Saturday 4 October 2014
The Chevette is a supermini model of car which was manufactured by Vauxhall in the United Kingdom from 1975 to 1984. It was Vauxhall's version of the family of small "T-Cars" from Vauxhall's parent General Motors (GM). The family included the Opel Kadett in Germany, the Isuzu Gemini in Japan, the Holden Gemini in Australia, the Chevrolet Chevette in the United States, Canada and Brazil, the AYMESA Cóndor in Ecuador and a badge-engineered Pontiac Acadian/Pontiac T1000 across North America.
The Chevette, as its name implies, was intended to be a baby, American Chevrolet. At the same time as this project was being considered in America, Vauxhall gave much publicity to a new design project, provisionally referred to as the 'Baby R'. In the event, however, economics held sway and a design for all markets was chosen based upon an existing vehicle, the Opel Kadett. The car was first launched in Brazil in 1973 as a slightly restyled Kadett with a hatchback added to the lineup. This hatchback was launched in the U.S. and Britain in 1975 with restyled front ends. Initial production started at Luton, but Chevette assembly was moved to the Ellesmere Port plant in Merseyside as production of the larger Cavalier and Carlton models was moved from Opel plants in Belgium and Germany.
The UK version of the vehicle was intended to fit into the Vauxhall range below the Viva, and was initially presented only in its hatchback version, a style that soared in popularity during the 1970s. With its Pontiac-inspired 'shovel nose' and inset headlamps, the hatchback's UK version looked radically different from the Opel Kadett and was easily accepted by the motoring public as a totally new car. It was only when the saloon, estate car and van variants appeared and the hatchback was added to the Kadett lineup that the conjuring trick was revealed. The Chevette was the first British-built hatchback of this size, and Ford did not respond with a similar product until the following year (their similar-sized offerings all having conventional rear boots).
Sales began on 1 May 1975 from a price of £1,593.
From 1975 until 1978, the Chevette was the UK's best selling hatchback as UK branded rivals failed to respond to the challenge of the imported Peugeot 104, Fiat 127 and Renault 5 until the arrival of Ford's Fiesta at the end of 1976. Chrysler UK did not launch its Chrysler Sunbeam for two years, while it was five years before British Leyland came up with the Austin Metro.
Although the Chevette had a small engine, it was perfectly capable of sprightly performance. The Chevette had a light steering, clutch and gearchange, as well as good visibility and was spacious inside. The Chevette's success was probably due to its versatility. It was available in three-door hatchback for the single driver, and saloon models which suited families, estate car for the service fleets and the 'Chevanne', van version for all other utility purposes.
The original hatchback was launched in the UK using Vauxhall's slogan and musical 'jingle': "It's whatever you want it to be! - A sporty coupe, a family saloon, a handy estate...". It was made at the purpose built factory in Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, under a government initiative to bring employment to the area.
More conventional 2- and 4-door saloons, and 3-door estate variants (essentially the Kadett C with Vauxhall front sheetmetal and engines) were also offered from June 1976. The two-door coupé version of the Kadett C was the only version of the Opel car not to have a Chevette equivalent.
The Viva remained on sale until the end of 1979, when the Opel Kadett D was launched. It was intended that this car would be produced also in America and the UK, as the second generation Chevette, but due to various industrial issues, at the time, GM had decided to mothball most of the Ellesmere Port Plant, retaining only the assembly shop to build the new car. These would be produced from 'knock-down' kits, shipped from Opel's Russelsheim plant. Due to the huge loss of workforce which this would entail, representations were made, which resulted in the decision to continue production of the existing models, alongside the new. This meant that a new name would have to be found for the Mk II car, and so the Vauxhall Astra was born, while the Chevette remained on sale until 1984. At this time, the planned mothballing of the major proportion of the Ellesmere Port plant went ahead, as had been originally planned, following a five year stay of execution.
This longevity led to the Chevette being exported to Germany after 1979, following the discontinuation of the Kadett C; here the Chevette was an unusual small car in that it still featured rear wheel drive. In order to give German buyers the option of rear-wheel drive following the Kadett D's introduction a further 12,332 Chevettes were sold through Opel dealers in Germany with effect from October 1980, although they never actually carried Opel or Vauxhall branding - being badged simply as "Chevette". By this time, the Chevette was the only Vauxhall badged car to be sold in markets such as Mauritius and New Zealand: successor models assembled in the UK for sale in mainland Europe, such as the Astra, have been badged as Opels.
- engine: 4 cylinders
- capacity: 1256 cc
- horsepower: 58 HP
- gearbox: 4+1
- top speed: 150 km/h