Unsung Heroes : Vauxhall Astra Mk1

Keith Adams continues AROnline‘s series devoted to celebrating the great and the good that used to be familiar UK street furniture.

Who remembers the Astra Mk1, a blisteringly capable, fun-to-drive small car that redefined Vauxhall’s standing in the small car field? We do, and we love ‘em!


A quantum leap

The Astra was a landmark car for Vauxhall. It was a new entrant into the front-wheel drive VW Golf sector – a fast-growing area of the market – and went straight to the head of the class when it was launched in early 1980, replacing the ageing Viva HC in the process. Sales success quickly followed and, within no time, the conservatively styled two-box from Vauxhall has a familiar sight in the UK.

In August 1979, when the Opel Kadett D first appeared, the common assumption was that a Vauxhall version would subsequently appear with alternative styling, to replace the Chevette. This had been the pattern established with the T-Car Chevette/Kadett C Carlton/Rekord and Cavalier Mk1/Ascona, which remained visually quite distinctive, and it was assumed that for GM’s first FWD car, we’d get British production, UK-sourced engines and a droop-snoot front-end. In the end, the UK Astra was all-but identical to its Opel cousin and was sold alongside both the Chevette and the Kadett in British showrooms.

In sales terms, the Astra started off slowly, initially available only in relatively plush 1300S GL hatchback and 1300S L estate car forms. If you’re wondering what the S meant, it was nothing more than the state of tune its 1.3-litre overhead cam engine was in – S for 75bhp. The E version with 60bhp would follow, but not until 1981, once production was fully up to speed at the Ellesmere Port factory. Despite the slow model start and relatively high list price (£4602 against £4533 for a VW Golf 1.5GLS), sales started strongly – meeting demand from an appreciative audience in the market vacuum that existed prior to the launch of the Ford Escort MkIII later that year.

With each passing month, further additions were made to the Astra range – first the 1.2-litre overhead valve models, then the L and SR models of 1981. The 90bhp 1.6-litre arrived on the scene in January 1982, turning the Astra into a near GTI rival in cooking form. However, by the following April, that ‘nearly’ car, the two-tone 1600SR, had been replaced by the 115bhp 1.8-litre fuel injected GTE. This is when the Astra – for many people today – got interesting and really unleashed the potential of the tidy-handling chassis and sharp-looking square-rigged styling.

Mind you, it wasn’t perfect – the gearing was too long (fifth was a leisurely 25mph/1000rpm more suited to the Cavalier) - and it wasn’t until 1984, that it was dropped, thus turning the GTE into a genuine Golf GTI rival (and Escort XR3i killer). Ironically, within months of the optimum GTE being unhatched, it was replaced by the aerodynamic Mk2 – an entirely different proposition.

So why do we consider the Astra Mk1 too be an unsung hero? After all, it sold well and helped radically change perceptions of Vauxhall (alongside 1981′s Cavalier Mk2) but also indoctrinated fleet managers across the land to the idea of reliable front-wheel drive company cars. Quite simply because there are so few left today and this fine car seems to have been forgotten, except by a handful of enthusiasts. As we’ve already said, the Astra range started off slowly, but soon expanded – you could buy it with that wide range of engines already discussed, as well as in two-, three-, four-, and five door saloon/hatchback form, as well as a three- or five-door estate. For the early 1980s, this level of choice was truly heady stuff!

The magazines loved the Astra, too. They praised it to the hilt for its crisp and potent engines (75bhp from 1.3-litres was really quite an achievement), flat and stable handling and high overall levels of practicality. The wrap-around dashboard might look dour and boring today but, back then, it was the height of big-car sophistication, giving reps and family men a real sense that they were driving something that had been conceived with ‘drivers’ in mind. What Car? magazine didn’t hang around waiting for the model range to broaden, awarding the Astra 1300S GL its Car of The Year in its April 1980 issue.

When the Escort MkIII arrived in September 1980, it was assumed that the Astra’s reign at the top of the Golf-class tree would be toppled – but, as it happened, Project Erika wasn’t quite developed enough and its ride/damping set-up was so badly tuned for UK roads that it totally compromised the car’s critical reception, sending the boys at Dunton back to their proving ground in order to dial in some ride quality. They never quite managed it. Not that this mattered one iota, as the Escort had masses of appeal elsewhere and soon usurped the Cortina as the UK’s best-selling car.

The Astra therefore remained a front-runner in its class pretty much to the point it was replaced by its (strangely unappealing) successor, the aero-bodied Astra Mk2. Its chief rivals in the UK, aside from the Escort, were the VW Golf (a bit player at this time, due to high prices and a small dealer network), Talbot Horizon, and (from 1983) Austin Maestro. It could be argued – certainly for keen drivers – that the Vauxhall’s appeal transcended them all.

