The cars : Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1

The General’s turn-around

The 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier range: saloon, Coupe and Sportshatch.

The 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier range: saloon, Coupe and Sportshatch.

Vauxhall was in trouble in the early 1970s, and sales were taking a nosedive. The Viva might have been selling reasonably well in HC form, but in the fleet car market where the Ford Cortina Mk3 was king, the FE-Series ‘Transcontinental’ Victor singularly failed to measure up to this – or the Morris Marina.

At the time, it looked like it could be curtains for Vauxhall in the UK, and given how many people the company employed in Luton and Ellesmere Port, that would have been a disaster at a time when the economy was generally considered to be in free-fall.

The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that Vauxhall’s name was mud, anyway. And had been since at least the 1960s. Buyers have long memories, and reputations are easily soiled, and this was the case here – rampant rust in the company’s 1950s and ’60s cars, had created a ‘rot-box’ image that was proving difficult to shift.

By 1972, the situation was so bad, parent company General Motors decided that drastic measures were needed, and the best way of effecting them would be to rationalise its European operations with a long-term goal of combining Vauxhall’s and Opel’s model ranges.

Actually, the writing was probably on the wall for Vauxhall as an independent designer of cars with the arrival of the Victor FE. Although the style was very much from Luton, as were the engines and gearboxes, the floorpan was shared with the Opel Rekord. Although it meant that Vauxhall’s all-important mid-size saloon had grown beyond the size of its natural rivals. But this was in-hand, again thanks to Opel.

In September 1975, Opel rolled out its updated Ascona and Manta B models. The new cars were clear evolutions of the 1970 original, and were solidly engineered. The styling was overseen by Henry Haga in Opel’s design studio in Rüsselsheim, and incorporated lessens learned in the in 1973 OSV (Opel Safety Vehicle).

Opel OSV lent some of its styling cues to the Ascona and Manta B

Opel OSV lent some of its styling cues to the Ascona and Manta B

Larger windows were the main evolution, and once again, the Ascona and Manta were treated to wildly differently styling, with the coupe receiving a dramatic droop snoot… little did we know, that Wayne Cherry, Vauxhall’s incoming Director of Design would adopt this front end for the upcoming Cavalier.

The rest of the engineering package remained pretty much as before – but refined and improved carefully. The suspension set-up incorporated a live rear axle located by short torque tube, trailing arms and Panhard Rod with coils springs and an anti-roll bar; and up-front, wishbones and coil springs with telescopic dampers. All very conservative, but nicely engineered.

As for engines, the Opels were powered by a 1.2-litre ohv Kadett engine, and a pair of cam-in heads, of 1.6- and 1.9-litres. Top of the tree was the fuel injected 105bhp Manta GT/E (which we never saw in the UK) – and that was capable of 110mph. In summary, the Ascona was a solid, well engineered and nice-to-drive mid-sized saloon – perfect to take the fight to the Ford Taunus in mainland Europe.

Opel turns to Vauxhall

Initial plans were to introduce a rew body style, but this was dropped in favour of a lightly restyled Ascona.

Initial plans were to introduce a new body style, but this was dropped in favour of a lightly restyled Ascona.

And so it proved in the UK too. In 1972, Vauxhall’s management knew that the Opel U-car would make the great basis for a new mid-size saloon, and in the interests of range rationalization began working on an Anglicised version. The Cortina Mk3, which had been launched in 1970 had defined its market perfectly, with a 100in wheelbase, and a full range of engines from 1.3- to 2.0-litres. Vauxhall knew the Ascona could match the Cortina inch-by-inch, although the top 1.9-litre cam-in-head Opel engine was down on power compared with Ford’s Pinto unit by 10bhp.

Development in the UK was a two-pronged affair. Design chief Wayne Cherry was tasked with giving the new car a British style all of its own, while the chassis and engineering teams hit Millbrook to make it ride and handle UK roads well.

On the styling front, initially, Cherry’s team wanted to give the car an all-new body as had happened with the Victor FE, but management soon vetoed that plan, strictly containing budgets. Given that Vauxhall’s star designer was a lover of all things wedge shaped, having penned the stunning 1970 SRV concept as well as the droopsnoot Firenzas, this must have been a blow.

But the arrival of the Manta proved a godsend, allowing him to use that car’s front end styling, therefore adopting a pragmatic approach. The Manta’s front end was further cleaned up for UK saloon consumption, losing its nose slots and headlamp surrounds to create a clean and modern look that would prove rather striking come launch date.

Vauxhall Cavalier GL saloon: cleanly styled by Wayne Cherry.

Vauxhall Cavalier GL saloon: cleanly styled by Wayne Cherry.

In engineering terms, the Cavalier was almost pure Ascona/Manta. The UK was spared the entry-level 1.2-litre ohv also used in the Kadett, leaving the initial launch line-up down to the two larger engines. There would be a good reason for this – the Cavalier would initially be built in Opel’s Antwerp plant in Belgium, and it meant production simplification. But, the 1256cc ohv unit used in the Viva and (later) Chevette would be developed to fit into the Cavalier, creating a much more UK-flavoured car.

When the wraps came off the Cavalier at the 1975 London Motor Show at Earls Court, it was a genuine surprise, catching the media – and potential – buyers off guard. But the stylish saloon and coupe combination was soon attracting rave reviews, hitting the market in the dying days of the Cortina Mk3, when it was looking its weakest. Initial road tests were also complimentary. What Car? Magazine was certainly complimentary, and in a group test alongside the Cortina and Morris Marina (both of which the Cavalier trounced), it concluded, ‘Vauxhall’s version of the Opel Ascona has helped put the previously ailing Luton firm on the road to recovery – and it’s easy to see why. The Cavalier is a good handling, sporty saloon aimed directly at the Cortina…’

The magazine went on: ‘As far as driver appeal is concerned, the Cavalier must be one of the best – perhaps the best – conventional saloon at the price. Its steering is accurate and responsive at all times, and it is not too heavy at parking speeds. Its cornering ability on smooth roads is excellent, although the well-located rear axle can hop about if the surface is poor. The ride may be a little firm for some tastes, but he ride/handling compromise is near perfect.’

Buyers certainly liked it, but that caused problems itself. Early availability was poor, with dealers clamouring for stock, while the waiting list grew. With production limited to a shared factory in Belgium, this was always going to be the case, while production at Luton was prepared and the Victor FE (now known as the VX range) wound down. In the end, the Luton plant came on stream in 1977, also seeing the arrival of the 1256cc car. Eric Fountain, Vauxhall’s Manufacturing Director drove the first British Cavalier off the production line on 26 August 1977 – and immediately after, the supply problems eased. And this removed the Cavalier’s main barrier to mass-market success.

Fleet managers also liked the Cavalier, and its imported content dropped from 100% in 1976 to 64% in 1978, it established itself as the company’s bestseller during the late 1970s.

As for model evolution, the Cavalier Mk1 was tweaked rather than facelifted throughout its life. In April 1978, the 1.9-litre model was upgraded to 2-litres and 100bhp (and 110bhp for the equivalent Manta GT/E, which again we didn’t see in the UK until 1983), giving the Coupe a genuine 110mph potential top speed and a sub 10-second 0-60mph time. Six months later, the innovative and stylish Sportshatch joined the coupe, which put right the older car’s one shortcoming – its lack of a wide-opening tailgate, like the Ford Capri.

When the Sportshatch was launched, the Vauxhall press office issued an interesting image of the new car alongside Concept 1 and Concept 2 – a pair of three-door proposals penned by Cherry. Both were considered during the development of the Sportshatch, and lined-up like this show an interesting timeline of how the idea was honed for production. Concept 1 was a clean sheet design, which Concept 2 incorporated the Cavalier’s front end styling. The definitive production car also shared its doors with the existing Coupe, and is probably more visually appealing as a result.

Cavalier Sportshatch in front of Concept 1 (eft) and Cocept 2 (right)

Cavalier Sportshatch in front of Concept 1 (left) and Concept 2 (right)

Cavalier Sportshatch was a stylish addition to the range in 1978

Cavalier Sportshatch was a stylish addition to the range in 1978

Again, What Car? was impressed. In a group test pitching the Sportshatch in 1.6GL form against the Alfasud Sprint, Ford Capri and Renault Fuego, there were plenty of nice things said about Vauxhall’s seemingly less than soulful Cavalier. ‘Although its rear tends to go out if treated roughly on corners, there is not the same degree of sliding in wet weather as there is with the Capri. The steering is quite light, which means that any breakaway is easier to control, and during most driving, the Sportshatch is predictable and controllable’.

In summary, it said: ‘Coming past the post ahead of the Capri, the Cavalier looks good and has price on its side. However, it really does need a newer engine, and it you want an all-rounder, you really should go for the two-litre model.’ The Sportshatch was a good-looking and adaptable coupe, which also proved the basis for a couple of very different themes.

The first was the very coupé-based convertible, known as the Centaur. That car was developed by Magraw Engineering and built by Crayford Engineering. Rather like the Crayford Cortina, which was sold at the same time, the Centaur was sold through a number of Vauxhall dealers. It was well-engineered, but with a strengthened floorpan and Triumph Stag-like T-bar roof arrangement, it came at a cost. In mid-1980, a new Centaur would cost you £8502 – compared with £5230 for a standard 2000GLS Sportshatch. But then, what rivals did it have?

More exciting was the Silver Aero concept. This beauty was unveiled it at the 1980 British Motor Show in Birmingham, and followed on from 1974’s wonderful Silver Bullet. The one-off, which was based on the Sportshatch, featured a radical looking bodykit, a seriously upgraded interior and power by a 150bhp 2.4-litre turbocharged engine by WBB Racing and Turbo Torque Limited. Its most striking styling feature was undoubtedly the even sharper nose treatment, which maintained Cherry’s love for the droopsnoot. The press release that accompanied the car’s unveiling spoke of customer kits being made available – but they never subsequently appeared.

Silver Aero concept was based on the Cavalier Sportshatch, but with far more aggressive styling.

Silver Aero concept was based on the Cavalier Sportshatch, but with far more aggressive styling.

Across the range model development was limited to tweaking of trim levels. After the introduction of the 2-litre cars in 1978, and the rebadging (from 1300, 1600 and 2000 to 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0), it was just a matter of improving trim packages along the way. In 1980, an interim LS model was introduced to bridge the gap between L and GL – this was hardly exciting stuff – and that was about it. The biggest omission was an estate model, which also held true in the Opel Ascona range. Given this was a variant included in the Ascona range, it’s surprising a five-door never made the showroom, despite being an actively persued model on the drawing board.

So the Silver Aero would prove to be the Cavalier’s swan-song – and that never made it beyond one-off status, even if aspects of the concept made it into the 1983 Manta facelift. The Cavalier Mk1 lasted six years, before being phased out in favour of the front-wheel drive Mk2 in August 1981, and during this time proved a strong and steady seller.

Although it failed to threaten Ford in UK sales chart, along with the Chevette, it went a long way to rehabilitating the marque and regaining its credibility with fleet buyers. Its sales achievements would subsequently be dwarfed by what came later with the Mk2 and Mk3, but the original Cavalier’s place in Vauxhall – and therefore, UK – model history should never be underestimated.

With thanks to the Cavalier and Chevette Club.

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Editor at AROnline and @hjclassics. Likes cars, taking pictures, travelling and knee-high boots...


66 Responses

  1. Andrew Elphick - June 29, 2011

    I love the “prototype” pictures – any more Keith?

  2. Shannon - June 29, 2011

    I am surprised that the Cavalier Mk1 did not come out in estate form – particularly when several of its homegrown rivals, namely the Ford Cortina, Hillman Hunter and Morris Marina, were available in that form and selling in reasonable numbers.

    Apparently, the reason an estate was not developed was that, according to Opel, the Ascona Mk1 estate had a ‘tradesman taint’ about it – Opel reckoned that the Kadett T-Car versions could fit this role more effectively.

    The Cavalier Mk2 (J Car) had an estate version, but this was picked up from Holden in Australia – once Holden became involved in the J Car programme, they demanded that an estate be included in the model development.

  3. Keith Adams Keith Adams - June 29, 2011

    @Andrew Elphick
    Hopefully soon. :)

  4. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling - June 29, 2011

    @Shannon
    The Mark 3 never had an estate version either. Strange…

    It’s nice to get this Vauxhall article – just as interesting as the BL stuff and, perhaps, less well-known. The Cavalier was a very stylish car when launched in 1975, with its radical front end. The ‘built in Belgium’ thing certainly hurt it at a time when buyers were still very patriotic though.

    Incidentally, the Manta Berlinetta was a trim level, applied to the coupe and the hatch.

  5. Andrew Elphick - June 29, 2011

    Did I imagine that the Mk2 estate had a glassfibre tailgate?

  6. KeithB - June 29, 2011

    The Sportshatch always reminded me of the 1975 GM range of hatches in the US. Have a look at this Wikipedia image of an 1975 Chevrolet Monza

  7. Will - June 29, 2011

    I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that I actually preferred the frontal treatment of the Opel Ascona B!

    I thought the Ascona B looked crisper and sportier (possibly helped by the Rothmans Ascona 400) whereas, to me, the Cavalier Mk1 always looked a bit frumpy, with the headlights looking overly big when paired with the grill-less snoot and the numberplate way below the bumper and the lower intake.

    The prototype image looks a lot better – almost a pre-cursor to the style of the likes of the Sierra or BX. Perhaps it is the wider headlights that help…

    The droop snoot worked better on later Mantas in my opinion – the coupe bodystyle and the numberplate moving to the middle of the chunkier bumpers tidied up the frontal styling.

    Was the Ascona available at Vauxhall Dealers or were the ones I saw on my street grey imports from the Republic of Ireland?

  8. KC - June 29, 2011

    I had a 1.8 Cavalier Mk1 in the late 1970s and for driving/handling/performance it was miles ahead of the competition. The first time I drove the car it was a revelation compared to anything else in the price range at the time.

    I always thought the Coupe was one of the best looking cars ever put on the road – much better balanced than the Hatch which I never really liked. I owned two Opel Manta Berlinetta Coupes at different times and just wish some manufacturer today would make a car of that ability/looks/price/reliability. They were, in many ways, the best cars I ever owned.

  9. Mark Pitchford - June 29, 2011

    I had a Manta too, a 1.6 which was underpowered but helped with the insurance in my younger days. I still think they look “right”.

  10. Vavavoom - June 29, 2011

    @Will
    I agree, the Ascona was a good looking car.

  11. KenS Ken Strachan - June 29, 2011

    @Will
    Opels were sold alongside Vauxhalls in the UK for a while, while Vauxhalls were still exported. However, now we have Vauxhalls only in the UK and Opels in Eire and continental Europe.

  12. KenS Ken Strachan - June 29, 2011

    Here’s an anorak remark: the 1.9GT/E had 105hp, the 2.0 110hp.

    The comments about the handling are interesting – the later body-kitted GT/Es had thinner rear anti-roll bars than the earlier models and were much better balanced. You could kick the tail out, but the tail didn’t wag the dog. Earlier cars were a bit too easy to spin.

    Another big improvement in later Mantas was the lovely short, precise gearstick on the Getrag 5-speed boxes – the Cavaliers all had rather long, backward sloping “wands”, which I hated!

    Incidentally, having driven a GT/E with one skirt missing, I can verify that (despite the sarcasm in What Car? when the Calibra was launched) the Manta bodykit worked very well.

  13. Robert Leitch - June 29, 2011

    @Andrew Elphick
    A fibreglass tailgate? Not unless GM-H had devised fibreglass that rusted – and how!

  14. Richard - June 29, 2011

    I had an Opel Manta 1.8 Berlinetta in a light gold metallic. What a great car and, on a more personal level, what a boost to my sex appeal too!

  15. Paul - June 29, 2011

    @Will
    The Cavalier Mk1 was sold alongside the virtually identical Opel Ascona in the UK. The Kadett was also sold alongside the Chevette and the first generation Astra was sold alongside the FWD Chevette.

    Indeed, it wasn’t until 1981 when the FWD Cavalier Mk2 appeared that the Opel brand was phased out in the UK. Interestingly, I remember a neighbour having a new Kadett on order around this time but, when the dealer informed him that his car would end up having Vauxhall instead of Opel badges, he cancelled the order!

  16. KeithB - June 29, 2011

    @Paul
    I think that should be RWD Chevette…

  17. Hilton Davis - June 29, 2011

    Keith – a big thank you for this feature on the website. The Cavalier was one of my favourite cars back then – especially the Coupe and Sportshatch. I aspired to own a 1.9GL or GLS coupe but could not afford to in those days – I was only in my early 20s.

    However, reading the text and going from memory, I can confirm its accuracy. I see some of the photos were scanned from Vauxhall brochures (which I still have). The cream Coupe is a 1.9GL in Pastel Beige as featured in the 1976 catalogue. The 1979 group shot is from the 1979 all model catalogue and the shot with the girl in blue, sitting in a Cavalier 1.6L dates from 1976 publicity.

    I remember the name of Wayne Cherry and his design team at Vauxhall. His name featured prominently in Autocar when the Sportshatch was launched. My favourite is probably a GL or GLS coupe, but the Sportshatch was yummy too!

    Anyway, as is documented here, the Cavalier Mk1 provided a timely boost which enabled Vauxhall to challenge the Cortina Mk3 and Mk4 – and overcome other manufacturers products in the process.

    There is little mention of the Cavalier Mk1 1.3L which had the Viva 1256cc engine dropped in. Not a very good performer…

  18. Simon Hodgetts - June 29, 2011

    A good article… I’ve become quite fond of the Cavalier Mk1 – for the 1970s, that and the ‘Shove-it’ were quite radical looking cars. The droopsnoot could never be confused with previous Vauxhalls, even if it did herald the end of the traditional bonnet flutes which died with the FE/VX series.

    I think that, in many respects the droopsnoot was a brave move by Vauxhall, but what carried it all off was Wayne Cherry’s great styling on the Chevette, Cavalier and, later on, the Carlton, allied to Opel’s fantastic interiors (which, in my opinion, rivalled BMW’s at the time – 1970s and 1980s Opel dashboards were possibly the clearest, and best quality of any mainstream car maker).

    Ironically though, the Opel Ascona, although largely identical, was seen as a sportier car (must have been the rally connection) and also had the more appealing colour and alloy wheel combinations…

    It was a strange decision, in the light of BL’s problems, to sell two competing (and pretty much identical) ranges of cars in the same market – badge-engineering was hateful!

