Something of a modern classic this time in the form of the Vauxhall Calibra. Handsome, sporty, easy to maintain and also remarkably practical, the Calibra could be all things to all drivers. It was a victim of the ‘90s though, meaning many have been quite literally modified to death. Today, however, it’s recognised as a classic and prices are on the rise. The time to buy is most definitely now.
First of all, let’s address something. There will be some who are of the opinion that the Vauxhall Calibra isn’t a true classic, nor does it have the potential to be. But is that right? Not really. The Calibra is, like it or not, a thirty-year-old car now, having been released in 1989. Yes, we know, we all prefer to believe that 1989 was five years ago, but the reality is somewhat different. Apologies if we’ve made you feel old.
Before you go jumping into a bathtub full of Olay anti-ageing cream, take a moment to consider the Calibra. A lot of cars from the 1990s were, well, a bit bland. But the Calibra wasn’t one of them. The designers fought hard to maintain the concept car looks for the road and as such, the final car was a welcome breath of fresh air. It was incredibly sleek and elegant, which aren’t words you’d normally attach to a Vauxhall, but here we are. And not only was it beautiful, it was also great to drive thanks to an impressive range of engines including a V6 and a 2.0 turbo version. There was even a 4×4 model. And to cap it all off, thanks to being based on a Cavalier, it was incredibly practical, too. It was a beautiful coupe that you could live with.
An introduction to the Vauxhall Calibra
The Calibra was introduced to go against the Japanese rivals that were storming dealerships in the ‘90s. It was a simpler time, before people blindly fell in love with the SUV. But we digress. The Calibra was to be Vauxhall’s sports coupe and with it, it would attract the affluent 30-somethings with no kids, but given it was based on the Cavalier, even those with offspring could still play if they wanted to. And let’s not forget that Vauxhall had form when it came to coupes. Let’s not forget the Cavalier Sports Hatch, or the Firenza, or the Magnum.
Penned by GM’s Wayne Cherry and German pencil-wrangler, Erhard Schnell, the Calibra would be sleek and suave and like nothing else ever seen in a Vauxhall showroom. Though it has to be said, had Schnell not been so vehemently attached to his vision for the Calibra, it could have been a very different car indeed. He fought for the slim headlights and won. He fought for the frameless glass and won. And he fought for the flowing roofline and slim pillars and won. He also fought for a shorter wheelbase than that of the Cavalier, but he lost that fight, as platform-sharing was key to the Calibra’s affordability, both in the showroom and on the factory floor.
The resultant car looked like something out of the future. In fact, it still looks fresh thirty years on. It was a brave, bold and revolutionary design. It was so cutting-edge, it had a drag coefficient of just 0.26. That’s remarkably aerodynamic by today’s standards, let alone those of 1989.
Admittedly to drive, the Calbira was seen by some as being a bit lacking. This, of course, was due to that glorious body being draped over the floor-pan of a Cavalier. 4×4 versions were better, not just from the added driven wheels, but because they used the independent rear suspension from the Omega.
It wasn’t a bad drive though, it just wasn’t perhaps as direct and sharp as the looks suggested. The range of engines was impressive, from the 2.0 8V through to the 2.0 16V, then there was the 2.0 16V turbo and finally, the V6. Something for everyone.
On the showroom floor, the Calibra did well and held its own against the Japanese rivals as planned, and it wiped the floor with Ford’s Probe. Bizarrely though, the Calibra lost sales to the Rover coupe, which was perceived by many to be a better driver’s car.
What are the prices like?
There’s a wide chasm when it comes to prices today, but that’s no bad thing, as it means the Calibra remains accessible to many of us. The model that commands the most money is and has always been the 4×4 turbo. For one of those, you’re going to be looking at around £4,500 and even then, that probably won’t get you a mint one. For that, you will need to be prepared to drop around £7,000 or more. They really are the cream of the crop.
The V6 commands good money, around £2,500 to £3,000 but a lot of these are automatic, which does put people off. The 2.0 16V is the best all-rounder and can be bought for around £3,000 for a decent one. However, they’re getting thin on the ground. Back in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, nobody wanted the Calibra, but they did want that C20XE 16-valve 2.0 engine. As such, many were bought cheap, gutted for the powerplant and scrapped.
The one that’s still cheap, with prices anywhere from £500 to £3,000, is the 2.0 8V. Pub bores will tell you it’s a slow and terrible engine. Ignore them. The 2.0 8V is a simple beast, but it’s a great driver and is more than capable of hustling the Calibra along. This is the same engine that lived in the Astra GTE and the Cavalier SRi, and rightly so. It’s got a decent turn of speed, it’s got enough torque for the Calibra and to cap it all off, it’s not bad on fuel. Plus, it’s simple to service and maintain.
Why should I buy one?
Because quite simply, the Calibra was a special car. It was a triumphant spike in Vauxhall’s history. Schnell fought hard to have his vision realised fully, and that’s commendable. And his determination to see his vision through was worth it. The Calibra still looks fresh and bold today, it doesn’t look at all dated.
This is the kind of appreciating classic that you could use every day without hesitation. It’s a coupe, but it is hugely practical (the boot is roughly the size of Basingstoke), it’s fun if not overly-engaging to drive and it’s cheap to run. And when you walk back to it, you’ll always smile, it’s a great-looking bit of kit.
Then there’s the maintenance. The mechanical similarities between the Calibra and the Cavalier pay off here. Almost all of the oily bits are readily available. The only things you’re going to struggle to find are trim and body parts. The latter point is worth considering when viewing, as Calibras weren’t subject to the finest regime of anti-rust protection. Doors and sills in particular were prone rot spots. And given their bargain basement prices in the ’90s, it’s well worth checking that any prospective purchase hasn’t been subjected to all manner of cheap bodges. So get underneath the car and have a thorough look around.
How long will it take to see a return?
Looking at the data we’ve gathered over the years, it seems that in 2014 everybody wanted to sell their Calibra, and almost everybody wanted no more than £2,000. However, after this, prices started to climb, topping out last year at just over £8,000 for a 4×4 Turbo. The cheaper cars are, make no mistake, getting thinner on the ground, but they are still out there. The average price is climbing though, so it’s not going to be long before you see a return on your investment. Maybe 24 months if you buy a nice standard car, sooner if you buy one that needs some love and you do the work yourself.
Admittedly the Calibra isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, and that’s fine. We’re all different. That said, whether you like it or not, there’s no arguing that prices are most definitely on the up. The Calibra is seen by enthusiasts as an important point in the history of Vauxhall. it was a brief glimmer of what, if it really fought for it, Vauxhall could do.
Source:- Car and Classic April 2019