One of the main criticisms of the hot hatch by performance car snobs is that they are predominately 'wrong wheel drive'. Granted, there are anomalies such as the BMW 135i but the vast majority are powered by the front wheels. As you may have guessed from the above pic, the Chevette HS and HSR are most definitely rear wheel drive. What's better than a dab of oppo? Armfulls of it.
Based on the Opel Kadett and sharing much with the Chevrolet of the same name, the Chevette was introduced in 1975 with radically different front bodywork to its brothers. Although the 'Droop Snoot' may have added a sporty edge to the design, there was only a 1256cc 57bhp pushrod 4 under the bonnet. Vauxhall had a grand plan however, it wanted to go rallying against Ford's dominant Escort.
It was time to get the shoehorn.
Blydenstein Racing raided the GM parts bin pulling out the 2.3 litre 'Slant 4' from the larger Vauxhall Magnum. While they were at it, they also picked the rear suspension and axle from the Kadett GT/E, Chevy Vega alloy wheels and a Getrag 5 speed box. All cars came silver with a red stripe, a bodykit topping things off.
Things got a little crazy inside, the normally staid interior of the Chevette being given red carpets, tartan trim and lashings of black vinyl. I can only imagine the agony of sitting on those seat on a hot day wearing shorts. Not that interior design was high on the list of priorities, only 400 were to be produced in line with FIA homologation rules although allegedly the true number is nearer 300.
It was that Slant 4 powerplant, so called due to the block leaning at 45 degrees, that dominated proceedings. In order to compete with the Cosworth BDA fitted to the Escort RS, Bill Blydenstein ensured a twin cam 16 valve head was fitted to the iron block. Fitted with a pair of Stromberg carburettors, it gave 135bhp and 134Ib ft of torque in road trim, ample numbers when the car weighed 920kg. Contemporary road tests suggest the engine was a strong performer but got very grumpy when in traffic, cooling was a big issue and could cause the car to need a re-tune.
Vauxhall was not bothered by these reports, nor slow sales thanks to the high £5000 asking price at a time when the average home was only £17,000. The HS was designed to go rallying and that is something it did very well. Free from the constraints of the road, Blydenstein got power up to around 260bhp with a much broader spread of torque than the Escorts or Fiat 131 Abarths. This and talent such as Tony Pond and Russell Brooks saw the little hatchback become a real giant killer.
Even with the turn of the 80's and rise of the quattro, the Chevette still proved competitive, especially on tarmac. Under Group 4 regulations, modifications were allowed if 50 road cars were produced giving birth to the HSR. Visually, the super cool boxed arches jump straight out along with the wider wheels and side skirts. Under the skin power a twin plate clutch was added, rear axle links were relocated and weight reduced. There were also more tuning options for the team meaning the car was still competitive even when it was phased out after Opel and Vauxhall's rallying teams merged.
Although not as famous as some of its competitors, the HS & HSR were a force to be reckoned with in the late 70's and early 80's. Given values of the Mk1 Escort RS and similar Lotus Sunbeam, the hot Chevettes seem a bit of a bargain at the moment.
From AJTaylor's blog The Wastegate.