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Retro Drive: 1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.

Retro Drive: 1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS
Tackling the Route Napoleon in Vauxhall's rally homologation special, the rapid 2300HS.

   



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1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS

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Key Facts

Model tested: 1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS
Pricing: 5,107 when new; approximately 6,600 now
Engine: 2.3-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body style: three-door hatchback
Economy: estimated at 18.3- to 25.5mpg
Top speed: 117mph
0-60mph: 8.8 seconds
Power: 137hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 182Nm at 4,500rpm

Our view:

The Vauxhall Chevette is 40 years old this year, so what better way to celebrate that fact by taking arguably the most desirable version of all (you have to ignore the box-arched HSR rally car here) for a spin up one of Europe's greatest driving roads?

This Chevette 2300HS, the road-going homologation car for the aforementioned HSR, belongs to Vauxhall's Heritage Fleet in Luton and as historic performance cars go, it's a bit of a forgotten hero. In fact, if you want to get technical, it could easily classify as the second hot hatch ever made after the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Well, think about it; Vauxhall took a humdrum hatchback and slotted a (for the time) monster engine into it to create something fiery but practical. That sounds like the real deal to us.

Nevertheless, it never really features in a list of 'Greatest Hot Hatches'. That might be because it was rare - only 450 were built and at a cost of 5,107 in the 1970s, it wasn't what you'd call cheap. But having sampled its particular brand of gruff charm four decades after it ruled the Chevette roost, we're inclined to think it has been unfairly overlooked on too many occasions.

For a start, it looks superb. There was never really any delicacy to the basic Chevette shape, save for the 'droop-snoot' front end that Vauxhall grafted onto the sister car, the Opel Kadett. And banging a set of big, deep bumpers, fat 13-inch alloys on gumball tyres and a ducktail boot spoiler onto it, then garnishing with oh-so-chintzy red transfer graphics (check out the big Vauxhall and HS logos on its rump) only serves to highlight that the HS is firmly 'of its time'. But when you're presented with it in 2015, it looks brutally effective and massively appealing.

The interior is similarly period, with tartan trim and that glorious, deep-dished steering wheel that looks like it was lifted straight from the Pole Position coin-op arcade game. Although quite why someone, in the dim and distant past, felt the need to furnish the poor Shove-It's dogleg gear shifter with a tacky Rinspeed knob is beyond us. No matter; we love the interior and exterior aesthetics of the 2300HS - including that long, long tailpipe sticking out under the rear end.

So, the recipe for the hotter Chevette was simple. First of all, a big, 2.3-litre 'slant-four' with a 16-valve head was installed under a bonnet that would usually only have covered a 1,256cc lump designed for 50mpg at 50mph. The dogleg 'box is a Getrag item, geared more for acceleration than than overall top speed (hence the modest 117mph maximum), while for the oily bits underneath, larger brakes were lifted from a Cavalier, the turret mounts for larger gas struts were reinforced and the torque tube from a Kadett GT/E was added. With a 0-60mph time of 8.8 seconds and 137hp in a 950kg body, the Chevette 2300HS was a quick car in its day; it's still pretty rapid now.

On the same event we were lucky enough to sample the 1969 Vauxhall Viva GT, and the Chevette offers a completely different performance car experience, despite it only being 10 years younger than the HBR Viva. For a start, its steering is hugely recalcitrant at manoeuvring speeds. This might be because we've been brought up on a wimpy diet of power-assisted steering systems, where the HS's set-up is unassisted, but even compared to the Viva it feels ludicrously heavy and slow-witted when driving about town.

Then there's the din. No old car can hope to match the noise, vibration and harshness suppression of anything modern, but even going by that caveat, for the first few miles the 2300HS just comes across as a bit too loud and brash, not helped by lots and lots of wind noise buffeting the cabin. And that Rinspeed nonsense on the gear lever means it can be all too easy to forget that first gear is down and left, second is dead ahead centre and so on. It's not a car you gel with on immediate acquaintance.

The more we drive it, the more we realise that Vauxhall's Heritage HS also resolutely feels its age, but in a good way. Unlike the pristine Viva, the Chevette has covered the best part of 80,000 miles and there's a fair chance a goodly proportion of that distance will have been under hard-driven circumstances. This is evident in the slightly baggy damping characteristics, a speedometer that is reading a 'best guess' indication of road speed and the brakes, which quickly begin to protest via the medium of ear-splitting squeals when the going gets a bit quicker.

But here comes the clincher - when you do decide to take the Chevette 2300HS by the scruff of the neck and start driving it with the muscle to match its looks, it delivers driving enjoyment in spades. The engine note now encourages bursts of decent acceleration between corners, while the rear-drive, light chassis allows the driver to maintain plenty of speed through the bends. The steering is perfectly weighted once you're up above 50mph, presumably because the stocky tyres are no longer fighting your inputs but working with you to provide as much grip as possible.

Along the sinuous twists of the Route Napoleon, and with memories of Dealer Team Vauxhall HSRs blaring through forests in their heyday, the 2300HS feels like it has transported you into the thick of the action in a clubman road rally. And given it had the pace, poise and grip to keep a 150hp Adam Grand Slam in check, you've really got to admire this forgotten slice of British automotive history. The spirited drive north from Dignes in a Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS will live for a very long time in our memory - and what more can you ask for from a hot hatch than that?



Matt Robinson - 8 Apr 2015



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1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.

1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.



1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.
 

1979 Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS. Image by Vauxhall.
 






 

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