  19. Jemma - June 29, 2011

    I see that there are shades of Cavalier Calibre floating about. I wish they’d have done the darker one of the two Sportshatch concepts – it looked so much better than the bugeye look which ended up in production. That looks like a supermodel wearing national health specs…

    My dad had a Metallic Blue SRi version of the Mk2 – the suspension on that was so hard that, when someone forced him off the road and bent one of the antiroll bars almost 90 degrees, we didn’t even notice untll the next service when the Technician came back white-faced and asked how long the front suspension had been munched for… It was very useful for doing Porlock Hill on 3 wheels (the two on the one side of the car and the one on the caravan… Don’t ask!).

    I liked the look of the Shove-it too… The same couldn’t be said of its roadholding the one time I ever rode in one… Talk about Teflon-tyred! I don’t know if that was a ragged car but it was so bad it was terrifying.

    The less said about the OSV40 thing the better – that’s uuuugly.

  20. Jemma - June 29, 2011

    Is it me or does the Silver Aero look a little like a side shot of a baby XX or even an R17 800?

    The shape and visual dimensions certainly look somewhat similar.

  21. Will101 - June 29, 2011

    Vauxhall still owe a lot to the Cavalier nameplate even today. A number of current Vauxhall owners I know still refer to their Vectras and Insignias as Cavaliers – it’s almost immortalised in the same way as the Ford Cortina.

  22. Glenn Aylett - June 30, 2011

    1975 was the year of Vauxhall’s comeback – remember they were being pushed into fourth place by Datsun and their family car, the Victor, was completely outsold by the Morris Marina, Austin Maxi, Ford Cortina and even the ageing Hillman Hunter.

    Vauxhall were lucky that a massive advertising campaign and very positive long term test reports for the Cavalier and Chevette restored their fortunes but, as well all know from the Rover story, any silver lining can soon be obliterated by a nasty cloud.

    I think a competent product, a company that was in a better financial position than was widely thought and a workforce that wasn’t so strike happy saved Vauxhall in the later Seventies.

  23. Engineer - June 30, 2011

    A very interesting story… However, if you ever get the chance to write up the Cavalier Mk3/Calibra, don’t forget to include the little known Tickford Calibre, killed at birth by the launch of the Calibra Turbo.

  24. IanS - June 30, 2011

    I agree – the Ascona B was, in my opinion, a better looking car.

    I had one of those in 1989/90 when it was already 11 years old and sadly not in the best of health – a T-reg Ascona 2.0 SR Berlina automatic in Metallic Gold with a brown vinyl roof and Rostyle-type wheels. This one had the 3-spoke alloy steering wheel with chunky rim and centre horn push and 6-instrument dash. It rode and handled well and had particularly light and direct steering – but then it did succeed a very tired Princess 1800HL.

    I remember it fondly and consider that, today, it would have made an eminently capable and practical classic. Thanks for another great article and keep up the good work!

  25. Hilton Davis - June 30, 2011

    The Opel OSV bodyshell looks very similar to the Kadett/Chevette saloons’.

  26. Keith Adams Keith Adams - June 30, 2011

    @Engineer
    The Cavalier Mk3 story will be coming soon. I’m in need of prototype pictures as always.

    /K

  27. Glenn Aylett - June 30, 2011

    I’m also looking forward to a feature on Vauxhall’s other saviour from the Seventies, the Chevette.

    Vauxhall found a clever way of bringing out a new and decent car but saving money on production costs by using the trusted 1256cc Viva engine.

    Remember that, at the time, the Chevette was quite innovative – it had a three door hatchback 18 months before Ford and a full five years before British Leyland and a large range of models including an estate, the aforementioned hatch as well as two and four door saloons – that was a clever way of covering all tastes and taking the fight to Ford. The fact the car was wholly British-made would have helped too.

    However, my abiding memory of the Chevette is in the Likely Lads film where Bob Ferris’ red hatchback has its mirrors stolen, was crashed into a caravan and ended up with no wheels on bricks but always seemed to start and tow a caravan easily.

  28. Simon Hodgetts - June 30, 2011

    Is it just me or does the Cavalier Coupe’s front end resemble the green Rover P9 proposal?

  29. Marty B - June 30, 2011

    My uncle was a big Opel fan at one point in the 1970s and owned a gold Ascona Berlina 4 door, complete with the Rostyle wheels. It just seemed a bit more upmarket than the identical under the skin Cavalier.

  30. Will101 - June 30, 2011

    A Chevette was featured here on AROnline back in 2009 as the Car of the Month because GM’s troubles at the time and the possible sale of GM Europe to the Canadians or Russians.

    General Motors decided to hold on to Opel and Vauxhall in the end but I thought it was a little odd that the Vauxhall was featured as the Car of the Month on a predominantly BMC>MG website.

  31. Mikey C - June 30, 2011

    Vauxhall were also helped by their other ‘British’ rivals not having a proper Cortina rival.

    British Leyland cancelled ADO77 leaving only the Marina (too small and old) and Princess (too slow and odd for most buyers).

