Chevette 2300 HSR – when Vauxhall built a homologation special
Long before the term ‘hot-hatch’ became synonymous with powerful, playful, and bloody good fun small family cars, petrolheads of the ‘70s and early ‘80s would instead be hunting for rally spec homologation specials to help provide their kicks.
Manufactures hoping to compete for the Group B World Rally Championship would be trying their utmost to squeeze the best engines they could find into small cars, bolting on enormous brakes, better suspension, gearboxes, aero kits and axles to create a ‘homologation special’. Examples of this form of customisation would be found in the form of the Ford Escort RS, Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, Fiat 131 and the Vauxhall Chevette HS. All well-known names for motoring fans of a certain vintage.
At the Eighties Sunday Breakast Club a few weeks ago we found Terry Cobbold, Chairman of the Droop Snoot Group – which is the owners club for Vauxhall's ultra-rare, rear drive '70s performance cars – standing next to his very own Chevette 2300 HSR.
“They only built 30 of them, and there are 28 left. Two were written off back in the day. It is a full Group B homologation car and we needed it because of the Audi Quattro.” Terry nods over to an Audi Quattro sat menacingly close to his beloved Vauxhall, but it’s blatantly clear where his allegiances stand, and he’s not at all intimidated by the iconic Quattro.
“In period the HSRs beat the Quattro on tarmac, not on Forrest obviously because the Quattro is four-wheel-drive. It did beat Walter Röhrl driving a 911 RS when he was World Rally Champion. He was beaten on the Manx in a HSR, which is on YouTube and well worth a watch. The HSRs were the tarmac rally car to have in the day.”
Talking to Terry, the amount of love the Chevette was getting from the Breakfast Club crowd speaks volumes of the cult following this incredibly rare and potent little car attracts.
“HSRs were hand-built. You could have any spec you wanted, it just depended on your budget. Standard, the road cars were 135bhp to start with. They could go anywhere up to 200+ depending on how much your bank balance was. The works rally cars were between 240bhp and 250bhp.
“This version has the Stroker kit in it which was a 2.6-litre. But it was never homologated. It took seven years to get all the bits and pieces together for the engine. It has 271Nm (200lb ft) of torque with 200bhp. It'll do 30mph to135mph in fifth gear alone. It only weighs 920kg. Half of it is plastic!”
Terry was keen to point out that there was a steel variant of the HS at Eighties Sunday, pointing out the plastic tailgate, bonnet and front wings on his HSR. As far as body kits go, it is conservative looking. But don’t be fooled. The understated lines and styling amounts for an incredible 40 per cent more downforce than a standard Chevette body shell.
Tantalisingly, this is the road kit, which is narrow. “The works tarmac kit was another two inches wider at the back so you could get 13x13 slicks on it,” Terry says, smiling.
That all adds up to one fun driving experience, and as Terry opened the driver’s door even just the smell of the thing makes us want to take it out in anger, especially as the HSR is rear-wheel-drive; another distinguishing feature when compared to its modern hot-hatch cousins.
Explaining the process which made this road car HS into a homologation HSR, Terry runs us through its history.
“This was SMTs demonstrator. They couldn't sell any. Because back in the ‘70s no one had any money. This was an HS in their showroom for a year and a half. Then it was converted to an HSR because Vauxhall wanted to convert some into HSR spec. Then it was in the showroom for another six months, and after that it was used as a demonstrator for another three months. It was finally purchased by a little old lady to go shopping in! It had five owners from there on and I purchased it in 1988 as the sixth owner.”
For such a special and rare car, and one which is in such good nick, surely Terry keeps it locked up for 9 months of the year? Not so. Another piece of evidence pointing to how enjoyable these homologation rally cars truly are.
“It's driven all the time. Most weekends. I got it at 40,000 miles, and it has now got over 125,000 miles on it. It's been to Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, Belgium – all over Europe. That's why I've still got it after 31 years. Every single time you get on it, it just puts the biggest grin on your face. I've retired it from track days now because I'm old and so is it! It surprises people though. It has so much grunt in it that it's just good fun.”
Thankfully, these special little cars are in good hands with Terry and his friends at the Droop Snoot Group. Making hot-hatches cool, long before they were even known as such. And as Terry rightly points out, the HSR is a rally car. “Simple as that”.