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Vauxhall Nova: Buying guide and review (1983-1993)

Vauxhall Nova: Buying guide and review (1983-1993) Classic and Performance Car
Vauxhall Nova SR Opel Corsa GT Opel Corsa Vauxhall Nova Sport Opel Corsa Opel Corsa Opel Corsa GSI
Small front drive hatchbacks regularly top the sales charts in the UK, but this was not always so. When the Vauxhall Nova (known as the Opel Corsa outside of the UK) arrived on the scene in 1983, most of its competitors – other than the Fiesta – were either rear-wheel drive or based on older technology.
Initially launched in poverty spec carburettor 1.0 and 1.2-litre versions, the range was continually expanded until there were turbo diesels, fuel injected 1.6 hot hatches as well as various body types to choose from. Post production, the hardy little Nova found favour with the modding community, and some outlandish creations started to prowl the streets at night thanks to the explosion of the Max Power scene. Many met an untimely demise at the hands of overly enthusiastic teenage owners, meaning that they’re relatively scarce today, but the Novas that remain can be a perfect classic runabout for those on a tight budget. 

Which Vauxhall Nova to buy?

A two and four-door saloon, as well as three and five-door hatchback was offered with the three-door hatch proving to be the most popular derivative by far. There were engine sizes spanning from a 45bhp 1.0-litre, to the 101bhp 1.6. Fuel injection was standardised on all models bar the base 1.0 by the late ‘80s. An efficient if rattly diesel was offered from 1987-on and received a turbocharger the following year – gaining a reputation as one of the quickest diesels produced at the time. 
Thanks to their very low kerb weight and short gearing, most are well-suited to city driving, keeping up with modern day traffic with ease. 
Unsurprisingly, the performance orientated GTE is the one most people want. with its 101bhp SOHC fuel-injected 1.6-litre motor, it was more than a match for the hot Fiestas of the time. Rebadged the GSI after the 1990 facelift, it remained popular right up until the last year of production. The far rarer 1.3SR introduced in 1985 to qualify for the BRC homologation requirements was a stripped out little 93bhp rocket, getting to 60mph in under 9 seconds. 500 were built in total and these are the most collectible of all.
The mid-1990s saw a resurgence in the Nova’s popularity, thanks to their low insurance bracket and good reliability. Many teenagers chose the Nova as a first car, which is also the reason that a lot were used as a basis for a highly modded ride, with 18-inch rims and huge body kits. Despite the negative press that these cars received by more traditional enthusiasts, it does mean that there was (and still is) a huge array of parts available for those looking to upgrade their cars. Engine swaps from larger Vauxhalls, turbos and massive brakes were all popular options for the intrepid Nova owner.
Although a large number of cars were built (almost half a million by the end of 1993) few have survived unscathed, and while the sporty GTE/GSI models are always the most sought after finding an unmodified one could pose a few problems. As a general guide, face lifted cars are best but don’t dismiss the less desirable models as choices are limited and even the smaller engine derivatives can prove to be great little runabouts.

Performance and specs

Vauxhall Nova 1.6 GTE
Engine 1598cc, 8 valve SOHC I4 
Power 101bhp @ 5600rpm 
Torque 99lb ft @ 3400rpm
Top speed 117mph 
0-62mph 9.5seconds 
Fuel consumption 40mpg 
Gearbox Five-speed manual

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase 2343mm
Length 3622mm
Width 1532mm
Height 1365mm
Weight 820kg

Common problems

• Rust can be a real issue and badly corroded cars should be avoided. Repairing a sad Nova is almost always more costly than getting a good one in the first place. Rear arches, front suspension turrets and foot wells are common problem areas.

• Light weight meant nippy performance and good fuel economy, it also meant low passenger protection in the event of a collision and as quite a few were crashed take a good look at the fit and finish of the panels.

• Engines are tough but frequent oil servicing is a must and camshaft wear was common so listen out for noisy idling and check for excessive oil seepage around the head gasket. Blue exhaust smoke can indicate valve stem wear. Cambelts should be done every 40,000miles.

• Petrol gauges are unreliable on early cars and repairs can be expensive so be careful of running out of fuel as this can damage carbs and fuel lines.

• Interior quality was iffy, marginally improving on face lifted models but expect some wear and make sure the dashboard is securely attached to bulkhead. Yes really.

• Many cars have been modified; the GTE/GSI models tend to have led hard lives so check for signs of abuse. 