Its decent into bangerdom, though, was quick and painful. Rust was a killer, as were toffee camshafts (in the overhead cam models), gearboxes and driveshafts. By the late 1990s, numbers were thinning alarmingly – and today, it’s nearly extinct. That’s why now is, perhaps, as good a time as any to declare the Astra an unsung hero, bemoaning the fact that it seems that none of its (very capable) British-built successors seemed to recapture the magic of the 1980 original.

Keith Adams

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


81 Responses

  1. Itzhak - February 28, 2012

    BSD

    True,a great car!

    Here in Israel it replaced the RWD kadett (the Chevette’s twin) with huge success.

    It was sold in 3,4&5 doors,and in 5 doors estate,with 1.3,1.3S and 1.6S engines with manual and auto transmission.

    the SRI (equalls the UK GTE) was never sold here.

    I remember as a kid (i was in junior high then) that because the Opel importer brought the cars in their basic trim level (basic and lux only),many people made self import to Kadettes with higher exuipment levels.

    The Berlina (featuring wider tires,alloy wheels,rev counter and velvet upholstery) and the SR 9the same but wuth sport seats,sport leather covered steering wheel and colour coded bumpers) were highly popular during the happy self import days.
    I also remember that many of them also had C/L and 2/4 Electric windows with switches located near the handbrake.

    Many of these Kadettes are still on the roads today in everydat use.

    This car really deserve the title “UNSUNG HERO”,because it really is one!!!

  2. Itzhak - February 28, 2012

    BSD

    By the way,the Mk2 Astra (Kadett) was mentioned in the article.

    It’s asian cousin (the Daewoo Racer) was sold here in Israel since the early 90′s in 4 doors version which included everything 9except alloys) in big numbers,and these cars are still in use today!

    Later it was replaced by the Super racer (Cielo) and the Nexia (3 doors) which was also sold in bug numbers and is still in use today.

    For some reason,unlike heir stigma,these cars proved to be reliable if serviced on time.

  3. Mike Humble Mike Humble - February 28, 2012

    A white mk1 GTE please

  4. Collywobs - February 28, 2012

    Great car.Almost bought a 1300 L 5door after being p/ex at Rover dealer I was working at,but had high miles so plumped for an Horizon that had barely run in !.Numpty.However,next p/ex that I did buy was the GTE in white.I had the body painted in the yellow,red and blue slashes across the bonnet and boot a la Vauxhall motorsport in the late eighties.Great recaro seats,very refined and quite brisk with mid 8 secs to 60.Had for 3 years and by the time it was 8 years old,rust in inner wings and rear valance.Chopped in for Rover Metro Gti.

  5. Alastair - February 28, 2012

    My Dad (initially) reluctantly bought a Mk 1 Astra to replace a long line of Vauxhall Victors when he finally realised he didn’t need loads of luggage carrying capacity as we no longer took family holidays.
    It was an excellent car, plenty of passenger space, far cheaper to run and leaving more space in the garage than his FD Victor 2000.
    OK, we did have to replace the front wings due to rust, but they were bolt on, so that wasn’t a major problem.
    The only thing I couldn’t understand was why GM also sold the Opel version here in the UK at the same time, that must have been very confusing for the buying public…

  6. Alan Mitchell - February 28, 2012

    We had a 1600 diesel GL in blue (looked a bit ike the one in the bottom picture)

    Really nice car.

    This, the nova and the cavalier were so similar. It was really easy to swop parts from any one of the 3 onto each other!

    When Vauxhalls were good. Alas, the MK4 astra was the last one I would have bought :(

  7. James Brooks - February 28, 2012

    The very definition of “unsung hero”. Astra mk1 not only began Vauxhall’s rebirth, but I believe was a quantum leap for car design. This, more than the too-small Golf, set the template for the medium-sized hatches that we can still buy today.

  8. Adrian - February 28, 2012

    May family had one of these from 1983 (bought new) to 1997, when it was scrapped. It was very reliable, the only problem with it was its unappealing brown coloured bodywork matched with orange upholstery..

  9. Mark Mastro Mark Mastro - February 28, 2012

    These were and still are bonny little cars, with a surprisingly short shelf life (about 4 years only wasn’t it).
    1.6SR was a capable little car definitely, I did however feel that the mk1 Astra suffered from the same design stupidity as the Allegro and early Citroen GS as it had the shape of a hatch but a silly little bootlid (at least the Astra was offered with a Hatch, as indeed the later GS/GSA was.

  10. Carl Symington - February 28, 2012

    Indeed, another forgotton hero.
    Two friends had these, one a basic, boring, orange coloured example with a 1.2(?) engine which did the job but died a death when the engine gave up. However, a female college friend had a newish (1 year old?)beautiful black model which was kitted out to look like a GTe(?). This was immaculate, with beautiful interior and alloy wheels. We certainly felt like the dog’s dangly bits when posing in various car parks, as you do. Unfortunately it was stolen & stripped but the insurance coughed up for an identical replacement, but sadly we drifted apart.
    Thanks for the memories.

