It’s almost three decades since the Vauxhall Calibra swept sleekly onto the streets, but it doesn’t look it.
Give it a pair of Xenon headlamps, stretch them fashionably up the front wings, fit trick 3-D tail-lights, big wheels and a pair of faux aluminium door handles, and this coupe would look as funky as an iPhone.
It’s one of Opel’s finest pieces of design. But I was shocked a few years back, when I saw one abandoned and unwanted at the roadside. Calibras are banger fodder now, assuming you can even find them – for as of 2017, just a few hundred are left on UK roads, down from 30,000 in 2001.
An inescapable fact is that the Calibra is a Vauxhall, with all that this implies in glamourless-ness, a condition not helped by the flair-free Cavalier mechanicals lurking below, nor the appearance of the dashboard of said rep-weapon too.
And there’s another unfortunate reason too, which is that the Calibra isn’t really all that good to drive, because of its underlying Cavalierness. On the plus side you get sweet, smooth-spinning engines, but they’re bolted to a gearbox whose change feels oddly sticky, its shift-lever capped with a knob that could have come from a van.
On the road
There’s lots of roadholding too, but the steering wheel moves like a whisk through solidifying crème fraiche, and the ride jitters like the City during an inflation surge. You have control of your Calibra, but it’s a relationship more distant than suggested by its razor-slicing way with the atmosphere, cleanly cut by its 0.29 Cd drag coefficient.
Still, GM seemed to listen to the criticism, confecting a 4x4 Turbo version (pictured) that could have been up there with the Lancia Delta Integrale. It had 204bhp, a full-time four-wheel drive system able to transmit traction to the axle with the grippiest grip and that six-speed box.
The blower made it move too, but with the poise of a ballerina in Wellington boots. So that was a disappointment. Further dashed-expectation sensations could be experienced with the 2.5 litre V6, which wasn’t a bad powerplant, if quick not only to pull the Calibra along but also to demonstrate its chassis shortfalls.
Hmm. In many ways the best buys are Calibras with the so-called red top engine, this hue signifying 16-valves and the 150 horses. Cheap-and-cheerful Calibras can be found for prices you would expect – around £1,000 – while prices for the 4x4 are heading up now, with examples currently advertised for £8,000. The appeal of the Calibra's distinct glamour continues.