Typically when someone mentions the Korean automaker Daewoo, you’re likely to imagine a boring econobox means of transport. But in 1998, Daewoo got serious about a performance assault on the South African market.
With their dedicated motorsport division based in Kyalami, and ex-Audi / Porsche racer Johann Evertse leading the charge, Daewoo Motorsport decided to take a time-out from the SA Rally championship to concentrate on a new project – developing a performance range of cars specifically for the South African market. And with Daewoo works drivers Sarel VD Merwe and Enzo Kuun assisting with the development, the project looked extremely promising.
Daewoo needed to shake the dull image associated with cars like the Cielo and Espero, so they decided to focus on hotting up their new Nubira (and Lanos) models. They created a GTR variant for the Lanos and Nubira, and a fiery Nubira GTR-S as well. The Nubira was available as either a 5-door hatch, a 4-door sedan or a stationwagon, whilst the Daewoo Lanos was a smaller 5-door hatch, with all models benefitting from the sporty treatment.
There were two naturally-aspirated engine options in the Nubira. A 1.6-litre in the GTR and a 2.0-litre in the GTR-S, both paired with a 5-speed manual. Thanks to new performance cylinder heads, with increased compression ratios; re-profiled billet camshafts, a performance exhaust system and reprogrammed ECUs, power in the 1.6 GTR jumped from 80kw and 145nm to 105kw and 176nm. While the 2.0 GTR-S trounced the VR6 with its new outputs of 131kw and 228nm, up from 100kw and 184nm.
On the suspension front, the ride height was dropped by 20mm thanks to lowering springs and sport shocks. Braking was also tweaked, with both the Nubira’s front and rear discs drilled for optimum cooling and performance. Finishing off the handling package were a set of low profile 15-inch Michelin Pilots wrapping alloy wheels on the GTR, and 16s on the GTR-S.
The bland exterior meanwhile was transformed thanks to an imported sports bodykit, while the interior also benefitted, gaining a Momo steering wheel and shift knob, either wooden or faux carbon-fibre inlays, full leather upholstery and white-on-black instrumentation with orange needles. Daewoo’s GTR and GTR-S models were dressed to kill, and were equipped with the artillery that no doubt gave the brand a much-needed image boost.
It was remarked that the sporty Nubira inspired an incredible level of confidence, with it offering the perfect balance between performance, handling and safety, allowing drivers to push way beyond the limits of was possible in most standard sedans. And thanks to input from Sarel VD Merwe and Enzo Kuun, Daewoo Motorsport had somehow managed to eliminate the Nubira’s body roll, and gift it astounding levels of grip.
Daewoo hoped these performance models would make inroads into the SA market, but the project failed dismally. Despite being priced fairly – The Nubira GTR-S 5-door at R119 490 – compared to a Nissan Sabre 200GXI at R112 995 from example – Saffas just couldn’t look past the conservative image associated with the brand, even though these cars offered such strong performance.