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The Vauxhall Chevette supermini or compact car was manufactured by Vauxhall in the United Kingdom from 1975 to 1984. At the same time as the Chevette project was being considered in America, Vauxhall Motors publicised a new design project, provisionally referred to as the ‘Baby R’, but this was not used. Instead a common design was chosen for all markets based upon an existing vehicle, the Opel Kadett. The car was first launched in Brazil in 1973 as a slightly restyled Kadett with a hatchback added to the model range.
The UK version of the vehicle was intended to fit into the Vauxhall range below the Viva, and was initially presented only in its hatchback version, a style that became very popular during the 1970s. From 1975 until 1978, the Chevette was the UK’s best selling hatchback as UK branded rivals failed to respond to the challenge of the imported Peugeot 104, Fiat 127 and Renault 5 until the arrival of Ford’s Fiesta at the end of 1976. 3 litre engine and relatively small bodyshell allowed for good performance. The Chevette had a light steering, clutch and gearchange, as well as good visibility and was spacious inside.
The Chevette’s success was probably due to its versatility, which compared well with larger cars like the Ford Escort. In 1976 the estate version was introduced, essentially the “Caravan” version of the Kadett C with a droopsnoot nose. The two and four door saloon versions also appeared at the same time. A minor facelift in 1979 included flush fitting headlights applied to the front of the car and plastic trims to highlight the extractor vents on the rear pillars of the saloon Chevette. The original hatchback was launched in the UK using Vauxhall’s slogan and musical ‘jingle’, which capitalised on its practicality and widespread appeal: “It’s whatever you want it to be! A sporty coupe, a family saloon, a handy estate”. It was made at the purpose built factory in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, under a government initiative to bring employment to the area.
The Viva remained on sale until the end of 1979, when the Opel Kadett D was launched. It was intended that this car would also be produced in America and the UK, as the second generation Chevette, but due to various industrial issues at the time GM decided to shelve most of the Ellesmere Port Plant, retaining only the assembly shop to build the new car. Chevette was unusual as it still featured rear wheel drive, while most of its competitors were now driven by the front wheels. A van version, based on the estate and called the Bedford Chevanne was also built, and badged as part of GM’s Bedford commercial vehicles marque.