WRECK TO RACER
Die-hard Vauxhall fan Steve ‘Gromitt’ Hucker fastidiously collected parts from six cars destined for the scrap heap, building them into this incredible #Vauxhall-Cavalier-BTCC-Replica
race car on an exceedingly tight budget. Words & images: Matt Robinson.
We can all appreciate a good car project regardless of how much money is behind it, but when someone puts together a stunning motor like this British Touring Car Championship replica Vauxhall Cavalier for next to nothing, they’ve earned our undying respect. The work of Walsall-based Steve Hucker (better known as ‘Gromitt’ to his friends), this brilliant Vauxhall has been built up over two and a half years, mostly from parts taken from cars destined for the scrapheap.
A die-hard Vauxhall fan, Steve runs Vaux- Speed, a Vauxhall breaker and tuning specialist in Walsall. Having looked after all sorts of different cars for customers for years, Steve wanted a new project of his own to sink his teeth into. “I thought I’d build something a bit different for myself. I’ve always loved touring cars, it seemed a bit more unusual to do a Cavalier as they only ran for six years in the BTCC,” he explains. A complete eight-valve 4x4 Cavalier came up on eBay, and looked to be the perfect starting point for the project, apparently needing only a new clutch to get it going. When he got hold of the car, however, it needed a little bit more than just a clutch. “Things on eBay aren’t always listed 100 per cent, one person’s ‘just wants a clutch’ is another person’s ‘needs a complete engine rebuild and whatever else!’” Steve chuckles.
Nevertheless, it was a good starting point for around £200, and gave Steve a good base on which he could slowly build on, whenever he had available funds for parts. Not long after, an eight-valve GSI lookalike was spotted and quickly snapped up as a donor, primarily to pilfer the doors. As it was an earlier car, it came without the impact bars in the doors, helping shave off a little extra weight. Not much happened on the project for a while, but another car came up that would enable the build to surge forward, as it had a full roll cage. It belonged to someone Steve had done business with in the past, but without the spare capital to drop on the car, he reluctantly had to leave it. Some time later, he happened upon the car again while browsing eBay. On this occasion it was just the shell up for grabs, as the new owner had taken out the engine and a few other parts for another project, and was selling the leftovers. This time Steve was adamant that he was going to have it. The original deal with the seller fell through, but with the garage in which the shell was being stored due for imminent demolition, it needed to go quickly. It was offered to Steve at a price too good to refuse.
Steve opted to keep the original eightvalve shell due to its superior condition, and transplanted whatever he could from his new donor car, including the all-important roll cage. The only problem with the eight valve shell was the presence of a sunroof. That’s not the sort of thing you’d normally find on a race car, so Steve removed the roof from yet another Cavalier shell which was en-route to the scrapheap, and transplanted it onto the project.
With the car coming together nicely, it was time to think about the paintwork. To keep the car as unique as possible, Steve wanted to go for the little-known 1994 Cavalier BTCC livery. “I only worked off one picture of the original BTCC car. This colour scheme was only used for 1994; it’s not documented that well, so it was quite a struggle, but I was determined because I wanted it to stand out,” Steve explains. He was presented with two options to achieve the white, grey and red colour scheme: either to use decals for the entire job, or have it painted in white/grey/ red and just use decals for the sponsor names and logos. A friend was confident he could achieve the look successfully with the latter method, and we have to say, the results are superb. There are a few differences compared to the real thing, owing to Steve’s personal preferences, but the overall look is very close.
Steve has put a lot of effort into taking weight out wherever possible, not just in going for the impact bar-less doors. Absolutely everything unnecessary has been removed; he even laid out the wiring loom on the workshop floor and binned what wasn’t needed, shaving an extra 20kg. “It isn’t a lot, but every bit you save is good. It’s different to just taking a road car and saying ‘right, I’ll take the seats out and rip the door panels off and call it a track car.” This attitude shows when you get into Steve’s Cavalier. All the proper racing car parts are there; a Corbeau seat with a six-point FIA approved harness, FIA approved cut-out switch, and fi re extinguisher system.
