Our Cars : Keith’s Calibra soldiers on

Keith Adams


Well, I did go and buy it…

I have to say that, so far, the Vauxhall Calibra has been as good as gold for me – as expected. It’s going to be one of our fleet that’s going to cause no trouble at all, just quietly getting on with the job, covering miles effortlessly and turning heads wherever it goes.

I must admit that I didn’t expect it to cause quite as much controversy with AROnline readers as it did. However, with 59 comments – and counting – after my introductory post about it, there’s no denying that you haven’t ignored it. I guess, though, that coming from the era of cars that we love so much and a time when life was gentler, cars were less aspirational, as well as a whole lot easier to work on, it’s easy to understand why it’s struck a chord.

Okay, so not all of you love it. There were one or two references to ‘chavs’ and Max Power that I didn’t quite appreciate, but then I guess many of you aren’t old enough to remember the era when everyone – and I mean everyone – aspired to own a red Calibra. Admittedly, mine’s a blue SE4 limited edition, and comes with the nasty chrome V affixed to the front of the post-facelift cars, but it’s close enough to mid-1990s nirvana.

In terms of where it’s at, the sunroof doesn’t work (Kevin Bricknell gave me a spare to fit) and, because I have been fiddling with the roof lining, the alarm sensor covers that held in the panel became loose and kept dropping off. Thanks to an application of duct tape to the fittings, they’re now firmly fixed – and that, really, is the sum of the car’s woes right now.

Ideally, I’d like to give it a service, as I suspect the thermostat is on its way out. The coolant temperature gauge wavers between 85-95 degrees while driving, instead of sitting steady – it’s a good job the cooling fan cuts in as it should. Honestly, that’s all there is – the Calibra’s a pleasure to drive, it starts and stops as it should and sits happily on the motorway for mile after mile.

It’s no driver’s car – the steering is too lacking in feel for that. Performance is also acceptable rather than startling. With 120bhp on tap, the 2.0-litre 8v four will give you 0-60mph in 10 seconds and a 125mph maximum speed, while fourth and fifth gears are nice and tall for relaxed cruising, rather than sprinting. Consider it a 2.0-litre Capri for the 1990s. That’s why, despite its so-so performance and dynamics, I do like it a lot, and I suspect that, once people latch on to the car’s rarity and great looks today, I won’t be alone.

Meanwhile, for now, I’m off for a nice long drive…


Keith Adams


  1. Looks nice in the photos Keith. As I said, one of my colleagues has a P reg Calibra in light blue that is still in daily commute service. it’s recently had some paintwork done and alloy wheel refurb and still looks an eye catching car considering its age. Good luck with yours.

  2. Oddly enough my Mrs 1990s corsa dies exactly the same thing with its temp gauge, also like the calibra (nice car), it’s pretty forgettable to drive, but even with s shade over 100k on the clock it just quietly gets on with the job in hand

  3. It’s a lovely car and getting rare. A perfectly usable classic. Adequate performance, decent fuel economy, excellent on the motorway. I doubt that it’s any worse to drive than many of today’s dreary Euro, Jap or Korean boxes and it’s certainly better looking.

    How about some pics of the interior?

    • Nor me either as Vauxhalls finished in solid red had an annoying tendency to fade down to a horrible shade of pink when they were less than eighteen months old. My sister had this problem with a year old ex-demonstrator Vauxhall Nova SR she bought in 1994 and within a few months it had gone pink.

      Despite all efforts to ‘recover’ the colour, the efforts lasted less than six weeks. An AA inspector concluded that its paint finish was not of a merchantable quality. By early 1996 the Nova had been replaced by a Renault Clio.

      Give me a metallic blue, green or a solid black colour any day, even if they are a pain to keep clean.

  4. Say it again, cracking car, from the 90s era when most “mainstream” manufacturers put out coupes – you could choose from a Calibra, Ford Cougar, Accord coupe, Toyota Paseo, 200SX, MX-6, Mitsubishi FTO, GTV, 406 coupe, R8 Tomcat, 800 coupe etc.

    What are the modern equivalents? A5? (admittedly, if it didn’t have a 4 ringed beard on the front I’d quite like it) 4-er? C-klasse? That rare beast the Infiniti G-something-or-other-2-door?

    Or has the old coupe class in affect been split between the hot hatchback, the fashionable crossover and the 4 door sweeping coupe (Passat CC / CLS / 6-er / next 508?)? Even in the US, the home of the big 2 door ‘personal luxury car’ coupe, the segment has declined.

    • I liked the Calibra a lot however when it was discontinued, I did consider a Ford Cougar to replace my P reg Mondeo which was beginning to feel all of its six years. I was considering X & Y reg cars which in Mondeo & Cougar terms, were selling for £5500. Even though the Cougar was based on the facelifted Mark 1 Mondeo, it could have been based on the Mark 2 one looks wise if it weren’t for the latter one’s hike in size (both Insignias & Mondeos had row replace the respective larger siblings). Therefore given the relative low second hand price, it represented good value for money.
      In the end, my Mother advised me that I should spend a little more, presumably on the grounds that this would provide me with a more reliable car. I therefore spent twice the amount on the car that I wanted more than a Ciugar which was a Mark 4 VW Golf. Unfortunately I was only told by Golf owners after the purchase that reliability is confined only to the person who owns the car before its third birthday & being an X reg, mine was three years old. As readers will have deduced from that tardy pearl of wisdom, the car was nothing but trouble with an ominous tendency for the front & rear near side tyres to wear out quicker than the offside ones rather than the front ones in comparison with the backs.
      To me, that smacked of a slightly twisted chassis which didn’t affect the handling so wasn’t picked up by me on the test drive. What do other readers think of this theory?

