Vauxhall’s Calibra was stunning when new and is still a very handsome herd of horses.
The Calibra was promoted with the slogan ‘a coupe without compromise.’ And although that was a little bit of flannel – for underneath, it compromised by using the Cavalier as its platform – this was the car that reintroduced the idea of the affordable coupe. It kickstarted a whole new trend for these, as well as ushering in the adoption of svelte and sleek curves again, something that the angular ‘80s had largely eschewed.
Vauxhall Calibra 2.5i V6
Torque 169lb ft@4200rpm
Top speed 147mph
Gearbox 5-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Rust shouldn’t be that much of a problem. However, look under any plastic trim for any indications of blossoming tin worm. The inner rear arches and quarters are sensitive spots, best checked from inside the boot with the carpets pulled aside. The boot floor and spare wheel well also corrode, as can the sills. Blocked drain holes are usually the cause, as they are with the sunroof, which can go around its edges, accompanied by water staining and warping of the headlining inside. On pre-1994 cars, the door bottoms can also go flaky.
Because these are high performance machines, there’s every chance they might have been crashed then badly repaired. Ripples and unusual welds in the inner wings under the bonnet point to this and also scrutinise for uneven panel gaps.
Engine and Gearbox
On the four-cylinder cars, frequent oil changes are crucial to the life of turbochargers and actuators on the Turbo models. A conscientious owner will have done these at a third of the recommended Vauxhall schedule. Blue smoke on idle points to worn oil seals here. The normally-aspirated eight-valve is pretty tough, the 16-valve ‘Redtop’ less so, thanks to cracked or porous heads. So look for signs of overheating and head gasket issues and evidence that the coolant level has been religiously maintained. The 16-valve Ecotec is quite notorious for sensor problems, so be wary of any lights showing on the dashboard or a car that won’t rev properly.
The V6 engine is robust and unstressed. However, as changing the three rear spark plugs involves removing the inlet manifold, question the owner as to when this was last done. It can get skipped because of its difficulty.
Gearboxes are usually fine, but transfer boxes on the 4x4 turbos aren’t known for their longevity, especially if the four tyres have been allowed to wear unevenly. Check for equal treads.
With the handbrake on, increase the revs to about 900rpm and gently release the clutch. Eventually, the car should stall; if it doesn’t, then it points to this item needing replacement.
Press down on each corner of the car a few times; if it bounces more than a few times when released, it signals that the shock absorbers need replacing. Lower wishbone arms can break, causing the suspension to collapse. These are best checked over by a specialist. Steering racks can leak, so check the PAS reservoir. On 4x4 cars this is even more crucial as the transfer box shares the fluid.
Brakes don’t normally play up save for warped discs – a judder through the pedal – while ABS wheel sensors can fail and the common bodge is just to disconnect them. Check the light comes on at ignition but then goes out.
Interior and Electrics
Wear is common on seat side bolsters and the steering wheel. Leather interiors generally fare better than cloth ones. Check all the switches work – especially the sticking-prone hazard warning one – although with much shared with the Cavalier, replacements are easy to source. Make sure items like the electric windows, heated seats, mirrors and sunroof still behave as they should.
It’s not often that you can legitimately refer to a Vauxhall as sexy and not have people nervously back away from you. However the Calibra is all that and as it gains genuine classic status, appreciation for it is on the rise. And that will cause the prices to follow suit. The 4x4 Turbos deliver blistering performance, but do require much looking after, so a V6 is our recommendation for Calibra power with reliability and practicality.