoyed the drive!

  38. Marty B: My first functional FE Victor came from Nick Larkin – he enjoyed a very short spell as “Manta Man” in C40 TSH, my old 1.8 Berlinetta. The Victor’s back axle eventually died and the attitude of the few people carrying spares made repair prohibitive (it was pretty rusty, too, but not as bad as the ones I’ve seen saved recently).

  39. @39 Gordon… Your Sherwood green VX looked great! I remember the car, those Rostyle wheels, sq headlamps and grille well. I used to own a K reg Viva in a similar colour called Emerald Starmist and had Rostyles too.. it was nearly 35 years ago. How those years have passed so quick

  40. @43 & 28
    Don’t be too hard on mr Larkin Hes wrote a good article on my car and our club stand at the NEC classic car show in November 2010. He was writing for Classic car weekly then
    He does have the look of “Shambolic academic” rather than a proffessional motoring journo

  41. Nice to see the HS being used, i have known the car for years , before the heritage boys got it. A well looked after car but little used. My HSR has over 100000 mile on the clock (bit like triggers broom though) and after 24 years of owning her she is still incredable to drive.

  42. @39 Gordon… Your Sherwood green VX looked great! I remember the car, those Rostyle wheels, sq headlamps and grille well. I used to own a K reg Viva in a similar colour called Emerald Starmist and had Rostyles too.. it was nearly 35 years ago. How those years have passed so quick

    D,oh!!! you are correct it was Emerald Starmist.

  43. @22 The vauxhall energy absorbing steering column was a collapsible steering column with a lattice type section within the steering column.

    Always loved the Chevette HS and almost bought one back around 1988 at the now bargain price of £4000!

  44. Worked on the HS at Millbrook in the late 70s. It had a problem of losing oil pressure when being run at sustained high speed (indicated 120mph) that turned out to be crankcase pressure preventing the oil fed to the cams getting back to the sump. Ultimately resulting with a gallon of oil in the camboxes and nothing in the sump….

    the “Droop snoot” styling predated Wayne Cherry’s time. I remember seeing a photo of what I initially thought was a Mk1 Cavalier until it was pointed out that the registration suffix was “C” (1965) and the car was positioned on the site of the (then) office block I was sitting in. The car was dubbed the “Vetura” I think, and was FWD with a single overhead cam engine (later to be released in the Victor FD model)

  45. I too have always had a soft spot for Vauxhall’s. This is probably due to my dad buying his first Vauxhall Victor from a garage in Bournemouth which he saw when he took me to see the ‘brand new’ Austin 1100 just before it was released. Dad continued with a succession of Victors, from the F type de-luxe to a 101, and finally a 2 litre Victor FD.
    Although my first car in 1975 was an Anglia estate, I wanted to ‘upgrade to a Vauxhall’ (as I explained it to my mates, mostly Ford fans who just didn’t understand!). I eventually bought an 1159cc HB Viva whilst I saved and built up my no claims bonus so I could afford to buy and run a Viva GT. This was an extremely underrated and un-known car, combining the 2 litre slant 4 engine and various other FD parts (which I could confirm by comparing them with dad’s Victor) into the HB Viva bodyshell.
    Of course I became well known at my local Vauxhall parts counter, especially as they initially refused to admit that such a model existed, telling me that the biggest engine available in the HB was 1600cc. (I eventually convinced tham that ‘my’ model was known as the HBR Viva).
    I had great fun with this car, even upgrading the front brakes & suspension to the stronger items from the FD Ventora which is what Vauxhall subsequently fitted to the fantastic Droop Snoot Firenza, another car I enjoyed owning.
    I could go on for hours remeniscing about my Vauxhalls, but it’s now time for my medication, so I’d better stop…

  46. @58 Alistair. I can empathise with your comments and experience. My Dads first car was a Victor F deluxe 1960 model then he changed it for a new VX4/90 in 1966 (white with blue flash). My brother owned a J reg Viva SL(HB) then later on I bought a K reg Viva X14(HC). Rusting wings were a problem I had to deal with! Still loved it though.

    For the record I still have a brochure on the Viva GT (HB). Its 2 litre engine put out 112bhp if I recall. Do you remember the Viva Brabham conversion models?

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