    Chrysler never replaced the Hunter with a conventional RWD saloon and, instead, produced FWD Simca 1100 derivatives (as described elsewhere on this site) which weren’t what Cortina buyers wanted.

  32. Simon Woodward - July 1, 2011

    The Cavalier/Ascona sold well because the design was so well-balanced and it was just what the public wanted.

    I find it difficult to choose which body shape I prefer – there is no compromise with any of them. The Manta/400 remained a phenomenal rally car well after the demise of its saloon car cousins and did Vauxhall’s image a power of good. There is a mint Sportshatch in Bronze not too far away from where I live and the design has aged well.

    I could never get too excited about the Cavalier Mk2 or Mk3 but I think GM got their mojo back with the first Vectra.

    I think that GM’s best period was during the late 1970s and early 1980s – this was their greatest period in terms of market appeal. They had it all across the range from the Chevette to the Royale Coupe and their Opel cousins – not a single duffer amongst them.

    Unfortunately, after that, for me things went down hill a bit in terms of styling, though there is no doubt about the individual cars’ abilities. The designs just became a little too bland, not helped by their appalling colour choices – perhaps that is the price you pay for a globalised car design rather than a collaboration of European designs.

    Mind you, Ford did the same with the launch of the Mondeo which was a fantastic leap forward in some respects but woefully bland to look at – it was just another ‘White Goods’ motor which could have been designed anywhere.

  33. Richard 16378 - July 1, 2011

    My dad had a Cavalier Mk1 from 1977-80 and was generally pleased with it.

    My aunt and uncle also had an Ascona of similar vintage – the handling was a little tail happy and that led to a backwards trip though a hedge in cold weather.

  34. KeithB - July 1, 2011

    @Hilton Davis
    Thanks! I had a real sense of deja vu when I saw the picture! Kadett saloon meets Pontiac front-end.

  35. KeithB - July 1, 2011

    @Glenn Aylett
    Don’t forget the Bedford Chevanne!

  36. Richard 16378 - July 1, 2011

    The Cavalier Mk1s seemed to have vanished by the late 1980s.

    I remember some friends of the family having one until 1987-8 but, since then, they have been a rare sight.

    Mind you, someone near to my old school had a decent looking Sportshatch until 1994.

  37. David - July 2, 2011

    I loved the shape of the Cavalier Mk1 but, as a child in the late 1970s, I had to wait until 1986 when I was able to buy a Cavalier Sportshatch at the age of 19 – it was a Sapphire Blue 2000 GLS model and a great car in its day. That was followed by seven Opel Mantas so I must have liked them quite a lot!

  38. LeonUSA - July 2, 2011

    How much of a connection was there between the USA/NA market Cavaliers (Chevrolet) and the UK/Euro ones?

  39. Buttyboy - July 2, 2011

    My first car was a Cavalier Mk1 – it was a 1978 poverty-spec 1256cc two-door saloon! A rare variation…

    It was left by the sea during a storm and the sea killed it – until then it had never let me down.

    My £300 was well spent in 1988 when I bought it…

  40. Richard 16378 - July 2, 2011

    @LeonUSA
    I know the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 was one of the many variations of the GM J platform, which was certainly the basis of the 1980s Chevrolet Cavalier.

  41. Eric - July 2, 2011

    I loved these cars – the first I ever had was a pale blue 1976 1.6l saloon followed by a 1978 GL saloon in a beige sand colour. However, in 1980 a P reg [LMG333P] 1.9 GL Auto Coupe came along with its steel Rostyle wheels, in white – it looked gorgeous with contrasting red velvet trim.

    I wrote off a Metallic Green 2.0GLS Sportshatch by hitting a tree after entering a skid. A testimony to the car’s build strength was that, while the sunroof popped out and the engine and gearbox were pushed back, I survived unhurt but shaken by ducking into the passenger footwell when I saw all was lost!.

    I recall the only thing I didn’t care for was the rubbery and spongy gearchange on the manual cars but the autos drove superbly. Many more came through my hands between 1980 and probably up until the early 1990s when they gradually dried up.

  42. Hilton Davis - July 2, 2011

    @KeithB
    I couldn’t have said it better, Keith!

  43. Hilton Davis - July 2, 2011

    @David
    I was in my early 20s when the Cavalier Mk1 was in its prime – for you to acquire a 2.0GLS Sporthatch at age 19 is some feat! Sapphire Blue was one of my favourite colours too.

  44. Mike Humble Mike Humble - July 3, 2011

    I oved the Ascona and Cavalier Mk1.

    SUP 654R was a prosthetic limb-coloured 1.6 GL owned by a friend’s dad which ran for years.

    The rear wheel drive Cavalier seemed a solid, well cobbled car which, in my opinion, had superior build quality to the later FWD Cavlier Mk2.