  11. Will M - February 28, 2012

    As Mark Mastro mentioned, the Princess style saloon function with a hatchback form was pointless. Though they learnt their lesson with the Belmont (the joyriders favourite) and now you can’t even get an Astra saloon (the previous gen was the last one offered even in saloon-friendly Ireland).

    Was a fan of the mk2, it was distinctive. I remember my dad though trying to put spotlights on one (as was the 80s thing to do) and giving up (the one piece grille/bumper was unusual in the 80s!).

  12. ron richardson - February 28, 2012

    I bought the opel kadett 1.3 version new in 1981, it was cheaper than the vauxhall and had a radio /cassette as standard but only 60bhp compared to 75 on the vauxhall.
    The camshaft went after only about 25000 miles but the non GM replacement lasted twice that mileage!
    Exhausts did’nt last long and despite my best efforts the lovely red paint faded badly on the bonnet and roof.
    The gearbox was light and accurate and the ride was good.
    I loved that car and kept it for 8 years before replacing it with a Citroen XSI.

  13. markosity1973 - February 28, 2012

    Strangely enough the Astra never made it to australia and new zealand until several generations later in the late 90s. We were lumped with the isuzu a.k.a Holden gemini instead. They came in sedan only and remained in rwd configuration. This generation of cars is where the uk and her colonies posted ways. BLs distribution went bust, vauxhall was quietly dropped for the gemini. Even the market dominating cortina / escort duo were unceremoniously dumped in favour of the japanese based laser and Telstar.

  14. KC - February 28, 2012

    I had an Opel Kadett version of this model. It was about a year old and was pretty good, sharp and pokey (1.3), reliable and well put together. Downside was that it was a bit basic and spartan; similar to sitting in a biscuit tin. For those times it was ok; but I don’t think those levels of “luxury” would be tolerated today

    I also later had an early MkII Astra, one of the first jelly moulds. Horrible car. Dull, slow, wallowy. Got rid of it as soon as I realised the mistake.

  15. Will M - February 28, 2012

    @markosity1973

    The original Gemini was Kaddett/Chevette based was it not? The mk2 was some sort of Isuzu bespoke design.

    Interestingly the mk1/2 Holden Astras were Nissan Sunny/Pulsars! Would be the equivalent of selling the Qashqow as an Astra.

    The mk3/4/5 Holden Astras were the same as the Vauxhall mk3/4/5 /Opel (mk1/2/3 as Astra name) offerings.
    The latest Astra was not adopted, instead the GM/Chevy/Daewoo Cruze was offered as the replacement.

    Indeed, the Vectra and Corsa were once sold as Holdens, now replaced by the Epica/Spark.

  16. markosity1973 - February 28, 2012

    @Will I am not sure about the origins of the gemini. It could well have been chevette based for all I know. I do know that it was sold in very small numbers alongside the chevette for a short while.

    I did wonder if the astra was a pulsar, They look very similar side on. We got the pulsar here in the mid 80s, but it’s sales were eclipsed the very similar looking all new corolla fwd range

  17. Landyboy - February 28, 2012

    Weren’t Daewoo built Mk 2 Astras sold in the US as the Pontiac Le Mans?

  18. Doive - February 28, 2012

    I recall friends of ours in the mid 80s having a lovely metallic blue 1.6GL, much like the one in the bottom photo. They kept it for years, before eventually swapping it for a very late mk2 Astra GL. As a youngster I much preferred the mk1, and still do. It’s a shame they are so rare these days.

    Having said that, even as a kid I remember thinking how silly the saloon version was after seeing one in a car park with the little bootlid open. It had those black plastic covered external hinges – was it a cheaper option or something? They all seemed to be lower spec models, so perhaps they were. And almost always the Opel Kadett version.

  19. Ken Strachan - February 28, 2012

    Landyboy, yes, the PLM was a Daewoo.
    Will M, the first Gemini was a 1.8-engined RWD saloon or coupe, which replaced the Ascona and Manta in the US and inherited their “Buick Opel” name! The same 1.8 engine ended up in the Hindustan Ambassador and the Contessa, which was the Indian FE Victor.

    As for FWD Astras handling well, they had that wonderful GM combination of stiff springs and soft dampers, which could have had some influence on the appalling torque steer. If you gave a 1.3 full beans out of a T-junction, you could go anywhere. By the time the Rover R8 came out, you needed at least 130bhp to get that sort of hazard. In the ’80′s, the smart money bought FWD cars with PAS, to damp down the torque steer – particularly on Talbot Alpines and Solaras.

    The diesel Astras deserve a mention – deathly slow, but very economical. The vans did good service, e.g. for British Rail.

    I remember seeing a 5-dr estate in Splott, Cardiff, with a DIY high roof conversion aft of the C pillars, to carry children’s beds, which the owner made for a living. That business went broke, so he then went into painting and decorating – no doubt storing the wallpaper upright!

