For many the Vauxhall Nova will be one of the most iconic cars of their childhood, for others one of the most memorable cars they ever owned as a teenager on R Plates and for some a car that was truly out of reach but on a bucket list.
For myself personally it was most certainly an iconic car but sadly out of reach mainly due to the fact that when I started driving most of them were rotten and overpriced, however I am old enough to have fond memories of friends who owned the classic shaped super mini car with the familiar Vauxhall Griffin on the bonnet.
In the early nineties it was a common sight in many a town around Northern Ireland to see half a dozen Vauxhall Nova’s lined up in a local car park or indeed in convoy along fast meandering back roads late at night with that all too familiar snort from the carburetors and rasp from the then popular Ashley Competition back boxes that were red in colour.
“Hot Hatch” models included the SR which came as a 1.3 or later a 1.4 and then once fuel injection was introduced became the SRi. The GTE came with a 1.6 engine which once face lifted and fuel injected became the GSi and then the rather rare Sport which was built by Vauxhall in 1984 as a homologation car with 500 units produced which enabled them to rally the Nova in an up to 1300cc class.
The Nova Sport was tuned with different cams and carbs amongst other things to bring the power from 75bhp to 93 bhp and kept it in line with what the rally car homologation rules stipulated and within rallying became a force to be reckoned with at the hands of Harry Hockley (who became a well known engine builder) initially and then pretty much started the very successful rallying career of the late great Colin McRae (World Rally Champion in 1995) and was just the car Vauxhall needed at the time.
So it is time to bring together a few things from that intro; SR, Power and fast meandering back roads. That is what I experienced when I collected this Vauxhall Nova SR from previous owner Ricky at RB Automotive in Comber to photograph it and bring you yet another 80’s classic feature.
After stepping out of a brand new Audi RS3 Sportback it was quite a chore to drive this 1991 Nova SR to say the least, we forget (or at least I had) just how far cars have progressed over the last twenty plus years and indeed somewhat take it for granted just how “easy” modern cars really are.
A chore it may have been, but it was one hell of an exciting chore I will admit!
No power steering, no fancy driving aids and the icing on the cake for this car was the brand new 1600cc 8 valve Ivor Greenwood racing engine with twin 45 Weber carburetors, electric fuel pump and a four branch manifold and full Ashley Competition exhaust system.
This engine produces more than double what the standard 1300cc engines produced in the late eighties and revved in a way I did not expect at all, simply sublime!
Ricky spent plenty of time and money on this Nova as it has had a full bare shell restoration using the best second hand parts available to buy as most new parts are no longer available and it was painted inside and out (including underneath) in Vauxhall Breeze Blue which is in my opinion was one of the nicest colours available back in the day.
To aid the chassis Ricky fitted an OMP strut brace under the bonnet with G Mac suspension matched to up rated Chassis Dynamics springs stiffening the ride up and the handling was further complimented with the addition of Polyurethane bushes throughout.
Grip wise Ricky added the finest Goodyear Eagle tyres to the 16” Speedline Alessio 2 alloy wheels and the grip from these combined with the big brake kit sourced from a Vauxhall Cavalier SRi ensures plenty of stopping power and cornering grip.
Inside got the restoration treatment also and it took several second hand full interior purchases to get a perfect pair of front seats and some re-trimming was carried out by Arek Car Design in Ballymena to keep the inside as immaculate at the outer.
This has to be one of the cleanest and most immaculate Nova’s I have driven and the overall experience was like a young person’s first kiss; anticipated, memorable and one that leaves a lasting smile on your face!
If anyone reading this gets a chance to drive an old hot hatch DO NOT refuse the chance as I can assure you, it is a joy and indeed reminds you to appreciate the finer things in life before we let our technological society take over our lives.
Words & Photos: Graham Curry