Relative to vehicles available in the U.S., the variety offered elsewhere in the world is mind blowing. Craig Pitman‘s coverage of the Canadian autoscape handily demonstrates that notion. Putting the unknown aside, however, it doesn’t take familiarity to admire great design. Indeed, international disconnect from a product’s reputation and even peer pressure might render an appearance-based opinion more impartial. With that said, I wanted to take an outsider’s look at Opel’s Calibra, a German car I sort of knew existed all these years but didn’t take the time to examine.
The Calibra, available from 1990 through 1998, was sold in several countries apart from Germany, including: the U.K. (as a Vauxhall), South America (as a Chevrolet), and Australia and New Zealand (as a Holden). The U.S. actually came close to having its own version, with a foreign label — but not a German or even British label but rather Swedish. GM had just purchased Saab and needed product for the struggling brand’s lineup. It was contentious, with some executives even expressing concerns publicly, and it obviously didn’t work out.
The Calibra was based on the running gear of the first generation Opel Vectra (called Vectra A) which was a large, middle-of-the-ground family car. It and Calibra were based on GM’s mid-size, front-wheel-drive platform that was introduced in 1988, called GM2900. We actually did get a GM2900 in the U.S., it was called Saturn L-Series. The same platform was also used under Saab’s 900, 9-3 and 9-5.
The Calibra is an exceedingly sleek design and I mean that more than figuratively. With its buttoned-down edges and slim (2.75-inch-tall) headlights, the coefficient of drag for the 16-valve model was 0.29, landing it at the leading edge in relation to its competitors. That rating, however, didn’t apply to all models.
Calibras equipped with only 8 valves had a different grille and other trimming which affected their coefficient. The good news, however, was that the effects were positive. So positive, in fact, that those Calibras were declared most aerodynamic mass produced car — in the world. The record amazingly stood until 1999 when it was beat by a 0.25, set by two vehicles: Audi’s A2 and Honda’s Insight.
From what I’ve been able to gather, some consumers bemoaned Calibra’s mechanical commonality and shared interior bits with the staid Vectra. Maybe since I’m not familiar with either, I think the interior looks pretty good, even terrific for its time. Remember, this design is roughly a quarter-century old now and was meant to compete with vehicles such as Ford’s Probe. Though Calibra’s proportions had initially led me to believe it might be rear-wheel-drive, unfortunately, just like the Probe, Calibra’s front wheels do the motivating (apart from “4×4” models).
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting anyone mistook a Calibra for a BMW 8-Series (particularly considering the latter cost more than thrice as much) but, at some angles there are likenesses. I think it is the taillights that do it for me, on both. Incidentally, both were introduced around the same time.
I think Opel knocked this one out of the park and lament it was not an option for me. Otherwise, I’m pretty certain I would have owned a Calibra, at some point.
In 2000, the Astra G Coupé indirectly succeeded the Calibra but for its last year the handsome “Last Edition” version was produced.