Opel Calibra – Aerodynamic Champion from the 1990s

Ted Marcus

Opel Calibra, built from 1989-1997, was an example of a vehicle that blended physics and a sound design philosophy into a striking car. Cult coupé had a killer drag coefficient number and looked great.

Opel premiered the sleek Calibra at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in 1989. It was an extremely progressive concept way ahead of its time, with the world-best drag coefficient (Cd 0.26) of all series production cars – same as third generation Toyota Prius (2009-2015). It remained the most aerodynamic mass production car for the next ten years until the Honda Insight and the Audi A2 were launched both in 1999, with a Cd of 0.25. Till these days Calibra’s Cd of 0.26 is among TOP-20 of all production cars.

Opel Calibra
Opel Calibra
©Opel archive
Opel Calibra
Opel Calibra
©Opel archive

Technically, Calibra was closely related to the first generation Opel Vectra. It was styled by General Motor's designer Wayne Cherry and German designer Erhard Schnell. The Calibra united exciting design with optimized aerodynamics and everyday practicality. The wide-opening tailgate gave easy access to a versatile, 980-liter luggage compartment. Generous standard equipment included power steering, a five-speed close-ration gearbox, a six-speaker audio system and tinted windows. Air conditioning, a four-speed automatic transmission and an electric tilt/slide sunroof were among the options.

The 2.0-liter entry-level engine with 115 hp propelled Opel Calibra to a top speed of 203 km/h, while the 150 hp, four-valve version went on to 223 km/h. It was an affordable dream car with the low entry-level price of 33,900 German marks.

Opel Calibra
Opel Calibra
©Opel archive
Opel Calibra 2.0 16V
Opel Calibra 2.0 16V. The 150 hp version went on to 223 km/h
©Opel archive

At market launch in 1990, all-wheel drive system was optionally available in addition to the standard front-wheel drive for both 2.0-liter gasoline engines. In March 1992 Opel made waves when the Calibra Turbo entered dealerships at a price of 49,800 marks. All-wheel drive, a six-speed gearbox, sports seats and 16-inch light alloy wheels came as standard. However, those affected aerodynamics – 16V, V6, 4x4 and turbo models had a worse Cd of 0.29, due to changes in a cooling system, underbody, use of spoked wheels and glass detail.

Opel Calibra Turbo with 204 hp
Opel Calibra Turbo with 204 hp
©Opel archive
Opel Calibra sideline
Opel Calibra sideline
©Opel archive

The big story was the 2.0-liter turbo engine pumping out 204 hp with a massive torque ‘curve’. Later Opel introduced the new 170 hp, 2.5 V6 Calibra, together with 2.0-liter four-cylinder variants in Opel’s white-yellow DTM look. In the middle of 1994, the Calibra received a light facelift.

Opel Calibra Cliff Motorsport Edition
Opel Calibra Cliff Motorsport Edition
©Opel archive
ITC-Champion 1996. Opel Calibra V6 Class 1 Touring Car
ITC-Champion 1996. Opel Calibra V6 Class 1 Touring Car
©Opel archive

Throughout the production run, several special edition models were launched. Customers who chose a Calibra Cliff Motorsport Edition in May 1996 were way ahead of the game. Its paintwork was the same as the Class 1 racing car in which Manuel Reuter would win the ITC championship for Opel at the end of the season. The street-legal Cliff racer had a 20 mm lower sports chassis and BBS light alloy wheels (7J x 16).

Opel Calibra DTM Edition
Opel Calibra DTM Edition
©Opel archive
Opel Calibra DTM Edition
Opel Calibra DTM Edition
©Opel archive

A special limited volume Last Edition was created as a final chapter in the Calibra story. August 29, 1997 marked the official end of production. Fittingly, it was a black Last Edition with a 2.0-liter, four-valve engine which rolled off the assembly line as the final Calibra to be made. Today, Opel Classic enjoys showing this car at many Youngtimer events.

After seven years, 238,647 Calibras had been produced at the main plant in Rüsselsheim, and also at Valmet in Uusikaupunki, Finland. The Calibra’s biggest markets were Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain and France. The 115 hp entry-level model led the sales charts with production totaling more than 130,000 units, followed by the 150 hp, 2.0-liter version, of which more than 61,000 were built.

Opel Calibra Last Edition
Opel Calibra Last Edition
©Opel archive
Opel Calibra Last Edition
Opel Calibra Last Edition
©Opel archive

As General Motors product, it was also offered in the United Kingdom under the Vauxhall brand. In South America it was marketed as the Chevrolet Calibra, and in Australia and New Zealand as the Holden Calibra.

Depend on condition, today Opel Calibra could cost from EUR 500 to EUR 20,000. You can find some of them on Dyler’s marketplace too, like this beauty from Denmark.