Opel Calibra (A) Profile

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Opel Calibra (A) General Information

Would you ever have tipped the Opel Calibra to be the first rally car with active differentials? Yes indeed! For once Opel seemed to be ahead of the times in rallying, but unfortunately the project only led to embarrassment.

But first to the model itself. Most people may remember the Calibra, but very few remember there actually was a 4x4 turbo version of this car. Opel experimented with new names and the Ascona turned the Vectra. In UK at Vauxhall the Vectra A is even still known as a Cavalier (the Manta in UK was the Cavalier Coupé). And the Calibra in a way would be the coupé version of the Vectra A/Cavalier Mk3, yet it is totally wrong to say the Manta turned the Calibra. For a start there was a gap as there never was a coupé/Manta version to the already FWD Ascona C (Cavalier Mk2). The Calibra was a very futuristic and unique design, yet comparing it to the Manta would somehow have been an insult to the Manta. Apart from being FWD, in technology the Calibra was also a higher profile (and more expensive) than the Manta. In contrast to the Manta the Calibra was even available with a V6, although only a 2.5L one. Back to the Vectra A/Cavalier Mk3, this car was quite conservative and therefore it seems surprising that no less than three 4x4 versions were available: 2000 4x4, GSI (16v) 4x4 and Turbo 4x4. Though to get the 4x4 system moving decently only the turbo had enough torque. And the Turbo 4x4 was the only 4x4 version available in the Calibra. Yet somehow the 4x4 idea never really caught on, the Vectra was too conservative and the Calibra supposed to be a relatively light coupé. And since the Turbo versions were not available without 4x4, Calibra customers seemed to go more for 16v (strangely the 'GSI'-tag was never used on the Calibra) and V6 versions. Still, for die hard Opel fans the rare Calibra Turbo 4x4 seems to be the most thought after version today.

So the Opel Calibra in its Turbo 4x4 version is a little known road car. But Opel experimented a lot with it. On paper the car had all the right ingredients for a groupA rally car: It was a coupé of decent size, it had a 1998cc engine, a turbo and 4x4. But groupA rallying proved the Calibra Turbo 4x4 road car to have a massive design flaw similar to the Nissan Sunny GTI-R case. On the Calibra, it was not the intercooler to be the offending part. Opel, a company with little turbo experience at that point, wanted to find a way to reduce the turbo lag. Their thought: 'The nearer the turbo is to the exhaust manifold, the lesser is the turbo lag'. So the Opel engineers did locate the turbo right inside the manifold, rather than behind! The lesson they learned: They were correct about the lag, but 'The nearer the turbo is to the exhaust manifold, the hotter it will get'. Indeed, the turbo developed massive thermal problems and that affected engine performance and reliability.

All this lead to a funny incident on the car's only event as a works car. An incident that shows amazing expertise of a legend driver: British experts MSD, later known for an unhappy Hyundai partnership, were ordered to turn the base Calibra Turbo 4x4 into a groupA rally car. The car debuted on the Rally Sweden 1993 with Stig Blomqvist as a driver. Stage times were around 10th place, not overwhelming, but acceptable for a brand new car. Split times (then unofficial by team personal) showed the car was very much on the pace indeed in the first splits but dropped further behind the longer the stages were. Therefore the lack of performance was soon attributed to thermal problems affecting power. For 20 stages the car ran reliably. After SS20 Stig said at service: "There is a problem with the head gasket". The mechanics checked everything, but couldn't find any sign to confirm the problem. When asked how he knew, Stig replied: "I smell it". At that point the mechanics declared Stig insane, shut the bonnet and sent him out again. On SS21 Stig and the Calibra retired with a blown head gasket!

After that show, Opel was disappointed and the car was never seen again as a works car. MSD built two cars: A15 MSD & A17 MSD. A15 MSD was after the Blomqvist one off drive used by Jimmy McRae in some British events and only confirmed its problems. A17 MSD actually had a busy life with Netherland's Erwin Doctor and indeed won the Zuiderzee Rally 1993. But that success stayed an exception.

Don't confuse the Calibra Turbo 4x4 with the many Calibra entries we have for Bruno Thiry. These entries were by GM Belgium who, like MSD, were hugely active at the time (see the Opel Astra F story). But the Opel Belgium car was an F2 Calibra, no turbo, no 4x4, the car was technically identical to the Astra F GSI. Here however the Astra had an advantage for being smaller and lighter than the Calibra.

So sorry if this story seems biased to one variation of the car and ignores the other. And both were the same base car, both groupA on the outside you are unlikely to see a difference. But again the Bruno Thiry Calibra was very comparable to the F2 Astra (meaning Astra F, if I say F2, in 1992 the 2L 2WD category was called F2 but F2 kit cars only came later).

On the MSD Calibra Turbo 4x4 a lot of things may not have worked out as Opel hoped, but with its turbo inside the manifold and being the first rally car with active differentials, you can't deny this was a hugely exciting and daring project!

Opel Calibra (A) Related Content

Opel Calibra (A) Evolutions

Model & Evo. (Activity)
Opel Calibra (A) 16v (92-93) 225/7500 235/5500 4492.1688.1420 1050 (4.7) FWD (2600)
Opel Calibra (A) Turbo 4x4 (93-93) 280/6500 400/4500 4492.1688.1420 1200 (4.3) 4x4 (2600)

Random Opel Calibra (A) Photos

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Opel Calibra (A) Results

This is an unofficial Car Results list and may be incomplete.

Pos Event Driver Co-Driver # Rego hh:mm:ss
9th. 1992 WRC Rallye San Remo B. Thiry S. Prevot #11 [UNKNOWN] 6:37:39

Opel Calibra (A) Retirements

This is an unofficial Car Model Retirements list and may be incomplete.

Pos Event Driver Co-Driver # Rego Reason
Ret. 1995 WRC Rallye Monte Carlo H. Lundgaard F. Pedersen #20 [UNKNOWN] SS99 transmission
Ret. 1993 WRC Rallye Catalunya E. Doctor T. Badenberg #22 [UNKNOWN] SS13 engine
Ret. 1993 WRC Swedish Rally S. Blomqvist B. Melander #4 [UNKNOWN] SS22 head gasket
Ret. 1992 WRC Tour de Corse B. Thiry S. Prevot #14 [UNKNOWN] SS11 driveshaft