  45. Luke McCormack - July 3, 2011

    One of the Cavalier Mk1′s claims to fame is that James May had one as his very first car – he’s talked about that with a degree of nostalgia in some of his Telegraph Motoring columns and in his books.

  46. Hilton Davis - July 3, 2011

    @Mike Humble
    I agree, Mike – the Cavalier Mk1 was probably my favourite too. That prosthetic limb colour was called Signal Yellow and there was a Signal Red as well.

  47. Dan - July 4, 2011

    Simon Woodward :
    I could never get too excited about the Cavalier Mk2 or Mk3 but I think GM got their mojo back with the first Vectra.

    It’s funny how we all have different perspectives. I thought that the Cavalier Mk2s and Mk3s were brilliant cars in their day.

    Admittedly, the Mk3 was always pretty average dynamically – I remember a friend’s dad giving me a lift home in his G reg 2.0i GL and marvelling at how a car could be so quiet and planted at 100mph. You could hold a conversation at the ton without raising your voice and the loudest noise was the bugs hitting the windscreen. They were also good for 200,000 miles without any real problems if they were even half looked after.

    The Vectra, on the other hand, was a real disappointment in my opinion. Modern styling apart (I still love the door mirrors), it didn’t really move anything on in terms of performance or dynamics from the Cavalier – it was noisier, less comfortable and the real shock for people ‘upgrading’ from the ultra-dependable Cavalier was that the Vectra had significantly more reliability problems.

    Incidentally, I should just add that my friend’s dad bought his Cavalier from the leasing company at three years old, my friend learned to drive in it, took it to university and it then became the family workhorse/runabout.

    The car was, in fact, written off only four years ago with 265,000 miles on the clock after being shunted by an artic whilst parked up on the street – it still had the original engine and gearbox and most of the original engine ancillaries but was on its second clutch and was going rotten.

    Proper, tough cars…

  48. Kevin Bricknall - July 4, 2011

    @Shannon
    There were plans for an Estate to be produced along with a Pick-Up and a Van. There are pictures of the Van and Pick-Up designs on the Vauxhall Cavalier and Chevette Club’s website.

    The reason these variants were never put into production was that the Germans didn’t want them as they said they would not have sold well in Germany as the Ascona B.

  49. Tony Evans - July 7, 2011

    My brother had a blue Cavalier Mk1 1.6GL – it was a very good car both to look at and dynamically. It had a twin choke downdraft (Zenith?) carb and really flew when you gave the accelerator a decent prod. The general handling and quality were well above the equivalent Marina/Cortina/Chrysler rivals.

    I later had a Mk3 Cavalier N/A diesel that was slow but did over 50mpg and was outstandingly reliable.

    However, when I had several Vectras on hire, they were uniformly dreadful with sloppy steering, indifferent handling and were not particularly comfortable either. I think that the Vectra was when Vauxhall started to lose the plot and I haven’t had one since.

  50. Hilton Davis - July 10, 2011

    @Mike Humble
    Sorry, I might have got the “prosthetic limb” colour wrong – I thought you meant lime. It could have been Pastel Beige or the later Colorado Beige. Pastel Beige was similar to Ford’s Sahara Beige of the same era.

  51. Retro cars cskelton - July 21, 2011

    I’d love a Mk1 Cavalier Coupe, I wonder how many are left?

    I thoroughly regret selling my Mk1 2000GLS a couple of years ago, it was a fantastic car and even at 30 years of age could still put a massive smile on my face.

    Vauxhall Mk1 Cavalier 2000GLS

  52. Kev - July 22, 2011

    My first car was a bright lime green 1979 Cavalier 1.6GL saloon but I’m sure it was fwd. Why does all the literature and everyone say that fwd only arrived with the Mk2? AM I going senile?

  53. Hilton Davis - July 23, 2011

    Kev, all MK1 Cavaliers were RWD with 1.3, 1.6, 1.9 or 2.0 engines. In late 1981, the MK2 heralded the FWD version with 1.3, 1.6 engines initially.

  54. Download Vauxhall Cavalier Manual | Pdfgale.com - December 7, 2011

    [...] The cars : Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 [...]

  55. ismet - December 21, 2011

    hello, i have a Vauxhall Cavalier 2000 year 04/1979.
    I need parts for this car model. where can i find it.
    thank you

  56. Chris - December 22, 2011

    My late father worked for GMAC and had two of these – a metallic green GL in 1979 a white one a year later. The boot was completely full of sales materials and paperwork!

    As a kid I thought these cars were so futuristic because of the distinctive nose. I once got dad into terrible trouble after spending the day with him and meeting his area manager to tell him they were great cars as he’d just done over 100 on the motorway!