  20. Robert Leitch - February 28, 2012

    The front wheel drive Gemini (Isuzu I-Mark in the USA, among other aliases) was withdrawn after a very short time on the Australian market. I think it was down to cost – the price Isuzu wanted was uneconomic and two generations of pretty nasty Nissans took its place, followed by a Corolla, re-badged Holden Nova, in the Button Plan era.

    The comparative standing in the UK of the Escort Mk.III and the first Astra demonstrates the power of the invincible Ford marketing machine. It was the GM car which set the benchmark for the next generation, not the Escort or Golf Mk.1.

  21. Jonathan Carling jonathan carling - February 28, 2012

    Nice car, and the one that made a clear break between Vauxhalls as re-engineered Opels, and then being merely re-badged Opels. Opened the door to great sales increases in the early 80s, although the mkII Cavalier made the bigger difference.

    NB not sure that they sold the 60hp 1300E engine in the UK. There was an Astra E, but it came with the 1.2 engine from previous generation kadetts and the ‘E’ was a trim level rather than an engine spec. That model also came with cheap-looking round headlamps too.

    Now that GM are looking to save money again, I wonder how long it will be before the Opel/Vauxhall and the Chevy/Daewoo ranges merge? It would be repetition on a global scale of the Vauxhall/Opel merger of 30 years ago.

  22. Mikey C - February 28, 2012

    Looking at that top picture, you can see the resemblance to the Talbot Horizon.

    It was an important car, as GM showed that FWD didn’t have to mean complicated and expensive maintenance, and started the shift away from simple rwd cars in the company car fleets.

  23. H.Jones - February 28, 2012

    Jonathan, that would be a step too far for GM. Chevy and Vauxhall are in two similar but not really too related portions of market. Should be interesting to see how the Vauxhall/Opel/Buick merger goes. Some of the Buick range, despite being already close to the Vauxhall range, does look good. Wonder if V&O will be given more freedom outside of Buick to be original?

  24. Richard16378 - February 28, 2012

    These are really hard to spot today, even the MK2′s are a rare sight after being around a lot until 10 years ago.

  25. Will M - February 28, 2012

    I’m hoping the buick tie up will let them introduce a big saloon and coupe.
    Think Monaro and VXR8, but with diesels/4 cylinder petrols and hybrid drivetrains.

  26. Shep - February 28, 2012

    I still think that the mark 1 Astra looks really good, especially in two-tone ‘Celebrity’ special edition form:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/triggerscarstuff/5901559440

  27. Steve Bailey - February 28, 2012

    For those who haven’t seen the saloon, here’s one:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/triggerscarstuff/5901560058/in/photostream/

    Note the way it looks exactly the same as the hatchback from the side! A really strange design – not sure why they bothered really, unless they planned to do a convertible version later with the saloon as a base.

  28. scott holmes - February 28, 2012

    loadsa young lads had them round my area!! rare beasts now hotpoint had loads of mark one vans in brown and beige!! i,vve driven astras mark 1 to 4 and the mark one was the best handling of them!! vauxhall did away with handling in later astras!

  29. francis brett francis brett - February 28, 2012

    a truly great car of the eighties,much,much better than the escort,rare genuine gte’s getting very thin on the ground and pricey-i once owned very rare 5door MK1 and MK2gte 16v models.loved em.

  30. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick - February 28, 2012

    One of the blokes working with us, a young lad called Adrian who always had nice, interesting cars and used to do a radio show in the US whilst running the Minolta Club, had a black GTE when they were new. I thought it was lovely, having tried and failed to persuade my dad that rather than a practical Passat, we needed an Opel Manta.

    Somewhere we probably still have a print of the car splashing through a ford in I think Clumber Park with a model standing up out of the sunroof.

    The 4 door fastback is a hangover from the range of bodystyles the Kadett was traditionally offered with. Also, a fully enclosed boot offers insurance advantages and security benefits, which some regions value more than others – I think it was an option more tailored to mainland European tastes and indeed, more Northern territories where letting the warmth out of the car when opening the hatch was really quite unwelcome.

  31. Phil Simpson - February 28, 2012

    The reason that both Opel Kadetts & Vauxhall Astras were wold in the UK was a legacy one. Only a year previously, the GM Europe large saloons differed i.e. the Opel Rekord and Vauxhall VX series. The only thing these two had in common were the floor pan and door locks & handles. And back when the latter was launched in 1972 as the FE Victor, there was no commonality between Vauxhall & Opel.

    Therefore when the Kadett & Astra were launched, there were still separate Vauxhall & Opel dealers. GM Europe realised that the situation couldn’t continue so the Kadett was quietly discontinued & the two dealer networks combined.

  32. Mitch1965 - February 28, 2012

    These are very rare cars to see on the road. I couldn’t remember the last time i saw one, so when i spotted one for sale I had to buy it. It also happens to be the one in “shep” post above.That particular pic above was taken last year @ the vboa national show in northants.
    I have owned it for 6 years now & can be seen regularly on the show circuit. Give us a wave if you see me around and about.