Model history

1983: Vauxhall Nova released in 1.0, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 engine sizes. Initially three-door hatchback and two-door saloon body styles were offered
1984: Four and five door variants become available
1985: Stripped out 1.3L sport model introduced- 500 built
1987: 1.5-litre diesel introduced along with 101bhp 1.6l fuel-injected GTE model
1988: Turbo diesel engine launched raising power to 67bhp
1990: Face lift carried out across the range including redesigned bumpers and front end. GTE rebadged as GSI following face-lift
1993: Vauxhall Nova production ends with almost 500,000 units built

Owners clubs and websites

• www.pngclub.com – Forum for Vauxhall enthusiasts
• www.vodc.co.uk - Vauxhall Drivers Club
• www.allcorsa.co.uk – Vauxhall Nova/Corsa owners site

Summary and prices

The current market for the Nova is a strange one, previously unloved base models tend to command unusually high prices, with mint 1.2-litre 1983 hatchbacks valued at up to £8000. Overlooked by the modders more of these have survived and their originality is highly valued. There are of course a few well used examples with prices as low as £500 but look at £2000 for a decent car. A 1.3 SR in good condition can be up to £10,000.
The Nova’s attrition rate in general has been extremely high, most having succumbed to rust, scrappage schemes, overly enthusiastic modifications and teenage mating ritual demonstrations gone wrong. Unsurprisingly finding one of the faster variants like the GTE or GSI requires a lot of patience and plenty of luck, but if you persevere you will be rewarded with an excellent little supermini that combines practicality with that all important grin factor.

Words: John Tallodi
Vauxhall Nova SR Opel Corsa GT Opel Corsa Vauxhall Nova Sport Opel Corsa Opel Corsa Opel Corsa GSI
Last updated: 27th Oct 2016
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Vauxhall Nova
3990 14995 GBP
  • Vauxhall Nova

    £3,990 £3,990

    Full service history

    • Mileage: 39004 mi
    • Engine size: 1196
    For sale
    £3,990 £3,990
    Cambridge Autos
  • VAUXHALL NOVA L 1989 32000 Manual Petrol Red

    £6,000 £6,000

    Red, What An Absolute Find This Vauxhall Nova Is!! Although showing 2 owners on the V5, the 2nd owner was the daughter of the original lady that purchased it brand new in 1989 who put it in her name a year ago when her mother passed away. This Nova is an absolute credit to its previous owner and has always been stored in a garage. We have the original brochure and price list from 1989, The original bill of sale from the supplying Vauxhall dealer which shows the added extras of the sunroof and towbar (which I am informed was never used, the lady did have plans to tow a small trailer which never happened) Both original leather keyrings from the supplying dealer as well as the original rear window sticker. Service history.....we have a comprehensively completed service book (see pictures) but we also have a near on complete mileage record for the car that the lady kept herself.....we have pages of records that show the date, amount of fuel put in and the exact mileage!! The car itself is in outstanding condition for its age and genuinely drives superbly. It starts first time, every time and everything works exactly as it should. When we collected the car, the daughter informed us that it had never been driven on the motorway as her late mother didn't like to go on them so that chances are it has never gone above 40-50mph and to be honest, it feels so tight and new still that we have no reason to disbelieve that. This Nova really is a step back in time and very much an appreciating asset. Please call us to find out more about this stunning Vauxhall Nova, there's so much more to tell!! All Our Vehicles Are HPI Clear. Please Read Our Customer Reviews, We Are Very Proud Of Our 5 Star Rating. Call Daryl Or Sarah, 7 Days A Week. Viewing By Appointment Only, GBP 6,000

    • Mileage: 32000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.196
    For sale
    £6,000 £6,000

    £14,995 £14,995

    Eileen’s Nova since buying it in 1997 to start doing a little motorsport, after a few years of getting to grips with the wee car she had already won the Scottish hillclimb championship 1300cc class , sprint championship and fastest lady award.;The car was then sold to friend Scott Crawford who went on to fully convert to rally spec to use in the Scottish tarmac championship , with some new go faster parts inc upgraded 1400cc engine and sccr gearbox , underside gaurds and sumpgaurd it was ready , Scott had a number of class wins over the years and really made the car fly regularly giving bigger cars a good run for there money with its nimble handling and super reliability.;;Offered the chance to buy it back and we jumped at the opertunity , brought back to Forres it was stripped bare , the shell was still in very good condition having only done tarmac events and being dry stored , rebuilt inc new multipoint weld in cage , repainted inside and out in 2 pack Vauxhall glacier white , a new Bill Falconer 1600cc 16V engine and 5 speed dog engagement gearbox was fitted , all suspension and steering parts replaced / rebuilt or checked etc , new seats and harness fitted and it was back to usual business for eileen , lots more pots and trophies collected , the time has come after a lack of use due to family and business commitments we offer it for someone else to enjoy a very capable car and in the correct hands , a winner.;;Now eligible for many historic / classic events , this car is suitable for rally / race or hillclimb events.;;MSA rally passport;;Can be supplied with 12mths MOT if required;;Bill Falconer supplied 1600cc 16v clubman rally spec engine , ;Omega forged pistons;BF spec modified cylinder head and reprofiled cams;MBE management / twin Webber 45 carburettors ;Tony law exhaust manifold ;Dyno run , 200+bhp;( 4 or 5 hillclimbs only );;Rebuilt Quaife dog engagement gearbox with ZF lsd;Harry Hockley group A gear lever kit;;Blistein coilover suspension With Forest springs;Alloy eccentric top mounts;Modified rear beam;;16v brakes with vented discs and pagid pads;;Motordrive seats;Sabelt harness;;13” compimotive TH lightweight alloy wheels ;Toyo R888 soft compound tyres;;Fully guarded inc alloy sump guard and Kevlar sill guards;;;

    • Engine size: 1.6
    For sale
    £14,995 £14,995