‘It’s whatever you want it to be’ - for once the marketing folk weren’t exaggerating too much – and it is still an economic and energetic car choice...
It had its very own chirpy theme music on the TV adverts and we were told ‘It’s whatever you want it to be!’ – the first British-built hatchback had arrived.
The Chevette was Vauxhall’s version of parent company General Motors’ T-car project based on a universal ideal but with very different looking – and named -cars. Germany had its Opel Kadett, Australia had the Holden Gemini, while
Japan had the Isuzu 1600. The Chevette name was shared by Chevrolet in the US, but that was a different looking beast altogether
Arriving in the spring of 1975, Vauxhall’s three-door hatch might have been three years behind the Renault 5, but it was at least a year ahead of Ford’s Fiesta.
It was initially available only as a three-door hatchback in Base and L trims with just colour options, powered by a developed version of the Viva’s 1256cc engine. The overall lightness of the Chevette made up for its lack of power and it can just about keep up with today’s traffic in all-but the fast lane.
Originally priced at around £1600, there was plenty of competition in the price bracket but the Chevette offered around 50 miles to the gallon at 50mph, and fuel economy was beginning to matter more to motorists.
The range developed to include two- and four-door saloons, a three-door estate and even a light commercial – the Chevanne. By the time that production of the Chevette finally finished in January 1984, being replaced by the already available Nova, around 415,000 Chevettes had been sold in the UK.
TORQUE 69lb ft@2600rpm
MAXIMUM SPEED 88mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION 35-40mpg
TRANSMISSION RWD, four-spd man
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Early examples are reknown rotters, though post-1980 models with flush-fitting headlamps tend to fare better. Whatever the year, check everywhere thoroughly as it doesn’t take a lot to let the rot in and once it gets established there’s not much to slow its progress. Particularly prone areas include the sills and wheelarches, the joint between the wings plus the back of the wings. Also inspect the front valance, around the front air intake, floor pans and door bottoms. If it’s a hatchback, check that too. In fact, check everywhere.
You won’t find an engine much simpler than the 1256cc power unit inherited from the Viva and it is easy to work on too, while finding parts via clubs, on the internet and specialists is not too difficult either. Rattling timing chains, rumbling bearings and worn rings are common faults, while a perished diaphragm in the carburettor will result in poor running. The key to improved power is better breathing and some owners have fitted larger Vauxhall or Ford Kent engines with the necessary mods to take them.
Like the engine, the four-speed manual gearbox came from the Viva, with the main and tail shifts altered to make it fit. They are generally blessed with long life but worn synchromesh can cause concern and jumping gears. A reasonable amount of noise comes as standard.
The rack and pinion steering is direct, light and a pleasure to use if in good condition. Check for any play in the system. If you find wear, rebuilt or aftermarket choices are easily sourced. Good road holding comes courtesy of the double wishbone front suspension with the shock absorber on the top arm and a coil sprung rear axle with torque tube.
The disc/drum brake system is good, but carry out all the usual checks for rusty pipes, split hoses, and seized pistons. There should be at least five clicks on the handbrake lever to prevent the self-adjusting mechanism seizing up.
The sparse interior was simply trimmed with vinyl and this is thankfully hard wearing because original items in good condition are increasingly sought after. Rear seatbelts were not fitted to Chevettes but you can fit your own as you’ll find the mounts are in the bodyshell.
BEWARE OF FAKES
Because so few HS and HSR hot hatches were built in the first place any survivors are naturally at a premium price, so beware of fakes. Saloons are more common than hatchbacks, while estates and Chevannes are not often found for sale now.
ACE OF CLUBS
There are several groups that cater for Chevette owners and members can take advantage of great technical support, source of spares and even potential cars to buy. Get involved.
The Chevette is one of those cars that defines a certain point in time and was seen as a good thing with its positive handling, straightforward mechanics and sharp looks.
That droopsnoot front end offered a more contemporary feel than the Opel Kadett and with the arrival of the similarly styled Cavalier there was a strong family feel to the Vauxhall range. Often you’d find a two-Vauxhall family with dad driving a Cavalier repmobile while mum preferred the Chevette.
Of course, Vauxhall wanted a younger audience for its car too and the 16-valve 2279cc HS hot hatchback provided that, later further refined with the HSR. Designed for rallying, the road versions of the HS took too long to make it to the showrooms, and in too limited numbers.
The standard Chevette has been overlooked by many classic buyers for too long but offers a lot for a reasonable outlay – it’s economical to run, good fun to drive, inexpensive to buy and practical to work on. All you need to do is find a good one.