Losing weight isn’t enough on its own, of course; the suspension and brakes also needed an overhaul to make sure they were up to the task of track work. Koni Competition adjustable shocks went in at each corner, with 90mm customs springs on the back, and 60mm standard road springs on the front. The latter is just a stop gap, and any day now a similar set of custom springs will go in, giving a much lower level of body roll. While the idea of a nice but pricey set of coilovers is a tempting one, custom springs are the way forward, and not just for the sake of the budget. “There are a couple of places that still make custom poundage springs. The beauty of that is once they have the spec of your car, you can pick the phone up, order a set of springs and within 24 hours you’ve got a new set on your doorstep for the price of standard springs,” Steve explains. This also means he won’t need to hunt around for springs with the correct poundages, which wouldn’t be easy considering the very specific, custom nature of the car. To help bring things to a stop a little quicker, meanwhile, Steve has swapped out the standard front brakes for a set of four-pot calipers over 320mm discs.
Another important aspect for Steve to get right was an inboard fuel tank setup, to further ape the proper race-spec Cavalier. Normally, this wouldn’t be cheap, but a contact through Shenstone and District Sprint club had a tank going spare which he could use. It was designed for a BMW, but some alterations to the pipework and the addition of a swirl pot made it suitable for the Vauxhall. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. The Cavalier destroyed several fuel pumps before it was worked out that fuel was atomising before entering the pump, causing it to burn out. Further adaptations were made to the set up, and a larger fuel pump added, and it’s been perfect ever since.
Steve’s tight budget has meant the 2.0-litre eight-valve has stayed in place rather than the most obvious engine transplant option of a ‘red top’ Vauxhall XE engine. However, it’s no ordinary eight-valve; this one is sporting an Irmscher intake manifold, larger throttle body, gas-flowed head and Kent camshaft. The result is about 160bhp, a thoroughly respectable number, especially considering the weight figure is now well under a tonne. Around the base figure you’d get in an XE, in fact, but with a much simpler engine to work on. “What I’ve spent on the engine, you’d spend on just rebuilding the bottom end of a red top these days,” Steve points out.
The car is road legal, but with the slightly tricky task of climbing in through that beefy role cage a necessity of getting behind the wheel, Steve mostly reserves public highway driving for testing, rather than convenience. It sees plenty of track action, with its happiest hunting ground being Curborough Sprint Course near Lichfield, where we photographed the car being driven in anger.
As much as Steve loves the end product, it’s the build itself of this, and his prior projects, that he really gets a kick out of, especially if he can keep the cost low and get the biggest bang for his buck. “They’re not mega budget cars, but they’re really nicely built. That’s the enjoyment of building them for me,” he explains. And when it comes to the Cavalier project, the car is pretty much where Steve wants it to be right now. “Once I’ve done the front suspension I will say ‘yes, it’s finished,’ it’ll just be tweaking and adapting after that,” he says. Of course, there are still tempting avenues to explore, such as individual throttle bodies, so we’ll be interested to see what avenues he chooses to pursue in the future.
As a man who’s always got a project on the go, it’s not outside the realms of possibility that Steve could end up selling the car, but that seems unlikely for now. “It’s possible I suppose, if someone offers me a ludicrous amount of money for it!” he chuckles. Steve has already turned down an offer for what he describes as a “substantial amount of money,” which we can more than understand, as his journey with this car is far from over. Why? The answer is simple. “I want to enjoy it more.” After seeing Steve having a great time hustling this home-brewed hero on track for ourselves, we hope he gets that wish.
eight-valve, gas-flowed head, Kent camshaft and pully, enlarged throttle body, Irmscher inlet manifold, Pipercross air filter, custom inboard fuel tank with internal swirl pot, high-pressure bootmounted fuel pump, full 2.5-inch Ashley exhaust (centre exit).
TRANSMISSION: F20 gearbox, Quaife differential.
SUSPENSION: Polybushed all round, Koni Competition adjustables, custom springs.
BRAKES: Four-pot front calipers with 320mm discs, standard rear brakes.
WHEELS & TYRES: 17-inch Team Dynamics alloy wheels wrapped in Toyo Proxes.
INTERIOR: Fully stripped, Corbeau bucket seat with six-point #FIA
approved harness, FIA approved cut-off switch, fi re extinguisher, polycarbonate door panels, full Custom Cages competition roll cage.
EXTERIOR: Eight-valve 4x4 shell, full GSI body kit, single wiper conversion, #1994 #BTCC
Jeff Allam livery.
“To keep the car as unique as possible, Steve wanted to go for the little known 1994 #Vauxhall-Cavalier-BTCC