      • Shame, always liked the Cougar, still think they look modern today, only that the visible rear exhaust boxes can be rusty from age makes them look old.

        Ford of that new edge era put out some cracking looking cars, from the Ka which pre-MINI showed that small cars could be trendy, the Focus which was world away from the horrendous mk5/6 Escort, the mk2 Mondeo which sharpened up the looks of the capable but boring looking mk1, Puma which was another Fiesta based car that showed that small cars could be interesting.

        I know plenty who have had their fingers burnt with Golfs, and I’ve been passenger in some ropey examples, though as you say, a sympathetic first owner can make a great used car.

  5. “the alarm sensor covers that held in the panel became loose and kept dropping off. Thanks to an application of duct tape to the fittings, they’re now firmly fixed”

    Have you tried Sugru? Pretty good stuff!

  6. Never liked the Calibra, bland to look at and the side profile looked too much like a stretched Cavalier coupe. Plus, round where I live, only chavs and council estate show offs ever bought one. Much preferred the Probe for looks and Celica for performance, the Calibra had neither (In my humble opinion)

  7. I think I might be in the minority here, but I quite like the “nasty chrome V affixed to the front of the post-facelift cars”. It certainly doesn’t conflict with the car’s svelte looks and came at a time when a number of volume manufacturers such as Rover and Mazda (through the Xedos brand) were looking at the chrome grille theme to reinforce their brand’s identity. Ford of course went with the oval shaped grille design as its new corporate identity theme which mirrored the outline shape of its emblem.

    Vauxhall’s effort was a rather clever ‘mini grille’ idea which simply used the first letter of its name, the result of which did not dominate the frontal design. It many ways it was more tasteful than some of the full-on chrome grille treatments we saw from other manufacturers in the same period. And before anyone asks, no, I am not referring to Rover!

    The SE4 looks great in that colour too.

    • Agree with you, I too like the chrome V on the Calibra. At the time it distinguished Vauxhall models from Opel models, especially noticable on the island of Ireland where models from the two regions are sold under the separate marques. The only model I’m not sure it worked well on was the facelift Omega with the huge grille – it left huge expanses of black plastic and made the grille look top heavy (for want of a better way of describing the look), something better handled with the Opel which had a chome split halfway.

      The evolution of the grille led to the current Vauxhall-Opel arrangement with the large chrome bar leading to a central round logo (if you look under a Vauxhall badge on an Insignia or Astra J you’ll actually see an Opel shaped outline!).

      In the 90s it was much better looking than the round grilles used by Ford thankfully abandoned with the new edge era.

  8. I’ve seen a few Vauxhalls where the Griffin badge has fallen off to reveal an Opel logo moulded into the plastic.

    When new nost Calibras seemed to be owned by middle management types who had got one as a company car upgrade for meeting a sales targets.

    It was only when they started to get onto the 2nd hand market that they got a bad image, like the hot hatches did a decade earlier.

  9. I believe the problem with most people is that they don’t realise what a impact it made back in it’s day. Some are approaching 30 years now and yet still looks quite modern. The Cavalier Mk3 gave up a lot of parts admittedly, but this was mainly in mechanicals, front and middle floor-pans and front chassis to keep prices low (cheapest coupe at the time) and is common practice with manufacturers anyway. The rear end being unique fitted with independent rear suspension with disc brakes and ABS which the Cavalier adopted six months later for the GSi and Turbo’s. The only external similarities to any Cavalier were the door handles and side repeaters as the body design was totally different and became famous for holding the record as the most aerodynamic car for 10 years! It was outselling it’s closest rival (Toyota Celica) by four times as many at one point and it took Ford a further 10 years to produce the Cougar after the failure of the Probe.
    Cleverly marketed with 5 engines and 20 levels of trim to suit all tastes and pockets throughout it’s 8 years, the 2.0 litre Turbo 4×4 (6 speed was a first and no Turbo lag) was in the top 100 for top speed (152mph) from every Manufacturer at the time in 1992. Front fog lights, headlight wash (early models), tilt rake steering wheel (early), Recaro styled front seats, Electric sunroof, mirrors (heated), windows, heated seats (leather only), self levelling headlights and internal adjust, 4 wheel discs with ABS, Alloy wheels etc. It was the only true 4 seater coupe with the largest boot loading in its class too.Total sales reached 41,000+ here in the UK, but now is rarely seen due to being stolen/burnt out, modifying, boy-racers and giving up there engines for the likes of Corsa’s, Ford Escorts etc etc. One of the best sellers the legendary 2.0 redtop sold 11,000 alone but sadly now down to about 50 (distributor and coil pack types).
    All cars have faults and the Calibra has a few, the handling was one of them but this was addressed on the high performance models with lowering the car by 35mm with up-graded shock absorbers, stiffer anti-roll bars, steering ratios, the lesser models are adequate for everyday driving, cruising.
    I have owned a few Calibra with all the engine variables since my first in 1993. I replaced my first, but after owning a few other make coupes, including Toyota, Cougar and VW decided to go back to them after being disappointed.
    A true classic which only a few recognise due to many people’s perception of ‘a Cavalier in a party frock’ NOT!

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