Shed of the Week: Vauxhall Calibra

As colours go, purple isn't that common a choice nowadays. Probably because it's seen as a bit common in the less desirable Bet Lynch definition of the word, and that's before we even get into the even commoner reproductive headgear connotations.

Back in the 1970s, however, purple was very much a la mode, and not just for cars either. Today you'll pay a lot for a Cortina 1600E in metallic Aubergine, and rightly so as it was a stunning hue, but the items of purple clothing that were all the rage then - anything from two-part loon pants to Budgie jackets made out of stitched-together leather offcuts - can probably still be picked up for loose change from the dustier corners of provincial charidee shops.

Two decades on from the purple era, in 1997 - the last year of Calibra manufacture - this colour would have been seen as a left-field retro choice when Vauxhall peeled back the covers on the latest Special Edition version of its enduringly interesting coupé.

The Calibra qualifies for the 'interesting' tag not because of its cutting-edge tech, great handling or scintillating performance. It had none of those. Its USP was the Wayne Cherry slopeback styling, which marked you out as someone with a discerning taste in motors - even though you weren't really. In truth, you were still a Cavalier driver, but that rakish angle somehow made you feel better about yourself, particularly if you'd managed to stuff some of the wife's more despicable relatives in the back.

Given their reduced practicality, nobody really knows why coupé versions of everyday cars became so popular. When coupés were look-at-me bespoke versions of expensive, low-volume motors, you could understand the affection (or possibly grudging proletarian admiration bordering on rage) associated with them.

Ford cooled up the concept for the common man, first with the Mustang and then with the raunchy Capri, a nice-but-naughty option for tasty geezers and travellers in ladies' underwear. The Capri was nudge-winkingly promoted as 'the car you always promised yourself'. The comparatively conservative Calibra was more like the car you threatened yourself with if you didn't do better in life. When you put some cushions into a Calibra, it was for decoration rather than sexual comfort.

Whatever the motivation was, the Calibra garnered an instant following that is still evident in 2018, nearly 30 years after it was put on sale in 1990. Vauxhall did a Special Edition for just about every year the Calibra was sold, which diluted the specialness a bit, especially as the Special Editions weren't especially special, being more special in name than in talent.

This one isn't the very last SE9 model, because that final wallet-wringer was exclusively powered by GM's 2.5-litre V6 lump, making it more of a cruiser than bruiser. Our Shed is the model before it, the unsurprisingly named SE8, featuring the naturally aspirated 133hp and 159lb ft 2.0 litre four that was standard on this and the previous SE7. SE6s and before only had 115hp. Vauxhall did do a 2.0 Turbo four Calibra, which moved along nicely enough with four-wheel-drive and 200-plus horses, but that drivetrain didn't appear anywhere in the SE run.

The advertising strapline for the SE8 was 'keep a cool head', which you could certainly do if the bigged-up CFC-free air-con was working. At either 1,340kg or 1,380kg, depending on who you believed, the manual transmission SE was considerably lighter than the 1,500kg+ auto. According to Vauxhall's brochure it had a full 2-second advantage over the 0-60mph run (8.0 vs 10.0 seconds).

Here's where things get a little confusing with our Shed. The boot-spoiler and various other bodykit addenda are SE8-correct, but the paint is a mystery. Vauxhall did have a mica paint called North Cape at that time, and there are some Calibras in that shade, but Shed thought that the SE8 only came in Magnetic Blue with 15-inch five-spoke F-Line alloys. If it's not a simple repaint, could it have been a special factory order? Maybe something for the little lady? The cream leather is right, and the BBS replacement alloys suit the car well enough.

This particular car has had the usual old-car history of corroded pipery and boingy suspension, but there's nothing untoward relating to the bodywork. The mileage all stacks up on the MOT history, its slow accumulation over the last few years suggesting careful rather than regular use. Maybe the owner has been hoping for its value to accumulate at a faster rate, but has given up waiting. There are only 35 SE8s registered for the road now, but there are over 700 Calibras, so it'll be a while yet before they're worth owt.

Still, this is a decent little runaround in which to channel the 'Considerably Richer Than Yow' part of your psyche. It comes in an unusual colour and has some neat period touches like the console-mounted cassette 'bin'. If only they'd fitted it with a trapdoor providing instant pull-cord access to the road, you could have unsustainably disposed of all your embarrassing cassettes with minimal taradiddle. Let's bring back storage bins and give them that function.

Here's the ad.

1997 Vauxhall Calibra 2.0 16v Special Edition, 1 Years MOT, 115,000 miles, Full Service History, Pearl purple, sports seats, cream leather interior, MOMO Gear knob, BBS alloys, Aircon, CD player, electric windows, mirrors, sunroof, Heated seats, Remote central locking alarm with immobiliser.

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (133) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Gribs 18 May 2018

    Shed's up early. Seems it's already sold too.

  • The Hypno-Toad 18 May 2018

    That's the best bit of shedding for quite some time. The colour is bloody hideous though. However, if you screw your eyes up a bit and you know a mate who runs a bodyshop, imagine how great that would look in black.

  • Roger Irrelevant 18 May 2018

    To my mind the word 'iconic' should only really be used in relation to Elvis and various bits of tat from the Greek/Russian orthodox churches - a Vauxhall Calibra definitely doesn't make the grade. However this one is so of its time that its quite charming really, it would certainly make me smile if I saw it out and about.

  • Cambs_Stuart 18 May 2018

    Personally I don't mind the calibra. But in this example the engine let's it down. With this styling you'd expect something that could out perform a cavalier SRI.

    Edited by Cambs_Stuart on Friday 18th May 06:31

  • Ahbefive 18 May 2018

    The Calibra is a good looking car, a crap one though.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment