Holden Calibra


Aug 30th, 2019

Holden Calibra

The Holden Calibra is a coupé or coupe designed and produced by the Opel Automobile GmbH as Opel Calibra from 1989 to 1997. It belongs in the vehicle category of mid-size (US), medium (Australia), or D-segment large family cars (Europe). General Motors, which owned Opel from 1929 until 2017, rebadged and marketed the Opel Calibra under the following marques: 

  • Holden Calibra (Australian and New Zealand market)
  • Chevrolet Calibra (South American market)
  • Vauxhall Calibra (UK market)

Launching in 1989

The Calibra was introduced to the market to pitch against Japanese sports cars in 1989 until well into the 90s. Its running gear was based on the Vectra A car model, which came out in 1988. It was introduced as a 3-door hatchback with front-engine front-wheel-drive layout, but was later also offered with four-wheel drive in the following year. 

The powertrains for the initial version were: 

  • 2.0L 8V C20NE SOHC I4 petrol engine rated at 86 kW, available in 4-speed AT and 5-speed MT (F16CR) 
  • 2.0L 16V C20XE DOHC I4 petrol engine rated at 112 kW, with 4-speed AT and 5-speed MT (F20)

As a sports car, the Holden Calibra’s edge over other cars in this category was its outstanding aerodynamic feature. The launched version had a drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.26, which easily made it the world’s most aerodynamic mass-produced car. However, this low-drag quality suffered in the subsequent 16V, V6, 4WD, and turbo versions due to the alterations required in the cooling system, undercarriage, and other mechanical details. 

Around 240,000 Calibra units were built in all eight years of its production run. Below is Holden Calibra’s timeline after its introduction in 1989 till its final year in 1997.


At the dawn of the new decade, plans were underway to rebadge the Calibra as a Saab in the US market. Also in the works was the creation of 2.0L 8V-engined prototypes in line with the plan to produce a cabriolet or convertible version of the Calibra. However, these product expansion plans failed to take shape.

The Calibra enjoyed high sales in the European market, even outperforming Ford Probe, its closest competitor. However, this success was not duplicated in the UK market, which preferred the Rover 200 coupé.


Through the course of its production run, several special-edition versions of the Calibra were produced and marketed under different marques.

In the United Kingdom, 26 units of Calibra underwent Tickford conversion under Vauxhall, a concept that involved a makeover to the existing Calibra. The new trims included interior restyling, such as Alcantara and mandarin seats, leather upholstery, Italvolanti leather steering wheel and gear shift gaiter, footwell lights, and Tickford-marked tread plates. The Tickford-converted Calibra edition debuted at the 1991 Motor Show but did not take off after the initial 26 units produced.  

While the Calibra was being offered as Opel’s (and Holden’s) lead sports car when it was introduced, it lacked the dynamics to go with its sporty look. With the addition of a new engine to the range of powertrains offered, its packaging was finally complete. The turbocharged version was a 2.0L 16V C20LET DOHC turbocharged petrol engine rated at 152 kW, with 4-wheel drive 6-speed Getrag MT (F28/6). Its top speed was rated at 245 kph.

It featured eye-catching five-stud wheel hubs and negatively-cambered rear wheels.


Vauxhall had its own special limited edition of Calibra, which ranged from SE1 through SE9. This special range featured unique highlights, including the uniquely painted “Caribic” blue SE1, solar yellow SE2, and Icelandic blue SE6.  

The SE4 came with a 2.5L V6 C25XE petrol engine rated at 125 kW available in both 4-speed manual and 5-speed automatic gearbox options. 


Five years after its launching, minor cosmetic modifications to Holden Calibra were introduced. The CALIBRA insignia on the bonnet leading edge was repositioned onto the grille. 


In 1995, the C20XE 16V engine of the very first Calibra was replaced with a new version, which had the following specs:

  • 2.0L 16V X20XEV Ecotec DOHC I4 petrol engine at a reduced power rating of 101 kW, available in   4-speed AT and 5-speed AT (F18CR) 

More new special editions came out, including the white-only DTM special limited edition to mark the success of Calibra (V6 4WD version), which won in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM) International Touring Car Championship race. More special-edition models came out, such as the Keke Rosberg classic, the Cliff edition, the Colour edition, and the Last edition. 

The engines used in the Calibra racing cars were mounted longitudinally and had the following specs: 

  • 1993 to 1995 – 2.5L V6 C25XE engine, with 54-deg cylinder bank angle 
  • 1996 – 2.5L Cosworth KF V6 engine, with 75-deg cylinder bank angle


In 1997, the last Calibra turbocharged versions rolled off the production line. Shortly after, a special edition of the Calibra turbo version was released. It featured an Irmscher spoiler, jet black paintwork, colour-coded body fittings, Irmscher springs and dampers, BBS RX 16-inch tyres, grey leather steering wheel, heated leather upholstery, and the build number emblazoned on the centre console.

Patrick Lumontod