  57. Russell G - December 22, 2011

    The Cavalier Mk2 was a cracking car in its day – the firm my Dad worked for had a variety of cars as pool cars and the Cavaliers would clock up astronomical mileages with minimum fuss. He had a Mk2 1.6L himself and he was always happy with the performance. The Vectra B was a bit funny, when first launched it was criticised but I think it received some sort of revision in 1996. My Dad had a 2.5 V6 SRi as a company car at the time, that was a really nice motor. We still talk in awed terms about that beast now! Effortless cruiser. A couple of years later I had a vanilla Vectra 1.8 as a rental car and it was a pile of crap, snatchy driveline with bits dropping off it.

  58. Dave Boon - December 25, 2011

    Never owned a Cavalier in their heyday, moved from Vivas to VX4/90 and then Rover SD1 and Volvos. All cracking good cars. Only recently bought a Mk1 Cavalier Sportshatch – in fact the one you mention above – Silver Aero – Superb Motor. If you still want more photos, let me know.

  59. Matt - March 27, 2012

    I owned a Cavalier when I was stationed at RAF Woodbridge back in 1990. Still remember the reg MRT829P (I think it was a 79)

  60. Ianto Ianto - March 27, 2012

    Metallic bronze Sporthatch 1600GL owned from 1987 to 1989, sold to go to Tenerife with a group of nurses.

  61. Paul - December 16, 2012

    @32 – The first Vectra was an undeveloped dog! – Every bit as bad in its own way as the Maxi or Allegro. It completely undid all the good work the Cavalier, Astra, Nova etc had dome in repositioning Vauxhall during the 70s and 80s. It was voted Top Gears worst Car on sale, got a reputation for rolling away when handbrakes failed. Trim fell off, seats where uncomfortable and Vauxhall had to take out full page adverts in the national press apologising to customers! It was a disaster.

  62. Chris Baglin - December 16, 2012

    @61, Paul,

    At about the time of the Vectra’s launch I was delivering hire cars as a job ‘on the side’. I got to drive the Vectra as well as it’s main competitors, and I didn’t think the Vectra was a bad car in any way- it just didn’t shine. And I found the seats quite comfy (but then I tend to find ‘orthopedically designed’ seating uncomfortable as a rule).

    I think the real dog out of the Class of 96 was the awful Toyota Carina E- which was a horrible car to drive on all but straight dry roads under very gentle acceleration.

    I do think the accountant at GM who decreed that Vectra door mirrors (as with contemporary Astras) should not be spring-loaded deserves flogging- along with the genius at Mercedes-Benz who decided that the best place to put the side repeater indicators on a Sprinter was at the extremities of the extended door mirrors…

  63. Glenn Aylett - January 31, 2013

    The Cavalier really was the Vauxhall Cortina, it was around for a similar length of time, got better with each new model, was a cheap car to run and sold by the bucketload. Even now I still see a few Mark 3s going strong locally ans there’s an immaculate Mark 2 estate in metallic green I see regularly. As the Cavalier was my first car, and my sister owned three, I always think highly of it and even though mine was using a sumpful of oil every 300 miles at the end, it always started, never broke down and, if you could live with the trail of blue smoke at the back, coped very well on the motorway. Actually I replaced it with an 11 year old Toyota Corolla, which was a reliability nightmare and was sold for scrap for £ 30, at least someone did buy the Cavalier with the intention of doing it up and replacing the pistons.

  64. Hilton D - January 31, 2013

    My favourite Cavalier will always be the 1900GL/GLS & 2000GLS Coupe’s… closely followed by the 2000GLS Sporthatch. For saloons my preference would be the 1900GL. Bring back those days!

  65. Feyoud Isaacs - April 30, 2013

    Hi Everyone
    Here’s something you may not be aware of. In my home( Cape Town-South Africa), we were treated to the Chevrolet Chevair.
    It was car of the year in 1977.

    It was in fact, your Vauxhall Cavilier Mk1, but with a twist. It was fitted with GM’s 2.3 litre OHV engine. Admittedly not the highest revving engine or the fastest car around, but what awesome grunt and reliability- google it and see for yourself!

  66. nick - May 13, 2013

    I had a a Mko Coupe bought it as a damaged repairable, it had only 25’000 miles on it

    I forget the actuall year i am sure it was a 78 car, i bought in 89, it was a great car very comy and quite fast.

    Also had a P reg (1975) manta fast cam and free flow exhaust system fitted, the beauty of these big engined cars with four speed box you could sit at 100mph and play with the throttle, and still have a fair bit of pull as you depressed the throttle. It was a great car had a lot of fun with it.

    Had various mk3 cavalier’s they were very refined and smooth cars, in my opinion probably the biggest evolution step that vauxhall made in comfort and reliability.

    I worked at a vauxhall dealer right through the 90′s and the first vectra’s were very troublesome vehicles in comparison to their cavalier predecessor.

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