Did your father have a Chevette too? Probably. It was the quintessential ‘dad' car back in the day, as was the Astra and the Nova, which followed. These Vauxhalls were built really just to take you from A to B with minimal fuss. And the Chevette did that brilliantly. It looked attractive enough and was actually aimed at younger buyers, but dads all over the UK snapped them up. I found it hard to get really excited over them, especially as I was spoilt rotten from watching the General Lee and KITT leap through the air on prime-time TV. The Chevette didn't compare.
But, it is just one of many cars from yesteryear that looks much better today. I wonder why that is. Perhaps now, cars are so bad that these relics look the part? It could be. It's probably more to do with the fact that when I was a child and the Chevette was in our drive, our neighbour had something far more attractive in his — a BMW 530i. But, credit where it's due, not once did I see our little three-door with its mouth wide open and my dad peering down into it wondering what had gone wrong. And that's because nothing ever did go wrong. My neighbour, however, always had grease on his hands. His BMW gave him hell. He flogged it and bought a 1979 Cavalier coupé mark 1, a very nice car indeed. I loved its short back and long front and in fact, thanks to that car, it made me look at our own Vauxhall, built on parent company GM's T-platform between 1975 and 1984, in a new and favourable light. Our supermini, with a peppy 1.2-litre motor and four-speed manual, was more common than a rainy day. A good old car no doubt, but when the Chevette HS, a works rally version, was launched in 1976, I fell head over heels for this sporty number.
It had a bigger 2.3-litre 16-valve, twin-cam slant four, fatter wheels and a chunky body kit including a large air dam and a rear spoiler. It was more than a match for the Ford Escort RS or the Fiat the 131 Abarth of the same period. The HS borrowed the axle, brakes and suspension from the Opel Kadett C GT/E while the five-speed gearbox and the alloys were donated from the Chevy Vega. What a transformation. It was like watching mild-mannered Bruce Banner turn into the rampaging Hulk. It was a far more powerful car and one worthy of a second glance, if you could turn around quick enough. Because with 135bhp, chances were you'd miss it. It was fast, handled great and you could have one in any colour — as long as it was silver. The HS won the British Open Rally Championship for Drivers in 1979 and the manufacturers' title two years later. It cost around £5,000 (just under Dh30,000) new and only 400 were ever built. You'd be hard pressed to find one today, but if you did, then expect to pay ten times as much. But, it'd be money well spent.