  33. Robert Watt - February 28, 2012

    I often see a yellow estate going the opposite way in the morning near the A1/M18 intersection. Makes me smile.

  34. Marty B - February 28, 2012

    One thing it had over its rivals too was the low loading lip of the boot. It made loading the boot a doddle compared to the Scrote and Golf.

  35. francis brett francis brett - February 28, 2012

    them 1.6d astra vans were good too!

  36. Snapdragon Snapdragon - February 28, 2012

    My old man had a 1300S (I think) in the 80s. Definitely seemed like a nicer drive that the car I learned to drive on (a SEAT Malaga of all things) but didn’t realise it had quite so much poke! They did seem to get thin on the ground pretty quickly in the 90s.

  37. tony - February 29, 2012

    The geek in me seems to recal at launch..
    Opels had a hatch and the Astra
    was boot only. Cavaliers were called Vectras on the continent at that time.
    Until the Opel was dropped in the UK and Vauxhalls
    were the brand for this country.
    I live near Ellesmere port and it still looks funny seeing all the LHd Opels leaving for Germany!

    T

  38. Itzhak - February 29, 2012

    BSD

    Vauxhall makes cars for Opel and exports them to Germany!?

    I thought that Vauxhall makes only RHD cars for the UK market only,to be sold as Vauxhall.

    Nowfinding that Vauxhall makes LHD cars for opel-thet’s something new!

  39. Mark Mastro Mark Mastro - February 29, 2012

    Cavaliers were still Asconas on the continent up until the Mk3 Cavalier (at which point, as you rightly say, they became Vectras

  40. BobM BobM - February 29, 2012

    I miss my ’83 Mk1 Astra 1600S L Estate dearly. Loved that car, got it for peanuts (less than £100 if I remember) as a one owner car (elderly gent) with circa 60k on it back in 2002, and it was as fresh as a daisy. I ran it for a couple of years, then it became a “hack” used by family members for a couple more. Late 2006 was when the tin worm finally won its battle and she went to the scrappers with 75k on it.

    Loved the “made in West Germany” sticker on the windscreen, it handled OK and with the 1.6 90bhp lump it was quick too – I nicknamed it the flying wardrobe. I will have to have a rummage and see if I can find some pics of the old girl. Great car, I’m feeling all nostalgic now.

  41. KENNYG - February 29, 2012

    A friend of mine had his company Astra replaced by a 1.3 Maestro (metal bumpers) and he was not a happy man. Another colleague based near Cambridge bought a silver GTE and was absolutely besotted.
    My preference, which I never got round to, was the estate which was absolutely spot on for practicality (low sill, square box) but looked tremendous at the time.

  42. Will M - February 29, 2012

    Opel also continue to make RHD Opels for Ireland and Cyprus (including variants such as the last gen Astra saloon).
    Quite a lot of Grey Import Opels in NI.
    Google used RHD Opels for their Streetview camera cars.

  43. Richard16378 - February 29, 2012

    I’ve seen a few RHD Opels around my way as well.

    In the mid 1990′s I kept seeing a Mk3 Opel Astra on ZZ Irish temporary plates.

  44. Hilton D - February 29, 2012

    I do recall the launch of the MK1 Astra, not long after I bought a new Datsun Cherry hatch. Couldn’t afford an Astra back then! My favourite at that time was the 1300S GL especially with its square-spoked alloy wheels.

    The 75bhp engine was more powerful than its rivals in those days. The later MK1 GTE with full colour coding was a car to aspire to and I still think the MK1′s looked better than the subsequent MK2 & 3 versions.

  45. simon woodward - February 29, 2012

    There was always an air of quality around the MK1 Astra which was lost on the MK2. Every one remember the awesome M1 GTE but one of my favorites was the 1.6 SR. A very good friend with loaded parents bought him a ‘A’ reg MK1 GTE brand new for his 18th and fair play to him he still has it in mint condition.

  46. Russell G - February 29, 2012

    I see a lot of Opel badged Astras on transporters coming away from Ellesmere Port on the M56. Also, when the Vectra was still built at Luton weren’t all the saloons built here and all the hatches built in Germany? (or the other way round?). My Dad had a (German built, Vauxhall badged) 2.5 V6 Vectra SRI back in 96, that was a quick car.

  47. Hilton D - February 29, 2012

    @45 Simon – I agree the MK1 Astra seemed better in quality than later versions. Your friend was very lucky getting a new Astra GTE for his 18th – I was nearly 20 before I bought my first car, a used MINI…

    @46 Russell – I think the power output for that 2.5 V6 Vectra was 170ps.

  48. will101 - February 29, 2012

    back in 1998 when the Ford Focus mk1 was revealed. It got a lot of hype about the new edge styling and handling, fare play.

    The mark 4 Vauxhall Astra was plane jane in compasion but seeing it first time at a dealer launch party in the showroom reminded me of the mk1 and a bit of mk2 Astra’s apperance.

