02 June 2013

UNSUNG HEROES: Vauxhall Nova

It was three decades ago when GM made their first supermini with the Vauxhall Nova - Opel Corsa A on the continent. Largely forgotten now and it was a huge success.

1983 WAS the year of the Supermini. The iconic Peugeot 205 made its debut that year, as did the Fiat Uno. Ford launched the heavily revamped Fiesta. The Vauxhall Nova (Opel Corsa A to our friends in Europe) was also launched in the same year as the 205 and the Uno.

The Nova was General Motors' first ever supermini - albeit a late arrival to the market - that replaced the Chevette. It was a big step forward from the old Chevette. The Nova's advantages to being front-wheel-drive meant more interior space, higher levels of practicality and better roadholding. In short, Vauxhall made a very competent small car. That was a good all-rounder and more grown-up than the Chevette it replaced.

Visually, the Nova was a neat and modern looking car  in its day - if a bit dull - that in affect looked like a shrunken MK1 Astra. Though the flared wheel arches on the three door hatchbacks livened up the profile - they definitely looked the part on sportier models.

Vauxhall made a wide array of trims and models in the Nova range. They were available with: 1.0, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.6 litre petrol engines. They also made a 1.5 normally aspirated and turbocharged diesel units.

The Nova was also available as a saloon. Liked by older buyers, but weren't as popular as the hatchbacks.

Out of the superminis on the market at that time, Vauxhall offered more choices of bodystyles than its rivals. Available with practical three and five door hatchbacks which were popular with younger and more image conscious drivers. The Ford Fiesta and the Volkswagen Polo were three-door only superminis at that time.

They also made a dumpy saloon model in the range. Whilst not as popular as the hatchbacks, they were liked by traditional and older buyers. But Vauxhall were also making it as a direct rival to the Volkswagen Polo, which was also available as a saloon as well as a hatchback.

Unlike the VW, the booted Nova were also available with four doors as well as two. Vauxhall pretty much had the market to itself in that respect of booted superminis. They used that to their advantage from having such a broad range.

Soon after its induction, was the arrival of sportier Novas such as the SR/SRi, and GTE/GSi models. At the other end of the scale, they made plenty of limited edition trim models like the Nova Spin for example. Vauxhall also tweaked the Nova by updating it with mechanical and cosmetic changes.

The 100bhp, 1.6 litre GTE models, was Vauxhall's junior Hot Hatch to rival the Ford Fiesta XR2, Peugeot 205 GTi and the MG Metro. Milder SR models were popular with younger drivers who wanted performance on a budget. That couldn't afford the hefty premiums that insurers commanded on the GTEs.

The sportier Novas were a big hit with boy racers. Many of which many were trashed up with hideous bodykits. A lot were stolen by joyriders or were written off from crashing into trees or falling into ditches. A lot of them lived life in the fast lane.

The Nova range was revised in 1987, with a facelift to signify the updates.

Vauxhall continuously updated the Nova during its time in production. With facelifts in 1987 and 1990. With clearer indicators, bonnet mounted badge, narrower grille and headlights mimicked from the then-new MK3 Cavalier.

The interior was also revised, as well as newer engines with fuel injection and catalytic converters replacing the older units. Limited and special edition models were also launched. The GTE and SR models were also updated, and were replaced by the GSi and SRi as the sportier Novas.

Time was quickly catching up with the Nova into the 1990s. Ford launched the all-new Fiesta in 1989. The following year, Renault launched the all-new Clio. The newly-revamped Fiat Uno and Rover Metro also arrived. The Citroen AX was fresh as a daisy, as was the Peugeot 205, that showed no signs of ageing.

The Nova was a dinosaur in comparison. Rivals were making more practical and sophisticated superminis. So the goalposts were moving on and Vauxhall eventually pulled the plug on the Nova, and replaced it with the Corsa in April 1993. Which emulated the success of its predecessor.

The Nova got its second and final facelift in 1990. With a new nose inspired from the new Cavalier.

Over the years, Novas became synonymous with boy racers. Many standard models besides the performance models, were modified and raced. Taken to races at Santa Pod, rallying or at a McDonald's car park. There has been hundreds (if not, thousands) of Novas featured in Max Power and Fast Car magazines.

What were once a common sight, Vauxhall Novas are now a pretty rare sight. Many have vanished off the roads these days due to lots of them being in the hands of boy racers. That have been crashed, stolen and written off. If it wasn't that, rust will have also claimed a number of Novas. Surviving examples are either modified, or original and unmolested ones with one or two owners since they were new.

Today when we think Vauxhall Nova. We of think boy racers.

Compared to its rivals, the Nova is a largely forgotten car. The Peugeot 205 and the Fiat Uno are regarded as iconic small cars from the 1980s. The 205 is iconic from being a design classic by Pininfarina, that also spawned one of the greatest hot hatchbacks with the GTi. That re-invented Peugeot and put them on the map.

The Fiat Uno is remembered for being European Car of the Year in 1984. It was a neatly packaged and lively supermini penned by another iconic designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. Other superminis, such as the Austin Metro and the Citroen AX, are fondly remembered with their quirks and also enjoy a loyal following. The same can't be said for the Nova because it lacked panache compared to its rivals. It's usually the case with older Vauxhalls.

Whether the Vauxhall Nova will be a classic or not is debatable. What mustn't be forgotten is that the Nova was a very important car for Vauxhall. After selling nearly half a million examples in the UK alone. Its success alongside the Astra and the Cavalier, helped push Vauxhall onwards and upwards in the 1980s. When it became Britain's second car manufacturer, closing in on arch-rivals Ford and that has been the case ever since.

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