Remembering the Opel Calibra: 1989-1997

Calibra was a front-wheel-drive 2-door coupe engineered and produced by the German automaker Opel between 1989 and 1997. It was primarily aimed to take on the Japanese sports coupes of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I was immediately drawn to the Calibra, despite being a huge fan of the Toyota Celica, when I saw it competing in the Scandinavian Car Rally (WRC) on the Gillette Sports Show, which aired on NTM in the early 1990s.

opel calibra v6 4

The Opel Calibra was styled by GM’s designer Wayne Cherry and German designer Erhard Schnell. The design was heavily influenced by fighter planes, and Opel was able to create what was dubbed the world’s most aerodynamic 4-seater vehicle thanks to the lessons gained from the aviation industry and wind tunnel.

opel calibra steffi graf 03b202650b29083f

How they achieved that? Well, aircraft engineers discovered years ago that it’s vitally important how air exits a shape. Hence, the designers were able to trim a couple of inches off the fender from the wheel arches and create a rather narrower rear screen, which contributes to producing a classic teardrop shape for optimum aerodynamics.

opel calibra 4 4 6 00be007d091506cd

Towards the sides, the Calibra features skirts that were able to help the vehicle planted as close to the ground. The other thing that the aircraft engineers discovered is very important is how the nose penetrates the air. The distinctive fascia of Calibra owes a great deal to achieving this, thanks to a very low nose, ultra-slim headlamps which were just 2.5 inches in depth, and then they integrated the whole of the bonnet, the headlamps, bumper, spoiler, and most importantly the under-tray into one smooth molding. This means that if you open up the bonnet, you were not able to see the road below through the engine bay.

opel calibra 2.0i 33 027d004a0f460b48

With a drag coefficient of just 0.26 when it was introduced on June 10th, 1989, the Calibra was the world’s most aerodynamic production vehicle. The prototype Calibra had to be transported to the DNW wind tunnel in the Netherlands, where models were tested over a rolling road replicating real-life airflow, in order to get the record Cd value.

Related: Remembering the ST185 Toyota Celica GT-Four

Smaller changes were made to the preliminary models to create the final design. For example, the rear waistline and rear side windows were tapered by about 50 mm in comparison to earlier mockups, which resulted in an improvement of about 0,035 Cd. Additional improvements of about 0,035 Cd were made to panel lines, transition points, the integrated front spoiler in front of the tires, the engine shield, and a panel that connects the fuel tank and the lower edge of the rear bumper.

opel calibra v6 48 0000000005e90475

However, all later 4×4 models with V6 turbo engines had a Cd of 0.29 due to changes in the cooling system, underbody, use of spoked wheels, and glass detail. The Calibra remained the most aerodynamic mass-production car for the next 10 years, until the Honda Insight, with a Cd of 0.25, was introduced in November 1999.

opel calibra turbo 4x4 3

Apart from the range-topping 2.5L V6, all Calibra models produced between 1989 and 1997 were powered by 2.0L engines in various guises. There was a base 8-valve SOHC version good for 115hp, a 16-valve DOHC version good for 149hp (till 1995), a 16-valve DOHC ‘Ecotec’ version for 135hp (1995-1997), and a 16-valve DOHC turbo good for 203hp (1992-1997). In addition to a 4-speed automatic transmission that was available on all models except the turbo, there were five variations of manual transmissions for the Calibra all of which were 5-speed gearboxes, except the 6-speed for the turbo versions.

calibra rally

As mentioned above, the Calibra used to compete in rallies (with the turbo version) but had little success. This was primarily due to handling (as Calibra was based around the running gear of the first-generation Opel Vectra from 1988) which wasn’t superior to the other performing elements of the car. A Calibra finished 9th in the 1992 Sanremo Rallye, with Bruno Thiry at the wheel. However, it was still the fastest car in the 1600 to 2000 cc class.

Related: Remembering the Honda Quint Integra from the 1980s

The Calibra was more popular in Europe than in any other part of the world. Although the interior fell short of the exterior styling, the Calibra’s outward shape was what people appreciated about it the most. In total 239,118 units of Calibra were built out of which 3,385 were 4x4s and 12,015 units of V6. Calibra production was based in two Opel factories, Rüsselsheim in Germany and Uusikaupunki in Finland, where production was consolidated in November 1995.

opel calibra

Opel Calibra was also sold under various names such as the Chevrolet Calibra in South America, the Holden Calibra in Australia and New Zealand, and the Vauxhall Calibra in the United Kingdom where it remained on sale till 1999.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments