Image description
Image description

1. VAUXHALL U CAR - CAVALIER MK1 aka CHEVROLET CHEVAIR                                                                                                                                  BACKGROUND:

General Motors South Africa was originally founded in 1913 as a wholly owned subsidiary to distribute imported Chevrolet cars from the USA. Local manufacture started in 1926 with an assembly plant next to the Company’s headquarters at Port Elizabeth which built a variety of GM branded vehicles from the US, it also assembled vehicles for export to other RHD markets in the region, such as Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya & Mauritius. By the 1960s the Port Elizabeth plant was proving extremely flexible with partial CKD assembly of a wide range of cars & trucks which included Vauxhall & Bedford models. In 1969 it launched its own unique brand – Ranger, this was a mix of Opel Rekord & Vauxhall Victor with locally produced engines. During the early part of the 1970s all brands were replaced by Chevrolet, this included the Vauxhall Viva HC which was sold as the Chevrolet Firenza and later as the Chevrolet 1300 & 1900 which also included a unique hatchback version from 1976. In 1975 the South African range offered included a large gap between the Vauxhall HC based 1300 / 1900 and the Opel Rekord C based Chevrolet 2500. The European U car was the logical choice to fill this gap, as it did in Europe, but in typical GMSA tradition it would be uniquely tailored for the South African market.

2. VAUXHALL U CAR - CAVALIER MK1 aka CHEVROLET CHEVAIR:

The General Motors U car was sold in Europe as the Vauxhall Cavalier MK1 & Opel Ascona / Manta B, both launched in 1975, and used the Opel CIH 1600 & 1900cc engines with Opel offering an OHV 1196cc and, later, Vauxhall with a 1256cc OHV as base model power units. Except for the Vauxhall engine, none of these were deemed suitable for South Africa where a minimum local content was a major consideration and with servicing facilities thinly spread across the country an established, and familiar to local mechanics, engine was required. This meant the car was re-engineered by GMSA Engineers to use the well-tried & tested 4-cylinder OHV Chevrolet based 153cui engine that was originally designed as the base power unit for the Chevrolet II / Nova This was in effect a shortened 4-cylinder version of the Chevrolet 230cui in-line six and after use in the Nova, the 5-main bearing engine was primarily used for industrial forklifts, generators and marine applications - apart from in South Africa. The use of this engine also precluded the use of the European 4-speed gearbox as well, so the locally produced transmission from the Chevrolet Firenza was adapted to fit the U Car which entailed some local modifications to the floorpan & bulkhead. Two engine sizes were offered, achieved by using two different bore sizes, a 1960cc using a bore & stroke of 90.5mm x 76.2mm and a 2320cc with 98.43mm x 76.2mm. A compression ratio of 9.0:1 and a Rochester Monojet carburettor was used on both. The smaller unit produced 76bhp @ 5200rpm (net) 90bhp (gross) & 114lb-ft @ 2400rpm (gross) while the larger version produced 84bhp@ 4700rpm (net) 103bhp @ 5200rpm (gross) & 134lb-ft @ 3300rpm (gross). The gear ratios were the same for either engine but the rear axle ratio was 3.7:1 with the 2.0litre & 3.42:1 with the 2.3litre engine. A 3-speed GM Tri-Matic automatic transmission was an option and was imported from Holden in Australia. Interestingly, the 2.0litre engine was manufactured by GMSA but the 2.3litre unit was built under licence by Hercules SA to GMSA specifications.

Locally named the Chevair by GMSA, for no known reason, the car was assembled from a mixture of largely, but not exclusively, imported panels from Europe as well as dashboard, instruments and main light units. The engines, manual gearbox, seats, door trims, centre console and additional front reflectors were all unique to South Africa. The Chevair was only sold as a 4-door saloon using the standard Cavalier / Ascona body but with a Manta front end panel something that was also unique to South Africa. Assembled at the Port Elizabeth factory and launched in November 1976, the Chevrolet Chevair was available as a 2.0litre Deluxe or 2.3litre GL both with the option of automatic transmission. There were no engine interchange options. The Deluxe was identified by vynil seat trim & slotted wheels with chrome hub caps. GL models featured side rubbing strips, bumper over riders, Rostyle wheels with chrome trim rings, locking fuel cap, boot & bonnet lamp, duel tone horn, clock, dipping rear view mirror, head restraints, vanity mirror & 4 spoke steering wheel. Metallic paint, vynil roof, heated or tinted rear window, trailer package and cruise control (unique to GMSA) was optional on both models.

The Chevair was an immediate success and was also awarded 1977 Car Of The Year by Car Magazine South Africa. By 1978 the Chevair had replaced the larger engine Viva HC based 1900cc Chevrolet models. In November 1979, the car received a mild facelift with a unique to South Africa front end design, larger plastic wraparound bumpers, new seating, revised carburation and engines giving slightly increased power output with better economy. The range was rationalised to the Chevair 2.0GL in manual or automatic & the 2.3 Berlina automatic, it remained unchanged until July 1982 when production ended. Just as in Europe, the car was replaced by the FWD J Car in 1982 which was sold just as an Opel Ascona with a much more similar specification to the European Vauxhall Cavalier MK2 & Opel Ascona C, it ceased production in 1986 leaving a gap in GM's South African line-up. 

Image description
Image description

CHEVROLET CHEVAIR BROCHURES:

Image description
Image description
Image description

CHEVROLET CHEVAIR ADVERTISING:

Image description

2. VAUXHALL U CAR - CAVALIER MK1 aka CHEVROLET ASCONA:

The planned demise of the Vauxhall Viva HC in the UK & Europe was a problem for GMSA as it relied on a lot of body panels and major components to assemble the Chevrolet 1300 / 1900 Saloon and Chevrolet Hatch even though the latter was a unique model to South Africa. The Vauxhall 1256cc OHV engine had proved both reliable and economical under the less than ideal conditions in South Africa and Vauxhall planned production for at least another 4 years, as it turned out it was actually even longer than forecast. The engine was already being fitted to the Vauxhall Cavalier 1300L / GL for British & European customers. GMSA needed a replacement for the bottom end of their range but wanted to create a “new” model at minimal cost therefore retaining the Chevair up market image. The result was an Opel Ascona body, as per Europe, but fitted with the 1256cc engine and Vauxhall 4-speed gearbox. The Chevrolet Ascona was launched in November 1978 and was available in 2 trim levels – Standard & S. Considering the economy orientated mechanical specification GMSA made the Ascona S into a bit of a sheep in wolfs clothing. The car used blacked out window frames, Rostyle wheels, wild looking black & white check interior trim with a 3 spoke sports steering wheel which all looked very good but was out of step with the performance offered. Never the less, the Chevrolet Ascona was popular and continued in production until July 1982 when all South African U Car variations came to an end. 

Image description

CHEVROLET ASCONA BROCHURES:

Image description