    I thoughts at the time Opel/Vauxhall were going back too basics with this one and even sharpen up the handling with lotus help as cars got more safety built in each new model.

    I still got the free CD from that party and saw the traffic cops down the road waiting to breathalyser people who drank too much bubbly on the way home.

    I don’t think dealers do launch partys the same on the new motors even if they are over styled today.

  49. BLboy! - February 29, 2012

    Vauxhall’s and Datsun’s in ‘unsung heroes’…poor old Marina in ‘Not their finest hour’ and ‘Was the Marina necessary?’

  50. StripeyMiata Jonathan McCormack - February 29, 2012

    My Uncle Bob had an Astra EXP just like this one but his was black/gold – http://www.motorbase.com/profiles/picture/index.php?i=1946551946

    With the two tone paint which made it look like a Lotus Sunbeam and the front fog lights I thought it was the coolest car in the world when I was a kid.

    Two tone paint seemed to be a bit trency back then, anyone else remember this? – http://www.fiesta-mk1.co.uk/press_releases_adverts/press_photos_uk/limited_editions/fiesta_kingfisher_001.php

  51. francis brett francis brett - February 29, 2012

    i think the ellesmere port plant IS the astra europe plant i heard.

  52. BobM BobM - March 1, 2012

    @48 Yes there was something “Mk1-ish” about the Mk4, the basic models came with bare steel wheels with little plastic centre caps – pure Astra Mk 1 and Cav Mk2. Remember the multispoke style steels on the Mk3s, they were nice, I had a set painted black on a Cavalier I once had, but they looked crap on that car though!

  53. David Walker - March 1, 2012

    Hi, I had a Mk1 diesel estate in that funny orange-brown colour called “Henna Red” which looked very like something else! Something you don’t mention, this was one of the earliest mainstream diesel cars which was a trickle then and a flood now. Only about 60BHP so very gentle. Also, like most Vauxhalls of the period, very garish orange seats. I ran it to 165,000 miles with only 1 replacement camshaft and sold it. Imagine my surprise when I saw it YEARS later in an episode of “Last of the Summer Wine”, a scene set in a scrapyard and there, clearly visible on the heap behind the actors, was RTN621Y! Goodness knows what the mileage was by then.
    Cheers, David

  54. BobM BobM - March 1, 2012

    My estate was L spec and the interior was lovely. Black dash, black cloth seats (with headrests) and the door cards featured a lovely stainless steel (possibly plastic!) trim piece running along. It was quite a classy interior – the Mk2s were far more plasticy and nasty, a Mk2 we had was fitted with horrid beige everything – seats, door cards, dash, the lot!

  55. will101 - March 1, 2012

    @54
    Your right about the MK2 plasticy dashboard.
    Serving my time as a apprentice both guys at work had MK2′s
    one 1.3L (C-reg) with a duff engine ticking over the whole dashbord would rattle in front of you for ages but the other Astra owned by Gordon time served (G-reg) 2.0 GTE with the digital instrumentation binnacle, it stayed firm.

    My mates first car (B-reg) Astra it too suffered shaky dashboard syndrome but that car was a rust bucket at 10 years old. Still happy days running rusty old banger cars back then.

  56. Brian - March 1, 2012

    Bought a new 1.3 Astra Estate in 1980, remember driving for the last time May 1999 with 80,000 miles and thinking ‘I like this car’. That day it suffered a short circuit in the main loom and destroyed the front end.
    Still miss it 13 years later!

  57. Richard16378 - March 1, 2012

    It’s normally the crankshaft that goes at 80k on Vauxhalls of that era.

    The base spec Astras had round headlights that used to look odd, my sister’s friend’s Mum had a V reg yellow one with these.

  58. BobM BobM - March 2, 2012

    Thev round headlight cars had different type of bulbs than the “normal” type – I bought some from Halfrauds and it turned out I had the “round” type rather than square.

    They were gutsy motors though the camshafts used to get rattly on ‘em though the Mk1 it 1.6 never did but it only did 75k. The Mk2 (1.3) had a camshaft at about 100k, but the car wasn’t the same after, apparently. We had a trailer tent years ago that the 1.3 Mk2 would quite happily drag along with a family of four and all the associated crap loaded on board. The 1.6 Toyota Carina E that followed was useless, while it had over 100bhp it not a happy bunny when loaded.

  59. 406v6 406V6 - March 2, 2012

    I remember driving an Astra 1300 hire car in 1984 and being astounded by the smoothness and liveliness of its engine. Compared to my MG Metro at the time it was a different beast in the engine department although the Metro was impressive in its own way.

    The Astra was a good backup for the Cavalier in overhauling Vauxhall’s fortunes in the 80s. I was going to say that the Astra whipped BL’s bottom but that’s not the case,when I checked the figures, at least for the Mk 1. While the Maestro was on sale (full year 84 onwards) it beat the sales for the Mark 1 Astra. The Mark II Astra was always ahead and it was rapidly downhill for the Maestro from then on with the Astra selling twice as many cars by 87.

