The number of Retropower projects based upon cars designed and sold in the 1990s has exploded in recent years, a reflection of the ever increasing popularity of cult cars made in the decade of Beanie Babies, Jungle and (original) Hooch. There’s more to this than mere nostalgia of course, namely the fact that many of the finest performance offerings of the 1990s managed to strike a balance between mechanical complexity, power and comfort. It’s the kind of relationship between sophistication and good old fashioned, analogue tech modern motors simply can’t match.
The Cavalier GSI2000 of Jamie White is a good example of the kind of car that’s passed through our doors in recent years, not to mention the type of work that the Retropower team is capable of.
While never able to step out from the monumental shadow cast by the likes of the Sierra Cosworth, the performance variants of the Mk3 Cavalier swiftly acquired a passionate cult following of their own. The C20LET powered ‘Turbo’ version sat at the top of the tree when new of course, but many would-be John Clelands and Jeff Allams found themselves plumping for the GSI2000 instead, not least as it came with the characterful, Cosworth-penned C20XE.
Jamie’s association with Luton’s finest began many, many years ago, when his late brother acquired a Cavalier GSI of his own, this GSI in fact. The Cavalier had already become a fixture of the UK’s modified car landscape by that point, with more than enough aftermarket parts available to coax considerably more from the 150bhp ‘Redtop’ than Vauxhall deemed suitable.
All of which brings us onto our own contribution to the project, one which commenced when Jamie brought the Cavalier to us back in January 2015. His brother had tragically passed away in a car accident and Jamie wanted to enshrine his memory in the most fitting way possible, by turning his Cavalier into the ultimate expression of what a mid ’90s performance Vauxhall could be
Things didn’t get off to the best of starts though, with our customary strip-down and shot-blast session revealing a shell with more in common with Swiss cheese than automotive steel! An extended session of fabrication soon followed, one of the most long winded in Retropower history, all in attempt to ensure that all traces of ferrous oxide had been well and truly nullified.
The fact that Jamie’s brother had plumped for a deep red Cavalier was obviously an important part of what made it ‘his’ car, and as such drastically altering its hue was completely out of the question. That said, with the metalwork completed and the car back in a solid state once again, it was decided to slightly changed the nature of its colour, hence the coat of Satin Red (actually a Cavalier Turbo colour) it now sports. It’s a fitting choice, as Jamie’s GSI has since gained many of the attributes of the range topping Turbo, including its facelifted front end and colour coded rear panel.
There was no way that the C20XE’s standard output of 150bhp was going to be able to cut it, not in the modern world. We therefore opted to go down the forced induction route with Jamie’s engine, starting by modifying the XE to suit. Forged, low compression pistons and steel con-rods can now be found in the block, just above a quartet of oil squirters, evidence of our commitment to reliability as well as performance. The whole assembly has been balanced, while ‘up top’ you’ll now find sleeved oil ways in the head, with the XE’s OEM cams retained – a classic route to improved Redtop performance and something of a nod to the car’s ’90s roots.
The core of the turbocharged system consists of a GT2860RS, or to give it its more common title, the ‘Disco Potato’ turbo. It’s a dual ball bearing unit with an internally wastegated turbine housing, and has been combined with a tubular manifold and an inlet plenum of our own design, not to mention the largest Front Mounted Intercooler we could fit without drastically chopping the front bumper.
Factor in the DTA S40 ‘standalone’ management (a quantum leap of the old Bosch system favoured by Vauxhall ‘back in the day,’ and it’s clear why Jamie’s Cavalier now makes a handy 360bhp. It’s the kind of performance output which would have been all but unthinkable in a car of this type a little over a decade ago (certainly with any semblance of reliability), proof of just how far the Redtop tuning community has come.
That’s a lot of power in a front-wheel drive car of this vintage, hence the addition of a Quaife LSD-shod F28 five-speed gearbox, not to mention updated suspension (adjustable Konis) and, thanks to a classic Vauxhall five-stud hub conversion, a front suspension setup comprising Zafira VXR discs, AP four-pot calipers and DS2500 pads.
Said brakes are housed in 7.5 x 17in Team Dynamics motorsport-grade Pro Race wheels, with custom offsets to negate the awkward ET49 found on these cars (and pretty much all similarly aged GM offerings). Jamie’s car also now has a full complement of SuperPro bushes.
Our approach to the interior of Jamie’s Cavalier could best be phrased as ‘leather everything, then look for areas to add more leather!’ Indeed, there’s very, very little chance of Jamie ever appearing on PETA’s Christmas card list, not now vast swathes of his Cavalier are coated in luxurious Bentley Beluga leather. The list includes the dash, the door cards, door handles, centre console, the seats and countless other bits and pieces, a task which was more testing than you might first imagine, mainly as mid ’90s Cavalier interiors were never intended to be fully clothed in ex-cow.
The seats themselves are worth looking at in greater detail, if only because we put in a huge amount of effort to ensure they look unique yet still in keeping with the rest of the car. The bolsters are leather but the inner sections, along with the roof headlining, are charcoal Alcantara with contrasting double diamond stitching.
Even non-leather aspects of the Cavalier’s interior involved a massive amount of work. We’d effectively completely re-coloured the whole of the inside of the car, meaning we also had to re-colour almost every single interior fixture and fitting – a tricky task to pull off with any degree of class.
The result is probably one of the most subtle builds Retropower has ever produced, though one with unmatched significance and personal worth. It goes without saying that it is a build that everyone at Retropower is proud to have been associated with, and we hope that the finished Cavalier is the kind of car Jamie’s brother would have both appreciated and enjoyed.