Vauxhall’s big break from dismal family saloons, the Calibra was the sublimely styled and incredibly practical two-door coupe the company needed for the 1990’s. Even Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson, a man who writes off Vauxhall’s products before they’ve even been announced, has a soft spot for the Calibra.
The Calibra was the first break in Vauxhall’s tradition of cheap n’ nasty family cars in years. In a range that included such timeless gems of mediocrity like the Nova and the Cavalier, the Calibra truly brought some much needed spice into the mix. The result was a superb looking machine which seemed to take many of its styling cues from its American equivalents; the low-slung body and slit light clusters making it look like a 1990 Ford Thunderbird.
But the Calibra wasn’t just all show and no go.
The car was also extremely practical for a four-seat coupe. Space in the back, while limited in comparison to a regular saloon, was still fairly sizeable. Instead of being barely suitable for a Sardine like on most cars of this type, the back of the Calibra could accommodate an actual human being!
The boot was also incredibly spacious, with the designers obviously having the idea in mind that people might want to actually use this car to go on holiday with rather than just a weekend evening runabout.
Internally, the Calibra came fitted with all the features you’d expect in a car of this type, including piped leather seats, cruise control, electric memory seats, the latest in sound system technology and much more.
Perhaps the best thing about the Calibra was its selection of engines; of which there was quite a range. Most of the powerplants you could get were low-level Inline-4’s from the Nova and the Cavalier, but you could also get your mittens on a smooth and reliable 2.5L C25XE V6 turbo with 4×4 transmission producing 201hp; whisking the car to a top speed of 152mph. The top-range V6 was by far the best of the bunch, giving the Calibra both the acceleration and the power it deserved.
In 2003, it was noted that the Calibra came below average regarding warranty repair costs, truly a testament to this car and its brilliant design and build quality.
However, even the Calibra has its shortcomings; some more prominent than others.
The most noticeable problem with the car is it’s handling. Unlike most comparable coupes like the BMW 8-Series and the SAAB 93, the Calibra handles like soap. These cars were legendary for their woefully bad understeer and atrocious front-end grip which will leave you wallowing at speed.
Rear visibility is also a major point of contention due to the small rear window and the position of the pillars. These problems are generally endemic to low-slung, streamlined cars like these as the long, smooth profile of the body results in the B and C pillars being elongated to fit the shape, obscuring more of the driver’s view.
Other problems which may occur are due largely to the Calibra’s age, with the youngest members coming up on 20 years old as of 2018.
One of the more common ageing issues with the Calibra is the bulkhead cracking around the steering rack mountings; a problem that the uninitiated motorist may not be able to determine. When you buy a Calibra, be sure to listen for creaks as you turn the wheel and check the steering rack for cracks on the mounting points. Usually, repairs cost around £700, but this is a small price to pay when you consider the potential flaws of comparable machines or similar age. In all honesty, the issue of bulkhead cracking is not endemic to all Calibras, but, as mentioned, is among the more common issues to befall this car.
Aside from that, the Calibra is generally a good egg all around. It falls to #12 however as, like with most four-door coupes, it’s nowhere near as practical as the following entries. However, that doesn’t make the Calibra any less of a car, with the buying public agreeing by whipping up more of these than the comparative Ford Probe; the successor to the legendary Capri.
While there’s a real downer on the Vauxhall badge due to it being considered old-fashioned, this is beneficial to any potential buyer as second-hand Vaxuhall models depreciate like muck. The Calibra is no exception, with pristine examples going for less than £9,000.
My advice; strike while the iron is hot!
Though this doesn’t sound good for potential resale value, I’d personally say buy cheap, keep it warm for a few years and see where the prices go. I get the feeling that, in the fullness of time, the Calibra will see prices climb again and you could just make yourself a pretty penny.
Grab yourself a cheap Calibra and experience a true 90’s four-door coupe for an absolute bargain!
- Comfort – 9/10 – For a car of its type, it’s a real humdinger!
- Practicality – 6/10 – The interior is a little cramped, but the rear hatch makes it useful for everyday work
- Reliability – 9/10 – The GM V6 engines will gladly roll on until the end of time
- Speed – 7/10 – Has some peppy acceleration, but not blisteringly fast
- Handling – 4/10 – Don’t push her too hard, she might just have a fit of the willies!
- Looks – 10/10 – Low slung and superb!
- Equipment – 8/10 – Plenty of goodies to entertain your kids
- Price – 9/10 – No shortage of Calibras left on the road, you could even be avant-garde and get yourself an Opel example!
- Value – 5/10 – Trying to resell a Vauxhall is even worse than trying to resell a Ford, the badge really doesn’t hold its value
- Total – 67/90 – The Vauxhall that broke the mould of mediocre saloons.