Leslie’s Advent Calendar – December 5

December 5 – Vauxhall Calibra

Yes, I know it’s a fancy Cavalier. Shut it. I like it and it’s my blog so I get to tell you what I saw.

Technically it wasn’t today, but it was after midnight yesterday so that sort of counts. I’m in London at the moment which opens up a whole new world of vehicle-viewing opportunities, and yet this is the thing I remember. Given that I also spotted Mercedes Grösser, twentysomething Volvoes, Volkswagen campers and odd Japanese imports, perhaps it is worth unpackaging why it was the Calibra that sprung to mind when I went to pen tonight’s blog posting.

It was 1990 or thereabouts when the Calibra came about. There was a Vauxhall showroom at the end of my grandparents’ street – not the ones that owned the Panda, the other set – and my grandfather had an arrangement with one of the salesmen whereby he would be given the old posters at the end of every quarter for his eldest grandson’s bedroom. I’d vaguely looked at the pictures in Auto Express and seen something like it on Top Gear, but nothing had grabbed my attention quite like the A1-size, laminated image that was delivered to my house in a sturdy cardboard tube. It was a landscape view of a black Calibra sporting low-profile alloys hugging a series of S-curves along a rocky coastline, with the text ‘Once Driven, Forever Smitten’ stretched out below the photograph in underlined Times New Roman on a white background. It may have been a Vauxhall, but it looked danged cool.

It still (in my mind at least) looked cool when the deputy headmaster of my high school rolled up to work in a silver, H-registration variant six years later. He was a middle-aged chap, the kind who liked to drive with one arm resting on the door trim and the window slightly wound down to allow cigarette smoke to exit the vehicle. You know, the kind of fellow who likes to proceed at speed and not wash his car so that it collects a fine layer of dust, and occasionally snatch a look at himself in mirrored windows when the situation permits. If this car could still grab my attention when it was six years old, a little shabby and being driven by someone who taught me physics, it must have been doing something right.

And the folks at Opel must really have produced something worthwhile to ensure I still noticed the design in the middle of London on the way home from the pub at the tail end of 2009. ‘Bugger me, that’s a Calibra,’ I muttered to myself as I passed one of the later, R-registered examples. It’s a handsome vehicle, with its large lights and broad grille giving it a stern expression and it’s equally cumbersome tailgate configuration suggesting that it wasn’t ever really built to be in fashion, let alone out of it. There’s something about this Opel/Vauxhall’s shape that suggests all it ever set out to achieve was doing exactly what it said on the tin – a two-door, curvy coupe that won’t look totally dated in a few years’ time – and to my mind it has achieved that.

It’s just struck me that the vast majority of cars that I’ve talked about so far are ones that bring back some kind of memory from my childhood, and I very much doubt I am alone in that respect. We may look at things in the cold light of 2009 going on 2010, but as we do so we inevitably bring narratives and ideas from the past into play, even if these are only the bits we selectively choose to remember. As our society moves tries to move towards more sustainable futures from automobility, it could become ever more important to pay attention to these stories as we seek to understand how and why people come to value cars so much in the way that they do.

I’m not in any way saying the Vauxhall Calibra is a beacon for the future or a vital piece of automotive history, but for today I’d like to think it for getting me to reflect about what I love about cars and why I think the way I do. Thank you, glorified Cavalier.

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