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1979 Vauxhall Chevette HS : Classic Cars

The Chevette was a supermini model of car manufactured by Vauxhall in the UK 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. In Britain it was decided to assemble the car at the manufacturer's Ellesmere Port facility, built with the aid of government grants and opened in 1962 on a disused Second World War airfield in Merseyside. 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.

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.

It 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 Opel Kadett with Vauxhall front sheetmetal and engines) were also offered from June 1976.

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.

A van version, based on the estate and called the Bedford Chevanne was also built, and badged as part of GM's Bedford commercial vehicles marque.

Although the Chevette was largely a rebadged Opel Kadett C with revised front-end (detailed below), it did use the 1256 cc overhead valve (OHV) engine of the Viva instead of the Kadett's units, which were produced by Opel. The Kadett's double wishbone front suspension, rear-wheel drive and rear suspension with Panhard rod, torque tube and coil sprung live axle were carried over unaltered. Inside, the two cars differed only in terms of their dashboard and switchgear: the Chevette stuck to the British & Japanese right-hand drive tradition of having the indicator switch on the right-hand side of the steering column, while the Kadett had the mainland European left-hand drive custom of the flasher stalk being on the left. The Chevette also had a much more angular instrument binnacle, although the instrumentation within was similar (though in imperial rather than metric measurements).

The Chevette's front end featured a more aerodynamic-looking nose treatment than the Kadett, based loosely on the design of the "droopsnoot" Firenza, itself having been inspired by the Pontiac Firebird, a sister GM product. In contrast the Kadett had a more conventional flat-fronted design. In 1980, the Chevette underwent a facelift with flush fitting headlights, giving it a "family look" alongside the larger Vauxhall Cavalier version of the Opel Ascona. It also received new wheel designs, revised C-pillar vent covers and revamped interior trim with re-designed front seats to increase rear knee room marginally. However, it was effectively the beginning of a phase-out in favour of the newer Astra, Vauxhall's version of the front wheel drive Kadett, which was launched in January 1980.

Production finally finished in January 1984, approximately one year after the launch of the Spanish-built Nova. 415,000 Chevettes were sold in Britain.

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Sources : 1979 Vauxhall Chevette HS Photo | 1979 Vauxhall Chevette HS Article


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