  60. Inventor 73 - March 9, 2012

    My first car was a 1982 1300 GL Auto 5Dr, in hazel brown metallic. A great little car after changing water pump, top end rebuild with just about every component needing replacing and Webber carb conversion to manual choke.

    Ignition was a bit of a problem requiring constant attention, as was rust, but having had £400 welding done to get through MOT and spending countless weekends learning how to spray metallic, it died a horrible death in 1994 – burst into flames at rush in town centre. Fire brigade on a hoax call, not much left by the time the flames went out. Still, at least I then moved onto a Montego…

  61. BobM BobM - March 12, 2012

    Sorry, but just read through it all again and have to add more nonsensical memory-ness!

    The sound of a GM Family II 8-valve engine! God its a lovely noise – no other make quite does it, I can’t describe it but to me it’s the sound of a (80′s at least) Vauxhall. Of course being an “old skool” 8 valver me trusty Cav has the awesome sound, but not so much as my old Mk1 Astra.

    And the people these days don’t want engine noise! I tell you what, I want a bit, and I want to hear “character”! :)

  62. mark powell - March 20, 2012

    My dad had a 1980 astra 1300 s l estate 3 door, toffee camshaft had to be replaced 3 times before vauxhall got it right, handling was subperb, fast for its time as the previous car was a moris marina 1300 estate and was no compitition for the astra.exhaust note was great, shame they dont do this with cars anymore exept the astons and ferrari’s……

  63. mark powell - March 20, 2012

    oops i meant morris marina, sorry for the mistake….

  64. Comical_Engineer - April 14, 2013

    Just come across this thread! I had a Mk1 Astra 1.6D van in Post Office red from new. I had it for just under 2 years and did 65,000 miles in it. The only things it had were new glow plugs at 60,000 in the very harsh winter of 1984. It did me great service considering that it was routinely driven at 80mph everywhere (wot me, officer?) which was a comfortable cruising speed.

    The main luxury was that it had a rear wash-wipe. No radio, I was allowed by my employer to have one installed so long as I bought the radio. The van had the square lights and was basically the estate with no side windows to the rear passenger compartment. The load bay was completely flat and big enough to sleep in (and I did). It made a pretty good passion wagon too!

    Unfortunately I had to give it back when I left the company – who would not let me buy it off them, :( I ended up with a pageant blue Dolomite 1500 HL instead.

    Being a 1.6D, acceleration wasn’t a strong suit. I think the 0-60 was 19 seconds but it felt faster and in practice was not too shabby if driven enthusiastically. The handling and roadholding were brilliant for the day and you could chuck it round bends and roundabouts with complete confidence.

    I would still love one today. Truly a forgotten hero.

  65. adrian - May 10, 2013

    Hi all can anyone remember the mk1 astra exps i had one which was red top with black bottom tinted glass as standard it was a 1.6 , iv’e been trying to find one since in this colour but no joy.

  66. Mike Humble Mike Humble - May 10, 2013

    I certainly do it was the EXP … they did a Chevette too if I recall

  67. Andrew h - August 21, 2013

    Just came across a vauxhall history website; photo 45 shows the abandoned vauxhall version of the Mk 1 astra before they decided to merge the two ranges in the uk

    http://www.vximages.co.uk/100_years_of_vauxhall/

    I wonder if any other images exist

  68. Keith Adams Keith Adams - August 21, 2013

    Great spot!

    Here’s the image for Astra fans. I’ll ask if there are any further images at Luton.

  69. Michael Bell - January 22, 2014

    @53 David Walker
    I had a Henna red MK1 estate,my first car,with the orange seats.Mine was a 1600S petrol and was no slouch.Great car,went all over with it,even on holiday to Stockholm via Harwich dfds.Kept with Astra estates for the next 10yrs but am now on Golf TDi’s.Have still got a MK2 Astra Belmont LXi from 1990 in mint condition,will never part with it(only 22 left).

  70. Ken Westmoreland - January 22, 2014

    Wow, interesting to see the ‘droop snoot’ Astra.

    Will M – February 28, 2012

    The current Astra is available as a saloon in Ireland – http://www.opel.ie/vehicles/opel_range/cars/astra-4-door/index.html as well as South Africa – http://www.opel.co.za/vehicles/opel-range/cars/astra-4-door/index.html

    The 1980 Astra model was sold in South Africa as an Opel Kadett – at the time, the main GM brand in South Africa was Chevrolet, although by that time, these were Opel-based Asconas, Rekords, Commodores and Senators, which became Opels in 1982. (South Africa kept the Kadett name for the Astra hatchback until 1998-99.)

    markosity1973 – February 28, 2012

    You’re right about NZ and Australia not getting this model – I was amazed when I saw Vauxhall Chevettes when I visited NZ in 1996, though not as amazed as I was to see Vauxhall Vivas still on the road. There were a few Opel Kadetts and Asconas sold in NZ in the late 80s, as niche models.

