The Cavalier proved to be a major turning point for Vauxhall, in fact it was the car that probably saved the company – the Opel Ascona-derived two- and four-door saloon proved the perfect car for the Luton company to offer up as a rival to the all-conquering Ford Cortina.
Like the Chevette, the Cavalier was well-engineered, handled well and was brilliant at covering miles on the motorway, but the larger car also had the benefit of being able to cruise comfortably and stresselessly in the outside lane – something that would mark out Cavaliers two decades to come.
It was offered with an engine range spanning 1.3- to 2.0-litres, with the entry level models sharing their power unit with the Chevette. Not a ball of fire, but capable enough. Luton built cars were more prone to corrosion than their Belgian counterparts, but all were leagues ahead of earlier Vauxhalls.
Mk2 moves to front-wheel drive
The front-wheel drive Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 was a hugely important car for its maker – picking up huge fleet sales just as Ford stumbled with the Sierra. When launched in 1981, the Cavalier proved to be the right car at the right time, and sold not only because Ford dropped the ball, but also because it was a superb car that offered variations for everyone. At launch, you could buy your Cavalier in two- or four-door saloon form and as a five-door hatchback, offered with a 1.3- and 1.6-litre Family II engines.
But the range was developed constantly, so 1.8- and 2.0-litre versions were added to the range, as well as a Holden-developed five-door estate that proved even more susceptible to corrosion than the other models in the range. Hugely popular in the 1980s, but with a low survival rate today, the Cavalier Mk2 typifies the term endangered species. Picking up a cult following now with ’80s fans, but unless perfect, these cars are still worth very little money.
Mk3 adds modernity
The 1988 Vauxhall Cavalier Mk3 was designed to be the best of both worlds – aerodynamic like a Ford Sierra, but bristling with Mk2 front-wheel drive appeal. Slightly larger than its predecessor and much curvier looking, the new Cavalier went head-to-head not only with cars such as the Sierra, but also the sleek new Ryton-built Peugeot 405 and the Washington-made Nissan Bluebird, which was racking up some impressive sales figures.
Advertising for the new Cavalier was everywhere from magazines to television. The latter used a cover version of Derek & The Dominos’ track Layla, with the tagline ‘Once Driven Forever Smitten’. The new Cavalier, though, was underpinned by engineering lifted from its predecessor. But it proved to be a much more finely-honed product. There was evidence of real engineering prowess and impressive safety features right across the range.
Where the Mk2 always had a feeling of lightness and cost cutting in its build, the Mk3 was a solid machine made with high quality materials. It sported a good-looking functional padded dashboard, and you instantly knew this car was screwed together well. Available in a wide variety of engines – 1.4-, 1.6-, 1.8-, and 2.0-litre four-cylinders, as well as the brilliant C20XE (in the GSi2000). You could also buy it in 2.5-litre V6 form, and with a 1.7-litre turbodiesel. Such was the Mk3s popularity and solidity, they remain relatively plentiful into the 2010s, with a growing following.
Reviews, blogs and news stories
The General’s turn-around 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 […]
The full story of how the front-wheel drive Vauxhall Cavalier overturned the Ford Sierra and Austin Montego in the UK fleet market during the 1980s.
The Silver Aero was based on the Mk1 version of the Vauxhall Cavalier Sports Hatch, and looked stunning thanks to aggressive looking body modifications. It went as well as it looked, thanks to a RayJay tuirbo and Blydenstein-tuned engine.
Keith Adams It’s hard not to love the message being pushed by GM’s genius marketing team in 1985. From its launch in 1981, the brilliant Vauxhall Cavalier MkII was stealing sales left, right and centre from Austin Rover and Ford, offering up a package that reps and middle managers really wanted. This advert makes it clear, in […]
The Vauxhall Cavalier Mk3 (or Opel Vectra A for our European readers) was a completely different animal to the popular car that it replaced… well, it was to look at. Mike Humble tells the story of GM’s streamlined Ford Sierra fighter. The streamliner that everybody loved Towards the latter part of the 1980s, the Ford […]
Keith Adams In the coming weeks, my working life is about to change in a big way. Out will go the convenience of working from home for the bonus of an extra-long working week, as in comes the pleasures of a daily commute – and work in an office. These things happen, and it’s certainly going to […]
Once again, Mike Humble takes a drive down the roads of yesterday and celebrate the cars that littered the highways and byways of Britain that now are virtually all gone in this popular series of classic clunkers. Going the distance… eventually You know, I’m sitting here right now thumbing through one of my many collected […]
Between 1975 and 1995, the Vauxhall Cavalier was one of the UK’s favourite family cars. Watch three generations of TV advertising to see just how the Cavalier moved with the times. Enjoy the changing styles through 20 years of Vauxhall, and let us know which is your favourite of the three… 1975 Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 […]
Rep race Back in 1980, if you wanted the ultimate business tool on wheels, you (or your company’s fleet manager) bought a Ford Cortina. Vauxhall and Talbot didn’t necessarily agree, offering the Cavalier and Solara as very capable rivals. But which was best then and now, the Ford Cortina 1.6L, Vauxhall Cavalier 1600GL or Talbot […]
Proof again that great cars are not always super cars. The first in a brand new section of AROnline favourite everyday cars from an era when everything was alright with the world. Mike Humble kicks off with an essay on one his many childhood and adolescent sweethearts… Flying from Luton In the modern world, your […]
Keith Adams enjoys a week in Vauxhall’s very own Cavalier Mk1. But it does get him thinking about the past and present. And asking the obvious question. Cavalier progress I’ve already introduced Vauxhall Heritage’s timewarp Cavalier 2000GLS. And you already know just how important this car was to the overall health of the British arm […]