  71. Dave Dawson - January 22, 2014

    Yep, I suppose they were a bit of a landmark car. A really good car. Somehow though, I was never that struck on the mk1 Astra. GTE maybe.

  72. Richard16378 - January 22, 2014

    These seemed to be one of the first decent “Golf beater”, as the Renault 14 & Fiat Strada were a bit short of the mark.

    For some reason these were the first 1980s cars to start vanishing from the roads, even when it was still fairly easy to see 1970s cars in everyday use.

  73. Glenn Aylett - January 22, 2014

    A nice car in its day, it was a huge step forward for Vauxhall after the Viva and Chevette.

  74. Howard (K - LN 000) - January 22, 2014

    A vastly underrated car.Nice to see all the affectionate comments.I started my long Vauxhall career at a small dealer in 1983(Astra mk1 last full year of production),and always thought they were a smart,well built motor.The Mk1 GTE actually came out in April 1983,remember seeing a red Y reg,with the legend on the rear tailgate ’1800 FUEL INJECTION’on the dealer forecourt.

  75. Stevo - January 22, 2014

    The astra was the first modern car we had. Such a difference from the old BL cara we had. The wrap around facia was a hugh step forward. For me the Mk2 was a further step forward. I’m no Vauxhall fan, but these cars marked a real change in what was available and made other manufacturers review their offer.

  76. Paul - January 22, 2014

    I had an early GL in Sapphire Blue just like the Kadett in the lower picture. It was fully loaded with sliding steel sunroof and the nicest OEM alloy wheels I have seen to this day. Fantastic car. Like a properly built Alfasud. Shame it only stayed in production for 4 years. The slug like MK 2 was inferior in very way. Cheaply finished with sloppy handling and the rep car image every Astra has suffered from since

  77. Warren B - January 27, 2014

    I’ve always had a soft spot for the Astra, although I’ve never [knowingly] had much to do with a Mk1. My mum and dads first brand new car after I was born was a Mk2, on an E reg. From what I can remember it was a 3 door in white, not sure if it was an L or a Merit though. I’m sure there’ll be some old family photos featuring it somewhere.

    Then my little brother came along in ’91 and the three door Astra wasn’t practical enough, so we ended up with an E Reg Peugeot 405 (E418 BVU) for a few years. After that we went back to an Astra, an early Mk3 estate – GLS Spec). This, alongside the Pug, was my most memorable car growing up. We kept it until a few months before I passed my test. I wanted to take ownership when I passed, but unfortunately it was sold on.

    The ironic thing is, during all the time we owned it the only thing it needed other than routine servicing was a new fuel tank, it never let us down once over more than 170k miles. The chap who bought it had nothing but trouble with it though. After a few months sent J562 LCM to the scrap yard in the sky.

    My first car was a Mk4, 1.6 8v LS 5 door. And as mentioned in a few comments here, it always reminded me somewhat of the Mk1/Mk2, especially the 3 door. This again was faultless, only needing routine maintenance over 200k miles.

    Then I got a LR Defender, which I sold to buy a house. To replace it I bought a Mk5 Astra, which I had some major issues with (mainly due to the neglect of the previous owner). Now I’ve ironed them out it’s pretty much fault free.

    I was looking to buy a Mk6 but the service I received from my local Vauxhall dealership was enough to put me off buying a Vauxhall ever again, which is a shame.

    Unfortunately circumstances change, and now the Mk5 is up for sale and I’m after a Transit.

    Who knows though, maybe sometime in the future I’ll end up with a Mk6, then we’ll have had an Astra from Mk2 to Mk6 in the family, or maybe I’ll end up with a Mk1 too so we’ll have had one of every generation…….

  78. Carroll - January 31, 2014

    My fave Astra, looks wise was always a particular version of the Mk1, the early low-spec 2-door saloon with, (doubtless feeble) round headlights and a deffo feeble 1.2 Opel pushrod engine from the last RWD Kadett. Uprate bulbs/brakes and engine and it would have made a nice innocent-looking road burner – with a stiffer bodyshell than the hatches were blessed with.
    As has been said, in general the Mk.1 was a better car than the version that replaced it…

  79. Richard16378 - January 31, 2014

    There was an 1 litre OHV version of the Kadett, not sure if it was made as an Astra as well.

  80. tal - February 8, 2014

    well what can i say ? just bought a A REG ASTRA GTE . nearly 30 years old . in black totally standard car . 64k last owner has had for 28 years . drove it a few times now . you cannot beat a good old school astra . had these and sri cavaliers in my early days of driving . in mmy opinion the best vauxhalls from the 80′s . a cut above the rest )))

  81. Glenn Aylett - March 27, 2014

    It moved Vauxhall forward and was light years ahead of the Chevette, but somehow I prefer the Chevette’s earthy charms and its indestructible 1256 cc Viva engine and the fact it was pure British, while most early Astras were German.

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